Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Jersey, Iran and the USA

The recent Senate report into HSBC highlighted problems over transactions that should have been blocked which were allowed by HSBC officials to get past the "filters" that should have flagged up and prevented those transactions. There are several subsidiaries involved - HSBC Mexico, which seem to have been used for money laundering purposes - hardly surprising perhaps, given that Mexico is still such a centre of drug smuggling - and HSBC Middle east, which happens to be incorporated in Jersey, and has therefore turned a lot of media attention towards Jersey.

HSBC Bank Middle East Ltd. (HBME). Incorporated in Jersey in the Channel Islands and owned through a chain of subsidiaries reaching back to the Group's parent corporation in London, HBME oversees a network of financial institutions throughout the Middle East and North Africa. With more than 5,000 employees, HBME provides banking services through nearly 45 branches in Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. In 1998, HSCB Group established "HSBC Amanah," a "global Islamic financial services division" designed to "serve the particular needs of Muslim communities" in compliance with Islamic law. (1)

But what is Jersey's involvement in this, and why is the USA up in arms about it? Matters are a little more complicated than in the case of HSBC Mexico. In fact, the compliance officials were not in Jersey at all. It is simply that the affiliate was used to channel money. This is what the Senate report had to say about what was happening:

From at least 2001 to 2007, two HSBC affiliates, HSBC Europe (HBEU) and HSBC Middle East (HBME), repeatedly sent U-turn transactions through HBUS without disclosing links to Iran, even though they knew HBUS required full transparency to process U-turns. To avoid triggering the OFAC filter and an individualized review by HBUS, HBEU systematically altered transaction information to strip out any reference to Iran and characterized the transfers as between banks in approved jurisdictions. The affiliates' use of these practices, which even some within the bank viewed as deceptive, was repeatedly brought to the attention of HSBC Group Compliance, by HBUS compliance personnel and by HBEU personnel who objected to participating in the document alteration and twice announced deadlines to end the activity. Despite this information, HSBC Group Compliance did not take decisive action to stop the conduct or inform
HBUS about the extent of the activity.

At the same time, while some at HBUS claimed not to have known they were processing undisclosed Iranian transactions from HSBC affiliates, internal documents show key senior HBUS officials were informed as early as 2001. In addition, HBUS' OFAC filter repeatedly stopped Iranian transactions that should have been disclosed to HBUS by HSBC affiliates, but were not. Despite evidence of what was taking place, HBUS failed to get a full accounting of what its affiliates were doing or ensure all Iranian transactions sent by HSBC affiliates were stopped by the OFAC filter and reviewed to ensure they were OFAC compliant.

An outside auditor hired by HBUS has so far identified, from 2001 to 2007,  more than 28,000 undisclosed, OFAC sensitive transactions that were sent through HBUS involving $19.7 billion. Of those 28,000 transactions, nearly  25,000 involved Iran, while 3,000 involved other prohibited countries or persons. The review has characterized nearly 2,600 of those transactions, including 79 involving Iran, and with total assets of more than $367 million, as "Transactions of Interest" requiring additional analysis to determine whether violations of U.S. law occurred.

While the aim in many of those cases may have been to avoid the delays associated with the OFAC filter and individualized reviews, rather than to facilitate prohibited transactions, actions taken by HSBC affiliates to circumvent OFAC safeguards may have facilitated transactions on behalf of terrorists, drug traffickers, or other wrongdoers.

The failure was with HSBC Group Compliance, which took no action when senior officials were informed about these transactions. The heads that rolled were in the UK, or USA, not in Jersey, such as Mr David Bagley. As the Independent reports:

The head of compliance at British banking giant HSBC resigned in front of a US Senate subcommittee today after it emerged the bank had exposed the US to billions of dollars worth of money laundering, drug trafficking, and terrorist financing. Mr Bagley, who had a 20 year career with the bank and is based in London, said: "Despite the best efforts and intentions of many dedicated professionals, HSBC has fallen short of our own expectations and the expectations of our regulators." (2)

So these particular transactions, because they were not screened out by normative checks, meant that it left the bank exposed to transactions "on behalf of terrorists, drug traffickers, or other wrongdoers." In fact, there is no evidence in this case - unlike in Mexico - that those kinds of transactions took place. Instead the most clear violation of US Law has to do with what are called U-turn transactions. But what is a U-turn transaction:

On November 10, 2008, the Office of Foreign Assets Control ("OFAC") of the U.S. Treasury Department amended the Iranian Transactions Regulations, 31 C.F.R. Part 560 (the "ITR") to strengthen the U.S. embargo against Iran by prohibiting U.S. financial institutions from engaging in "U-turn" transactions.  (See 73 Fed Reg. 66541, November 10, 2008.)  U-turn transactions are U.S. dollar transactions involving Iran that are cleared through a U.S. bank.   This amendment is intended to prohibit transfers designed to "dollarize" transactions through the U.S. financial system for the direct or indirect benefit of Iranian banks or other persons in Iran or the Government of Iran.

A U-turn transaction, generally speaking, is a banned financial transaction done by a bank in country A (example: USA) for the benefit of a bank in country B (example: Iran) through offshore banks (example: Switzerland). This loophole is used by Iranian banks to avoid U.S. sanctions for their US dollar based transactions. The phrase "U-turn" applies because the funds are transferred to a U.S. bank and instantly turned back as dollars to a European bank.(3)

The ban on U-turn transactions was being violated, and it is true that this was against US law. It forms part of a framework of sanctions which have been tightened on Iran by the US over the last decades, and while there should be no question that the bank was breaking the law, it should be noted that this is a very murky law indeed. Iran is the "demon" of the Middle East, and has been ever since the Iranian revolution toppled the corrupt repressive regime of the Shah of Iran. That regime, of course, was being propped up in accordance with American realpolitik of the time - dictatorships are a bulwark against communism. Noam Chomskey lays out how this is worded, and what the meaning is behind the words:

The dire threat of Iran is widely recognized to be the most serious foreign policy crisis facing the Obama administration. General Petraeus informed the Senate Committee on Armed Services in March 2010 that "the Iranian regime is the primary state-level threat to stability" in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, the Middle East and Central Asia, the primary region of US global concerns. The term "stability" here has its usual technical meaning: firmly under US control.

In June 2010 Congress strengthened the sanctions against Iran, with even more severe penalties against foreign companies. The Obama administration has been rapidly expanding US offensive capacity in the African island of Diego Garcia, claimed by Britain, which had expelled the population so that 
the US could build the massive base it uses for attacks in the Central Command area. (4)

The African Island of Diego Garcia is a shameful episode of British history. Forty years ago its population, then numbering about 2,000 people, were expelled by the British government to Mauritius and Seychelles to allow the United States to establish a military base on the island. They are still trying to return. It has been virtually airbrushed out of history.

Chomsky explains that what really upsets the American government is its lack of control over Iran, which it sees as therefore a "destabilising influence".

The brutal clerical regime is doubtless a threat to its own people, though it does not rank particularly high in that respect in comparison to US allies in the region. But that is not what concerns the military and intelligence assessments. Rather, they are concerned with the threat Iran poses to the region and the world.

Though the Iranian threat is not military aggression, that does not mean that it might be tolerable to Washington. Iranian deterrent capacity is considered an illegitimate exercise of sovereignty that interferes with US global designs. Specifically, it threatens US control of Middle East energy resources, a high priority of planners since World War II. As one influential figure advised, expressing a common understanding, control of these resources yields "substantial control of the world" (A. A. Berle).

Iran's "current five-year plan seeks to expand bilateral, regional, and international relations, strengthen Iran's ties with friendly states, and enhance its defense and deterrent capabilities. Commensurate with that plan, Iran is seeking to increase its stature by countering U.S. influence and expanding ties with regional actors while advocating Islamic solidarity." In short, Iran is seeking to "destabilize" the region, in the technical sense of the term used by General Petraeus. US invasion and military occupation of Iran's neighbors is "stabilization." Iran's efforts to extend its influence in neighboring countries is "destabilization," hence plainly illegitimate.

It should be noted that such revealing usage is routine. Thus the prominent foreign policy analyst James Chace, former editor of the main establishment journal Foreign Affairs, was properly using the term "stability" in its technical sense when he explained that in order to achieve "stability" in Chile it was necessary to "destabilize" the country (by overthrowing the elected Allende government and installing the Pinochet dictatorship).(4)

It is with this context, that we have the US law prohibiting U-Turn transactions, a law which HSBC, and its affiliate HSBC Middle East, violated. But not enough attention has been given to the context in which the this took place. Should the US be involved in a policy which is little more than economic warfare against Iran. It would be a shame if the focus on HSBC violations of the law led to the assumption that it is a fair and just law. Perhaps the eyes of the world should focus more strongly on American exceptionalism, where America seems able to make laws that further its own foreign policy, and not laws in the sense of justice and fairness.

(1) Senate report
(2) http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/hsbc-boss-david-bagley-resigns-during-us-senate-meeting-after-money-laundering-revelations-7953320.html
(3) http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/iran.txt
(4) http://www.chomsky.info/articles/20100702.htm

Monday, 30 July 2012

July - The Diary of a Country Parson

This year I'm looking at some of the entries in the "The Diary of a Country Parson". This was a diary kept by an English clergyman, James Woodforde (1740-1803). Woodforde lived in Somerset and Norfolk, and kept a diary for 45 years recording all kind of ordinary incidents which paint a picture of the routines and concerns of what Ian Hislop terms "the middling folk" of 18th century rural England.

A few notes on the text:

Food features heavily in the July entries. Melons originated in Africa or Asia Minor, although the melons of the earliest days, perhaps around 2,400 BC in Egypt, were not like today's melons, but probably more like cucumber, whose seed is very similar, and from the same family.

However, this eventually changed through cultivation and cross-breeding. By the third century AD, melons had sweetened enough to be eaten with spices, and by the sixth and seventh century they were accepted to be different from cucumbers. However, the first references to sweet, aromatic melons did not appear until the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, as a result of hybridization between different varieties. (1)

But it took some time for them to come to England, so that when Parson Woodforde is eating his melons, they've only been on the table for under three hundred years, from the time of Henry VIII. They would not have been eaten in the early Middle Ages.

Melons were first introduced to England around the turn of the sixteenth century, although they were known as "Mylone". One of the first places they were grown was Hampton Court in 1515, and from here they spread around the country, typically in the gardens of rich people, due to their initial rarity. (1)

Woodforde mentions seeing the "Polish Dwarf, Joseph Boruwlas". This was Joseph Boruwlaski who was was born near Halicz in Poland in November 1739, and would have been 49 at the time, during his tour of England. He had been adopted by Countess Humiecka from  Podolia (a region partly in the modern Ukraine). At 15, he had been taken by the countess to Vienna, where he was presented to Empress Maria Theresa, and from thence he with her to Paris, the Hague, and Warsaw.

When Stanislaw II acceded to the throne of Poland, he took Boruwlaski under his protection. When Boruwlaski fell in love with the new companion of the countess, Isalina Barbutan, the countess threw him out. The King interceded on his behalf, giving him a small allowance and a coach to travel in, and, with the royal backing, he married Isalina. At first, Isalina, the child of a French couple who had settled in Poland, was reluctant to marry Joseph, but he bombarded her with love-letters and won her heart.

He decided to take a new tour and left Warsaw November 1780 with his wife and royal letters of introduction....When they eventually decided to depart for England, their ship almost sank in a storm before it reached Margate. In London, Boruwlaski obtained the patronage of Duke of Devonshire and of his famous wife Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. Joseph was even presented to the future king George IV and eventually to the rest of the royal family. George IV presented him with two different watches, one of which was given when George was still Prince of Wales. Joseph used the title Comte (Count) Boruwlaski and organized subscription concerts. He also met the Irish giant Patrick Cotter and the famously overweight Daniel Lambert.  In 1783-1786 he toured in Scotland and Ireland. Hearing rumours that Joseph was earning good money from his music, the King of Poland withdrew his allowance. Boruwlaski returned briefly to Poland for a while but soon returned and by July 1791 was touring again and in 1795 was again in Ireland. English appearances at this time included York in 1785 and 1789, and Leeds and Beverley in the early 1790s (2)

Also mentioned by Woodforde is the start of the French Revolution, with the fall of the Bastille on July 14th, 1789. But his memory is momentarily at fault and in 1791, he places it as "last Year".

Joseph Priestley, the scientist who first discovered the gas oxygen (which he termed "dephlogistonated air"), is also mentioned. Priestley was a non-conformist, and had written in support of dissenters " Remarks on Dr. Blackstone's Commentaries" in 1769 against the  attacks of William Blackstone, an eminent legal theorist, whose "Commentaries on the Laws of England" had become the standard legal guide. Blackstone argued that dissent from the Church of England was a crime and that Dissenters could not be loyal subjects. The Birmingham Riots of 1791 were also known as the "Priestley Riots" as Priestley was a main target:

The riots started with an attack on a hotel that was the site of a banquet organized in sympathy with the French Revolution. Then, beginning with Priestley's church and home, the rioters attacked or burned four Dissenting chapels, twenty-seven houses, and several businesses. Many of them became intoxicated by liquor that they found while looting, or with which they were bribed to stop burning homes. A small core could not be bribed, however, and remained sober. The rioters burned not only the homes and chapels of Dissenters, but also the homes of people they associated with Dissenters, such as members of the scientific Lunar Society. (3)

Woodforde, while alarmed at the Revolution in France, was clearly sympathetic to Priestley, a civilised man like himself, and opposed to the rioters, even though they were attacking Dissenters from the Church of England.

Lastly, there is mention of a money such as "five guineas". In the pre-decimal system, there were 12 pence (12 d) to one shilling (1 s) and 20 shillings to one pound £1. But there was also a strange item of currency which was £1 1s, which was a guinea:

The guinea is a coin that was minted in the Kingdom of England and later in the Kingdom of Great Britain and the United Kingdom between 1663 and 1813.[1] It was the first English machine-struck gold coin, originally worth one pound sterling,[1] equal to twenty shillings; but rises in the price of gold caused the value of the guinea to increase, at times to as high as thirty shillings; from 1717 until 1816, its value was officially fixed at twenty-one shillings. Following that, Great Britain adopted the gold standard and guinea became a colloquial or specialised term...In the Great Recoinage of 1816, the guinea was replaced as the major unit of currency by the pound (4)

Even in the 1960s, when it had long ceased to be a coin, prices of goods in shops would be quoted in guineas, as it was a way in which crafty salesmen could make the price appear less than it was. So merchandise might be sold at 20 guineas on the price tag, which in fact was £21. With the advent of decimalisation, and the disappearance of the shilling, the guinea also vanished as a unit of currency.

July - The Diary of a Country Parson

JULY 15. . . . After breakfast I walked out a fishing, had not put my Line in Water more than five Minutes before I caught a fine Trout of one Pound and a Quarter with a Grasshopper. It measured in length 14 Inches and in the highest Season. Mrs. Pounsett Senr dined and spent the Aft: with us. After Tea this Aft: walked out again with my Rod and Line up the Bruton River and there caught another fine Trout which weighed 1 Pound and ¼ and measured 14 ½ inches. Mr. Sam: Pounsett supped and spent the Evening with us.
JULY 7. . . . Mr. Custance sent me a Melon and with it a Note to inform us that Mrs. Custance was this morning about 2 o'clock safely delivered of another Son and that both Mother and Child were as well as could possibly be expected in the time. Mr. C. also desired me (if perfectly convenient) to wait on him in the afternoon and name the little Stranger. After Dinner therefore about 5 o'clock I took a Walk to Weston House and named the little Infant, in Lady Bacons dressing Room by name, Neville. The Revd. Mr. Daniel Collyer of Wroxham was with Mr. Custance when I first went in but he soon went. I stayed and drank Tea with Mr. Custance and Sons and did not return home till after 8 this Evening.
JULY 18. . . . Mr. Walker from London ( Betsy Davy's intended) spent part of the morning with us -- He came to his Uncles Mr. Thorne of Mattishall last Night. He looks ill indeed and Country Air advised for him. .
JULY 28. . . . I was very low-spirited this Evening after Tea. I believe that Tea made me worse rather I think. I shot a Wood-Pecker this Morn' in my Garden.
J ULY 29. I breakfasted, dined and spent the Aft. at home. In the Evening took a ride to Norwich and Briton with me, and there I supped and slept at the Kings Head. In the Evening before Supper I walked into St. Stephens and saw the Polish Dwarf, Joseph Boruwlaski and his Wife who is a middle sized Person, he is only three feet three Inches in height, quite well proportioned everyway, very polite, sensible and very sprightly, and gave us a tune upon the Guitar, and one Tune of his own composing. The common price of admittance was one Shilling, but I gave him rather more 0. 2.0
JULY 14, THURSDAY. . . . I hope this Day will be attended with no bad Consequences, this being the Day that the French Revolution first took Place there last Year, and many Meetings advertised to be held this Day in London, Norwich &c. throughout this Kingdom to commemorate the above Revolution.  Pray God! continue thy Goodness to this Land and defeat all the designs of the Enemies to it. Dinner to day, Giblet Soup and Shoulder Mutton rosted. Very busy all day about painting the Doors of my Coach House &c., quite tired at Night.
JULY 21, THURSDAY. . . . Shocking Accounts on the Papers of dreadful Riots at Birmingham, Nottingham &c. on Account of commemorating the French Revolution the fourteenth of this Month. The Presbyterian and Independent Meeting Houses pulled down to the Ground and the inside furniture burnt, many of the Dissenters Houses destroyed, amongst the rest Dr. Priestlys, both Town and Country Houses burnt.
JUNE 26, TUESDAY. . . . Begun cutting my Clover being a fine Day. Mr. Du Quesne called here about 11 o'clock in his Whiskey, did not get out, as he was going to Reepham. A little before 12 I walked to Church and publickly presented Miss Charlotte Custance in the Church -- present Mr. and Mrs. Custance with all their eight Children, and Lady Bacon, the Sponsors were represented by their Proxies Lady Bacon for Miss Hickman, Mrs. Custance for Mrs. George Beauchamp, and Mr. Custance for Mr. Willm Beauchamp. Immediately after the Ceremony Mr. Custance very genteelly presented me with a five Guinea Note from Gurney's Bank at Norwich. We dined and spent the Afternoon at Weston-House with Mr. and Mrs. Custance, Lady Bacon and Mrs. Press Custance. We went and returned in the Coach. Dinner boiled Tench, Peas Soup, a Couple of boiled Chicken and Pigs Face, hashed Calfs Head, Beans, and rosted Rump of Beef with New Potatoes &c. 2nd Course rosted Duck and green Peas, a very fine Leveret rosted, Strawberry Cream, Jelly, Puddings &c. Desert -- Strawberries, Cherries and last Years nonpareils. About 7 o'clock after Coffee and Tea we got to Cards to limited Loo at which, lost 0. 6. Sent Briton to Norwich this Morning to put a Letter into the Post-Office, an answer to my Niece Pounsetts. In his return I recd another from her in Town fearing that her first Letter did not arrive, still pressing us much to go to London and return with her to Cole.
JULY 9, MONDAY. . . . Mem. A Stalk of Wheat (from a field that was formerly a Furze-Cover) I measured this Morning, and it was in Length six feet seven inches and about a barley corn. Dinner to day Peas and Pork and Leg Lamb boiled.
 JULY 9, WEDNESDAY . . . Nancy, very busy most part of the Morning, in Ironing her Cloths in our Kitchen.
JULY 12, SATURDAY. . . . Nancy had another Swarm of Bees about Noon from the same old Hive which the last Swarm came from. It should have been mentioned Yesterday instead of to day as Yesterday it happened unknown to me and our Maids hived them. They settled in our Wall-Garden on one of the Sticks put into the Ground to prop up and for Peas to twist round & keep from the Ground. The Swarm of Bees happened very suddenly. Our Maids hived them very well indeed and they seemed to settle very well this Morn'. I think Nancy very lucky with her Bees. Dinner to day, Peas & Bacon &c.
(1) http://www.freshfoodcentral.com/view_item.aspx?fvid=11
(2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J%C3%B3zef_Boruw%C5%82aski
(3) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priestley_Riots
(4) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guinea_(British_coin)

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Philosophical Investigations: Foundation Myths

In the ancient world, Christianity came as something of a novelty. It was not a long established cult, with a well-attested pedigree. But in that world, something novelty was always treated with suspicion, and hence we have gospels that are peppered with quotations from the Old Testament, linking the stories of Jesus with the Jewish roots, and hence giving it an authoritative genealogy. And yet within it was also the break from the past - the new wine needing new wine skins.

This discontinuity played out quite early in the history of Christianity, when Marcion truncated the New Testament on the grounds of Faith (the New Testament) against Law (the Old Testament); he also jettisoned the entire corpus of the Hebrew Scriptures.

The Gnostics followed, with a radical disjunction between the created world of matter (evil) and the world of spirit (good), to which those enlightened with this "true wisdom" would seek to leave behind the common herd of humanity. Yet unlike Marcion, the Gnostics claimed to have the hidden secret truth of Christianity, one that went back behind the New Testament to the real Christ. They too sought to place their authority in the past. Modern gnosticism, although it bears little resemblance the the ancient forms, selectively takes those ancient gnostic texts that agree with modern gnostic thought - while ignoring the rest - and so lays claim to historical continuity and authority from the past. The "Gospel of Judas" documentary by National Geographical was a perfect example of how to use texts selectively to prop up a thesis - and it was the modern gnostic thesis rather than the ancient one. The whole panopoly of emanations, the lists of arcane names, which were so important to ancient gnostics, were not even quoted.

Both the Reformation and Renaiscence saw a resurgence of interest in the past. For the Reformers, it was a Christianity that had been corrupted over the centuries, and assimilated to Paganism. For the scholars of the Renaiscence, it was the discovery of ancient texts, of hidden knowledge from the Greek thinkers, and also the Hermetic corpus of Magic. The Occult featured high on this agenda, often with purported provenance of traditions stretching back to ancient Egypt.

Novelty there was, but it was a novelty bound to the past. The circle can be seen as a paradigm of this kind of thought. Circular motion was a perfect kind of motion, so much so that it was a dominating idea which shackled thinking. Copernicus could place the sun at the centre of the solar system, but the orbit of the planets remained circular, still requiring the mathematics of epicycles to "save the appearances" and describe planetary motion, even if less were needed. It wasn't until Kepler broke with this and plotted the course of the planets as ellipses that the dominance of circular motion was broken in astronomy, but it remained important in the occult traditions. Kepler was driven by complex occult ideas about perfect solids, but his desire to find a best fit, led him to elliptical orbits.

But while the rudimentary forms of modern science were coming into being, and breaking from the age old need to locate authority in the past, the tradition was still alive and well elsewhere. Early freemasonry seems to have originated from guilds of the Middle Ages in Scotland, but at some point it broke from its origins in stone working and, at the same time, created a foundation myth of origins deep in the past in the Temple of Solomon. It seems to have come south with James I and become popular and spread in London. In 1717, four lodges in London formed the first Grand Lodge of England and the records become more complete. What happens is interesting - the rituals and foundational mythology (although this is taken as actual history) becomes increasingly complex but at each stage in the development, the origins and rituals are back projected to the earliest groups. Revisionist history within freemasonry itself points to a formation between the death of Robert Cochrane in 1482 and the death of James I in 1625.  But the date of 1717 is important, because it established the first Grand Lodge, and hence the priority of the English lodge over the Scottish lodge as "most senior". Priority claims are important as well as claims for authenticity in the roots of belief.

We see the same occurence in Wicca, the Neopagan movement founded by Gerald Gardiner. It is supposed to have originated from a New Forest Coven which Gardiner came across, which was a surviving group of witches whose roots went back to the time of the persecution of witches. In this thesis, which Gardiner lifted from the writings of Margeret Murray, the witches persecuted in the Middle Ages were not a satanic movement, but an underground Pagan movement which predated Christianity. Although wholly discredited, the Murray thesis still has a strong hold on the popular imagination, and the linking of witches mentioned in the 16th and 17th century persecutions with modern witchcraft is still very much part of popular belief, even where better research into documents and trials in the Middle Ages has meant the academic world has shown that although the word "witch" is in use in both cases, that is all there is in common. Fortunately Gardiner kept notebooks, and the ability to determine how his "Book of Shadows" develops shows that Wicca is pretty much a modern creation, with degrees of initiation being taken not from ancient pagan roots, but from freemasonry (Gardner was a freemason). But the witchcraft museum at Boscastle mixes ancient depictions of witchcraft, witch trials, and modern Wicca - folk magic artefcats jostle with the symbolic instruments use in Wicca, as if there was continuity between them. The foundational myth is still alive and well, and Margeret Murray's influence can still be felt.

Within Wicca, there was a break in the 1960s, where  Alex Sanders (also known in his own self-publicity as "King of the Witches") with his wife Maxine, took Gardner's Wicca, in which he had been initiated, and set out a priority claim, that while he had joined Gardner's group, he had in fact been initiated by his grandmother in 1933 into an ancient witchcraft, which predated the public foundation of Wicca. As with freemasonry, the mythology of foundation - always presented as history - was used to justify who was authentic. Sanders did say that Gardener's version of Wicca was false, he simply staked a claim to an independent foundation.

Modern Druidry has the same dislocation in its early roots. Edward Williams, better known by his self-created bardic name Iolo Morganwg, invented much of the panopoly of Welsh druidry, both drawing on real manusrcipts and forging them to ensure there was an established and authentic foundation for his druidry. He founded the Gorsedd, a community of Welsh bards, at a ceremony on 21 June 1792 at Primrose Hill. He organised the proceedings, which he claimed were based on ancient druidic rites. Williams himself was a Christian Unitarian, steeped in Arthurian mythology, and with a very real desire to preserve Welsh language and culture. The Gorsedd survives to this day, as part of the Welsh Eisteddfod. As a result, in the Welsh Gorsedd, a person may become an ovate or a bard by passing an examination in the Welsh language. Although Williams faked much of the origin of the ceremonies, he was undoubtably correct in his understanding that the remaining Gaelic  languages such as Welsh, embodied Celtic history in the language used itself.

Ross Nichols' Book of Druidry is one of the foundational documents of OBOD, the Oder of Bards, Ovates and Druids, which Nichols established in 1964, breaking away from the Ancient druid Order, which had been started around 1909 or 1912 by George Watson MacGregor Reid. Clearly the Welsh Druids had an equal if not more legitimate claim to authenticity through their connection to the Gaelic languages, so Nichols set about to establish a priority claim.

Nichols began by dismissing the National Eisteddfod  as very distinctly Welsh and concerned with poetry, prose, and musical composition and performance. He argues that the robes, , a few formalities and prayers, are all that really links this organization to anything more than bardism, and dismisses it as not really authentically druidic at all. He also complains that only Welsh speaker can be druids, and is in many ways anti-Welsh,. And against William's establishment of druidry at Primrose Hill, he presents a list of Chosen Chiefs of OBOD which begins with John Toland in 1717, followed by William Stukeley, Edward Finch Hatton, David Samwell, William Blake, and Godfrey Higgins. Now David Samwell was inducted into William's druids, so  Nichols is presenting a claim in which he had already been Chief of a druidic order for 20 years previous to his induction into Iolo's order. Moreoever Toland, in this history, founds modern druidry in  1717, well before the Welsh druids were established.

While Toland wrote a book on druidry ("History of the Druid"), he was evidently a Deist, not a Neopagan, as can be seen in his book "Christianity not Mysterious" - an outspoken attack on all the trappings of images, garments, altars, fasts, rites and priestly ranks that had been added to the simple doctrine of the gospels since Jesus' time. That someone would take that position and supposedly found a Neopagan order with garments, rites and quasi-priestly ranks is a priori incredible. With his own pantheistic creed, he suggested playfully, a Socratic society with liturgy drawing on recitation of odes of Horace and quotations from Cato and Cicero. This has no connection with druidry. So why does Nichols claim otherwise? Nichols wanted a version of druidry which was stripped of Welshness, and for which Welsh language was not a requirement for entry. As a British college professor, he also mirrored academia with a semi-academic system, with Bards, Ovates and Druids being the equivalent of bachelor's, masters and doctors degrees. This is reflected in the foundational mythology, and back projected by the lists of Chiefs to establish its authenticity.

The desire to establish authenticity with long established traditions, along with a wish to stake out priority claims on the basis that older is better has a long pedigree. But unlike the stories of Adam and Eve (taken as myth except for fundamentalists), most of these foundational stories are presented as history. Because they are matters of belief, it is very difficult for those who have invested so much in them to regard them with critical scrutiny. But it can be done - both with modern witchcraft and druidry, the late American writer Isaac Bonewits provided a critical analysis of the spurious claims involved, and also good reasons for being creative within Neopaganism, much as liberal Christianity retained the essence of Christianity while applying historical criticism to its foundational texts.

The lure of the authentic ancient sources of beliefs remain, with the golden age of the past, and often as ego enters the picture, claims for priority assert themselves - my beliefs are more ancient than your beliefs. Some stories may be genuine history, and some may be just story, but once we commit to a story as history, it is very difficult to regard that critically. Foundation myths will persist even in the modern world for some time to come.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Sing-along with Bailhache

The fact finding mission to Barbados was not, we are told by Sir Philip Bailhache, just an "expensive jolly", but money well spent.

What is not so well known is that a film crew went to film Mary Poppins 2: The Barbados Jaunt, where Sir Philip reprises the role made famous by Julie Andrews in the film. Imagine, if you will, Sir Philip,  lip-syncing this song, as he walks beside the beach, paddling in the sea, wearing pin-striped shorts, and a pith helmet to keep the sun off his head...

Off on a Jolly Holiday with Sir Philip Bailhache:

Ain't it a glorious day?

So Sir Philip Bailhache say
He feels he could fly
Says not to be so mean
To Barbados be seen
After a sunny sky

Oh, it's a jolly holiday
With Philip
Philip makes your purse so light
With a fact finding jolly holiday
And may travel economy
Philip goes to where the sun shines bright!

Oh happiness is blooming
All around him
Barbados tourism is smiling
Push comes to shove
When Philip spends eight grand
To walk in foreign sand
Our taxes take a beating
Off goes his jolly band
Oh, it's a jolly holiday with Philip
No wonder that it's Philip flying high above

The B-Side of the recording contains Sir Philip's remake of the song made famous by Harry Belafonte, Island in the Sun", in which Sir Philip, accompanied by a Calypso Band, explains why these trips are good value for him, even if not for the taxpayer.

This is my island in the sun
Where I go to fact find since my task begun
I may sail on many a sea
But expensive trips good value to me

Oh my island in the sun
On a plate comes this trip to hand
All my days I will sing in praise
Of expensive journey
To the shining sand

As morning breaks,
The heaven on high
On fact finding, the limits the sky
Money to burn with warmest glow
Deep inside, I can't help but crow

Oh my island in the sun
This is hard work, not just fun
Fact finding work beside the sea
Sipping cocktails, the life for me

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Astronomy and Science Fiction: Part 1

One of the most influential astronomical theories in science fiction has been the Nebula Hypothesis.  Before exploring how this shaped stories in science fiction, I'd first like to explore the background of the hypothesis, and how it has been influential.

The Nebula Hypothesis was a theory proposed for the formation of the solar system. It was suggested in a very simple form by the philosopher Immanuel Kant in 1755, but the more mature development came with Laplace in 1796.

What this did was to provide a model for the formation of the solar system that gave reasons for the following problems. How it was that:

(1) the planets contain most of the angular momentum in the Solar System
(2)  all the planets are in roughly the same plane, which is the same plane as the Sun's equator
(3) most planets rotate in the same direction

With this model, the solar system forms from a hot rotating nebular of dust and gas. As the rotating gas cools, the nebular decreases in size, but as it contracts, there is a corresponding increase in rotational speed. The centrifugal force eventually overtakes the gravitational force, and there is expelled a rotating ring of gas and dust, which would be rather like a vast ring around Saturn, on one plane, but instead composed of large quantities of dust and gases. Gravitational forces would cause those to coalesce and contract along its orbit into a planet. The process would repeat a number of times, as the central nebula's speed led to further expelling of matter, causing the formation eventually of all of the planets. So the gravitational collapse of the nebula gives rise to the sun and planets.

Now there are a number of problems with Laplace's original hypothesis. One problem in particular is how a separated ring would aggregate into one planet, and not several planets along the same orbit. There are also major problems in the angular momentum of the complete system, which is insufficient to explain why 98% of the angular momentum of the solar system is concentrated in the planets.

As a result, this theory of planet formation was largely abandoned at the beginning of the 20th century and alternatives were sought, building on the original "big picture" of a nebula at the core of the solar system's formation, but with quite a different basis for planetary formation. The consensus today largely comes from the  Soviet astronomer Victor Safronov, and builds on what is called the Solar Nebular Disk Model. That still has some problems, but lesser ones. But we need not concern ourselves with that today.

Rather - for the purposes of science fiction - we need to remember that Laplace's hypothesis dominated the 19th century and left a lasting legacy in the 20th century.

With Laplace's original hypothesis, the age of the planets is fixed by their orbit. Because the nebular intermittently throws off a rotating ring, which forms a planet, the outermost planets are the oldest, and those closest to the sun are the youngest. This is a fundamental premise which trickles down and influences how science fiction writers approach the planets.

Because of Laplace's Nebula Hypothesis, science fiction writers consider the planets closer to the sun than earth as younger planets, and correspondingly in an earlier state of evolution. Venus is a younger earth. Mars on the other hand, is an older, dying planet, the Earth of the future.

In my next posting on this subject, I'll look at how Venus is portrayed, and how that reflects the Nebula Hypothesis, and what sort of Venus was portrayed in science fiction before the Mariner probe falsified some common misconceptions.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

The Biggest Tax Havens are Onshore

There was an interesting question by Deputy Geoff Southern for the Chief  Minister to answer in the recently published Hansard:

Will the Minister explain to members why it is not in the Island's interest to join Guernsey and the Isle of Man in signing up to the automatic information exchange under the European Union (EU) Savings Tax Directive?

What is revealing about the reply is that it shows that while Jersey is getting the "big guns" of the Guardian targeting the Island's finance industry, there are other targets that are not as "soft", which are blind spots in the recent fulminations about offshore tax havens. Because, of course, they needn't be literally offshore. Ian Gorst replied:

When in 2004 Jersey agreed to help the EU Member States in the implementation of the EU Savings Tax Directive (EUSD) the initial thought was to follow the Member States in adopting automatic exchange of information. However  when a key competitor among the Member States, Luxembourg, and others, decided to favour the withholding tax option Jersey, along with Guernsey and the Isle of Man, considered that it should follow suit to protect its economic interests.  However the agreements signed with each of the 27 EU Member States provided that as soon as all the Member States adopt automatic exchange of information Jersey would do the same.

The question posed is why is Jersey's position different from that of Guernsey and the Isle of Man both of whom have adopted automatic exchange of information for the EUSD without waiting for the EU. The answer lies in the fact that Jersey has a different business mix and therefore a different degree of competitive pressure.

Of course Luxembourg and Belgium Austria and would like a privileged position, where one set of rules applied to jurisdictions outside the EU, and another set to rules inside the EU. But the position - in the European Union Savings Directive 2003 - allows for this to last for "at least nine years". As the Directive states:

For a transitional period, Luxembourg (along with Belgium and Austria) will apply a withholding tax on interest income by default. This transitional period will last at least nine years and will only end from the date of entry into force of agreements with third countries providing for the exchange of information upon request.

What is the withholding tax? It applies applies only to certain interest, such as bank deposit interest and bond interest, is passed on anonymously to the EU countries concerned, where the residents hold bank accounts in the countries involved and is known informally as the EU Withholding Tax.

Back in 2003, the jurisdictions applying withholding tax were Andorra, Guernsey, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Austria, Isle of Man, Monaco, Belgium, Jersey, Netherlands Antilles, Turks and Caicos Islands, British Virgin Islands, Liechtenstein, San Marino. Belgium, Guernsey and the Isle of Man have ceased to apply withholding tax, but Luxembourg and Austria continue to hold out, with no sign of any change. They must be getting something out of this - the tax has risen from 15% to a current position of 35%. But if the tax you would be paying in your home jurisdiction is greater than 35% on that income, the withholding tax is clearly advantageous.

Geoff Southern's second question related to Jimmy Carr and tax vehicles to legally avoid paying tax:

To prevent any repeat of the recent K2 publicity and to improve our reputation for transparency, will the Minister explain whether the coverage of the EU Savings Tax Directive will be extended to include disbursements from Jersey based trusts to residents in the UK and elsewhere and, if not, why not?

Ian Gorst's reply again mentioned Luxembourg and Austria, both of whom lobby within the EU against greater transparency:

Luxembourg and Austria are currently blocking progress on the planned extension of the scope of the EUSD to cover trusts and companies.  Jersey has indicated to the European Commission that it is prepared to give further support to the EU by providing for the extension through the necessary amendment to the existing EUSD Agreements with the individual Member States. However, it has also been mentioned to the Commission that it may prove difficult to obtain the States' ratification of the amended Agreements if at that time Jersey is being discriminated against by Member States in allowing access to financial markets within the EU.... We are therefore waiting on the EU, for the extension of the existing EUSD Agreements to cover trusts and companies is not something that can be done independently of the EU.

The third question was on beneficial ownerships:

Will the Minister also state whether the introduction of a requirement for full public disclosure of the ultimate beneficial owners of all companies registered in Jersey has been considered and, if not, why not?

And this time, it was the USA who turned out to be the impediment to progress:

At a recent Tax and Crime Forum held by the OECD in Rome Jersey was held up by the World Bank as the example for others to follow in complying with the current international standards. Specifically it was stated that Jersey leads the way in combining effective company registry requirements with the rigorous regulation of trust and company service providers to ensure that beneficial ownership information is available. Mention was also made of the fact that in the World Bank report on "how the corrupt use legal structures to hide stolen assets and what to do about it" the Jersey model is used to describe the conditions under which the company registry can be considered a viable option for providing beneficial ownership information  At meetings of FATF working groups the USA also has referred to Jersey as a leader, and has indicated that because of resistance from individual States such as Delaware they believe it is unlikely that they will be able to get agreement in the foreseeable future on the placing of the same high level of obligations on those providing trust and company services.

Jersey is committed to complying with all relevant international standards. Currently there is no indication of international support for the full public disclosure of ultimate beneficial ownership. None of the international standard setters have proposed this. The FATF has just revised its recommendations and issued a new interpretative note on beneficial ownership which states that countries should ensure that either; (a) information on the beneficial ownership of a company is obtained by that company and available at a specified location in their country; or (b) there are mechanisms in place so that the beneficial ownership of a company can be determined in a timely manner by a competent authority. Jersey fully meets the latter requirement, as independent assessments have shown.

If in the future the international standard setters agree on a global requirement for public disclosure of ultimate beneficial ownership Jersey can be expected to respond to this alongside other countries. In the meantime we will watch with interest the steps taken by the USA, UK and others to match Jersey in the availability of information on beneficial ownership which can also be accessible when it is properly required.

Delaware, of course, is really an onshore tax haven operating in America

"The state of Delaware fits the qualifications of a tax haven. There is no taxation for "offshore" limited liability companies, the states provides privacy for the beneficial owners of Delaware LLCs among other factors. A tax haven is considered to be a country or territory which opens itself up to foreign investors by implementing a zero tax or low tax regime coupled with very strict privacy and confidential laws to protect clients. The client base of most tax havens comes from foreign countries."

- No accounting / reporting requirements
- A Delaware LLC is tax-free, except for a $250 annual franchise tax
- A minimum of one Member is required who can be resident outside the U.S.A.
- Ownership of Delaware limited liability company is strictly confidential
- Delaware imposes no state income tax on a business that does not operate within the state.
- Delaware does not tax Limited Liability Companies (LLC) which do not have business operations in the state. So any company which operates in another state can simply register an LLC subsidiary in Delaware and transfer its revenue to the tax haven, thus avoiding taxation on their profits.

This is very close to the Jersey Exempt Tax company which was phased out because it broke with EU regulations in having two kinds of company taxation, one internal to the jurisdiction, and one external for the sole purpose of selling to outsiders. It can be seen that Delaware has a vested interest in preventing any public disclosure of ultimate beneficial ownership,

And according to one website, you can "incorporate your Delaware Corporation or Delaware LLC -in 5 minutes!" That's probably an exaggeration, but it is certainly the case that setting up a shell company in Delaware is a quick and easy process. According to the New York Times it takes less than an hour to incorporate a company in Delaware and involves less paperwork than applying for a driver's license. A 2012 survey noted that over 60% of Fortune 500 listed US companies are registered in Delaware, enjoying the legal tax benefits and the privacy afforded to them by the State. And nearly half of all the public corporations in the United States are incorporated in Delaware! And, at last count, Delaware had more corporate entities, public and private, than people - 945,326 to 897,934!

But it's not just Delaware. Nevada, Wyoming and Oregon have also started doing big business with shell companies. And as the New York Times reported on Beneficial Ownership disclosures:

"The secretaries of state, along with Delaware, argue that the Levin measure would be costly and burdensome, and would discourage business incorporation and capital formation. They add that their offices are generally ill-equipped to process the additional data that would be required. Even more, determining beneficial ownership may not be a simple matter."

Will there be a move to worldwide disclose of beneficial ownerships? With opposition from within the USA, and the well known propensity for "exceptionism" for the USA - complaints about the Caymans, silence over Delaware - it is unlikely that anything will budge. There are powerful and rich vested interests involved, and so far there has been no progress on the matter. As with the EU and Luxembourg and Austria, the vested interests are internal, and far more effective at blocking any changes than a small Island which will comply with increased transparency once the "big boys" have done so.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Bicameral Government

Bicameral Government: Some Comments

Some small jurisdictions, such as Barbados, have a bicameral government.  In the case of Barbados, the second chamber, or upper house

1) is not directly elected by the population - it consists of appointees by the Governor-General but in some instances on the advice of the Prime Minister, and HM's Loyal Opposition.
2) All legislation can be introduced and amended in either house with the exception of money bills
3) the second Chamber has a restricted power of veto over legislation
4) Members of the second chamber can be Ministers.

It has been suggested that Jersey adopt a bicameral system, but that would seem to be a regressive step if it consistent of appointees.

Guernsey had a system by which 12 Conseillers were elected by a college, and while forming part of the States, were not subject to accountability at the Ballot box.

Likewise, Jersey before the post-war reforms had Jurats and Rectors in the States; again, these were not subject to election at the ballot box.

To move to a system which would give greater powers to a chamber that was unaccountable to the electorate would seem a regressive movement. The post-war changes in Jersey and Guernsey (and even Sark) have been towards greater accountability, where all politicians with the power to vote on measures have to face the electorate at the ballot.

The creation of a second Chamber in Barbados would appear to fulfil much the same function as the House of Lords, as a brake on change. It is a means of sharing political power to the benefit of a social class whose pre-eminence has been challenged by social change.

Historically, it seems to have come about around the same time as the change to independence in 1966, and can be seen as a  guarantor of stability in the transition to self-governance. It prevents majority rule, which in a nascent democracy, in an area of the world which has seen tribal factions using majority rule as a self-serving means for their own faction, and excluding minorities, this was probably a wise decision. The proximity of Cuba was probably instrumental as by 1965 this had an established single-party communist state with the repressive apparatus of State control (imprisonment of dissidents, labour camps etc).

A bicameral government acted as a bulwark against change by providing a veto - this is a common strategy for stability where there is a regime transition (see, for example, Ronald A. Francisco, "The Politics of Regime Transitions", 2000).

It should be noted that in various forms, the government of Barbados has only been in existence for 369 years, comparatively recently, compared with Jersey's 800. Moreover, most of the changes have been more recent that Jersey. The length of time it has had to develop a modern Parliamentary democracy is comparatively short. Up until 1944, there were income qualifications on men voting, and women did not have the right to vote.

As Jersey has been independent for a considerably longer regarding domestic policy, our system has had time to evolve more checks and balances. The imposition of a second chamber would impede the democratic system. The main problems with bicameral systems are:

- Unelected members (in the case where upper house members are appointed by the head of the executive branch)
- Less democratic legitimacy and under-representation of minority ethnics and sexes
- Government expenditure on the maintenance of the house
- Longer and unlimited terms in office (leading to accusations of monarchism)
- Slow process of legislation due to upper house scrutiny

But what could be considered would be if Jersey could adopt a second Chamber which was elected - such as a House of Senators or a House of Constables. This would be on the lines of Sherman's arguments in the 1787 Constitutional Convention, that a second chamber was "an instrument for preserving that residuary sovereignty" of the States. He noted that "No law or resolution can now be passed without the concurrence, first, of a majority of the people [the House of Representatives], and then of a majority of the States [the Senate]."

A house of Constables, which perhaps would need to meet less frequently, and with more of a scrutiny function to protect Parish matters would fit this model. If the remainder of the States were be elected in larger constituencies (with 5-6 members in each), then a House of Constables would preserve that "residuary sovereignty" of the Parishes. But as with Sherman's compromise, which resolved a deadlock in 1787, this would mean two elected Chambers, not an unelected upper house.

Equally, if the Constables and Deputies were arranged in much smaller districts, so that there might only be one or two people standing per district, a House of Senators (or indeed the retention of the Senators) would provide the same kind of balance between Parish and Island.

However, given that Constables have a Parish to run, and Senators do not, the option of a House of Constables, with lesser powers than the States, and meeting less frequently, would be a more suitable option, and perhaps be worth considering. It would mean a diminution of the role of the Constable within the main States, as they would have more of a veto / scrutiny function, but the demands of most Parishes today mean that Constables can seldom stand as Ministers and satisfy the demands of a Parish workload adequately, although as elected representatives, it would not be impossible for them to be Assistant Ministers.

In conclusion, the Bicameral System as seen in Barbados would be a retrograde step for a mature democracy like Jersey, and probably came about historically as a result of drives to independence and stability in a politically unsettled locality. However, the notion of Bicameral Government, with two elected Chambers, one of the Constables, might be worth consideration, and could be argued for on the same basis as Sherman in 1787. But whether it would be workable, or cost effective, is another matter.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Island in The Sun

Here are a few facts about the government of Barbados, although there is a lot there, and there are email addresses, government and opposition websites, newspapers, etc etc. All of this is easily available and gleaned at no cost apart from a little time. I put it here in case a very selective and edited appraisal comes back with Sir Philip from his little jaunt where he chooses to share only those aspects of their government that he thinks support his agenda.

And it is quite a different system from Jersey - one wonders why Sir Philip Bailhache is spending nearly £8,000 taxpayers money to go over there, and what he will learn from this expensive "jolly". Perhaps he'd like a bi-cameral government, where the second chamber is not elected by popular mandate?

This is, moreover, an Island which was claimed by James I in 1625, and colonised in 1627. The length of time it has had to develop a Parliamentary democracy is short. Up until 1944, there were income qualifications on men voting, and women did not have the right to vote! That should be born in mind when reading the blurb: "It is interesting to note that Barbados has one of the oldest Westminster-style parliaments in the western hemisphere. It has been in existence for 369 years."

But this is what Sir Philip's real agenda may be - The Barbados Independence Act was passed by the United Kingdom Parliament in 1966! I can imagine a gleam in his eye when he discusses that! It has nothing to do with the electoral commission, but do you imagine the subject won't come up?

And as for the Barbados Senate - this is an unelected body which is chosen outside of the popular vote. Anything like that in Jersey would seem like a reversion to the system where the Jurats and Rectors were part of the States, although today, of course, it would be businessmen, lawyers, ex-civil servants etc etc. Do we really want anything like that?

The Barbadian Flag is representative of independence from England. Neptune's Trident appeared in the Seal when the island was still a colony, the broken Trident on the flag is thus representative of the break with the past, and the step towards independence. The blue panels are for the sea and the sky, while the centre gold panel is for the sand of the beaches. On November 30th, 1966 Barbados was granted independence from England.

Jersey has an area of 116 sq km, while Barbados has one of 430 sq km

The population is around 287,733 (July 2011 est.), and is divided into black 93%, white 3.2%, mixed 2.6%, East Indian 1%, other 0.2%. The urban population is around 44% - in Jersey it is 31%

It has a bicameral Parliament which consists of

The Senate - 21 seats, where members are appointed by the governor general - 12 on the advice of the Prime Minister, 2 on the advice of the opposition leader, and 7 at his discretion

The House of Assembly, which has 30 seats and where members are elected by direct popular vote to serve five-year terms. A former minister of the DLP, Warwick Franklin summed up the general elections process in Barbados as saying it is really just, "30 by-elections on the same day."

Barbados is divided into 30 electoral districts or constituencies. Voters in each constituency elect one member of parliament (MP) to send to the House of Assembly on the first past-the-post system. The Senate in Barbados is not an elected body.

The politics in recent years are two-party, dominated by the centre-left Barbados Labour Party and the social-democratic Democratic Labour Party.  The last election result was DLP 52.5%, BLP 47.3%; seats by party - DLP 20, BLP 10. Elections are held every five years or sooner if decided upon - rather like the UK.

One website has this on parties:

Democratic Labour Party (DLP) - The Hon. Freundel Stuart (this party has been in power since Jan 2008, and is considered to be a social democratic party)

Barbados Labour Party (BLP) - Rt. Hon. Owen Arthur (this party is ideologically similar to the Democratic Labour Party)

Peoples Empowerment Party (PEP) - David Comissiong (this is the 'leftist' party)

The Cabinet of Barbados is led by The Prime Minister who controls a majority in the House of Assembly, advises the crown, and appoints the senators and ministers. The Prime Minister is usually the leader of the majority party and is appointed by the Governor-General of Barbados.

The voting system is "first past the post"
The House of Assembly introduced time limits on speeches in 1973.
In 1983, the Senate introduced time limits on Speeches.
In 1990, the Electoral and Boundaries Commission in its review of constituency boundaries increased the number of seats in the House of Assembly from 27 to 28.

The Senate has 21 members, all appointed by the Governor-General , 12 on the advice of the Prime Minister, two on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition, and seven in the Governor-General's discretion. Senators may also be appointed as Ministers or Parliamentary Secretaries. The Senate meets chiefly when there is business from the House of Assembly. The Senate is referred to as the Upper House.

There are 21 members in the Senate: 12 appointed by the Prime Minister, 7 by the Governor General and 2 by the Leader of the Opposition.

Those appointed by the Governor General are known as independent senators and represent various interests in the community. These members may come from the business community, the labour movement or the church.

Members of the Senate can hold Ministerial office although they have not been elected to Parliament.

The Senate has to approve all matters that come before Parliament with the exception of money resolutions. One main constraint on the Senate is that it cannot author monetary or budget-related bills.  All legislation can be introduced and amended in either house with the exception of money bills; money bills always originate in the House of Assembly, and the Senate is limited in the amendments it can make to them.

The politics is not all cosy. One local comment has the following:

Where have you been? I have not been involved in party politics for a number of years, and I would find it hard to be involved with the level of politics that has infected Barbados. I have no problem with adversarial politics but ours has become just nasty. It has reached the point where quality persons are shying away from politics leaving people who previously would have been on the lunatic fringe to be elected and eventually become part of the Cabinet.

By the way, have you listened to the debates in the House lately? As a country, we have been embarrassed to hear our MPs struggle to construct simple English sentences or even make sense in the process.

And the local Labour party notes:

Tuesday, July 17, 2012 will go down in history as the bleakest day in Barbados' history so far. For that was when our country lost its 384 years of renown for fiscal, financial and economic prudence, thriftiness and even wizardry with the gut-wrenching disclosure that the nation's sovereign debt rating had been reduced to the much scorned junk bond status.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Did the first Christians worship Jesus?

Jesus wasn't a Christian. That's not surprising because a Christian means a follower of the Christ, i.e., the Messiah. He didn't follow himself, obviously. So I do wonder why people keep repeating that on discussion groups. What I think it has to do with is more a question of how they followed Jesus. I've been reading a book by James Dunn which attempts to answer that kind of question; it's called "Did the first Christians worship Jesus?"

There's a lot of confusion around today, not least because of titles attributed to Jesus such as "Son of God". Greek mythology knows of sons of Gods, born when the gods procreated. Within later Christianity, "Son of God" carries with it implications of deity, as with the formulation of the Trinity. But within first century Judaism, "Son of God" is not a title which conveys attributes of deity. It simply means "Messiah". The trouble is that we read back into the texts meanings that aren't there.

While Dunn's explorations in this book have implications for how Christians perceive Jesus, it should be noted this is a work of scholarship - he is looking at how early Christians perceived Jesus, not how he does, or how you and I might. That degree of historical detachment must be a prerequisitite of any academic examination of the history otherwise it becomes too coloured by personal beliefs, and we end with what George Tyrell described as "looking into a well, in which we see our own face reflected in the dark water deep below", a position which was clearly elucidated by Schweitzer in his "Quest for the Historical Jesus" in which he showed how a failure of historical criticism led to portraits of Jesus that said more about the painter than subject.

So did the first Christians worship Jesus? The answer is complex, but as Dunn points out early on, a "proof text" approach is too simplistic - some texts suggest no, where Jesus refuses to accept worship which he says is due to God alone, and some texts suggest yes, Thomas confession of "my Lord and my God", for example.

Dunn examines the terminology carefully, and shows that, for example, the Greek word used for "worship" (proskynein) implies "the appropriate mode for making a petition to one of high authority who could exercise power to benefit the petitioner" - while not necessarily implying  that the person of high authority is also divine. Other Greek words used in the context of worship - worship (latreuein, epikaleisthai), are examined, along with the traces of the earliest hymns in the New Testament.

What Dunn is trying to do is examine the background of Jewish monotheism in the 1st century, and one of the interesting things that he points out is that while it ruled out worship of other gods, it didn't take a strictly logical form as some kind of mathematical unity - the development of the wisdom literature, and thinking about angels, meant that while the Jews had one God, that God made himself known and revealed in diverse ways. Christianity arose in Judaism, and strict monotheism would seem to pose problems:

"In some ways this is the most difficult issue: that in the New Testament Jesus is sometimes called 'god', or should we say 'God'? If 'god', is not that a step towards polytheism - Jesus as a second god beside the creator God? If 'God', then how are we to make sense of the first Christians' clear memory that Jesus called for worship to be given only to God, and himself regularly prayed to God as his God and Father? The data itself poses as many questions as it resolves."

But as Dunn points out, in the understanding of monotheism in 1st century Judaism, there was a greater flexibility in how monotheism was perceived, while retaining the core value. Angels became "theophanic", means by which God revealed himself, and there was also a development of the ideas of Spirit, Wisdom, and Word of God in these ways, in which, for example, the Wisdom of God, is spoken of in ways which almost convey a distinction between the Wisdom of God and God, and yet is not separated out from God. The logos/Word of God is also developed in a similar way in Philo.

The LORD made the earth by his power; by his wisdom he created the world and stretched out the heavens.

For Wisdom is quicker to move than any motion; she is so pure, she pervades and permeates all things. She is a breath of the power of God, pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; so nothing impure can find its way into her. For she is a reflection of the eternal light, untarnished mirror of God's active power, and image of his goodness. Although she is alone, she can do everything; herself unchanging, she renews the world, and, generation after generation, passing into holy souls, she makes them into God's friends and prophets; for God loves only those who dwell with Wisdom. She is indeed more splendid than the sun, she outshines all the constellations; compared with light, she takes first place, for light must yield to night, but against Wisdom evil cannot prevail.

But for all this development, there is never a point at which the emanation of God, as Wisdom, is worshiped apart from and distinctly from God. Likewise Dunn argues that: "in earliest Christianity, Christ was never understood as the one to whom sacrifice was offered, even when the imagery of sacrifice was used symbolically for Christian service"

It is only later, in Gnosticism in particular, that there is a radical separation of these "emanations" of God from God, and Sophia, for example, becomes a subject of worship in her own right, and this, of course, is retained in New Age revivals of Gnosticism (although they eschew the asceticism and the notion that the world of matter is evil).

As a reaction to that, and Christian developments of the Trinity, which seemed to imply polytheism, later Judaism become more strictly monotheistic (although its less orthodox offshoots such as Kabbalah retained the earlier approach within a monotheistic setting). Islam, of course, began with a very strict idea of monotheism which was at radically at odds with this theophanic thinking.

It was in this context of theophany that Dunn argues that the early Christians seem to have reflected on Jesus, hence the way the phrasing of Jesus in prayers as what might be termed a "mediating agency" rather than prayers to Jesus - a Jesus-olatry.

So Dunn asks " Was earliest Christian worship so closely bound up with Jesus that inevitably he participated in the receipt of worship just as he participated in the offering of the worship?  Was earliest Christian worship in part directed to him as well as made possible and enabled by him?"

Part of his conclusion was that in the context in which God could be seen as mediating through diverse means, that "Jesus was God, in that he made God known, in that God made himself known in and through him, in that he was God's effective outreach to his creation and to his people.  But he was not God in himself" Thus, it would be better to see Jesus as an icon, a window through which the divine can be seen and experienced.  Within this context,  "the question of Jesus being worshiped could arise, and arise as a natural corollary to the status attributed to him, it had provided no precedent to which the first Christians could appeal."

But the icon is central in Christianity, and Christianity, Dunn concludes, has at the heart a worship which is enabled by Jesus and wherein God is revealed in and through Jesus:

"If what has emerged in this inquiry is taken seriously, it soon becomes evident that Christian worship can deteriorate into what may be called Jesus-olatry. That is, not simply into worship of Jesus, but into a worship that falls short of the worship due to the one God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I use the term 'Jesus-olatry' as in an important sense parallel or even close to 'idolatry'. As Israel's prophets pointed out on several occasions, the calamity of idolatry is that the idol is in effect taken to be the God to be worshipped. So the idol substitutes for God, takes the place of God. The worship due to God is absorbed by the idol. The danger of Jesus-olatry is similar: that Jesus has been substituted for God, has taken the place of the one creator God; Jesus is absorbing the worship due to God alone."

Dunn suggest we also consider the question: "Was the earliest Christian worship possible without and apart from Jesus?"

"Our central question can indeed be answered negatively, and perhaps it should be. But not if the result is a far less adequate worship of God. For the worship that really constitutes Christianity and forms its distinctive contribution to the dialogue of the religions, is the worship of God as enabled by Jesus, the worship of God as revealed in and through Jesus. Christianity remains a monotheistic faith. The only one to be worshipped is the one God. But how can Christians fail to honor the one through whom it believes the only God has most fully revealed himself, the one through whom the only God has come closest to the condition of humankind? Jesus cannot fail to feature in their worship, their hymns of praise, their petitions to God. But such worship is always, should always be offered to the glory of God the Father. Such worship is always, should always be offered in the recognition that God is all in all, and that the majesty of the Lord Jesus in the end of the day expresses and affirms the majesty of the one God more clearly than anything else in the world."

Friday, 20 July 2012

Doctor Who's Jersey Highlands Connections

Do you remember the James Burke series "Connections", where he began with one thing, and followed it though to others? I thought it would be interesting to adopt that approach here.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Jon Pertwee, who played the part of "Doctor Who", came to Jersey several times - just before and after the war. Another Doctor Who also has a Jersey connection - the actor Tom Baker.

Tom Baker was born in 1934, in Liverpool. His childhood memories were of poverty, overcrowded housing (during the war, his family sheltered 14 people in their house), and filth and cockroach infestations. These were common slum conditions. The Architectural Journal of 1933, a year before he was born, noted:

'At one-and-a-half to a room Kitchens counting as rooms - there are six people in this house, divided for sleeping purposes thus : main bedroom, husband, wife and child; second bedroom, two girls ; parlour, son. Accommodation which necessitates five people sleeping in two small bedrooms, and one person in the parlour, is by every civilized standard odious. If one adds the presence of vermin, the bug, the beetle, the rat - the all pervasive slum smell, and the absence - in thousands of cases of bathrooms and W.C.s and even of water taps, one arrives at some idea of the living conditions of a quarter of the population as dealt with here.

He turned to the Catholic church as an escape, but as he recounts, this was an education which took one away from the slums, only to destroy all sense of worth. He was forced to repeat the words, 'I am nothing' in Latin and English over and over again. "I think it's been very difficult to get away from the fact that as a child I was brought up to loathe myself," he said.

Tom was not at all academic and struggled with everyday school work, failing the eleven plus. At 15, much to the delight of his family, he joined a religious order, the De la Mennais Brothers originating from Ploërmel in Brittany in France, and he dedicated himself to the monastic life. However as the years went by, disillusionment overwhelmed him, and at 21 he decided to leave. Tom later wrote about his time in the monastery in his autobiography "Who on Earth is Tom Baker?" (1)

At 17, the order took him to Jersey, where it was based at what is now Highland's College. Eileen Nicolle's "A History of Highlands College" tells us something of the background of this order:

French Jesuit training school Notre Dame de Bon Secours that was established in Jersey in 1894 on the site known as Highlands. The school trained sailors for the French navy but when the Jesuits were denied permission by anti-clerical laws to continue teaching, the school was moved to Jersey from Brest. The Jesuit period finished after World War I and the site was purchased by another French group The Brothers of Christian Instruction from Ploërmel in Brittany who set up a missionary school. (2)

Tom described in his autobiography "Who on Earth is Tom Baker?" what it was like to enter a religious order:

The first thing that happened on entering a religious house was that you lost your name. My name was Tommy in those days but who had ever heard of Brother Tommy then? Now monasteries all over the world are crawling with Tommies and Willies and Tweaks and Larrys; most of them don't even wear frocks anymore, except on masquerade days. But then, your name was changed. Then, it was virtue to leave father, mother, brother, sister and so on and change your name, too.

I wanted to call myself Sylvester. I thought it sounded good and my mother often talked about St Sylvester's in Liverpool. Yes, Brother Sylvester pleased me a lot. So that when I reached the mother house in Jersey, Maison Bon Secour, the house of succour, my happiness was complete. I was determined to be good. We say, don't we, "she's a good girl" or "she was a good mother" or "he was a good man". We still mean it, too. To be good in the moral sense still draws us to admiration. I wanted to be a saint. You can laugh if you like, I won't reproach you, but that's what we all felt, all forty of us in the novitiate of 1951. The discipline was very severe. The popular idea was that silence, lots of silence, deep silence, eternal silence it seemed to me, was good for the soul. I found it very hard.

The day started at about four thirty, I think. Odd, isn't it, that in a house of religion where silence was the great idea, we were roused in the morning by what I can only call a fire alarm. The shock was appalling. But one can get used to anything. It didn't occur to me to complain. Complain? (3)

But he found the regime very constrictive: "The whole point was to learn humility and practice obedience," he wrote later, "Yet the real point was the annihilation of self and I suppose that's where I lost myself for ever." After five years, he left the monastery under a cloud:

After five years, he dared to question certain aspects of the monastery and was expelled. Adjusting to life outside proved difficult; one wonders whether he ever managed to make that transition successfully. He remembers on his release how, because he had been forbidden to look at his fellow monks for five years, he felt compelled to stare intensely at strangers. His view of women had been warped by his experience, leaving him unable to form lasting relationships. (4)

But what was the order that he joined all about? It was a teaching order:

The Brothers of Christian Instruction, also known as the De la Mennais Brothers, is a teaching order founded by Father Jean-Marie de la Mennais in 1819 to teach the poor children of Brittany in Western France. These children had not had the chance to go to school, nor to learn about their faith due to the social upheaval caused by the French Revolution in 1789 and its far-reaching consequences.

In 1903, the Congregation had a severe setback when the French government closed all its schools in France and the colonies, like those of other congregations. The French Novitiate or training house for candidates to the brotherhood was immediately transferred to Taunton in south-west England and new missions were started in other countries such as Spain and Canada. In 1922 the Novitiate moved to Jersey and the Brothers in England opened their first school in Southampton, St. Mary's College, which still exists.

The Brothers are now in 24 countries around the world, places like Chile, Japan, Uganda, Tahiti, Senegal, Italy, the U.S.A. Argentina, etc... Wherever they are, their aim remains that of their Founder. (5)

The order received its first group of novices in August 1922, who soon fully fitted out their new home. For nearly 50 years Bon Secours, (or Highlands College as it was usually called), housed young men training to be members of the teaching order of brothers, coming mainly from France, England and Italy. But what was in like to be part of that? Tom Baker is not the only one who has written of his experiences. Brother Edward Earley (1924-2001) also wrote of his experiences in Jersey, which were - unlike Tom Bakers - all pleasant. But this was pre-war Jersey:

In June of 1939 I arrived in Jersey to finish my postulate and then enter the Novitiate. William Drinkwater was my companion. The sun shone brightly during those first few weeks and with the other postulants we went on various walks and excursions. We even visited HMS Jersey; a small battleship paid for by the inhabitants of the island. I remember that on July 14th Bro. Jean-Auguste was awarded the Medaille de Guerre for his services during the First World War. The scholastics joined us for the banquet in his honour. That day we also met Bro. Jean-Joseph, the former Superior-General and Bro. Denis  who was to become the first Canadian Assistant after the following General Chapter.

In February of 1941 came the order from the German authorities that the novices and scholastics had to leave for France. The novices were able to find accommodation in the Trappist monastery of Timadeuc. Then in June 1941 Highlands College itself was occupied by German troops. (6)

Brother Earley remained in Jersey, tending the gardens and still receiving education:

Our chaplain was Rev. Fr. de Tonquedec s.j.. He also preached our annual retreats all through the occupation. During 1942, William Drinkwater and myself prepared for our London Matriculation exam which we sat at the Beeches School. We had to wait until after the war to receive the results from London!

At the beginning of September 1942, William and I were offered teaching posts at The Beeches. This was wonderful news for us. Prior to this we had simply been studying and doing some work in the garden at Highlands. But the evening after our first teaching day, the Jersey daily paper announced the startling news that all non-residents were to be deported. The next morning, no classes for us. We were handed a letter from the German commander. "You must be at the port at 16.00 hours with your luggage." Lunch that day was a very sad event. After the meal I knelt to receive the chaplain's blessing. We were going into the unknown! At the port 300 people, including children, were assembled. When we went aboard the vessel, we found that we knew nobody else on board. (6)

He went, with other Channel Islanders, to  Biberach, but because his parents were in fact Irish, he discovered that he could apply to return to Jersey. Irish was neutral, and the German policy on non-residents did not apply:

Whilst speaking to some men who had been imprisoned in Belgium, I happened to mention that my parents were Irish. "Irish? Then you should not be here. In Belgium, several people we knew were freed because of their Irish connections (Ireland was a neutral country). You must apply to return to your college. As a student teacher you would be of much more use out in a school than kept locked up here." They brought me some paper and a pen. I wrote a courteous letter to the Kommandant. It was January 5th, 1943. But as the days and weeks passed, I soon forgot all about my letter.

One day in June, my number 157 was called out at parade. I went to the office and a German captain told me I could return to Jersey. I was so stunned. I asked if he could explain. "You applied to be released, didn't you?" "Yes," I replied, "six months ago". "Have you any money?" he asked me. "Sir," I answered, "I left Jersey with £1 and I spent it on a German language book." "Your country will lend you £10 (106 marks) which you will pay back after the war!" I must confess that I forgot to do so. I did not know at the time but father had written to union leader Ernest Bevin to try and get my release, my father having been a member of the Trade and General Workers Union (T.G.W.U.), though I do not know if this had any influence.

So, I prepared my luggage, underwent a medical examination and finally had to say goodbye to my friends. One man met me and said, while smoking a cigarette, "I hear you are returning to Jersey, Anthony." "That's correct." "I can't understand you. I wouldn't go back if I was paid." "Why not?" I asked. "Here I get a food parcel every week now, 50 cigarettes a week, mail from England - I wouldn't get all that in Jersey, would I?" "No," I answered, "but, you see, I don't smoke, we have a large kitchen garden attached to our community in Jersey and I have a teaching job waiting for me." He walked away smoking his cigarette. (6)

He remained in Jersey, teaching, until the end of the Occupation, a time which was tinged with sadness:

After our annual retreat, in the summer of 1944, the mental state of one of our community, Bro. Floribert, deteriorated so badly that he had to stay in bed the whole time. Bro. Alpert, watched over him. Bro. Floribert died on Liberation Day, May 8th. Our joy was mixed with grief for our dead confrère. We buried him later that week.

I attended a victory Mass in St. Thomas Parish Church with Bro. Donatien. He was wearing his WW1 medals. I felt as if I was walking alongside a Field Marshal! We drank champagne during the victory celebrations at Highlands. Union Jack flags were flying everywhere on an island that for so long had been living under the flag of foreign invaders. I helped Pierre, our gardener, to hoist the flag at Highlands. On May 24th, the school children of the island attended the march past of our liberators. The military band played and everyone cheered joyously. We soon received newspapers from Britain, then the first letters from home started to arrive and also from my brothers in the army. They were all well, thank God. (6)

There are other stories of boys who came to Jersey. Here is one, from the end of the time when the order decided to leave Jersey, and the States agreed to purchase the site:

After the first year at St Joseph's, the normal procedure was to move to Jersey for the remainder of one's training - right up to becoming a Novice. At St. Joseph's these were referred to as the 'Jersey Boys' and all the Juvenists aspired to become a Jersey Boy. When we went to Jersey, Bro Alphonsus stayed for the new intake at St Josephs and Bro James accompanied us to Highlands. He stayed with us then until my departure (at St Edwards) in January 1952. However, during the year I was in Jersey, the Brothers acquired St Edwards and of course it was not cost effective to send the Juvenists to Jersey when they had this dedicated training school ( i.e. no boarders ) in Shropshire.

The site was sold to the States. The Great Hall at Highlands still has a wonderful stained glass window, a legacy of its past. And dotted around the car parks are the odd statue of the virgin and child, strange curios of a forgotten chapter in Jersey's past.

(1) http://www.tom-baker.co.uk/pages/content/index.asp?PageID=75
(2) Eileen Nicolle's A History of Highlands College
(3) http://www.tom-baker.co.uk/pages/content/index.asp?PageID=71
(4) http://thomas-stewart-baker.com/article04.html - These articles first appeared in:
The Daily Mail 20, 22, & 23 September 1997.
(5) http://www.brojames.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/JMDLM.html
(6) http://www.brojames.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/IWasThere.html
(7) http://www.stedwardscheswardine.co.uk/stories.html

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Chief Minister Commits to September 2012 for Legislation on Vulture Funds

There is recent good news on the area of Vulture Funds. Vulture Funds are speculative ventures where companies buy up debt to get it back from the debtor often at highly inflated prices. They are effectively legalised loan sharks. Recently, Jersey has been the centre of a court case which reached the Privy Council, and while the Jersey courts allowed the Vulture Fund to claim the debt, the highest court of appeal blocked that. The debt relating to the Congo was originally a loan from the former Yugoslavia to Zaire which was bought up by the Vulture fund for $3.3m; the claim was for $100m.

The privy council has blocked a multimillionaire speculator from taking up to $100m (£64m) from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for a decades old debt that started out at $3.3m. Peter Grossman, who runs so-called "vulture fund" FG Hemisphere, had tried to exploit a legal loophole to demand the impoverished African nation pay back the debt. But the privy council overturned a previous court ruling allowing FG Hemisphere to demand the multimillion-pound payout from DRC's state-owned mining company. (1)

It's a good example of the judicial system working well, where local jurisdictions - in this case Jersey - cannot simply decide matters of justice for themselves; which makes the idea of independence proposed by Senator Philip Bailhache more problematic: if Jersey was independent, they would be literally, a law unto themselves. History has shown that small jurisdictions need an oversight from a broader legal system to ensure justice does not degenerate into tyranny.

The principal time period over which Jersey did exercise almost complete autonomy was during the period immediately after the Reformation, and up until the restoration of Charles II - and the proper lines of legal appeal at the same time. During that period, countless Islanders were imprisoned, stripped and shaved for witches marks, and many burnt at the stake by the orders of the Civil authorities - effectively, local law became legal murder. In England, of course, the breakdown of the chain of command with regard to circuit judges came later - during the Civil War, and it is no coincidence that also saw the local authorities prosecuting witches, without the guiding hand of a central legal oversight.

With regard to the Vulture funds, legislation was originally promised by Senator Terry Le Sueur, who in 2007 stated that:

I am sure that the latter is not being "simply left to rest" and I have urged all firms involved in international activities to be aware of, and refrain from, activities involving 'vulture funds'. I have been given an assurance that they will, and we all recognise the potential harm this could cause to Jersey' s reputation, as well as to the 'victims' of the vulture fund.

Of course, as we all know from a recent Scrutiny report, Terry's preferred strategy was to let matters drift by and do nothing unless he was forced to do so, so not surprisingly nothing was done. When asked questions in 2007, he noted that a "high-level working party" had been set up to look at the issue; when asked of the membership, he fudged with a reply that is really laughable:

At this stage this has been a very hastily produced answer and I do not have details of the composition of that working party, other than to know it is in existence and it is working. In due course I hope to be able to present those details to the Members.

But as we know, he never did!

Nick Dearden, Director of Jubilee Debt Campaign, said: "We welcome the fact that these funds will not flow into the coffers of a secretive vulture fund which tries to unfairly profit from the past debt distress of impoverished countries. Jersey now needs to do what it should already have done - pass a law to make such cases unprofitable for the vultures.

But there are good signs for believing that Jersey is putting its house in order. Asked questions in the States on Vulture funds, Senator Ian Gorst stated:

The U.K. is currently the only jurisdiction/country in the world that has such legislation. We are proposing to be at the forefront as well of such legislation. Earlier this year in late January, I instructed the drafting of such legislation and I hope that I will be in a position to lodge during September.

Obviously this is a piece of legislation similar to the United Kingdom's in that the aim is to ensure that debt relief efforts for developing countries are not interrupted by those who are not abiding by the rules agreed upon by the Paris Club nations and are recovering debts outside of the Common Reduction and Decision Point factors, so it gets quite technical. That is what we are talking about and that is what I am committed to delivering. (2)

Let's keep an eye on September 2012, and keep up the momentum.

(1) http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/jul/18/privy-council-vulture-fund-drc
(2) Hansard

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The Diseases of Civilisation

Digging around in the dusty archives, I came across this book review of mine, which was first published around 1983, in "Thinks!", the Magazine of Channel Island Mensa:

"The Diseases of Civilisation" by Brian Inglis: A Review
This is a very comprehensive survey of the entire field of illness; it is beyond my capacity to give a sufficient comment on the whole of its expanse. I shall, therefore, only focus upon one particular case and comment on this; in doing this, I shall try to make plain the strengths and weaknesses of Dr Inglis' method. I choose to look at his method rather than his actual position on the issue chosen, because it seems to me that his method his approach to individual subjects is more or less uniform, but his evidence for a particular case might be poor, and I would not like to pick upon a weaker case, as this would seem unfair.
The general theme running throughout the book is that medical disorders or the likelihood of being afflicted by illness is directly related to states of mind; also, materialistic medicine is not making much headway, if any, in the battle against disease, but a psychological approach often works. It is not orthodox psychiatry that he means, but rather simply altering one's perspective of the illness to look for possible mental problems (i.e. emotional troubles, stress etc.) The practice of this approach is exemplified in various unorthodox treatments.
It should be noted that much of the unorthodox treatment throughout the book is simply anecdotal, by which I mean that we simply hear of successes that have come to light, with no attempt at controls, and no mention of failures. This idiosyncratic reporting, although it often covers numerous individual cases, cannot be taken as a serious "proof" for Dr Inglis' theory of a psychic derivation of illness, and rather diminishes his comprehensive claim that his theory is true most of the time. All that could be securely stated (from reports given) is that his theory may be true for some of the time.
Having said that, I shall now move on to consider one particular topic - that of allergy, and, to  begin with, I shall not criticise his means of choosing "evidence"  but shall assume that the  evidence is indeed conclusive. I thereby give Dr Inglis a stronger case than he has a right to, but I shall show that, even with this concession, his position still has a number of logical loopholes.
Dr Inglis is quite merciless when it comes to exposing the huge deficiencies in our knowledge of allergy; he makes the point that     medical practitioners can quite accurately diagnose the material "trigger" of an allergic reaction, but can provide no concrete answers to the question of why there should, in the first place, have been a reaction. In other words, the external agent involved sets off false alarms in the body's defence mechanism; the agent is easily identified, but the question remains unanswered; what on earth has gone wrong with the "alarm system"?
There then follows a history in which the failure of laboratory work is closely scrutinised, and various unorthodox treatments are considered. On this basis, it is suggested that    "to continue to treat allergies as if they were the product of pathogens is a futile exercise"; instead, we are advised, on experimental grounds, to suppose that allergy is the result of a psychic reaction (using the term in a psychological sense) and is a sort of "fuse wire for stress" or outlet for psychic problems (such as stress, cognitive dissonance, etc.)
It is here that Dr Inglis loses track of logic. After denouncing orthodox medicine for its reduction of illness to organic causes, he seems determined to reduce all illness to psychic roots, with perhaps a token gesture to material causes. In his approach, Dr Inglis seems to provide the mirror image of the medical model. But why should his reductionism be any better than the other? Why, in fact, should illness be reduced to just one effective cause? Dr Inglis happily criticises orthodox medicine for its blinkered approach, then, blissfully ignorant of the irony, sets his own blinkers facing the other way.
Moreover, Dr Inglis' analysis falls far short of his own high standards. He criticises orthodox medicine for not probing deeply enough, or being able to supply full answers. But has he done this? No doubt his metaphors such as "fuse wire for stress" are very vivid, no doubt his jargon phrases such as "cognitive dissonance" are very grand, but do they answer the questions he has posed? Why should a psychic problem be manifest in an allergic reaction to cheese? Why cheese and not, for instance, butter? Why, in other words, should an allergic reaction take one particular form and not another? For all his talk of stress, emotions and the like, his new theory cannot answer these questions any better than the old medical one. And if we are looking as to why the body should produce false alarms - allergic reactions - surely we are entitled to ask of a complete explanation that it tells us why the body should produce certain false alarms on certain occasions, and do nothing at other times?
The trouble is that Dr Inglis' theory does not really help us with these questions; it simply brings inquiry to a dead end, from where it can be taken no further. In part, this is no doubt due to Dr Inglis' stubborn refusal to properly consider the organic aspects of allergy; I suspect that part of the answer may well lie there, in a breakdown of the defence systems decoding procedure. But to return to Dr Inglis, it must be said that he provides a theory which is pretty well impossible to test scientifically; of course, statistical measures are possible,   but such results only indicate the theory may be correct and are a very flimsy kind of evidence. What is needed is a theory that can describe what should occur with specific conditions (such as stress, eating cheese etc) so that what actually happens can be checked out; if it does not agree, then so much for the theory. But Dr Inglis' theory does not seem capable of such a stringent test as befits the logic of science.
The statistical evidence which might serve as second-best is sadly lacking. On allergy - and this is a typical argument used throughout the book, he asks: "why should allergy appear to be so much more prevalent today than it was a century ago?", and answers, "There are no statistics    , admittedly, to confirm this impression." How, then, does he know of the increase? He writes: "If allergic reactions had been common in the nineteenth century, they would surely feature much more frequently in the correspondence, the reminiscences, and the fiction of the era." So the   statistics do not exist, but may be surmised by a very odd sort of special pleading. Note especially the deterministic argument: "if they had been, they would..." I would make two criticisms of this approach. Firstly, this is not historical investigation, unless it is the sort of history gleaned from nineteenth century German scholarship, where this spurious logic was common. Secondly, just because something in the   past is not mentioned in terms familiar to us today, this in itself is insufficient for assuming that it may have been less common then.
Such methodological weaknesses destroy much of Dr Inglis' case. There seems also to be too little awareness of the merits of medical treatment; to believe Dr Inglis, medicine has only scratched the surface in the field of illness. He forgets that while medical science may not have all the answers, it has certainly been effective in keeping great epidemics (such as cholera) at bay, removing such blight as small-pox, and successfully treating such diseases as tuberculosis which were often fatal in the past.
It is as a corrective to a medical reductionism that Dr Inglis has most to contribute; but, in doing this, I regret the overemphasis which he makes for his case. He has points which are worth making about the dangers of a medical reductionism, but it seems that, unknowingly, he argues towards a conclusion that he has already decided to be correct, and he is not prepared to give any contrary evidence a fair hearing. However, it is up to the reader to judge for himself (or herself) whether or not this surmise of mine is correct.