Saturday, 31 March 2012

Anticipating Palm Sunday

As it is Palm Sunday tomorrow, a suitably themed poem:

Palm Sunday

"Hosanna" is the cry, as the man comes this way,
Seating upon a donkey, coming slowly, gentle sway;
And they greet this man with palms in hand,
Perhaps thinking that he will restore their land;
Palms of victory, declaring the advent of the king,
Palms of victory, in such rejoicing they do sing;
But only he knows that he will be crowned indeed;
Only he knows what crown will be decreed;
The ancient prophecy he is now making true:
Sadness in this time of joy so well he knew.

Friday, 30 March 2012

The Macbeth Murder Mystery

Today I'm posting one of my favourite Thurber pieces, when James Thurber takes a singularly different look at Macbeth. As usual, it has the lightness of touch that one expects from Thurber, and shows how Shakespeare has hidden depths unseen by thousand of English scholars!

In fact, Macbeth has an hidden subtext - it is a deliberately propagandist argument for primogeniture and against tanistry. As Paul LeValley notes:

Contrary to Shakespeare's vilification, Macbeth did not usurp the Scottish throne. Duncan did. First in line for the succession was Lady Macbeth; second was Duncan; third was Macbeth. Like most European nations of the tenth century, Scotland did not yet follow rules of primogeniture (succession by the first-born son). Instead, they used the tribal system of succession known in Gaelic as tanistry. Under tanistry, a king was succeeded by his oldest brother, then the next brother, followed by the sons of the first brother, the sons of the second, the sons of the third, the grandsons of the first brother, the grandsons of the second, and so on until the system breaks down. For a tribe, this system had the advantage of always providing a mature male heir. If a royal cousin grew impatient to rule, he could always take his people and move off to a new area.

Shakespeare, then was writing to order. The play was most likely written during the reign of James I, who had been James VI of Scotland before he succeeded to the English throne in 1603, and it is a piece of calculated propaganda designed to bolster the legitimacy of James. Scotland, like Ireland, used the system known as tanistry.

But forget about that now, and meander down the rather different journey that James Thurber takes us upon...

The Macbeth Murder Mystery
by James Thurber

"It was a stupid mistake to make," said the American woman I had met at my hotel in the English lake country, "but it was on the counter with the other Penguin books - the little sixpenny ones, you know; with the paper covers - and 1 supposed of. course it was a detective story All the others were detective stories. I'd read all the others, .So I bought this one without really looking at it carefully. You can imagine how mad I was when I found it was Shakespeare." I murmured something sympathetically." 1 don't see why the Penguin-books people had to get out Shakespeare plays in the sane size and everything as the detective stories," went on my companion. "I think they have different colored jackets," I said. "Well, I didn't notice that," she said. "Anyway, I got real comfy in bed that night and all ready to read a good mystery story and here I had 'The Tragedy of Macbeth" - a book for high school students. Like 'Ivanhoe," "Or 'Lorne Doone.'" I said. "Exactly," said the American lady. "And I was just crazy for a good Agatha Christie, or something. Hercule Poirot is my favorite detective." "Is he the rabbity one?" I asked. "Oh, no," said my crime-fiction expert. "He's the Belgian one. You're thinking of Mr. Pinkerton, the one that helps Inspector Bull. He's good, too."

Over her second cup of tea my companion began to tell the plot of a detective story that had fooled her completely - it seems it was the old family doctor all the time. But I cut in on her.. "Tell me," I said. "Did you read 'Macbeth'?" "I had to read. it" she said, "There wasn't a scrap of anything else to read in the whole room." "Did you like it?" I asked. "No, I did not," she said, decisively. "In the first place, I don't think for a moment that Macbeth did it." I looked at her blankly. "Did what?" I asked. "1 don't think for a moment that he killed the King," she said. "I don't think the Macbeth woman was mixed up in it, either. You suspect them the most, of course, but those are the ones that are never guilty or shouldn't be, anyway." "I'm afraid," I began, "that I ---". "But don't you see?" said the American lady. "It would spoil everything if you could figure out right away who did it.. Shakespeare was far too smart for that. I've read that people never have figured out 'Hamlet,' so it isn't likely Shakespeare would have made 'Macbeth' as simple as it seems." I thought this over while I filled my pipe. "Who do you suspect?" I asked, suddenly. "Macduff," she said, promptly. "Good God!" I whispered, softly.

"Oh Macduff did it, all right," said the murder specialist. "Hercule Poirot would have got him easily." "How did you figure it out?" I demanded. "Well," she said, "I didn't right away. At first I suspected Banquo. And then of course, he was the second person killed. That was good right in there, that part. The person you suspect of the first murder should always be the second victim." "Is that so?" I murmured. "Oh, yes," said my informant. "They have to keep surprising you. Well, after the second murder I didn't know who the killer was for a while."

"How about Malcolm, and Donalbain, the King's sons?" I asked. "As I remember it, they fled right after the first murder. That looks suspicious." "Too suspicious," said the American lady. "Much too suspicious. When they flee, they're never guilty. You can count on that" "I believe," I said, "I'll have a brandy," and I summoned the waiter. My companion leaned toward me, her eyes bright, her teacup quivering. "Do yon know who discovered Duncan's body?" she demanded. I said I was sorry, but I had forgotten. "Macduff discovers it," she said, slipping into the historical present. Then he comes running downstairs and shouts, 'Confusion has broke open the Lord's anointed temple' and 'Sacrilegious murder has made his masterpiece' and on and on like that" The good lady tapped mc on the knee. "All that stuff was rehearsed," she said. "You wouldn't say a lot of stuff like that, offhand, would you - if you had found a body?" She fixed me with a glittering eye. "I-" I began. "You're right!" she said. 'You wouldn't! Unless you had practiced it in advance. 'My God, there's a body in here!' is what an innocent man would say." She sat back with a confident glare.

I thought for a while. "But what do you make of the Third Murderer?" I asked. "You know, the Third Murderer has puzzled 'Macbeth' scholars for three hundred years." "That's because they never thought of Macduff," said the American lady. "It was Macduff, I'm certain. You couldn't have one of the victims murdered by two ordinary thugs - the murderer always has to be somebody important." "But what about the banquet scene?" I asked, after a moment. "How do you account for Macbeth's guilty actions there, when Banquo's ghost came in and sat in his chair?" The lady leaned forward and tapped me on the knee again. "There wasn't any ghost," she said. "A big, strong man like that doesn't go around seeing ghosts - especially in a brightly lighted banquet hall with dozens of people around. Macbeth was shielding somebody!" "Who was he shielding?" I asked. "Mrs. Macbeth, of course," she said. "He thought she did it and he was going to take the rap himself. The husband always does that when the wife is suspected."

"But what" I demanded, "about the sleepwalking scene, then?" "The same thing, only the other way around," said my companion. That time she was shielding him. She wasn't asleep at all. Do you remember where it says, 'Enter Lady Macbeth with a taper'? "Yes," I said. "Well, people who walk in their sleep never carry lights!" said my fellow-traveler. "They have a second sight. Did you ever hear of a sleepwalker carrying a light?" "No," I said, "I never did." "Well, then she wasn't asleep. She was acting guilty to shield Macbeth." I think," I said, "I'll have another brandy," and I called the waiter. When he brought it, I drank it rapidly and rose to go. "I believe," I said, "that you have got hold of something. Would you lend me that 'Macbeth'? I'd like to look it over tonight. I don't feel, somehow as if I'd ever really read it." "I'll get it for you," she said. "But you'll find that I am right."

I read the play over carefully that night, and the next morning, after breakfast, I sought out the American woman. She was on the putting green, and I came up behind her silently and took her arm. She gave an exclamation. "Could I see you alone?" I asked, in a low voice. She nodded cautiously and followed me to a secluded spot 'You've found out something?" she breathed. "I've found out"' I said, triumphantly, "the name of the murderer!" "You mean it wasn't Macduff?" she said. "Macduff is as innocent of those murders" I said, "as Macbeth and the Macbeth woman." I opened the copy of the play, which I had with me, and turned to Act II, Scene 2. "Here," I said; "you will see where Lady Macbeth says, "I laid their daggers ready. He could not miss 'em. Had he not resembled my father as he slept, I had done it.' Do you see?" "No," said the American woman, bluntly, "I don't." "But it's simple!" I exclaimed. "I wonder I didn't see it years ago. The reason Duncan resembled Lady Macbeth's father as he slept is that it actually was her father!" "Good God!" breathed my companion softly. "Lady Macbeth's father killed the King," I said, "and, hearing someone coming, thrust the body under the bed and crawled into the bed himself."

"But," said the lady "you can't have a murderer who only appears in the story once. You can't have that." "I know that" I said, and I turned to Act II, Scene 4. "It says here, "Enter Ross with an old Man.' Now, that old man is never identified and it is my contention he was old Mr. Macbeth, whose ambition it was to make his daughter Queen. There you have your motive." "But even then," cried the American lady, "he's stills a minor character!" "Not," I said, gleefully, "when you realize that he was also one of the weird sisters in disguise!" "You mean one of the three witches?" "Precisely," I said. "Listen to this speech of the old man's. "On Tuesday last, a falcon towering in her pride of place was by a mousing owl hawk'd at and killed.' Who does that sound like?" "It sounds like the way the three witches talk," said my companion, reluctantly. "Precisely!" I said again. "Well," said the American woman, "maybe you're right, but -" "I'm sure I am," I said. "And do you know what I'm going to do now?" "No," she said. "What?" "Buy a copy of 'Hamlet,'" I said, "and solve that!" My companion's eye brightened. "Then," she said, you don't think Hamlet did it?" "I am," I said' "absolutely positive he didn't" "But who," she demanded, "do you suspect?" I looked at her cryptically. "Everybody," I said, and disappeared into a small grove of trees as silently as I had come.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Dangerous Visions

I was listening to Mark Boleat's talk at the Chamber of Commerce yesterday, and I was struck by his mention of how affluent Jersey was, and how good the standard of living was here.

With respect to his erudition, he seems strangely out of touch with the lower rungs of Jersey's society, where making ends meet on a monthly basis is a major feat, doctor's expenses are cripplingly expensive, and pensioners face increasing hardship. I don't think he inhabits the same world as people that I meet. Perhaps he should go out more, away from the lofty heights of his tower, and consider the pensioner who is faced with a choice between heating one room to keep warm, and buying enough food to keep body and soul together. No one who did could say "we live in an affluent society".

But more damaging is his linking of economic migration leads to a higher standard of living, and saying that you cannot have one without the other, and this poses no problem to sustainability:

It is sometimes argued that immigration poses a sustainability issue for any economy. This cannot generally be the case, as immigration has little to do with sustainability. The least sustainable economies are those with a declining population rather than those with a rising one. However, there can be a short-term issue in providing the physical infrastructure that a rising population needs, and there is also a longer-term issue in respect of land use. A rising population will, other things being equal, require more physical development, although generally the effect of declining household sizes has a rather greater effect. If an area with strong immigration makes the necessary land available for increased housing supply, obviously at some environmental cost, then there is no reason why house prices should increase by any more than in other areas. If, however, land is not made available then the effect of rising immigration is to increase house prices.

There is debate in many communities about the "desirable" size of the population for that community. Often the debate is about whether the area has the resources to accommodate a larger population. With the important exception of land, the resources a community requires are not predominantly natural resources but rather manufactured goods and services. Whether these can be acquired depends on the purchasing power of the community. An area that is not naturally inhospitable or inaccessible can accommodate almost any size of population.

Territories that are often compared with Jersey - Bermuda, Guernsey, Malta and Gibraltar - have higher densities of population. The Far East centres of Singapore and Hong Kong have population densities more than seven times that of Jersey.

What he fails to realise - or willfully ignores - is that many of these territories have had to address various issues of sustainability, whether it is electricity supply, water supply, sewage disposal, traffic, food security, hospital resources, education facilities - to name but a few.

Let's look at the issue of water, for example. It is obvious from last year, that with a major reservoir out of action for part of the summer, and low rainfall, that Jersey was facing serious drought conditions. Plans were even mooted to ship water into the Island from Norway. As things stand, there is a limit to the capacity of the water supply, and as we approach that capacity, the Island will be increasingly vulnerable to drought conditions.

Of course, there is always the desalination plant, and one Deputy told me a few years ago that they could just put in another one if needs be, and run them all the time. He cheerfully disregarded the cost of running them, which I suppose is what one must expect from a politician on £44,000 per annum. In fact, it costs around £4,000 a day, which is why - when it was needed in 2011 - Jersey water said that decision "on whether or not to fire up the plant will not be taken lightly.".

What does this mean for Mark Boleat's position on sustainability? It means that if we are dependent on sources of water like the desalination plant because of too great a population, the cost of water to the consumer will increase dramatically. This in turn will impact on the standard of living, making Jersey a much less attractive place to live.

But being an Island, it is difficult for the population to have the mobility of a larger area like Britain - people who get caught in a poverty trap can often not afford to emigrate, because that requires an amount of capital that they do not have. So those people will suffer, and income support costs will rise, and hence the Island rate will have to go up to pay for that. This will impact on the standard of living of what we may term "middle Jersey". There is always a chain of consequences, linked together. Sustainability is an issue, and cannot be just dismissed.

How have other jurisdictions managed to cope with water supply? Let us consider Hong Kong. This has a high population density, few natural lakes, rivers or groundwater reserves:

Until 1964 water rationing was a constant reality for Hong Kong residents, occurring for more than 300 days per year. The worst crisis occurred in 1963-64 when water was delivered only every 4 days for 4 hours each time. The city-state then embarked on a three-pronged approach to supply water to a population that increased from 1.7 million in 1945 to about 6 million in 1992. The approach involved seawater flushing, the construction of larger freshwater reservoirs in bays that used to be covered by the sea, and water imports from mainland China.

In 1960 legislation was introduced to promote seawater flushing on a larger scale, followed by substantial investments in a separate network although the system was unpopular due to the need to build a separate plumbing network in each house. (1)

But in the end, the best solution was to import water through a network of pipes from mainland China:

About 70% of water demand met by importing water from the Dongjiang River in neighboring Guangdong province. In addition, freshwater demand is curtailed by the use of seawater for toilet flushing, using a separate distribution system.

Clearly, Jersey could lay down a pipe network to France and import water that way, providing there was an adequate supply in Normandy. A pipe network carrying water would probably be a more difficult engineering feat than electricity, but it would be possible. Of course, because of intensive farming, the actual discharge of a river in France can be more than half composed of wastewater effluents despite efforts which have improved the Seine. And groundwater shows an overall increase in the concentration of nutrients and pesticides. But the increased cost of this would have to be passed on to the consumer, and once more we end up with an economic cycle which would reduce the standard of living.

Equally, provision could be made in building laws and planning permission to ensure a dual plumbing system is put into new houses, so that - like in Hong Kong - fresh water and water for toilet flushing, perhaps from rainfall, could be put in place. I know someone in Trinity who has no water pipes at all; he depends on a tanker, and on rainwater storage.

This won't do for flats, where water consumption will easily outstrip demand, but it could be put in place for new houses. This would help to solve the problem of water supply, and I think it is quite a good idea - but it would mean that the issue of sustainability would have to be addressed and not ignored. Building costs might also increase, because of the extra requirements - this happened in Hong Kong - and that will impact on house prices.

So we can manage with more population growth and means of keeping water consumption down by alternative means of getting water - like the family in Trinity, and like the Hong Kong system, but it does require addressing the issue of sustainability. It can't be ignored, and it is directly related to immigration. More people use more water: it is as simple as that.

Let's look at Bermuda. This Island is only 20.6 square miles, with a population in 2010 of 64,268. and a density of of 3,293 people per square mile. Jersey is 46.13 square miles, with a population in 2011 of 97,857, giving a density of 2,121 people per square mile.

So what is Bermuda's water supply like?

The only source of fresh water in Bermuda is rainfall, which is collected on roofs and catchments (or drawn from underground lenses) and stored in tanks. Each dwelling usually has at least one of these tanks forming part of its foundation. Residents typically add bleach to make the water safe to drink.

All private dwelling units and apartment complexes must by law have their own water tanks - see below - to collect and store rainfall, mandated in size by local building and planning regulations. Without rivers or a rainy season and no fresh water lakes, Bermuda depends on the weather for water. Without regular rain, home owners and commercial properties will have problems. With a solid limestone rock base, piped in water is not feasible, except in certain commercial areas.

The supply of drinkable and/or well water is not is not and never has been a Bermuda Government service for the real estate taxes paid. Homes can store about 14,000 gallons per bedroom completely independently of any other building. But with Bermuda Government import duty averaging 30 percent at wholesale and the resulting impact on retail prices of all building materials and plumbing fixtures, a major disadvantage is the huge extra cost of building water tanks that property owners in most other countries do not have to endure.

Water tanks - the most common source of water for home and apartment buildings - are often found under bedrooms, living rooms or patios but are not allowed under bathrooms or kitchens. Bermuda relies on the combination of rainwater falling on roofs and piped to more than 21,000 water tanks and groundwater extracted from underground lenses for more than 90 percent of its entire water supply. Rainwater by itself is nowhere near sufficient, at a volume of 1.4 million gallons overall yearly, to supply all of Bermuda's demands in one of the highest populations anywhere in the world per square mile. Rainwater can be used immediately but groundwater - large pockets of water under the ground - can take two years to go from rain to lenses (2)

And this impacts considerably on their standard of living, and poses health risks, as the quality of water can vary. Moreover, there is a large use of bottled water for drinking, which again goes against sustainability, and impacts on waste which needs disposal; in this respect, Bermuda seems locked into being a throw-away society. And reading how this impacts on people does not make it seem like a nice way to live:

The quality of tank water depends largely on how well the property owner maintains the water system including the roof and tank. The Department of Health of the Bermuda Government recommends, among other things, that he roof should be power-washed or wire-brushed when dirty, or no later than once every two years, to remove old paint and fungal growth. Then it should be washed with undiluted bleach before applying an approved roof paint; the tank should be cleaned at least every six years. But this means emptying it first, then refilling it. Some properties have not had their tanks emptied, cleaned and refilled for 20 or more years. The health of occupants is at risk. Also, there is a danger that tanks not emptied and cleaned periodically will develop a slow leak, which will render the landlord or tenant liable to buy water, possibly frequently; disinfecting the water using 2-4 ounces of bleach for every 1,000 gallons of water in the tank.

Imported bottled water is very much in demand. But be aware bottled water contains no fluoride, and generally more adults suffer from a fluoride deficiency, which can lead to tooth decay. (2)

So much for a "comparable" jurisdiction! "Some properties have not had their tanks emptied, cleaned and refilled for 20 or more years". That's an indirect consequence of the way Bermuda copes with water supply problems, and as Mr. Boleat has probably not been resident in Bermuda for any appreciable length of time outside hotels, which he may have visited, he may well have been unaware of this.

And notably Mr. Boleat doesn't mention that Bermuda is strongly addressing the issue of immigration. Bermuda has Work Permits for Employment of all non-citizens, and that is required for all working newcomers including those from the United Kingdom and visiting consultants or guest speakers. Moreover the system is designed to favour native Bermudians. Many Bermudians have two or three jobs, to make ends meet. But this is not allowed - under the Immigration Laws - for people who are not Bermudian:

Non-Bermudians allowed Work Permits in Bermuda are not allowed to emigrate to Bermuda. Instead, they come for as long as they are approved for a Work Permit, then must leave unless they marry and co-habit with a Bermudian and are permitted to stay because of that and can wait 10 years to become a Bermudian as the direct result of that same enduring marriage.

When a work permit comes up for renewal, the employer must advertise the job and give full consideration to qualified Bermudian applicants. If there are no qualified Bermudians, non-Bermudians can be rehired, assuming they have not exceeded their six-year term limit or any extension granted to it. (3)

Strangely, when considering the higher population of Bermuda as an argument that Jersey could sustain a higher population density, these very stringent controls went unmentioned. Indeed, Mr. Boleat fulminated against what he termed the "lump of labour" fallacy - the idea that if people come in from abroad to take jobs they are depriving local people of those same jobs - and yet Bermuda's Immigration policies seem designed specifically with that in mind!

So it can be seen that "the resources a community requires are not predominantly natural resources" is not just related to land use, according to the Boleat thesis, but requires a more detailed examination and comparison with other jurisdictions. Of course, as a matter of resource, the water problem could be solved by simply throwing money at it - a pipeline to France or more desalination. But that will impact on costs, and that will lower the standard of living for most people, apart from the richer members of society, whose monetary resources can insulate them from those effects.

The statement "immigration has little to do with sustainability" cannot just be allowed to stand without question. And when examined, it is found wanting.


Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Lent in Whitnash, 1863

Whitnash Parish Magazine, which I peruse occasionally, has details of the Lent Talks in their 1863 edition. As we approach Easter, I thought this extract would be seasonal.

Services in our Church have been commenced, and will be continued the same as in former years, namely, Morning Prayers and Litany every Wednesday at 10.30, and Evening. Prayers with a Lecture or Sermon at 7.30. The subjects of the Lectures during the present year will be the Types of our Lord Jesus, in the Old Testament ; Adam, Noah, Melchizedec, Isaac, Joseph, Aaron, Joshua, Jonah, and the Paschal Lamb. It is earnestly hoped that a meditation on these Scriptural Types will be blessed to the spiritual welfare of many among us. It has been desired in each succeeding Lent to bring some one subject, or series of connected subjects, before the congregation in these Lenten Lectures, and it may be a matter of interest to our readers to peruse a list of the subjects so treated in successive years since 1846, when they were first established.

1846. The Holy Communion under different names and aspects.
1847. The various parts of the Liturgy.
1848. The Services, as Baptism, Confirmation, Visitation of the Sick, &c.
1849. The Writers of the New Testament.
1850. The occurrences of the Holy Week-the betrayal, apprehension, judgment, &c., of our blessed Lord.
1851. The Gospels for the succeeding Sundays.
1852. The Christian Church, its history and development.
1853. Lenten Sermons by seven different Clergymen.
1854. The next Sunday's Epistles.
1855. The Seven Churches, by Rev. T. R. I. Laugharne.
1856. The Means of Grace.
1857. The Words from the Cross.
1858. The Patriarchs, by the Rev. Dr. Joseph Wolff, traveller and missionary.
1859. The Seven Penitential Psalms.
1860. Repentance exemplified by the words "I have sinned," uttered by different persons.
1861. The Word of God, or History of Revelation.
1862. The Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount.
1863. Types of our Lord Jesus in the Old Testament.

One individual mentioned in the Whitnash talks is Rev. T. R. I. Laugharne, of which there is far less known. Thomas Robert John Laugharne was curate of Calverton in 1863, and published a selection of poems of various authors which was called "A Bundle of Reeds". The Whitnash Press had also published in 1854, a 23 page booklet which was "The Advent Collects, paraphrased in verse". Sadly this is all that is known of him.

The other named individual is an interesting name, lost to history, largely forgotten. Dr. Joseph Wolff (1795-1862) was a Jewish Christian missionary, originally from Germany, who adopted the name Joseph when he converted to Roman Catholicism at 17. He visited Rome, but became appalled by the emphasis on the papal claim to infallibility, among other matters:

He began arguing openly "and not always politely" in class. His teachers, who were not amused, eventually secured an order for him to leave the city. He was not compelled to leave, however, until in God's providence, the wealthy English banker, Henry Drummond, in Rome apparently on business, heard about this courageous student and got in touch with him. He invited Joseph to England, where, he promised, fellow Christians would sponsor his further studies. A year later Joseph left for England. (2)

In England, Joseph was warmly welcomed by Henry Drummond, who helped him continue his education, now under Protestant teachers, and as a member of the Church of England. He went off on three missionary journeys, 1821-1826, 1828-1834, and 1836-1838, in addition to a trip to Bokhara (1843-1845) in search of two British soldiers. In the process he visited Greece, Malta, the Crimea, Palestine, Turkey, Egypt, Central Asia, Abyssinia, Yemen, India, and other lands, including even the United States of America. He  was known as "The Eccentric Missionary". An account of him in the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia reveals why - in particular, walking 600 hundred miles through central Asia and Afghanistan!

About 1828 Wolff commenced an expedition in search of the Lost Ten Tribes. After suffering shipwreck at Cephalonia and being rescued by Sir Charles Napier, whose friendship he retained through life, he passed through Anatolia, Armenia, and Khorassan, where he was made a slave, but ultimately set free. Undaunted, he traversed Bokhara and Balkh, and reached Cabul in a state of nudity, having walked six hundred miles through Central Asia without clothing.

In 1836 he went to Abyssinia, and afterward to Sana in Yemen, where he preached to the Wahabites. His next journey was to the United States. He preached before Congress and received the degree of D.D. at Annapolis, Md., in 1836. He was ordained deacon by the Bishop of New Jersey, and in 1838 priest by the Bishop of Dromore. (4)

A few geographical notes: The island of Cephalonia is the largest of the Ionian Isles in Western Greece. Anatolia is in what is now West Turkey. Armenia is now in Turkey. Greater Khorasan, a historic region that covered parts of modern day Afghanistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Bokhara is the capital of Uzbekistan, on the Silk Road. Balkh is now just a small town, but was was an ancient city and centre of Zoroastrianism in what is now northern Afghanistan. Cabul (usually spelt Kabul) is the capital and largest city of Afghanistan.

In 1843 he made another journey to Bokhara to ascertain the fate of Lieut.-Col. Charles Stoddart and Captain Connolly, a committee formed in London having raised the sum of £500 for his expenses. The men for whom he searched had been executed, and the same fate threatened Wolff. According to his own story he confronted the sovereigns of Central Asia with imperturbable audacity, refusing to conform to their court etiquette or to observe any ceremony in his speech; on being asked to become a Moslem he returned a defiant reply. The threat of execution was, however, a pretense, and he was ultimately rescued through the efforts of the Persian ambassador. In 1845 he was presented with the vicarage of Ile Brewers in Somerset, where he resided until his death. (4)

He published several journals of his expeditions, notably Travels and Adventures of Joseph Wolff (2 vols, London, 1860), which is singular in that it is written in the third person, which is unusual, but not unknown, for an autobiographical account ( - the actor Matthew Waterhouse did the same). Alternatively, the book may well have been ghost-written from his journals.

 In this book he says:

I, Joseph Wolff also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham of the tribe of LEVI, and I have preached the Gospel, not only from Jerusalem, round about unto Illyricum, but also from the Thames to the Oxus and the Ganges and the New World!

The book is dedicated to Benjamin Disraeli, who at the time was Chancellor of the Exchequer under Lord Derby. Disraeli has previously written a warm letter to Wolff, saying that it is more than weak for a man to be ashamed of being of the Semitic race, and having Semitic blood "which is the root of all blood" in his veins.

The chapter summaries give an indication of his travels - here are a few:

The Desert ; Gaza ; Jaffa ; the Samaritans ; Mount Carmel ; Acre ; Sidon ; Argument with a Roman Catholic ; Mount Lebanon ; robbed by Bedouins; arrives at Jerusalem . Jerusalem, its Inhabitants and Neighbourhood ; Controversies with Rabbis Mendel and Markowiz . . Lady Hester Stanhope and her Prophet ; Earthquake at Aleppo ;Massacre of Christians at Nicosia ; Mediterranean ; Stay at Alexandria ; Holy Land . . .

This is an extract from the time when he went from Lebanon to Jerusalem. It is a fascinating record, and shows how amazingly gifted linguists were around at that time. It is also an entertaining travel narrative, and one can understand his popularity as a writer:

Wolff also met in Mount Lebanon two Italian adventurers, who had left their country on account of their political opinions. It was rather amusing to hear them laugh at their own follies, and those of their compatriots, in leaving their native land for the sake of liberty, only to find a scanty and needy livelihood by becoming the slaves of Muhammadan tyrants. However, it was refreshing to be on Mount Lebanon, and to hear, all over the mountain, the sound of the bell, and the Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison, resounding from all the Christian churches. Years afterwards, Wolff, to his great astonishment, discovered that his residence in Mount Lebanon had created a great excitement in all that neighbourhood.

He now returned to Acre, and preached again to crowds of Jews ; and, when he was again not far from Jaffa (the ancient Joppa), he was robbed by the Bedouins, and stripped of his clothes, after which they let him go. Arriving in Jaffa, he met with Major Mackworth, in the house of Damiani, the Consul ; and he furnished him with clothes. The next day he started on a mule for Ramlah (the ancient Arimathea), and slept in the Armenian monastery ; and thence proceeded forwards through the camp of Aboo-goosh, who, with his band of robbers, stopped him for a short time ; but, after a present of a small sum of money, allowed him to go on. Aboo-goosh possessed and showed him the portrait of Sir Sydney Smith. After this Wolff had to travel over vast heaps of stones, which were strewed alone the highways to Jerusalem.

However to come back to Jerusalem ; Wolff was thus comfortably placed in the Armenian monastery, where the Patriarch Gabriel received him with the greatest delight, and sent a live sheep to his room, as a mark of respect, and good Jerusalem wine, made by the Armenians. Gethin and Carne came to him, and partook of his dinner, and two of the Friars joined the party, and a German, Leutzen by name. And very soon Wolff's room was crowded by Jews, Armenians, Roman Catholics, and Turks, to whom he proclaimed the Gospel of Christ in Italian, Hebrew, Arabic, German, and English.

He went with Gethin and Carne to the Greek monastery to pay a visit to the Bishop Daniel Nazareth, Vicar -General to the Patriarch, because the Patriarch himself resided in Constantinople, on account of the persecution which the Greeks had to suffer from the Turks. And surprised, indeed, was Dr. Wolff to find in this Greek monastery, that Procopius, one of the monks, was furnished with Arabic, Greek, and Hebrew Bibles and Testaments, which had been left to him by a missionary of the Church Missionary Society, Connor by name, and by Levi Parsons, the American missionary.

Procopius circulated these among the inhabitants of Jerusalem. There also came to Joseph Wolff, at the Armenian monastery, Papas Isa Petrus, a man of great talents, who spoke Arabic, Greek, Persian, Turkish, Italian, and French with the greatest facility. Gethin observed that such an interesting sight had never been seen at Jerusalem before, and the Armenians themselves said the same thing, for there had never been so many persons of different nations assembled in their monastery since the monastery of Mar- Yakoob (which means " the Holy James ;" namely, the Apostle, who was the first Bishop of Jerusalem) existed, as Joseph Wolff had now brought together there.


Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Twitter Ye Not

Fabrice Muamba: Racist Twitter user jailed for 56 days

A student who admitted posting racially offensive comments on Twitter about footballer Fabrice Muamba has been jailed for 56 days. Swansea University student Liam Stacey, 21, from Pontypridd, admitted inciting racial hatred over remarks about the Bolton Wanderers player, who collapsed during a FA Cup tie at Tottenham. A district judge in Swansea called the comments "vile and abhorrent". (1)

I find this very unsettling. What has happened is that society has set laws against the expression of particular opinions, and obnoxious though they may be in their presentation, their falsehood is a matter for argument, not for law. In his essay on freedom, John Stuart Mill says that "The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it." This individual offended a good many people, but his words attempt to deprive anyone of their freedom. I think not. His words were not an incitement to crime,  or a defamatory injury to reputation.

The danger with such a law is that it is a two edged sword: it can be used to silence what is deemed racial hatred, and yet it is a slippery law, that can be used to silence any discussion of the racial superiority of one race over another. I do not believe that any race has any superiority to any other, but this is a position which must be argued; it should not be stated as a matter of law. Once we get into the habit of letting laws decide what is right to say, we move towards laws deciding what is right for people to think. First, "you mustn't say such things", and from there, with the re-education room, it is not a very distant step to "You mustn't think such things."

Mill states four reasons why we should not silence speech, even when we disagree with it, and it may be presented in what appears to be intemperate language:

First, if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.

Secondly, though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any object is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied.

Thirdly, even if the received opinion be not only true, but the whole truth; unless it is suffered to be, and actually is, vigorously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of those who receive it, be held in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds.

And not only this, but, fourthly, the meaning of the doctrine itself will be in danger of being lost, or enfeebled, and deprived of its vital effect on the character and conduct: the dogma becoming a mere formal profession, inefficacious for good, but cumbering the ground, and preventing the growth of any real and heartfelt conviction, from reason or personal experience.

There can be little doubt that the racist twitter contained much in the way of truth, but there is, perhaps quite possibly "a portion of truth", and it is this: that left to its own devices, as history has shown, human beings show a remarkable ability to find scapegoats of those who are different, and race is, of course, one area where people are different. 

Mill also notes that the language of opposing sides can be equally bad, but the law shows bad faith because it is used in a one sided way, and so is not really impartial and just. When someone holds honest scientific beliefs about racial superiority - as an academic did recently - rather than being argued against, they were hounded mercilessly, and by people using language deliberately to drum up hatred of that individual, but the law remained silent of that kind of action, deeming it free speech. I don't think the scientist was right, but the case should be argued, not denounced.

With regard to what is commonly meant by intemperate discussion, namely, invective, sarcasm, personality, and the like, the denunciation of these weapons would deserve more sympathy if it were ever proposed to interdict them equally to both sides; but it is only desired to restrain the employment of them against the prevailing opinion: against the unprevailing they may not only be used without general disapproval, but will be likely to obtain for him who uses them the praise of honest zeal and righteous indignation.

However, Mill's third and fourth points are important when the law starts to take away from the citizen what they can say as their opinion. To put it into the context of racism, Mill is saying that if racist speech is considered hate speech under the law, we will gradually lose the reason why we forbade hate speech; the anti-racists stance will become a prejudice, "with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds".

But the move to that in itself will also weaken the law, because there is no grasp of the dangers of racism in heartfelt conviction, but only because the law demands it, the grounds for the law will atrophy, and the law itself may be overturned. One prejudice can just as easily be replaced with another, when it seems arbitrary, because the grounds for the law will become remote. "The law is the law", says Javert in his pursuit of his one guiding principle, but it is a principle that he discovers to be hollow at its heart.

Mill's other argument is that however much we may be totally convinced that racism is wrong, we cannot assume infallibility of our own opinions; we have to bear in mind that they might be mistaken. If we silence those who say something which we disagree with, we set ourselves up as judges of certainty:

Strange that they should imagine that they are not assuming infallibility when they acknowledge that there should be free discussion on all subjects which can possibly be doubtful, but think that some particular principle or doctrine should be forbidden to be questioned because it is so certain, that is, because they are certain that it is certain. To call any proposition certain, while there is any one who would deny its certainty if permitted, but who is not permitted, is to assume that we ourselves, and those who agree with us, are the judges of certainty, and judges without hearing the other side.

However positive any one's persuasion may be, not only of the falsity, but of the pernicious consequences - not only of the pernicious consequences, but (to adopt expressions which I altogether condemn) the immorality and impiety of an opinion; yet if, in pursuance of that private judgment, though backed by the public judgment of his country or his cotemporaries, he prevents the opinion from being heard in its defence, he assumes infallibility. And so far from the assumption being less objectionable or less dangerous because the opinion is called immoral or impious, this is the case of all others in which it is most fatal.

Mill sees that opinions shift; if we silence opinions that we disagree with now, we may find that our own opinions may be silenced in the future. Once the law is allowed free reign to judge speech, it becomes a tyrant.

And in his most celebrated passage he sets forth the strongest reason for allowing freedom of speech:

It is as noxious, or more noxious, when exerted in accordance with public opinion, than when in opposition to it. If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many. But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.


Monday, 26 March 2012

Reviews: White Heat, God Made the English, Explorers of the Nile, Titanic

The TV series White Heat moves forward to the crisis hit Heath government, and IRA bombs on the streets of London. It's easy to forget their "reign of terror" if just on the news, as clips, so just to bring it home, Lily is caught up in an explosion.

America saw the IRA as brave freedom fighters, and it wasn't until Robert McCartney, a Roman Catholic, was deliberately shot by IRA members that the sheer hypocrisy of the movement (i.e. supporting Catholic Ireland) was exposed. McCartney's sisters went to the USA campaigning for justice, and the IRA's support over there was seriously depleted. Their true colours as violence loving thugs masquerading as freedom fighters was exposed.

Elsewhere, Charlie's mother is not taking her medication, as it makes her feel like her brain's in cotton wool, so she goes for a session of ECT Therapy. This is done extremely graphically, as she goes into what is essentially an artificially induced epileptic fit.

A friend of mine was always in and out of St Saviours in Jersey, and would often have sessions of ECT, so I had read up on it in the 1980s, and did not like what I read. It seems likely that the reason for its short-term effectiveness was in part retro-grade amnesia, wiping out chunks of short term memory, so that recent feelings of clinical depression would be erased, rather like wiping a blackboard of chalk.

The trouble was, of course, it didn't deal with underlying causes, and also undoubtedly had long term effects on the brain of the unfortunate person undergoing "treatment". But it certainly was quite a popular treatment here and in the UK in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Lithium was the most widely used drug for mental illness, and I also remember a friend of my sister's called Buzz , who was on that medication, and would sometimes be a little "off the planet" as a result. I think they still have not quite sorted out those problems of maintaining awareness and staving off malfunctions in brain chemistry.

One of the gang has now "come out" as gay, although his family and co-workers at the hospital don't yet know. The 1970s saw the start of a more tolerant society (The Naked Civil Servant aired on TV, based on a real-life story), but the most popular image of someone gay was a very camp and effeminate person, like Larry Grayson or John Innman (Mr Humpreys in Are you Being Served). We now have Civil Partnerships, but homophobia still rears its ugly head from time to time, and religion often feeds into that kind of hatred of the unlike.

"White Heat" is a very good series, and I'm very much enjoying the 1970s concerns and re-creation of the times, although the "framing" story of the present day doesn't really add much to the narrative at the moment.

I was not so pleased with "God Made the English". This week was on tolerance. It was, I felt, a little rushed, and as a result, made a few mistakes.

Diarmaid MacCulloch went to see a European Catholic Catholic procession with banners, music and relics, as an illustration of what it was like in Catholic England before the Reformation, where the religion "spilled out onto the streets". This, he proclaimed, is something not seen in England since the Reformation.

Yet he had only watched "The Lost World of Mitchell and Kenyon", he could have seen precisely a filmed record of that kind of procession by Catholics in Manchester in the Edwardian era, huge processions with banners and musicians, on the streets, on particular feast days. A correspondent of mine says "They still have Catholic saints day processions in some English
cities, with banners and bands."

The Blood Libel against Jews of the Middle Ages - that they murdered children and babies in their rituals, actually was not, as MacCulloch suggested, an invention of Catholicism, but goes back to Ancient Roman paganism, where it was used as a propaganda weapon against Christians. Later it would be taken over and used against Jews and also against Witches. All this has been well documented from original sources in Norman Cohn's book "Europe's Inner Demons", and it is a pity MacCulloch was not more aware of the roots of this myth. But for all MacCulloch's implication that we live in a more tolerant society, the same kind of myth invaded the minds of social workers and pediatricians with the Satanic Ritual Abuse fantasy of the 20th century. His history has too many Whig tendencies in this respect; it presents the present as a progressive improvement on the past.

When it comes to Catholicism and Queen Mary's burnings of heretics, he doesn't mention that Fox assiduously checked sources for his Book of Martyrs, because there was a real fear of burnings should Catholicism come back. After all 227 men and 56 women had been burnt horribly. The case of the baby being thrown back in the flames is well attested, but in fact it happened in Guernsey - I thought he was perhaps rather too vague about the geography, suggesting it took place in England, when it did not. The Catholic Bailiff of Guernsey threw the baby back into the fire when Perotine Massey gave birth as she was being burnt, saying it was a Protestant baby. But the Channel Island were not noted for tolerance - unlike England until the Civil War, people were regularly hounded as witches and burnt, sometimes alive, whereas in England, they were hanged.

His Indian history seems a little too rushed as well. As far as I was aware, the East India Company was actually opposed to the Protestant Missionary effort, they thought (rightly as the Indian mutiny showed) that it would be damaging to trade. So this TV show is a good fast-paced romp, but not as meticulous as his history of Christianity.

On missionaries, I've been reading "Explorers of the Nile". The explorers - such Livingstone and Stanley - all wanted to map out the geography of the Nile and surrounding rivers and lakes, but also where they could, to stop the slave trade, as well as promoting Christian ideals, and improved economic conditions for the indigenous peoples.

But this slave trade was not Europeans enslaving Africans; indeed, the American slave trade had been extinguished. But Arab slavers still abounded like Hamad bin Muḥammad bin Jumah bin Rajab bin Muḥammad bin Sa'īd al-Murghabī, a Swahili-Zanzibar trader, owner and governor, who worked for a succession of sultans of Zanzibar. By 1895 he had 10,000 slaves, and sold
many on to the Sultans of Zanzibar.

It wasn't until 1870 that the Sultan Sayyid Barghash helped abolish the slave trade in Zanzibar, signing an agreement with Britain in 1870, prohibiting slave trade in his kingdom, and closing the great slave market in Mkunazini.

It is strange that Europe and America receive a good deal of justifiable criticism about their part in the slave trade, but the Arab nations who were just as heavily involved in trafficking, do not. Just as slavery and Christianity could go hand in hand, so too could slavery and Islam.

Titanic last night was a disappointment. Julian Fellowes' mini-series suffers from a lack of epic scale. He's decided to split the action, so that we see the same events unfolding from different perspectives, rather than in historical sequence, so this week the focus was mainly on the toffs and their servants, with a nod to the crew, second class, steerage, and the general staff.

This may work well in the long run, but tonight's episode was decidedly below par. The odd CGI of the ship was really too short to convey the scale of the ship, which meant that when we saw the first class and their servants, there seemed to be only about a dozen or so, with servants.

The ballroom dancing sequences seemed to be taking place in an extremely small ballroom, and the dining area seemed to consist largely of the captain's table and one waiter. There was no vast dining area, no grand staircase, and only one stoker in one engine room shoveling coal when the iceberg hit. It was like a recreation of the Titanic on a ship the scale of the Condor Vitesse.

As a piece of character drama, it wasn't bad, but the class element did come quite strongly in Cameron's version; this didn't really add much. One of the most memorable sequences is when Rose's corset is tightened on her, conveying both the stylish fashions of the day, and also the confining aspects of a woman's station; there was nothing of this here, and corsets were invisible; it was not even apparent they were worn.

A few nods existed to known characters - Benjamin Guggenheim and his mistress, Jack Thayer and his mother, Lightoller and the Captain, but J.J. Astor seems to have been invisible, and the unsinkable Molly Brown has sunk without trace.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

The Gates of the Underworld

Although this was written as a meditation for the Spring Equinox, apart from Iris rising at the end, there are no obvious signs of Spring. One of my principal sources has been Pyramid texts and their transcriptions, and a number of the poetic segments are based on those, and the hymn to the Nile and the digging of the Canal are taken verbatim. The sequence by the monastery likeways uses texts from the Desert Fathers. The link of papyrus with the origins of human beings is a widespread mythology, not just in Egypt, but across many African peoples. There are also two allusions to C.S. Lewis Narnia stories; those I leave the sharp-eyed reader to spot.

Gates of the Underworld

It is night, a cold night, and I step slowly across the sands; behind, I see a trail left by my footsteps back across the dunes. The sun has long gone down, and the air is cold, but still. All around me I see the contours of the sand, shadows of grey curving away into the darkness.

Ahead of me lies my destination, just as I read in the fragment of crumbling papyrus which I hold in my hand. There ahead of me, between two dunes, is a black obsidian arch, its glassy surface shining in the moonlight. This is the first gate, the entrance to the underworld, and the start of my journey.

Beyond the gate is a darkness, and I cannot see what is the other side. A cool breeze comes through the gate, and I hear a voice intone:

O living who are on earth, as the King loves you,
Enter the hall, the visitor, and come on through;
Into the land of shadows, the past reborn, light,
An ancient King passed this way, into the night;
A thousand of bread, beer, oxen, fowl, his gift,
To the hall keeper, to pass through time's rift.

The First Gate -Blue

I step though the first gate, and it is daylight, and I am walking through the reed bed, by the river Nile, its blue waters flowing gently by; a heron is fishing nearby, and in a vivid blue sky overhead, I see a flock of Ibis flying south, following the river. I read on my papyrus the following words, a hymn to the Nile.

"Lord of the fish, during the inundation, no bird alights on the crops. You create the grain, you bring forth the barley, assuring perpetuity to the temples. If you cease your toil and your work, then all that exists is in anguish. If the gods suffer in heaven, then the faces of men waste away."

I know that this place is Uthlanga, the land of the reeds, the birth place, whence came the first human, the child of the gods, an orphan of the reeds, gazing at the blue river, aware of self. Here was the child Horus cradled on the flower of the papyrus plant, and here was the child Mosheh drawn out of the water. And from here came my fragment of papyrus itself, from the dawning of mankind.

A cool breeze comes over the waters, and I hear a voice intone:

Here two children born of dark and day,
From the reed bed, once came this way;
From great lakes, the river flows along,
And here we listen to creation's song;
In the beginning, from Africa we came,
Knew ourselves, and knew our shame;
And the guardians there, the crocodile,
Basking gently, slumbers in the Nile:
Sobek's children, from land of dead,
The breaking of the fragile thread.

As I walk along the banks, I see another stone arch, of purple rhyolite, and once more I step through it.

The Second Gate - Purple

I find myself on a Royal Barge, which is sailing down a canal, away from the Nile. Along the canal are white herons and egrets, wading in the waters. Beside me is a man, dressed in a white robe, and fine linen kilt, with white papyrus sandals. He is standing on the barge, looking ahead, but now he turns and says to me:

"His Majesty commanded the digging of this canal, after his finding it blocked with stones; a ship could not sail on it. He travelled North on it, his heart being glad, having slain his enemies. The name of this canal is Menkheperre, 'may he live eternally', and he is the one who opens the way as something perfect."

And in the distance, I see the Pharoah, in his rich purple robes, seated on a golden throne, waiting for his barge to arrive, with a retinue of servants and slaves around him, and a falcon flying him, circling round.

And a voice speaks softly in the wind

Ascend to the sky as a falcon in flight,
King Unis goes to the sky, to the light;
With feathers, he goes, soaring so high,
On the wind, on the wind, see him fly;
The soul, high it flies, like a bird,
Stairs to the sky, laid for him, upward:
The ladder of Re, rising up it goes,
And where it ends, no one knows.

As the barge slowly makes its way down the canal, I notice at one end there has been erected an arch of wood; here the branches of a sycamore have been entwined together forming a green arch. I stoop down, and go through the arch.

The Third Gate - Green

I am again walking across the desert sands, but then they give way to lush grasslands and date palm trees, with lagoons of cool fresh water. I have come to the oasis, a green haven in a scorching desert.

I draw nearer, and I can see the path made by the Bedouin traders, the tracks of their caravans in the sand. The dwellings have fallen into ruin, and on the outskirts of the oasis are undecorated rock-cut tombs which are almost completely buried by the sand.

And a voice speaks softly in the wind

Drink deep of the waters of Ta-Iht, land of the cow,
For the Goddess Hathor, blessed this land and now
She nurtures the weary traveller, on the long path,
To escape the desert sun, the Sun-God's wrath

Drink deep of the waters of Ta-Iht, land of the cow,
And the Goddess Hathor, makes you this true vow:
She will nurture you today, and on the final day,
When you leave the light to seek the darkest way

On the hillside before the stone tombs, I see a black cat, looking at me. And as I watch, it turns and walks towards the tombs. Each has a low arched doorway that opens into absolute blackness. The cat sat down by one archway, with its tail curled round its feet and gazed towards the darkness. There is broken statue by the arch, half buried in the sand, and an inscription over the arch, and I read:

"Though under Earth and throneless now I be,
Yet, while I lived, all Earth was under me."

And I stoop down, and go through the arch.

The Fourth Gate - Orange

I am standing beside the Great Pyramid, and all around me are priests and priestesses in orange robes, chanting:

O worship the Aten, all glorious above,
O gratefully sing his power and his love;
He nurtures the seed, and lightens the days,
The giver of life, the one whom we praise

He rises in morning, his rays to embrace,
His robe is the light, his canopy space,
But darkened his light, when thunderclouds form,
And dark is that path on the wings of the storm.

We children of dust, so feeble and frail,
The sunset is coming, and our day will fail,
At the close of the day, like the Aten descend,
Here is the dark path that we take at the end

I see an arch of white marble, and on either side are heavy tripods, each bearing a brazier of fire. Once again, I go through the archway.

The Fifth Gate - White

I am on a track which winds through a barren land; I see everywhere rocky ground with only the barest shrubs, and in the distance a circular wall enclosing buildings, a sanctuary in the midst of this wilderness.

A man is sitting on a large rock by the side of the track, dressed in a white robe, and I greet him. He tells me that I can see the Monastery of St. Macarius, which lies in the desert regions between Cairo and Alexandria. Here dwell the hermits of the deserts, who strive to follow the way of purity and wisdom.

He said, "They seek solitude, for the arrows of the enemy cannot touch one who loves quietness; but he who moves about in a crowd will often be wounded. And their rule is to welcome the stranger with hospitality and to send you away in peace."

He told me that they had among them men of letters and philosophers, and members of the aristocracy along with simple illiterate peasants. And he said to me that they worshiped the light which shines in the darkness, and sought to bear witness to that light:

"God is the life of all free beings. He is the salvation of all, of believers or unbelievers, of the just or the unjust, of the pious or the impious, of those freed from passions or those caught up in them, of monks or those living in the world, of the educated and the illiterate, of the healthy and the sick, of the young or the old. He is like the outpouring of light, the glimpse of the sun, or the changes of the weather which are the same for everyone without exception."

A wind is rising, and I see a dust storm blowing across the land. Within moments, I cannot see the path clearly, and the monk is lost from sight; I stumble with the dust irritating my eyes; the sky cannot be seen, only a purple hue shining above. And as I shield my eyes, I see ahead an arch of sandstone, and swiftly hurry through.

The Sixth Gate - Violet

I am in an observatory beside a large circular stone basin of water; this is in the middle of a great room, open to the sky above; gazing in the basin, I see the stars reflected in the purple twilight sky.

A man comes to me dressed in a rich violet robe, with a turban on his head. He tells me that I am at the School of Astronomy in Persia, where the Magi study the skies seeking signs.

He tells me that the time has come for the rising of the constellation of Virgo, the Babylonian goddess of love, who points away from the nearby stars into a boundless ocean of smaller stars; stars like dust, scattered in the cosmos. For her love enfolds the cosmos, lighting the way in the darkness with signs of hope.

He takes me along a corridor, into a room whose walls are painted with violet hues, and bows and leaves me there. It is silent. Then a voice intones:

I am the mother, Isis rising in the night:
The moon in her phases, reflected light;
I am wisdom, the opening of the eyes,
Glory of the stars, shining in the skies;
I am the womb, through me all was born,
The lovers entwined, a child I adorn;
Perfume of the flowers, honey so sweet,
I bring fruits of earth, good gifts to eat;
The star signs of birth, I set forth the way,
I nurture all life, until the end of the day;
I weep with the dying, withdraw my breath,
Give fragrance of myrrh, blessing of death

I am all that hath been, and is, and shall be;
and my veil no mortal has hitherto raised

At the end of the room, there are two braziers burning brightly beside an archway through which I see more stars, and the dim outline of pyramids against the night sky. I step through the arch.

The Seventh Gate - Black

I am alone in the desert, with a cloudy night sky, and the sand dunes sweeping away into the darkness. I look around, and I am beside the ruins of the Sphinx, the sand softly blowing over her body. I know that time of the Osirians is long past, and I am returned to my present day.

The clouds clear, and a full silver moon is shining from the sky; moonlight bathing the Sphinx with her radiance. I have returned from the Gates of the Underworld, and my journey is over. But I will not forget the memory of that enchanted time, and the spirit of Isis will remain with me always.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Bill Ogley and Philip Ozouf - A Retrospective History

My relationship with the Treasury Minister is a source of significant discomfort. I seem to be unable to satisfy his expectations or at times even understand what is expected." (Bill Ogley, Letter January 2011)

A serious breakdown in the relationship between Treasury Minister Philip Ozouf and former chief executive Bill Ogley led to the civil servant leaving his job with a £546,337 pay-off, a new report by the States independent spending watchdog has revealed.

In a letter to Senator Le Sueur (Chief Minister), Bill Ogley wrote: "Over the last two years a sustained period of interference and harassment by the Deputy Chief Minister and Treasury Minister has made it impossible to do my job to the best of my ability."

Mr Ogley's ability to do his job can be in no doubt. In 2009, two years before writing that letter, he negotiated a controversial settlement that led to the former chief officer of Health and Social Services, Mike Pollard, being paid £129,000 when he quit in September of that year.

At the time, Chief Minister Terry Le Sueur admitted being 'concerned' about the pay-offs and said he would support a "confidential, independent review" into them, which was typical of what, in my opinion, is our former Chief Minister's remarkable ability to sweep anything embarrassing under the carpet. The word "confidential", of course, means that it would never see the light of day, just as Senator Le Sueur's "disciplining" of Bill Ogley later on would also remain under wraps.

On a smaller scale, the first sign of storm clouds on the horizon was the news in May 2009 that Chief Officer of Health Mike Pollard had claimed expenses for missed guitar lessons. The JEP reported that a review of this kind of claim was under way:

"Treasury Minister Philip Ozouf said that the review would ensure that all claims were 'appropriate'. It is understood that it will focus on the procedure used to sign off senior officers' expense claims."(JEP)

According to Senator Stuart Syvret, Bill Ogley "drove the decision to recruit Pollard" and also "never informed the appointment panel that he already knew Pollard and was friends with him." I have not been able to conform this in any documentation, but it would certainly explain why Bill Ogley worked to obtain a good redundancy package for Mike Pollard.

Jane Pollard - wife of Mike Pollard - was also Assistant Director of Human Resources at States of Jersey, and worked together with Bill Ogley. In a Scrutiny Panel meeting on 10 May 2011, Philip Ozouf (also present) mentions "Bill the senior individual who has overseen this extremely diligently and capably, served by Jane Pollard from H.R. (Human Resources)".

It is perhaps not surprising that there is no sign of any breakdown in relationships between Philip Ozouf and Bill Ogley; indeed, given that Mr Ogley was leaving at the end of May 2011, the Senator could, perhaps, afford to be generous in his praise. But what it does show is that there was clearly a close working relationship between Mr Ogley and Mr Pollard's wife, two individuals involved with pay and conditions of civil servants.

Both the excessive expenses claim by Mr Pollard, and his negotiated package for retirement by Mr Ogley, could have easily brought tensions in the working relationship between Mr Ogley and Senator Ozouf. Certainly if there was a close friendship between Mr Ogley and Mr Pollard, it would have been better for him to keep away from any negotiations that Mr Pollard was making, as his impartiality would appear to be compromised.

And in other ways, Mr Ogley also seems to have been working to retain the status quo with regard to the civil service, and hence, of course, his own position and remuneration. In January 2009, the JEP noted that:

The union that represents manual workers claims that it was offered arbitration by States chief executive Bill Ogley at a meeting in December. But today the States' head of employee relations, Mick Pinel, said: 'Bill Ogley did not have the authority to make that offer.'(JEP)

This was when an offer of 3.2% increase was on the table, and the meeting between the union and Mr Ogley was held in the time period when "the [former Chief Minister Frank] Walker employment board had gone and the new one was not in place". In fact, April 2009 saw the announcement of a public sector pay freeze. It would appear that Mr Ogley was trying to pre-empt any such event, and was taking advantage of the hiatus between Chief Ministers to do so. The seeds of a culture of distrust, that Mr Ogley was trying to manipulate matters to his own advantage, could have been sown here.

Mr Ogley also saw himself in the spotlight in February 2009, when Chief Minister Terry le Sueur was forced to admit that States chief executive Bill Ogley had destroyed hand-written minutes of the meeting to suspend the Police Chief Graham Power before Mr Power had agreed that they were accurate; in fact, he did not.

There was an unpleasant feeling that this action of Mr Ogley might have been deliberate, and columnist Helier Clement, writing in the JEP, compared that with a young police officer who had "similarly 'binned' the notes he'd made when arresting a suspect and relied on his subsequently written report", and concluded that

....from the conversations I've had with people who would know about these things that young police officer would almost certainly have been left fighting for his career, yet in the case of Sir Humphrey, well, who knows, because we certainly haven't been told, and as far as I am aware he is still occupying his office in Cyril Le Marquand House and drawing his big, fat brown envelope every Friday lunchtime. (JEP)

June 2009 saw Mr Ogley trying to prevent by a threat of legal action any possibility of his name being mentioned as one of the individuals named by Graham Power which alleged that a conversation with former Chief Minister Frank Walker and Mr Ogley had instigated the collection of files on all States Members.

"The memo claimed that Mr Ogley and former Chief Minister Frank Walker asked Mr Power to compile files on States Members to prevent anyone with a 'shady' past from being nominated to ministerial office." (JEP)

Mr Ogley denied involvement, and Chief Minister Terry Le Sueur defended him, saying "The chief executive has made it quite clear that there is no evidence whatsoever that he has been involved in any way in Operation Blast. I have seen no evidence whatsoever substantiating an allegation that the chief executive officer was involved in the establishment of Operation Blast."

Nevertheless, this was a damaging accusation, especially given the facts that Mr Ogley had convened a meeting of Chief Officers and Civil Servants to discuss the removal of Senator Stuart Syvret as Minister for Health - reported in a file note at the time by Chief of Police Graham Power, but apparently not minuted by Mr Ogley.

BO [Bill Ogley] and the others were persistent and I was left with the clear impression that they were attempting to draw me, in my capacity as Chief of Police, into a civil service led attempt to remove a Minister from Office.

A later report - the Napier report - did not turn up any minutes. The lack of record keeping in that case did not inspire confidence in such statements by the Chief Minister about "seeing no evidence".

None of these matters directly impinged on the relationship between Senator Ozouf and Mr Ogley, but what they do demonstrate is that in any conflict, Senator Le Sueur would probably give more support to his Chief Executive than his Treasurer. They also suggest that Mr Ogley had at least on one occasion - the meeting attended by Graham Power - been acting in a covert manner without liaison with Ministers or records minuted.

But what was a matter of finance came in May 2009, when Bill Ogley and his deputy, John Richardson, said that it was up to the Treasury Department to sort out the exchange rate risk, which appears to have cost taxpayers an extra £3 million on top of the price for the La Collette incinerator. They blamed States Treasurer Ian Black, who would depart under a cloud, even though he was not sacked after a disciplinary hearing. Deputy Daniel Wimberley commenting on this:

...alleged that States Treasurer Ian Black has been made a scapegoat for the errors of Chief Minister Terry Le Sueur, chief executive Bill Ogley and deputy chief executive John Richardson....'It is a shameful story of dishonesty and scapegoating,' said Deputy Wimberley. 'I don't know which is worse - ministers deceiving the States, the Chief Minister deceiving Public Accounts Committee, or seeing the thieves, caught red-handed, pinning all the blame onto one of their number in order to get off the hook.' (JEP)

This was not the first mix-up on finances associated with Bill Ogley's name. In 1997, a report in The Independent noted the following:

A local authority which hived off old people's homes to a private company wasted almost half a million pounds in one year. The district auditor's report found that Hertfordshire County Council had had to secure repayments of pounds 400,000 from Quantum Care, a not-for-profit organisation set up by the council itself, following checks on the accounts However, Bill Ogley, chief executive of Hertfordshire County Council said: "The teething problems of the transfer have not in any way disadvantaged the public or our elderly clients."

January 2010 would more obvious causes of conflict, and fault lines developing, when a Public Accounts Committee, led by Senator Ben Shenton, looked at 2008 recommendations by the States Auditor that could have saved £7.88m per year, and was examining why the savings have not been made. One of the areas was a review of public sector pay, which was also to look at differentials between different grades, and the possibility of simplifying them.

Meanwhile, in February 2010, Senator Ozouf announced his "comprehensive spending review", a series of ambitious plans to cut States spending by £50 million a year from 2012. Senator Ozouf also announced that he was considering introducing a temporary voluntary redundancy scheme and imposing recruitment freezes. Part of this was underway March 2010, when he brought in an interim finance director to help with the restructuring of the Treasury. Clearly, he was trying to put the States house in order, and the introduction of an outsider suggested that the Civil Service was resistant to change.

But shouldn't that have been Bill Ogley's job anyway? So why wasn't he finding and implementing cuts? A letter to the JEP noted this:

A few years ago (three to five years, I think - time flies so quickly, as does the States spending) the government of the Island said that they were going to make savings and were also going to reduce their staffing levels. Why has this not been done? I thought Bill Ogley was brought in a couple of years ago to help to make the staffing savings. Now more high-powered non-Jersey management people seem to be coming in. I think the Island is drowning in management and pen-pushing employees and the manual front-line workers appear to be suffering. This has to be wrong.

June 2010 revealed that chief executive Bill Ogley was among the top best-paid civil servants in Britain. The 2008 Accounts showed that his package including salary and pension contributions was between £230,000 THE growth in public spending over the last five years is down to politicians, not the civil service, according to States chief executive Bill Ogley and £249,999, which placed him between third and sixth on the list of the top ten earning UK civil servants. The question which was arising was whether he was in fact worth all that he was paid, or whether the States were overpricing Chief Civil Servants. Helier Clement, a columnist in the JEP, likened him to the equivalent of Sir Humphrey Appleby from the TV series "Yes Minister".

The same month saw the health department looking for new managers "to help it find the huge cuts being demanded by the Treasury Minister". The Chief Officer, Julie Garbutt said that the department did not have the skilled managers needed to enable it to find the cuts which would transform the department. This was yet another indication of the problems associated with getting the Civil service to try and reform itself, and would end in some redundancies among existing Middle Management, such as Hospital Director James Le Feuvre.

In August 2010, Bill Ogley robustly defended the civil service, saying that the growth in public spending over previous last five years was down to politicians, not the civil service. The JEP leader writer considered that this had some merit, but was dangerously over simplifying the situation:

Although politicians - sometimes by means of a vote in the States Assembly and sometimes by fiat through powers vested in them - take the big decisions, they cannot be held accountable for coming up with anything like all the ideas concerning the course that our ship of state should steer. As Mr Ogley was ready to concede, a great many potential policies and practices originate in the minds and meeting rooms of civil servants. These ideas are passed on to the political executive as advice, earnest recommendations or the sternest of warnings. (JEP)

In Mr Ogley's thesis, however, the civil servants might come up with proposals for cut backs, but it was Ministers who had the final say. This suggests that the civil service management was doing everything it could to find ways of making savings, but in fact, as several writers and columnists pointed out, the proposed cuts were what Senator Ben Shenton termed "shroud waving", suggesting cuts in front-line services that would very likely be blocked by Ministers as unacceptable.

Meanwhile, Philip Ozouf was trying to engage with his own kind of cut-backs. He seems to have identified part of the problem as a top heavy civil service, with too many managers to front-line workforce, and as the JEP reported, was budgeting for a singular redundancy scheme to cut out what the general public certainly saw as "dead wood". As the JEP reported:

Some of the States' highest earners are to be targeted in a major States redundancy scheme being launched today. Every public sector worker was this morning offered voluntary redundancy as part of a programme of cutbacks to find £50m worth of savings. Treasury Minister Philip Ozouf said: 'The voluntary redundancy scheme will be particularly useful for slimming down management.'(JEP)

But barely one month later, the scale of these ambitious plans had been leaked out

Secret plans to axe 15 per cent of senior civil servants and close three States departments have been drawn up by the Council of Ministers. The planned spending cuts, which ministers hoped to keep quiet until after next week's major Business Plan debate, would scrap the Economic Development, Housing and Transport and Technical Services departments. (JEP)

By May 2011, those plans would be dead in the water, thanks to the premature leak:

Leaked plans to cut one-in-seven States managers and axe three departments have been dropped, the States' top civil servant has confirmed. In response to questions under the Code of Practice on Public Access to Official Information by the JEP, States chief executive Bill Ogley has confirmed that the plans - revealed by the newspaper last September -are not being acted on. (JEP)

So who leaked the plans? No inquiry was ever made, but it was not in Philip Ozouf's interest for such plans to come out in such a damaging fashion, and clearly it would have done Bill Ogley no harm for such a leak to emerge. Was he the origin of the leak, either directly or indirectly? There is insufficient evidence to determine that.

But what this leak could have done is to further drive a wedge between Mr Ogley and Senator Ozouf, especially if the Senator believed that Mr Ogley was responsible for the leak. Suspicions can be very damaging to trust, and this would certainly chime with the complaint of Mr Ogley that "he [Senator Ozouf] does not trust me; I am not a team player, he is; I hide things in order to manipulate him and the Chief Minister". Given Mr Ogley's track record on secrecy, is it any wonder that Senator Ozouf might become suspicious? After all, civil servants using leaks to prevent Ministers from achieving objectives has been known to happen in the UK; one has only to read Ministerial diaries to see this.

On the 18th February 2011, a statement from Chief Minister Terry Le Sueur at lunchtime today said that he and the States chief executive had "agreed to a mutual termination of employment". A rough guide to the scale of the pay-off was given by a whistle-blower to Senator Jim Perchard who raised the matter in May of that year. Typically, Senator Le Sueur refused to budge on giving out any exact details, and it would not until this year that the figure would be known, and the reasons behind it.

One thing that emerged was that Senator Ozouf had said that he could no longer work with Mr Ogley if he became Chief Minister. In early 2011, there was a real possibility that the Senator would stand for Chief Minister after the October 2011 elections, so Mr Ogley decided to invoke his redundancy clause, and leave with a massive golden handshake.

The report into the matter by the Auditor General, Chris Swinton, noted that "There might be some substance in the Treasury Minister's complaints about the Chief Executive even though the manner of expression might have been inappropriate."

It is certainly clear that Philip Ozouf's manner towards Bill Ogley was that of someone angry who had perhaps lost their temper:

This all came to a head on 11 January when the Treasury Minister came to see me about the Treasurer's appointment. In a dismissive and aggressive manner he told me he was not happy she had been sworn in, that it was my fault. I had failed him and the CM in handling the budgets; he does not trust me; I am not a team player, he is; I hide things in order to manipulate him and the CM; I manage by fear and everyone is frightened of me; he wants to create an empowered organisation, I cannot do that; he believes I will fail to deliver CSR for him; he cannot work with me and if he becomes CM he certainly couldn't work with me. (Letter)

But the report also notes that the Chief Minister was advised that there were a number of issues which could raise questions about the performance of the former Chief Executive. These for example, included concerns over the handling of the suspension of the former Chief of Police and suggestions of poor morale and dissatisfaction of senior levels in the States.

It does not, incidentally, mention the fall-out over the Napier report, when Senator Le Sueur told the States that he had "disciplined" Mr Ogley, although he refused to say precisely what form that took. It is surprising that matter was not raised in considering any grounds of Mr Ogley's performance as Chief Executive, as surely any disciplinary matter should have featured.

And while there is an Appraisal for 2010 for Bill Ogley, earlier years seem to have gone missing, which under the circumstances does raise the question of why documents can just suddenly and conveniently disappear:

Although the Chief Executive's personal file includes the Chief Minister's assessment of his performance for 2010 (the last review to be undertaken), some assessment for earlier years have not so far been traced.

In almost a repeat of the BDO Report, which was critical of Lenny Harper, but where BDO had not actually contacted the man himself, it is also apparent that Philip Ozouf was not contacted by the Auditor-General. In a tweet on his twitter feed, Senator Ozouf noted that:

I have been asked if I was asked for any input into this report. "No".

Obviously and perhaps naturally, just as Lenny Harper did, Senator Ozouf felt somewhat aggrieved that the only documented criticism of him came from Bill Ogley, with no request for his own input. Consequently, he "re-tweeted" what I posted to all his Twitter followers:

That makes it seem rather one-sided, since Bill Ogley's opinions were made available.

What can one conclude?

It is clear that Bill Ogley clashed with Philip Ozouf. What is not perhaps so clear is the background which led up to the clash. It is certainly feasible, in my opinion, that Senator Ozouf was determined to make measurable cuts in the top and middle management of the echelons of the Civil Service, and that it seemed to him that the Civil Service, and in particular the Chief Executive, was perhaps resistant to those measures.

This perceived resistance may not have been immediately apparent to the Senator, but as time went on, Senator Ozouf became increasingly irritated at the Civil Services inability to reform itself, hence the introduction of an outsider at the Treasury. The leaks on proposed changes would have certainly not helped with issues of trust.

The brief history of events detailed above also indicates how a culture of distrust could arise, and cause a breakdown in relations between Chief Executive and Treasury Minister. While Philip Ozouf clearly tended to become confrontational, and perhaps hectors the Chief Executive in a bullying manner, this seems to have been an outcome of increasing frustration at the apparent thwarting of his measures to bring about change in civil service management, for which he may have blamed the Chief Executive.

Annie Hacker: Reform the Civil Service.
Jim Hacker: Impossible. Catch 22.
Annie Hacker: Why?
Jim Hacker: Supposing I suggested 50 terrific reforms, who would have to implement them?
(BOTH) The Civil Service.
(Yes Minister)

While there may have been no evidence of any deliberate measures taken by Mr Ogley, his pattern of behaviour when it emerged in the public domain (in Napier, for example) did give the impression of a man who could be underhand in his actions. Evidence of this is the fact that he was "disciplined" by Senator Le Sueur, although frustratingly, this is not mentioned in the Auditor-General's report. But that a Chief Executive should be subjected to being disciplined by his Chief Minister shows that there were certainly grounds for mistrust and suspicion of his modus operandi by Senator Ozouf.

The Auditor-General's report is also frustratingly silent on the allegations made of the Chief Executive's behaviour: "I manage by fear and everyone is frightened of me". This seems to have been taken as a baseless accusation; certainly, it was not followed up. Matters are still not as transparent as I would like, and questions remain unanswered.

Funny Old World 15

Health Warning: what follows is not news, any more than the middle section of Private Eye is news, or The Impressionist is news, or Spitting Image was news. It is a light hearted spin on the real news, which can be found on genuine news sites, such as BBC Jersey. Other news sites are available. This is not one of them. None of the individuals mentioned have ever said anything quite like the words attributed to them. Which is perhaps a pity.

People in Jersey are being asked to watch out for toads and report any they find to the island's Toadwatch Campaign. The Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust said the common native toad, Politicus Drivellus, had been disappearing from areas where it was once common. A spokesman said "We used to see lots of those toads, and they'd make a distinctive droning noise, which was rather like snoring. We even had one well-known one that we nicknamed 'Terry the Toad'. Sadly those kind of toads are in decline."

An appeal to boycott a new Electoral Commission has been made by the former politician who originally brought it to the States. Daniel Wimberley, who proposed the electoral commission in 2011, said it had been "stolen by the establishment". The public have been asked to inform the police if they see any sittings of the Commission, as it has been reported as stolen property. It is understood that Professor Sir Philip Moriarty, author of "The Dynamics of a Political Black Hole" may have been involved.

Pensioners receive more help from the States than any other age group in Jersey, the Social Security Minister has said, as he turned down a mechanism to help pensions stop being eroded by inflation. It is understood that the Minister is a runner up for the "Poacher Turned Gamekeeper" awards to be given by Age Relief later this year.

The first same-sex couples will be able to enter into civil partnerships within weeks after a landmark law was approved in the States yesterday. All kinds of subsidiary laws had to be changed, including the Public Libraries (Jersey) Law which had to be changed so same sex couples could have a joint library card, and the Drugs Abuse (Jersey) Law which had to be changed so same sex couples could be charged by police for having a joint together.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

The Way the Future Was - Part 3

This is a third posting from the report of the 1984 Mensa Conference at Cambridge, by Paul Johnson, and written up for "Thinks!", the Channel Island Mensa Magazine edited by Ken Webb, with assistant editor being myself.

The biologist who gave the talk here was Brian Ford, who is still around today, with a string of fellowships and awards to his name; he also publishes on scientific issues for the general public and has been a populariser of science on TV for more than 40 years. He has a mischievous iconoclastic streak which led to him deliberately giving one of his books the longest and most complex title in English-language publishing history:

Nonscience and the Pseudotransmogrificationalific Egocentrified Reorientational Proclivities Inherently Intracorporated In Expertistical Cerebrointellectualised Redeploymentation with Special Reference to Quasi-Notional Fashionistic Normativity, The Indoctrinationalistic Methodological Modalities and Scalar Socio-Economic Promulgationary Improvementalisationalism Predelineated Positotaxically Toward Individualistified Mass-Acceptance Gratificationalistic Securipermanentalisationary Professionism, or How To Rule The World,

The point of the title was to poke fun at those who conceal their lack of real expertise by using long and complicated words, whilst making the serious point that more people are fooled by these so-called experts than really should be. The book is commonly referred to simply as Nonscience, which is itself a play on nonsense. (1)

It was not surprising perhaps, that he should clash with Clive Sinclair over Artificial Intelligence. The 1980s saw the rise of the dominant mythology of our day, which is still present today, that the human brain resembled a complex computer. A biologist would see the large gap between the complexity of biology, and the model so rapidly (and uncritically) seized upon by the home computer pioneers such as Clive Sinclair.

What is machine intelligence? The cleverest definition of "artificial intelligence" was devised by one of the cleverest computer scientists to have lived, Alan Turing. He suggested in 1951 a test which he called "The Imitation Game". It has the beautiful simplicity that one might expect from a mathematician, and it neatly does away with the appearance of the machine, which is irrelevant to the problem:

The first version of the game he explained involved no computer intelligence whatsoever. Imagine three rooms, each connected via computer screen and keyboard to the others. In one room sits a man, in the second a woman, and in the third sits a person - call him or her the "judge". The judge's job is to decide which of the two people talking to him through the computer is the man. The man will attempt to help the judge, offering whatever evidence he can (the computer terminals are used so that physical clues cannot be used) to prove his man-hood. The woman's job is to trick the judge, so she will attempt to deceive him, and counteract her opponent's claims, in hopes that the judge will erroneously identify her as the male.

What does any of this have to do with machine intelligence? Turing then proposed a modification of the game, in which instead of a man and a woman as contestants, there was a human, of either gender, and a computer at the other terminal. Now the judge's job is to decide which of the contestants is human, and which the machine. Turing proposed that if, under these conditions, a judge were less than 50% accurate, that is, if a judge is as likely to pick either human or computer, then the computer must be a passable simulation of a human being and hence, intelligent. The game has been recently modified so that there is only one contestant, and the judge's job is not to choose between two contestants, but simply to decide whether the single contestant is human or machine. (2)

Clive Sinclair in the 1970s and early 1980s was always dreaming of a better computer that would rival the human brain. This was, after all, the person who gave the world the Sinclair ZX81, which the advertising blurb stated could do "quite literally anything, from playing chess to running a power station"! In fact, as the Guardian notes, somewhat tongue in cheek, it was a hobby toy for games for boys:

Things really took off when the ZX became the Spectrum in 1982, and colour games such as Jet Set Willy became the second major activity in teenage bedrooms. (3)

It is strange to notice that he has now turned his back on computers, and uses  the telephone in preference to email. In an interview, he told the reporter how he doesn't use modern PCs. Is it really laziness, or perhaps a lingering jealously at the machines that drove his own valiant little Heath Robinson efforts out of existence?

And what computer does he now use himself?
"I don't use a computer at all. The company does."
"So you don't do email?"
"No. I've got people to do it for me."
"If friends and family want to communicate?"
"They can do that. We've got a computer in the front office, but I get someone to do it for me."
"That seems odd to me. Why is that?"
"Sheer laziness I think. I can't be bothered."
"Do you not know how to operate it?"
"I do know how to, but I don't."
"Sorry to press, but it seems the simplest thing in the world to do your own emails."
"Well I find them annoying. I'd much prefer someone would telephone me if they want to communicate. No, it's not sheer laziness - I just don't want to be distracted by the whole process. Nightmare."

Report by Paul Johnson

3rd August

The morning lecture was from Brian Ford, a microbiologist. He was concerned with futurology as much as with the staggering variety of living organisms. He did mention a very strong doubt that machines could ever rival their complexity, and showed slides of various microbes with primitive eyes and nervous systems to support this.

Sir Clive disputed this point of view, and I joined the lively argument over this after the lecture.

The afternoon was given over to Professor Ian Barron, head of INMOS, the government electronics firm. He talked of how Sir Clive's dream of a "meta-computer" might be brought about and went on to talk about the latest chip his company has produced. It is effectively a computer on a single chip, complete with communications to other similar "transputers", a small memory and a 32 bit architecture (current computers use 8 or 16 bits). It can handle several jobs at once, and if it went too slow, more chips could be hooked in and the jobs shared between the old and the new.

He also talked of the way these chips are designed. The usual way is to construct a circuitry which looks as if it should work, and then to test it exhaustively. At INMOS, mathematical languages are used to prove that
there are no bugs, a quicker and more reliable approach.

During the afternoon Victor Serebriakoff held a "Think-in"; an unstructured discussion on the broad subject of artificial intelligence. Discussion ranged over many topics, including the possibility that machines might be able to have souls.

That evening Sir Clive held what he euphemistically termed a "garden party" at his Cambridge house. It started off with a barbeque and buffet supper, and continued with the Kings College singers giving a very enjoyable concert, and a disco which broke up at about 1.30 a.m.