Monday, 31 December 2012

A Few TV Reviews

Just a note before these reviews. I've just heard that my friend Alane Wallace has died, aged 62, and I will be posting a fuller posting on our friendship in the next few days.

John Le Mesurier: It's All Been Rather Lovely

I watched a brilliant tribute programme to John le Mesurier, Sergeant Wilson on Dad's Army. A few clips too of his BAFTA award winning play Traitor, which sadly has never been released on DVD. I loved his comment - "All they put on the statue is the name of the actor, and the name of show for which he won the award. My BAFTA says on it - John Le Mesurier, Traitor".

A wonderfully underrated actor with a wry sense of humour -e.g. in his own Obit in the Times, "Conked Out". Apparently the Times at first refused to print that, then thankfully relented.

Climbed Every Mountain - The Story Behind The Sound of Music.

In this programme, Sue Perkins explored the background to The Sound of Music. There was apparently also a German version, much truer to the history. Father Franz Wasne, their musical director (who escaped with them) was airbrushed out of the Rogers and Hammerstein version.

The family sang much more religious music as well as folk music, which itself was really nothing like the musical, enjoyable though that is. And Georg (the Captain) was far less of a martinet; in fact it was Maria who was the authoritative one, sometimes being very autocratic, and remaining fervently religious (she later went on a missionary expedition), and also wanted some of her daughters to enter a convent. After her death, the money from their American tours, which had been ploughed into the family business (an Austrian experience in the USA) became subject of family squabbles.

The source of Maria's history is largely her own autobiography. The convent records are scanty, although it seems she may never have been a nun, and the town archives are missing all records relating to her. It was also interesting learning about the Von Trapp's later life in America, to which they reached first by train to Italy, not by escaping over mountains to Switzerland!

There's another Sound of Music myth on the internet. Julie Andrews never sung this, glorious through it is, for her 69th birthday:

Maalox and nose drops and needles for knitting,
Walkers and handrails and new dental fittings,
Bundles of magazines tied up in string,
These are a few of my favorite things.

Cadillac's and cataracts, and hearing aids and glasses,
Polident and Fixodent and false teeth in glasses,
Pacemakers, golf carts and porches with swings,
These are a few of my favorite things.

When the pipes leak,
When the bones creak,
When the knees go bad,
I simply remember my favorite things,
And then I don't feel so bad.

Hot tea and crumpets and corn pads for bunions,
No spicy hot food or food cooked with onions,
Bathrobes and heating pads and hot meals they bring,
These are a few of my favorite things.

Back pains, confused brains, and no need for sinnin',
Thin bones and fractures and hair that is thinnin',
And we won't mention our short, shrunken frames,
When we remember our favorite things.

When the joints ache,
When the hips break,
When the eyes grow dim,
Then I remember the great life

Sunday, 30 December 2012

On the Buses: A Tender Problem

Today there is a bus strike. As the new operator is about to take over, and Connex is ceasing on 31 December, people might be inclined to ask what is the point, especially as most of the workforce have signed up with the new operator. Well, it is a protest. Just because a marriage takes place under the threat of a shotgun, it doesn't mean that those involved like what is happening. And the signing up with the new operator CTPlus, is very much like a shotgun wedding. Drivers are mindful of the economic situation, and they have families to support. So they have sign up. But this is a protest to draw attention to some very real wrongs which have been going on behind the scenes.

As far as I can piece matters together from my sources, back in 2002 when Connex took over the running of the bus service in Jersey it was written into the tender documentation that all employees were to be transferred with their terms and conditions unchanged. Connex abided by this with the exception of the shift allowance that had been awarded as part of a pay negotiation prior to them starting the service. The Public Services Committee (the for-runner of Transport and Technical Services) overruled Connex's claim that they had no knowledge of this pay adjustment and upheld the conditions of tender that stated they had to pay this to relevant staff.

As a result of this, an enquiry was then carried out into the problems that had been caused over this pay deal - that culminated in an official response in August 2005. The findings of this were that the wording of the tender had not been clear enough and they recommended that the wording should be changed regarding the Terms and Conditions to state that all staff should be transferred "with Terms and Conditions similar or no less favourable".(1)

In its response to the 2005 report (R.C.58/2005), the Environment and Public Services Committee made a detailed response. This is the crucial area - Recommendation 4:

In the absence of "Transfer of Undertakings: Protection of Employment" Regulations such as are in force in the United Kingdom, in the event that a Committee or Minister has to give an undertaking as to future terms and conditions of employment it should be "on terms no less favourable than those in force on [the operative date]."

The Committee does not understand how the inclusion of the term 'no less favourable than' will ensure that the shift allowance experience cannot recur. If the tender documents had included this phrase, the Committee believes the issue could still have arisen and tenderers could have submitted bids on differing terms and conditions but still fulfilled the 'no less favourable than' clause.

However, the Committee does accept that absolute clarity as to employees' terms and conditions must be ensured in any future tendering process. To this end, the Committee had already amended the Conditions of Contract for Local Bus Services agreed between the current operator and the Committee (of which the Committee of Inquiry had received a copy) to include a clear statement regarding the operative date. Clause 18.3, which refers to 'Consequences of Termination', includes the following conditions -

"On expiry of the Contract . . . the Committee shall . . . . require in any tender documentation that the incoming service provider submit proposals that ensure that all of the Contractor's staff . . . . are taken on by the incoming service provider on the same terms and conditions as apply at the date of the issue of any tender documentation. . ."(1)

This  condition applied in 2010, and it appears that both Eric Le Roux of Connex and Chris Lewis of Blue Coach have confirmed in the public media (Chris Lewis on BBC Radio Jersey) that they had supplied their own tenders with those restrictions on transfer of terms and conditions.

It came as a surprise then, both to the existing operator and Chris Lewis - and the drivers to learn that the goal posts seemed to have moved, and the condition mentioned by the Environment and Public Services Committee was apparently ignored by Transport and Technical Services, who were happy to approve a tender from CT Plus which did not include that condition on the transfer of staff - "same terms and conditions". It certainly does not seem either fair or just that the preferred operator could play the tender process with a different set of constraints, which were not apparently as restrictive as those imposed on Connex.

But all these seems to have been overlooked. According to the staff, TTS were giving out bland assurances that they would be working with CT Plus to facilitate a "smooth and seamless transfer".  On 10 July 2012, TTS issued a statement confirming CT Plus would be the new operator, and also stating that:

"Over the coming months the company will be ordering the new buses, discussing transfer opportunities with the workforce currently employed by Connex Transport Jersey and making all the necessary arrangements to enable a seamless transition of service from the current operator on 1 January 2013. "(2)

It is notable that this does not make any explicit statement about transfer other than to state that it will be "seamless", which is a very vague and loose form of words, aimed clearly at reassuring the workforce that the previously accepted conditions of contract would be adhered to. But it doesn't say that explicitly, and it is clear that the employees were to a degree duped into believing that was what was meant.

What in fact was meant became apparent in September 2012 when staff representatives tried to contact CT Plus to find out how many additional staff they were recruiting and what positions were being offered to existing staff. 

It was at this point that it came to light that the promised "seamless transfer" of staff had very little to do with terms and conditions, and was more of a verbal subterfuge; it was, it appears, being "economical with the truth". It also appears that in contravention of the tender process that the other operators, like Connex, had to comply with, that the new Terms and Conditions would vary significantly from the existing ones. 

In fact, when asked for a copy of the new terms and conditions for comparison, the representatives were told that they would be posted on CT Plus's website that evening.  Although this is not illegal it certainly shows a rather callous and thoughtless disregard for the employees. And I can't find any Terms and Conditions for Guernsey drivers on the website; this does not seem to be general company practice, just a quick fix.

A very short deadline was also announced for signing up to the new terms and conditions, without any room for discussions to take place. This was the sole reason for the unofficial strike action earlier this year - to buy more time for negotiations. If there had been no strike, it is unlikely that any negotiations would have occurred at all. This again shows considerable arrogance and disregard for existing staff.

With the involvement of JACS an agreement was reached that full time staff would attend meetings with CT Plus. During this time 90% of the staff were told by CT Plus management effectively "we will employ who we want to employ, so sell yourself". Since then, despite the involvement of JACS and regardless of various statements and press releases from the Transport Minister, staff representatives had virtually no contact from CT Plus.

By Friday 21st December 2012, a ballot was taken which included all Connex staff (back office staff, mechanics, cleaners, full and part time drivers) and action had been agreed upon, because patience was running out. While staff had signed contracts, they still had seen no shift rotas or working hours and had no idea what they were supposed to be doing on 2 January 2013.

It should be pointed out that while the reduction in a working week was pushed by TTS on the grounds of excessive hours being unsafe, badly worked out rota conditions could also work out with drivers spending more time at the wheel without a long enough break, resulting in drivers becoming more tired and being a greater danger to other road users. For example (confirmed by a source) that it is possible that there could be a shift of 11 or 13 hours, with two 2 hour breaks in between, so that each part of the shift on the road is less than 13 hours, the weekly total falls within the limit, but again it is hardly conducive to safety. This should surely be investigated.

It also appears that the mechanics may also be alone in the workshop which is also in breach of Health and Safety best practice, as well as being on call (unpaid) for at least 12 hours on top of a 4 - 5 hour shift. Health and safety seems to have been an issue used where it can cut costs; it seems to have been overlooked when it suits saving money instead.

On December 24, the new shifts appeared, along with a limited number of timetables, but there was no shift rota forthcoming.  The drivers still didn't know what shifts they would be working on the 2nd January 2013. This is incredibly late in the day for nothing to have been done.

Far from being a "seamless transfer", it appears to have been a shambles, and only the economic downturn, and grumbles about drivers being lucky to have a job have managed to divert attention away from Kevin Lewis, who so far seems to have been particularly adept at avoiding giving too many straight answers in the States Chamber. As most of those questions have been posed by Deputy Southern, it is also not surprising that they have not featured very highly in the local media.

Health and safety has been flagged up vigorously when it suited TTS, and where it did not, it seems to have slid off into the shadows.

What is the future with CT Plus? How are they doing in our sister Island, where they have already been operating?

The situation in Guernsey is not as rosy. The honeymoon period appears to be over; it has been "heavily criticised by Guernsey Press readers".  In September 2012, Deputy John Gollop, a non-driver who uses the buses almost every day, was disappointed standards were slipping under Island Coachway's successor CT Plus.

Deputy Gollop who is also a member of the Bus Users' Group, spoke out after the 7a failed to turn up for passengers waiting at Torteval Church after a parish event: 'I know there was a diversion at the time, which was a special factor, but it is another example of where the company doesn't think,' he said. 'There was no notices put up and no information on its website.'(4).

Bus Users Group co-ordinator Fergus Dunlop thought the 'honeymoon' period was coming to an end for CT Plus and believed public patience was now wearing thin. The Guernsey Press leader wrote "there does seem to be a genuine, growing groundswell of customer dissatisfaction with Guernsey's new bus service, to say the very least."

In fairness, These could be teething troubles. Time will tell how matters will go in Jersey. But there are already some worrying signs. On their own website they say "CT Plus, operator of Jersey's new bus service, LibertyBus, confirmed today that the price of bus fares and bus passes will be frozen for 2013", but now they have also said recently that it "has committed to freezing prices for fares paid for by the new payment card, which can be topped up online or at Liberation Station. However, it said it could not guarantee that cash fares would remain frozen.". That's not the same as the initial promise, which had no caveats. It does not engender trust.

Goalposts changing yet again?


Saturday, 29 December 2012

The Light and the Dark

Prompted by a walk a few days ago to Corbiere....

The Light and the Dark
Foam streaked rocks, a wind is rising
The lighthouse beckons, an old friend
And across we step, slowly walking
To our destination, journey's end
Once waves rising with such speed
Vistors, returning, caught by the sea
Peter Larbaliester came to their need
And drowned. Let this a warning be!
Light washing across the darkling way
The gulls wheeling, with plaintive cries
Shadows on the waters, glimpse today
Hear those so lost, their desperate sighs
To the lighthouse, along the ancient way
With due respect to those who died that day

Friday, 28 December 2012

Thunderbirds are Go

"Thunderbirds are Go", but alas, Gerry Anderson is dead. It is strange that British children growing up in the 1960s and 1970s should be captivated by puppet shows, but these were not ordinary shows. For one thing, Anderson mixed superb model work with his puppetry, or used human hands for close ups. And he had great stories.

The early show - Supercar shows the origins in juvenilia. And the next show, Fireball XL5 is ponderously slow at times; there is a space walk sequence which seems to take forever, and it is in black and white. But by the time of Thunderbirds (1964-1966), the faster pace, and better story telling began to show well. The characters were more roundly drawn, especially Lady Penelope and her lubrigidous butler, Parker, and her sleek pink Rolls-Royce. "Yes M'Lady". The Hood was a memorable recurring villain. Brains supplied comedy and science. But the key fun factor was the model work. Tracy Island, with its ramps and secrets, including a rocket pad under a swimming pool (shades of James Bond's crater in You Only Live Twice), and the Thunderbirds themselves, characters in their own right. Nippy Thunderbird One. The rather overweight Thunderbird Two. The lofty Thunderbird Three. The Tiny Baby Thunderbird 4. And the Spinning Top, Thunderbird 5, which always seemed a bit of a cheat, because it didn't move anywhere like the others.

My poor mother had to take us to see Thunderbirds Are Go (1966) where Thunderbirds, and the Zero-X Craft faced hostile Martian rock snakes. I remember enjoying it, but when it was on TV a year or so ago, it seemed horribly slow; the movie length did not suit the puppets, where the intimacy of the small screen allowed them to shine. Thankfully, she was spared taking us to the second film which bombed at the box office, and we never heard about in Jersey.

Stingray, another Anderson production, also had a rich mythology. The devil fish, the evil Titan, the beautiful but mute Marina, and Troy Tempest, Phones, and the chap who was in a mobile wheelchair of futuristic design.

And all this time, I was getting a weekly copy of Century 21, which presented "fake" futuristic news stories, along with comic strips from the shows; the drawings of these were realistic, not based on the proportions or motions of the puppets, and thus were in fact much more dynamic. Art work by Ron Pembleton, Frank Bellamy and others still stands up well today, and while the scripts could be a little far fetched, they were always fast paced fun. The last page had a different show - Terry Nation's Daleks, in their own comic strip, largely, it is believed written by the first script editor David Whitaker rather than Nation himself. These were excellent stories as well, often with a cliffhanger at the end of each week. For a boy growing up in the 1960s, this comic was fantastic, and it had no football stories, which was another plus as far as I was concerned. This was the scientific revolution, Harold Wilson's white heat of technology, in a comic.

Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967) had more realistic puppets, and the strange craft in which the good Captain sat facing backwards, and viewing his forwards direction via a view screen. I wonder if it is really that easy to drive in such circumstances. It had good stories, a good villain with Captain Black, and the Mysterons who could - via two moving circles of light (all we ever saw of them) bring back to life copies of people who had been killed, complete with copies of their clothes, and even machinery that had been destroyed. It was never really explained how this was done, but the memorable theme tune made this enjoyable, although less so to me than Thunderbirds. I was probably just growing older.

The later shows, such as Joe 90, I did not take to. The plots seemed to have become very weak, and the boy protagonist himself seemed like the kind of boy I would most definitely not like to be. This I think is commonplace - contrary to what writers might expect, most boys would prefer to identify not so much with other boys of their age on TV, but heroic figures like Mike Mercury of Supercar, the Thunderbirds team (or even Brains), Troy Tempest, Captain Scarlett. I remember my friends going to see a James Bond film, and noticing how everyone swaggered in a very Sean Connery manner, smooth, suave, self-assured, as we left the cinema.

Doppelgänger (1969) also known as Journey to the Far Side of the Sun, was a change of direction for Anderson, and was a one off which used model work but live actors. Many of those would take on roles in the show UFO, the 1970s show which began by displaying a caption showing 1990, and was supposed to reflect 1990s fashion. All the flares, and the girls with purple wigs and glittering cat suits seems rather dated, as does the smoking on the moon base,  but it still remains a fast paced show, with a car whose electric doors just opened upwards to let you out. Viewers never saw the problems getting that to happen on cue, and how often they got stuck. But it had some good characters, and very quirky plots, as well as the wonderful spinning UFOs of the title.

Alongside or just after this came "The Protectors" - 52 episodes from 1972 to 1973, It starred Robert Vaughn (of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. fame) as Harry Rule, Nyree Dawn Porter (The Forsyte Saga) as the Contessa Caroline di Contini, and Tony Anholt (Space: 1999, Howard's Way) as Paul Buchet. It was 25 minutes long, during which they had all kinds of adventures, none of which seemed to make any sense, possibly because the short duration for a whole show didn't leave much room for plot.

The last TV show I watched was "Space 1999" (1975 to 1977), which seemed to still have the flared jumpsuits, now seeming less likely than before, and leads (Martin Landau, Barbara Bain) who - while excellent in other shows - seemed in this to have all the charisma of a dull wet day in November. They were supposed to be the love interest! Barry Morse provided a little bit of decent characterisation as the scientist, but sensibly jumped ship after the first season. Then in came Catherine Schell and Tony Anholt, and jackets which seemed less dull, in an effort to provide some audience identification.  The moon was sent spiraling out of orbit by a massive nuclear explosion (from a fuel dump on the moon), and somehow managed to speed up enough to reach other planets, although always slowing down when it reached them, to a speed where it meandered past, and the Australian Eagle pilot could take the Eagle landing craft over to have a look. The science really didn't seem remotely convincing.  That was the last Anderson show I watched.

It's curious to know what will survive of Anderson's legacy. How will today's youngsters take to the puppet shows, which despite the model work, are a very strange medium to tell adventure stories? Will they still enjoy the dated looking fashion of UFO, and the excessive smoking which seems to be going on all the time? Will they enjoy Space 1999, with its lack of good characterisation and often vapid unscientific plots? It certainly doesn't match up to Star Trek, even in its 1960s original series, for character. It would be interesting to see some children watch the Thunderbirds shows aged 5, 11, and 15, and see what they said. For me, they were part of my childhood, but not a part that I think I can easily return to, unlike a few of the other shows of that era, which still stand up well today. Of them all, UFO is probably my favourite, as much for the future than never was, but would have been tremendous fun if it had happened. Instead, the 1970s went to the 1980s, and the age of Thatcher, a sea change in fashion, and cultural icons.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Funny Old World

A huge black hole has appeared in part of St Clement's coast road, closing the route to traffic. Emergency services are at the scene, inspecting the section of collapsed roadway. Senator Philip Ozouf said "This is not the expected black hole in our finances, and if it was, we have contingency funds to repair it." But Senator Sarah Ferguson expressed doubts. "This black hole could just be the start. Before we know where we are, Jersey will be inundated with black holes in its transport network, putting the medium term plan into jeopardy, or even into Normandy." Meanwhile a well known Green campaigner said: "I blame global warming."

Meanwhile, if Jersey has enough holes, the Catholic Dean Canon Nicholas France, says there is a good chance the Pope could raise Jersey to the status of a holy island. To follow the discussion, look for  #holyisland on the Pope's Twitter feed.

Multi-Million Dollar Man Project Canceled. Looking back at the year, it is with sorrow that we note that the Plemont Project will not now go ahead. This, as readers will know, was the project to make Senator Sir Philip Bailhache the world's first bionic States member. "Gentleman," said Senator Philip Ozouf, "we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the contingency funds. The Plemont project will see the world's first multi-million dollar man." Meanwhile a well known Green campaigner said: "I blame global warming."

Sadly, the States voted against giving him a blank cheque or slapping a compulsory purchase order on him, so the Senator will have to seek fresh projects to pursue, and will have to remain an ordinary human being, bereft of bionic superhero status. But he can take cheer. Boxing day sees a cavalcade of old cars around the Island. There is still a place for vintage values, even though they may not be carbon-neutral.

Jersey's bus drivers are once again going on strike. Union members voted overwhelming in favour of the action in a row over terms and conditions. It means there will be no buses on the 30th of December. A Sunday when typically, there are very few buses far and between anyway. This news story is therefore for people in the outlying remote rural districts of Jersey, where there are no main drains, and Constable Phil Rondel nightly pipes up, praying for an underground sewer system to his Parishioners. They may not know there is a bus strike on, as they don't get many buses on a Sunday at all, or in some cases, none.

Coming out in sympathy, there's a warning that the Winter Vomiting virus is also striking. But we don't know where. A well known Green campaigner said: "I blame global warming."

Jersey's and Guernsey's Treasury Ministers say they are committed to joint working in 2013. They are scheduled to meet on the 14th of January 2013 to develop their strategic working relationship. Will it be a marriage of convenience, or a civil partnership?

And finally, war letters have been delivered 71 years late to families of German soldier's station in the war. Kevin Keen, Director of Jersey Post said that it demonstrated that the difficult trading conditions in the
fulfillment industry were nothing new. But a well known Green campaigner said: "I blame global warming. In fact, I blame everything on global warming."

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Boxing Day

A few quirky facts...
Boxing Day
Why is the 26th of December called Boxing day? In the time of James I of England, writers start to note down the habit of an employer dropping money at Christmas into an clay box kept by their apprentice. He would break it when full, and enjoy the treat.
The first mention is in 1621, and by the reign of Charles II, this was extended to servants in general. By the 1660s cash gifts instead were being given to tradesmen whose services a customer had enjoyed during the year. But the old name of "boxes" for the cash gifts remained. Samuel Pepys diary entry of 19 December 1663 notes dropping money off at five or six places on Christmas day.
But  tradesmen could be greedy. In 1710, Jonathan Swift wrote: "By the Lord Harry, I shall be undone here with Christmas boxes. The rogues of the coffee-house have raised their tax, every one giving a crown, and I gave mine for shame, besides a great many half-crowns to great men's porters, etc" and in 1756 Sir John Fielding noted that the total cost to richer nobility was up to £30 (around £3,480 in today's money) which he declared "a very scandalous imposition".
In 1871, the Bank Holiday's Act declared the 26th December to be a day of leisure, reviving the ancient Christian feast day of St Stephen, but officially as the secular holiday of "Boxing Day". Gifts are no longer given on Boxing day, but people often give gratuities around Christmas to those who serve them during the year, such as dustmen, and boxes are found on counters of shops for Christmas tips.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

On a Lighter Note

On a lighter note, this was first written by me and published in the Christmas edition of La Baguette, St Brelade's Parish Magazine, but it's worth sharing here too for my blog readers.

Mother Christmas

You always hear about Father Christmas around December, but spare a thought for Mother Christmas, who often doesn't get much of a mention. She's the one who actually goes out and buys all the presents. Men don't like shopping, and Santa is no exception, I'm afraid. Wrestling through the shopping crowds to find those perfect gifts is not one of his skills.
And then she has to wrap them all up neatly. Like many men, that's not a skill that Father Christmas has ever acquired. If he had to wrap anything up, it would be a shapeless mess, girded with lashings of sticky tape. But Mother Christmas knows how. She's gone through eight thousand rolls of sticky tape and one million metres of gift wrap, all so that it will be ready for him to deliver on Christmas Eve.
So there Father Christmas is, stretched out, as you see him in the Christmas card, his rosy cheeks and beaming smile, eating mince pies beside a roaring fire. If a camera could pan around the room, you'd see Mother Christmas neatly cutting paper, placing bows and ribbons on all the presents, ticking them off the list. Her other skills include her duties baking those mince pies and washing Father Christmas' socks.
In a moment, she'll rouse him from his slumber, and put his freshly cleaned red lined fur coat on, give him the sack and send him on his way. And with a yo-ho-ho, his sleigh will lift off into the night sky, and he'll deliver all those presents, prepared earlier by Mother Christmas. All he has to do is to work hard one night of the year. No wonder Father Christmas looks so happy when you see him!

Monday, 24 December 2012

Joanna Lumley: The Search for Noah's Ark

"Joanna is exploring the origins of the ancient tale about Noah and the Ark, a story that unites people and religions all over the world. It involves an epic journey from the slopes of Mount Ararat in Turkey to India and finally Oman as she unearths a significant number of scientific facts to back up what some dismiss as a fairy story. Not just a physical search for the ship, it's more about the symbolism of the story and our need to believe in it." (1)

I saw Joanna Lumley on Noah's Flood and Ark. I like her style, but this was a triumph of style over substance.

She claims she's been fascinated with Noah's Ark since she was a child and saw photographs taken by a Turkish air force pilot of what looked like a fossilised version of the ark close to Mount Ararat in Turkey, where it is said to have come to rest.

So we had the rock formation that is really the ark, although a geologist said it was a post-glacial landslide. The poor chap, when put upon that he'd written in a letter the words "fairy tale" backtracked with speed and said "I don't want to offend religious people", probably because in Turkey there are quite a few who can become rather violent when offended.

Later, she was off to see the tomb of Noah (although her critical faculties came to the fore here - "this does look all rather new"). And a plethora of Islam people who believe it the ark landed on another mountain, not Ararat at all, and Noah was just a nickname. But they respect the Bible and Noah as a prophet, it is just that in the game of Noah Trump Cards, if you talk to Arabs who live by that site, the Koran one has the most points. And then it was off to India, to see the story of Vishnu and a flood, which may or may not have been the same story.

In between was a short sequence by the seaside with Joanna Lumley and two toy unicorns, telling a story of why unicorns missed out being taken on the ark; another retelling of the tale.

"Everywhere I look,", she said, "different versions of this story seem to be springing up like flood water around my feet"

One the way, we do have a few nuggets - the Epic of Gilgamesh and the flood story there, and a boat builder who tells us how pictures depicting the ark reflect the boat building practices of the period in which they were painted. He also expresses considerable scepticism about at ark that size being feasible; he had enough trouble with chickens and goats in a primitive reed boat.

'I have an idea that when a notion persists throughout the ages and across the globe, it probably contains some fundamental truth. It's not as simple as "no smoke without fire". But on the other hand there's something about the timing of this,' she said.

'There have been horrifying floods, some extraordinary climate changes, so now seemed as good a time as any to address the notion of a cataclysmic event.'

'Everything points to the fact that there was a flood alarming enough to be recorded in Sumerian history, which predates the main world religions.; So I think that human beings - who are responsible for pretty much everything we know in the way of alteration to the earth - probably made some sense, to their own ends, of a flood that really happened.'

At the end, we have an ecological message: "The message I would take from the story of the flood as God's punishment is that we are all responsible for behaving properly on the planet. Look after it, because it could go badly wrong."

But she misses the two stories present in Genesis. All her stories of the flood from the Bible (which she repeats) are the pairs of animals. The animals went in two by two.

In fact, "The story of the flood consists of two separate traditions chopped into pieces and then spun together, with inconsistent passages intact." (2).

The two flood stories are entwined in the Genesis narrative - J (which has 7 of each kind of creature) and the later P (which has 2 of each kind). It's only the J story which has the sacrifice at the end; P doesn't know sacrifice until Aaron is High Priest. Taken as just two by two, the sacrifice would mean wiping out an entire species! The differences are actually quite easy to spot, if you are aware of them - for example:

"And to him on board the ark went one pair, a male and a female, of all animals, clean and unclean, of birds, and of everything that creeps on the ground, two by two, as God had commanded....Those which came were one male and one female of all living things; they came in as God had commanded Noah...the water had increased over the earth for a hundred and fifty days." (Genesis Chapter 7 verses 15, 24 - P source)

"Take with you seven pairs, a male and a female, of all ritually clean animals, and one pair, a male and a female, of all unclean animals; also seven pairs, male and female, of every bird-to ensure that life continues on the earth. For in seven days I am going to send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights." (Genesis Chapter 7 verse 2 E source)

Richard Elliott Friedman, who has made an extensive study of sources in the Torah, notes there are consistent differences:

The P text here always calls the deity "God" (16 times). The J text always calls the deity by the proper name "YHWH" (10 times).
The P text uses the word "expired." The J text uses the word "died."
In J, it rains for 40 days and nights, and the water recedes for 40 days. In P, the whole process adds up to a calendar year.
In J, Noah releases a dove. In P, he releases a raven.

P has two of each species of animal, a male and a female. J has 14 (seven pairs) of each species of the pure animals (animals that may be sacrificed) and only two of the animals that are not pure. This is important because J ends the story with Noah making a sacrifice-so he needs more than two of each animal or he would make a species extinct!

P has details of cubits, dates, and ages. J does not.

In J, God is personal and involved: known by a personal name ("YHWH"), personally closing the ark, personally smelling Noah's sacrifice, described as "grieved to his heart." In P, God's name is not yet known ("God," in Hebrew Elohim, is not a name; it is what God is), and there are none of the anthropomorphic descriptions that are found in J.

In the P creation story, God creates a space (firmament) that separates waters that are above it from waters below. The universe in that story is thus a habitable bubble surrounded by water. That same conception is assumed here in the P flood story, in which the "apertures of the skies" and the "fountains of the great deep" are broken up so that the waters flow in. The word "rain" does not occur. The J creation account, on the other hand, has no such conception, and here in the J flood story it just rains. (3)

What are the two sources of the stories? They each reflect the different roots in which they were told. One is an old folk-tale, one reflects the later cosmology of the priesthood:

"For two centuries (from 922 to 722 B.C.) the biblical promised land was divided into two kingdoms: the kingdom of Israel in the north and the kingdom of Judah in the south. A text known as J was composed during this period. It is called J because, from its very first sentence, it refers to God by the proper name YHWH (Jahwe in German, which was the language of many of the founding works in the field of biblical analysis). It includes the famous biblical stories of the garden of Eden, Cain and Abel, the flood, the tower of Babylon ("Babel"), plus stories of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as well as stories of Joseph and then of Moses, the exodus from Egypt, the revelation at Mount Sinai, and Israel's travels through the wilderness to the promised land. J was composed by an author living in the southern kingdom of Judah."

"The third main source (out of the four-J, E, P, and D) is known as P because one of its central concerns is the priesthood. In critical scholarship, there are two main views of when it was composed. One view is that P was the latest of the sources, composed in the sixth or fifth century B.C. The other view is that P was composed not long after J and E were combined-specifically, that it was produced by the Jerusalem priesthood as an alternative to the history told in JE. Linguistic evidence now supports the latter view and virtually rules out the late date for P. P, like E, involves both stories and laws. The P laws and instructions take up half of the books of Exodus and Numbers and practically all of the book of Leviticus. The P stories parallel the JE stories to a large extent in both content and order, including stories of creation, the flood, the divine covenant with Abraham, accounts of Isaac and Jacob, the enslavement, exodus, Sinai, and wilderness. Also like E, the P stories follow the idea that the divine name YHWH was not known until the time of Moses." (3)

It is also interesting to see how different the Gilgamesh account is from that rewritten in later Judaism. We can take it that Islam shows a much later rewrite, and the placement of the ark in a different setting, and virtually no trace of any historical fact at all.

But the number 40 in the flood story is a classical Biblical trope. Gilgamesh is much shorter:

'The Mistress of the Gods wailed that the old days had turned to clay because "I said evil things in the Assembly of the Gods, ordering a catastrophe to destroy my people who fill the sea like fish." The other gods were weeping with her and sat sobbing with grief, their lips burning, parched with thirst. The flood and wind lasted six days and seven nights, flattening the land. On the seventh day, the storm was pounding like a woman in labor. The sea calmed and the whirlwind and flood stopped. All day long there was quiet. All humans had turned to clay.'

'The terrain was as flat as a roof top. Utnapishtim opened a window and felt fresh air on his face. He fell to his knees and sat weeping, tears streaming down his face. He looked for coastlines at the horizon and saw a region of land. The boat lodged firmly on mount Nimush which held the boat for several days, allowing no swaying. On the seventh day he released a dove which flew away, but came back to him. He released a swallow, but it also came back to him. He released a raven which was able to eat and scratch, and did not circle back to the boat. He then sent his livestock out in various directions. He sacrificed a sheep and offered incense at a mountainous ziggurat where he placed 14 sacrificial vessels and poured reeds, cedar, and myrtle into the fire.'

It's a much shorter narrative, and it is interesting that it has three birds, the swallow having been lost in the retelling. And this is the older narrative, skillfully refashioned twice into a tale suitable for a monotheistic peoples much later. But the central theme of the anger of the gods, or anger of the god causing a catastrophe is present in both, as is sacrifice to the gods or god for deliverance.

That's something that may be overlooked if we look upon it purely as a tale with a moral - in all accounts there is an element of thanksgiving, of gratitude from having been saved from this disaster. We may not make sacrifices to the gods or god, but when natural disasters strike, if we managed to come through relatively unscathed, we feel thankful, as well.

"Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters." (Norman Maclean)


Sunday, 23 December 2012

Christmas Presence

"Christ Himself was a Christmas present. The note of material Christmas presents is struck even before He is born in the first movements of the sages and the star. The Three Kings came to Bethlehem bringing gold and frankincense and myrrh. If they had only brought Truth and Purity and Love there would have been no Christian art and no Christian Civilization." (G.K. Chesterton)

There are a number of pictures of "Mary as Nursing Mother", of Mary breastfeeding the infant Jesus. Some of these are very ancient: the earliest is found as a wall paining in the Priscilla Catacombs, around 250 AD. The apocryphal Protoevangelium of St. James, which probably dates even earlier from around 125 AD, the infant Jesus "went and took the breast of its mother Mary".

Ancient Roman culture, into which these depictions came, did not have a legacy of regarding women's breasts as especially erotic. For depictions of women in Ancient Rome:

"Breasts receive relatively minimal attention in erotic art and literature as a sexual focus; the breast was associated primarily with nursing infants and a woman's role as a mother."(4)

The designs really took off in the Middle Ages. Starting with the 13th century Almesbury Psalter, there is a vast outpouring of paintings by artists including Van Eyck in 1486. Most of the English wall paintings were probably obliterated at the Reformation, but one or two survive, such as one in a chapel at Belchamp Walter, Essex.

Mary may not be feeding Jesus, but her breast is bare, ready to do so. It is an image that modern Christianity, probably because of lingering Puritan influences, may feel uncomfortable with, just as it has taken some for modern societ to accept the mother breastfeeding an infant in public is not something disgusting, but something quite natural, that most ancient societies would have taken for granted - if not the mother breastfeeding, then a "wet nurse" ( "a woman who breastfeeds another's child") for which is is evidence as far distant as 2000 BC (2).

But in the early modern period, breasfeeding interefered with the aristocratic women's clothing, and by the 1880s, "liberated" and "progressive" mothers saw breastfeeding as out-of-date. Mrs. Panton said "Let no mother condemn herself to be a common or ordinary 'cow' unless she has a real desire to nurse."

There is a tremendous physicality in the Christmas stories - as the opening quotation from Chesterton notes - what is brought by the Magi are physical gifts, not ideals. This is a marked contrast to the ancient Gnostics, and even to a more modern Gnostic take like that in 1956 by Samael Aun Weor:

"Therefore, when we state that Jesus was born in a manger, we are esoterically affirming the spiritual birth of Jesus. The manger of Bethlehem is only a symbol. The spirit of wisdom (Ruach Chokmah-El = Christ) always reincarnates in this manger of the world in order to save the wretched, suffering humanity from the animals of the manger: the human passions."

For Weor, the manger is a symbol of human passions that must be overcome, but for the artists who depicted Mary as a nursing mother, the opposite was true, the manger was a place where human passions were blessed, including images of Mary suckling the infant Jesus.

We are missing the early pages of the 2nd century Gnostic Gospel of Mary, but the theme of the birth was probably similar: "Matter gave birth to a passion that has no equal, which proceeded from something contrary to nature. Then there arises a disturbance in its whole body." Likewise, in that strange text which is the Gospel of Philip, the truth is that "The world came about through a mistake."

To say, as one text does, "The truth did not come unto the world naked, but rather it has come in symbolic images." is to set up a false contrast between physicality and symbol. The heart of the Christian story of the infant Jesus is a bringing together of the physical and the symbolic. That is something we still probably shy away from.

The story of the stable would see a Mary breastfeeding an infant Jesus, the stable would be full of the earthy smells of the animals that had been there. It would not be pristine, sanitised, but messy. A world away from the natitivity plays, magical though they can be. The recent BBC production "The Nativity" had Mary's giving birth depicted with a degree of realism that most films about Jesus ignore. She's crying out in pain, the midwife is telling her to push, and she's reaching upwards, and then Jospeh's hand reaches down and holds hers. And then we hear the baby wail as it is born, but born into a world with pain. What made it so refreshing was the realism, and yet that doesn't detract from but rather enhances the symbolism. The world, Paul says,  has been in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

Presents themselves are echoes of Christmas giving of the Magi. And they also call us to reflect on the mystery of Christmas, not something spiritual above or opposed to the material world, but something which takes up and enhances the material world. That's so well brought together by John Betjeman:

And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window's hue,
A Baby in an ox's stall ?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?

And is it true ? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare -
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.


Saturday, 22 December 2012

Christmas Dreaming

A light hearted romp from through the events of the year, to a well known  tune. A shorter version of this (minus political verses!) went into La Baguette (the Parish Magazine for St Brelade). The political verses came from a friend of mine, and I think fit very well indeed, so here is a version not seen elsewhere. La Baguette quite rightly stays away from politics, but on my blog, it is permissible!

I'm dreaming of a light Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
No JEC cable breaking
And power cut making
To leave us freezing in the snow

I'm dreaming of a blue Christmas
Royal blue, and flags a waving
Beacon from Noirmont see ablazing
Jubilee we had such celebrating

I'm dreaming of a yellow Christmas,
Jogging with the Olympic Torch, I go
Past the Elephant in the Park
It really is such a lark
To run with trainers in the snow

I'm dreaming of a green Christmas
Sea lettuce on beaches, such a blight
A letter to the JEP, I think I'll write
And may all your seaweed be out of sight

I'm dreaming of a red Christmas
With Pitman, Tadier and Co
When the snow flakes flutter
Again you'll hear them mutter
Its time, the establishment must go

I'm dreaming of a grey Christmas
With two Phils Alan Mac and Co
When the tree tops glisten
They'll still not listen
To those who really have the know

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know.
La Baguette will still deliver
Even if cold winds make us shiver
Merry Christmas and Ho, Ho, Ho

Friday, 21 December 2012

The Longest Night: A Meditation for the Winter Solstice

The Longest Night
It is growing dark, and I am standing on the hillside, beside the ancient stones placed here by my ancestors. They gleam white with lichen, old rocks, dragged here over four thousand years ago, and they stand here still. A mute testimony to the forgotten beliefs of long ago, when there came a tribe that sought to mark out a sacred space where they could worship.
A little further away, a fire is burning, and I feel the heat as the wood crackles and sparks fly into the night sky. We are all gathered here, and I sit beside the others, and we sip mead and eat honey cakes, and when we have drunk and eaten our fill, we turn to await the storyteller. He pushes back the hood on his robes, and lights his long stemmed pipe, gently blowing smoke rings until we are ready. Then he begins.
There is the tower, tall, dark, but with a flicker of light from a high window. And here is my path, my destiny, the fate woven in moonlight.
I enter the door and climb the stairs. They spiral round, ever upwards, until I come to an open door at the near the top of the tower. On a table is a candle, flickering brightly, and beside it is a lady sitting on a chair, a blue shawl around her. In front of her is a spinning wheel.
The window is open, and the moon shines brightly. The rays of the moon shine on the bare wooden floor, and the dust sparkles along their path. The moonbeams reach to the corner where the lady spins, and it seems as if she captures their thread in her wheel, as she spins a fine cloth, singing softly.
Here is thread, and here I spin
Weaving every moon lit night
Care for clan and every kin
Making tapestry of light
Here is thread, and here I spin
Weaving every moon lit night
Now the thread grows ever thin
Comes the darkness, barrow wight
Here is thread, and here I spin
Weaving every moon lit night
Fear and hope both found therein
Spinning nightly my delight
The citadel was on the edge of a desert, and within the three astrologers gazed at the pool; in its cool waters, the sky at night was shining, rippling in a breeze, then steadying into a fixed pattern as the wind died down, and the waters stilled. In the sky above was Jupiter rising, on a path which would take it close to Saturn, and the star Regulus, shining bright in the constellation of Leo.
The eldest unravelled a scroll and began to read the words of the Chaldean oracle:
Jupiter ascending, a mighty beam, a blaze of light:
Laugher of the seven heavens, the glorious sight;
The breath of air, raising spirits high, so tall,
As the mighty planet casts its light on all;
The cripple walks upright with the healing touch,
No more the need to lean so heavy on his crutch;
The beggar in rags, down, despondent, rises up,
Joy when the mighty Lord has come to sup;
Kingship and power, the giant upon his throne,
The power released, like sparks from fires blown;
Listen! The bells are ringing loud, the trumpet blows!
Behold the mighty planet, shining, more brightly glows,
Like a sunlit wave, creamy crested, shining in the night;
The wanderer in the sky takes up his throne aloft and high,
And the music of the heavens plays across the sky,
The solemn festival, the laughter, as the king appears:
A joy of creation blowing , a holiday from fears;
Here is Jupiter the Mighty, banded with his rings:
A conjunction with Saturn, Regulus, the cosmos sings;
In the darkest night, amidst the stars, the brightest white,
Joy to the world, the promise of the coming light.
The stars move closer in their dance, a pattern in the sky. It is cold, and the sky is clear, and the portents are visible. In distances beyond our comprehension lie other galaxies, alien worlds, and beyond that, the edge of the known universe.
The light from distant suns began its journey when our earth was being formed. A billion stars have emerged from the dust of space, have been born, have died, and still the great hymn of the cosmos continues.
The history of the stars is ancient. The stories are told and retold, and will be, while there is breath on earth, while there are chanters to tell the ancient lays, and learning passed on from generation to generation in tales told by the fireside, before sleep.
Centaurus was wisest of the Centaurs. His name, when he lived on earth, was Chiron. He taught the mighty Hercules. But in an accident, he was wounded; immortal he cried out in endless pain. At last Zeus took pity on him, and placed him among the stars, where he shines down, casting wisdom upon our world for all who would seek it.
Orion was a mighty hunter, with his faithful dogs, famed throughout the lands. He fell in love with Merope, but she rejected his suit, and sends him away disconsolate. Distracted, he stepped on a scorpion and died.
The gods were sad that such a tragic end should befall a hero, and placed him in the night sky, where he shines brightly with his dogs,. Canis Major and Canis Minor. The hunt goes on, and there are the hunted, also in the night sky, Lepus the rabbit, and Taurus the bill. But Scorpius they placed on the opposite side of the sky, so he would never again suffer the sting again.
Many are the stories of the stars, and on this darkest night, it is a time to tell their tales. These are a few of the stories told so very long ago, but still remembered as we gaze upward at the stars in the clear night sky and they shine forth, sending their blessings down upon us.
It was the long dark night, and the stars were hidden behind thick dark clouds.
Cry freedom, he said. But they came in the night, and when morning came, he was gone. Taken to the camps, where the searchlights prowled the night land, and the shadows were sharp and jagged like the wire. He was a grandfather, much beloved, proud of his roots in his native land, but he was taken away, removed from his family, and never seen again.
A branch is severed from the tree, and the bare trunk is raw, sap weeping from the wound. A curse lays heavy on the land, like an evil enchantment. And from deep in his cold citadel, the tyrant rules the land with an iron fist. He mocks the gods.
This is the darkest point of the night, a time of loss, a time to mourn those who have joined the shades, and those lost who have spoken truth against power, and paid the price.
We light a candle for freedom, for the ending of the longest night, and pray that dawn may come.
The wound is deep and will not heal
We mourn the past, the bells do peel
Even when we know, we never find
Still chords of love shall ever bind
The darkness night, the turning point
A healing touch, time out of joint
And bind together, holdings hands
Hope is lines drawn in the sands
Loss is beating like a broken heart
We may grasp only some small part
Of the whole. But in the darkest night
There is still a space for candle light
The dawn will come, and the embers of the fire will be softly glowing. Then we shall take a log from the fire, and as the sun has come to the turning point of the year, so shall we take turns, and leap over the fire.
This is the Yule log, a sign for hope, for the renewal of the sun at the turning point of the year, and as we leap over the smouldering wood, we too cross the threshold from darkness into light and are reborn.
Pass through fire, be not burned
Such is promise now discerned.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

It's Not the End of the World Show

Another Year for 'Doomsday' Chatter. In an article entitled "The Talmud Says, Death to Those Who Calculate the End of Days, but That Hasn't Stopped Jews and Non-Jews from Trying. Here Are a Few Notable End Time Predictions That Never Came to Pass", Sara Breger, writing in the Magazine "The Moment", lists ones that never happened. Tomorrow, will be no different, unless my cold finishes me off in the night!

Here Are a Few Notable End Time Predictions That Never Came to Pass:
After his tailed 1944 prediction, Harold Camping gave it another try-and declared the Rapture would take place on May 21, later revising his prediction to October 21.
The cult Heaven's Gate thought this was the year Earth would be "recycled." According to them the only way to survive was to leave Earth and get to the "Next Level" via mass suicide.
Since its inception, Jehovah's Witnesses, a Millenarian Christian denomination, have prophesized this year to inaugurate Jesus' reign as king--the beginning of the End.
Rooted in the Zohar, the expectation that the Messiah would come in the Jewish year 5600 was widely accepted, as documented in letters and books Persia to England.
Based on an interpreted passage in the Zohar, this year was greeted with mass Messianic fervor. In the wake of the devastating Chmielnicki pogroms, Jews were prepared to read that slaughter as the "birth pangs of the Messiah."
Using complicated numerical equations, the commentator Rashi computed verses from the book of Daniel and the years of Israel's slavery, recorded in Exodus, to predict the Messiah's arrival.
Pope Innocent III predicted the Second Coming based on the date of Islam's inception + 666--the mark of the devil.
According to some Jewish commentaries, a combination of the Jewish calendar cycles and biblical numerology forecasted the Messiah to arrive in the Hebrew year 4856.
Some ancient Romans saw the eruption of Mount Vesuvius--which people thought was divine--and the destruction of Pompeii as sign of the world's end.
The Mayan calendar's 5,125-vear cycle ends December 21--hitting the reset button on the world.
The mass hysteria of the impending millennial apocalypse due to the Y2K bug left people stock-piling food and hoarding water.
Radio evangelist Harold Camping wrote a book entitled 1994? predicting the Rapture in September of that year.
Christian preacher William Miller, whose teachings led to die Seventh-Day Adventist denomination, predicted that Jesus would come first un .March 21 and then. October 22. In an event that is new called "The Great Disappointment." 50,000 Millerites prepared for the Second Coming, many selling their property and possessions and quirting their jobs in order prepare themselves.
Many Londoners feared this year because of its numerology of 1000 + 666, the mark of the Beast, prophesized in the Book of Revelation. Their fears seemed to be confirmed when, the year before, a plague wiped out: about 100,000 people, a fifth of London's population. Then on Sept. 2, 1666, the (Treat. Fire of London broke out, burning more than 13,000 buildings and destroying tens of thousands of homes.
Anabaptist prophet Melchior Hoffman. predicted Jesus' return--a millennium and a half after the date of his execution--to Strasbourg, Germany. Hoffman died in jail m 1543.
The Taborites, a group in what was then Bohemia that attempted both religious and political separation from the Catholic Church, were: confident that, the Second Coming of Christ would occur in February of that year. When it failed to arrive, the group went on a killing spree to "purity the earth."
The end of the 6th millennium, according to the Jewish calendar, brought about high messianic expectations.
The 1,000th anniversary of Christ's death left many anticipating the Second Coming.
Zoroastrians awaited a cosmic battle between, good and evil in which a savior would come and cleanse the world of death And suffering-They are still waiting today.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Three Wise Men

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." ....

When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another path.

The story of the wise men is so well known that we often don't stop to look at it closely. The King James version of the Bible has "wise men", although the original term is best translated as Magi. The Greek "magoi" better translated as Magi would have meant Persian magician astrologers, which is why they are following a star, and the same work is translated as magician elsewhere:

They went all the way across the island to Paphos, where they met a certain magician named Bar-Jesus, a Jew who claimed to be a prophet. (Acts 13:6)

A man named Simon lived there, who for some time had astounded the Samaritans with his magic. (Acts 8:9)

The King James version probably decided not to given any support to magic or magicians. It is this version which has, after all, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" as a translation of Exodus 22:18, and King James himself, whose idea it was for scholars to translate the bible into a new English version was known to have a fervent almost paranoid hatred of witchcraft. So a translation which gave any suggestion of magic was changed to one which suggested wisdom instead.

The other notable features are that there are no numbers given on how many magi there were, and they meet the infant in a house, not a stable (as Luke), and there are no camels.

Tatian, who produced the first "harmony" of the gospels with his "Diatessaron" ("out of four") places it after the meeting with Simeon and Anna the prophetess in Jerusalem where Joseph and Mary offer "a pair of doves or two young pigeons", which is quite a time after.  This text was written around the mid-2nd century and became a standard text of the gospels in some Syriac-speaking churches down to the 5th century.

The conflation of the narrative so that the magi arrive at the same time as the shepherds is therefore much later, and not part of the early traditions.

But there was a shift to regarding them as Royalty of some kind, so that at end of the second century, Tertullian wrote "the East considers magi almost as kings."  This may have come from looking at the Old Testament, and in particular Psalm 72:10-11: "May the kings of Sheba and Saba bring gifts; may all kings pay him homage.". We can see this feeding into the sixth-century Syrian author of the "Cave of Treasures" who calls them Hormizdah, king of Persia; Yazdegerd, king of Saba, and Perozadh, king of Sheba.

The "Excerpta Latina Barbari", which was originally composed in Greek in about 500 A.D, and later translated into Latin has a chronicle in which the biblical narrative is woven. This is the first text to name the Magi with the names with which they are familiarly known today, although they have undergone some changes in spelling. It also predates Ussher for giving a date to Adam.

In the year of these consuls, in the reign of Augustus, our Lord Jesus Christ was born on 25th December. He was born in the desert (?) called Fuusdu according to Eusebius. On the day when he was born, 28th Choiac, the shepherds saw a star in the sky. From Adam until the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, there are 5,500 years.

Vinicius and Virrus
Caesarius and Servilius
Macrinus and Saturninus
Sacerdo and Volesus
Lepidus and Arruntius

At that time in the reign of Augustus, on 1st January the Magi brought him gifts and worshipped him. The names of the Magi were Bithisarea, Melichior and Gathaspa.

It's a text which has some fantastical elements to it. It tells of the death of Zechariah by Herod, and how John the Baptist was miraculously concealed:

When Elizabeth heard that they were searching for John, she took him and went up into the mountains. She looked for somewhere to hide him, but there was nowhere to hide. Then Elizabeth sighed and cried out, "Mountain of God, take me in, the mother with my son." Immediately the mountain was split open and received them.

Clearly a late text which has these kind of fantastic elements to it has little historical credibility, and it seems to be the earliest record we have about the Magi which gives them names.

The next major record is an Irish text, the "Excerpta et Collectanea" which may date from the 8th or 9th century, and which was first found in a printed edition of the works of Bede of Jarrow (the venerable Bede) at Basel in 1563. The attribution to Bede is mistaken, and came about because it was found in a collection of other works by Bede. It describes the Magi in some detail:

"The first is said to have been Melchior, an old man with white hair and a long beard ... who offered gold to the Lord as to a king. The second, Gaspar by name, young and beardless and ruddy complexioned ... honored him as God by his gift of incense, an oblation worthy of divinity. The third, black-skinned and heavily bearded, named Balthasar ... by his gift of myrrh testified to the Son of Man who was to die."

The final step in the story is Francis of Assisi in 1223 in the town of Greccio, who introduced Jesus in crib, Joseph, Mary, animals, wise men, shepherds and angels all into a manger setting, as a visual aid to teach the people about the birth of Jesus.

So by degrees the story of the Magi has been transformed, they have been numbered, named, described, and brought together with the other elements of the story as it appears in nativity plays throughout the land. And most of what we think we know about them has come about as the stories are reworked.

But the reworking into nativity plays provides a structure which works very well. That, after all, is the function of story, to bring and work magic into our lives. Insofar as that happens in Primary Schools and Nurseries, it is, I feel, a fitting legacy to those whose name suggests magic.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

The Wrong End of Time

The "Mayan Prophecies" are supposed to predict the end of the world, coming on the 21 December 2012. It's all been worked out, and doomsday is upon us. E. G. Richards states this position fairly clearly in "Mapping Time: The Calendar and Its History":

"The Maya believed that time was cyclic and that at the end of a great cycle of 13 Baktuns, the world would be destroyed--only to be recreated for the next cycle. Most scholars now agree that the current great cycle started on Wednesday, 8 September 3114 BC (Julian calendar). This date is based on a concordance of information from various sources: eclipses and other astronomical events dated in Mayan inscriptions; information from contemporary Mayan calendar priests who continue to maintain the calendar to this day; concordances between Christian and Mayan dates recorded by the early Spanish invaders and by the Mayans in writings made after the conquest. The calendar round date of this day is 4 Ahua, 8 Cumhu. The current great cycle will end on Sunday, 23 December 2012. On this day supposedly the world will end. A gloomy attitude would suggest that this is not all that unlikely." (1)

It's interesting that a book written in 1999 puts it on 23 December, whereas most of the more current predictions put it at 21 December, but it just shows what a slippery thing calculations can be when looking at strange calendars and trying to match them up to ours.

And predictions there are in plenty, probably really taking off with the book of 1995 by Gilbert and Cotterell, although the obsession with prediction goes back further to Jose Arguelles in the 1960s.

"The Mayan Prophecies, published by Adrian Gilbert and Maurice Cotterell in 1995, is an international bestseller which revolves around the notions of the end of the world and of revealed wisdom from another sphere. Their claim is, essentially, that in some Mayan carvings, particularly the Lid of Palenque, there are secret messages that can be decoded and understood. Further, the authors argue that the Mayan obsession with calendars concerned cycles of sunspots. They then relate sunspots to dramatic drops in human fertility, and thus explain what they claim is the hitherto enigmatic Mayan collapse. It is all entwined with the Popol Vuh, the sacred Mayan book which can itself be considered an apocalypse of sorts, concerned as it is with prophecy, the past and the future. Based on the Mayan calendar, Cotterell and Gilbert make specific predictions for the year 2012, of the greatest catastrophe that mankind has ever known. We are to expect a reversal of the magnetic field, pole changes, giant floods, submerged landmasses, a drop in temperature. the works. We are entreated to sit up and take note while we still can." (2)

What I can predict with some certainty is that the doomsday merchants, when the promised catastrophe does not materialise, will go away and do some rapid recalculation, and come back with a revised date. Alternatively, they may adopt the strategy adopted by the Jehovah Witnesses that it marks the beginning of the end. Yet another interpretation is that it marks the end of an old cycle, rather like the "dawn of the age of Aquarius" that was so influential in 1960s pop culture.

These are all methods adopted to "immunise" the prediction against failure. We can be pretty sure that the spectacular quasi-science fiction prediction of Cotterell and Gilbert will not come to pass, but any drop in temperature or flooding may be taken as indicators of its truth.

It is a well known strategy that can be seen time and again in non-scientific theories, that instead of a theory being falsified by predictions failing to come true, the theory is adjusted to deal with that problem, thus "immunising" the theory so that it cannot ever be wrong.

What has also been observed by social psychologists, notably Leon Festinger and his associates in their studies on cognitive dissonance, is that when the promise fails to materialise, people who have acted on it (such as making preparations) don't give up the belief, but modify it to retain a consistent belief system, and may even believe it even the more strongly.

The Mayan predictions are, however, comparatively recent rather than ancient. As Professor William Saturno has noted, the Mayans did not have a myth of the end of the world.:

 "There isn't even a myth of the end of the world in Maya mythology," he says. "The Maya talked about multiple creations, but they never talked about the current one ending." The calendar last reset in August 3114 B.C. As Saturno notes, "We know the world didn't end then." Instead, the calendar started a new cycle-one that lasts every 1,872,000 days. For those who then say, "The world is going to end because it's December 21st," Saturno's response is, "It didn't end last December 21st"(3)

What is more is that the Mayan Calendar Long Date began around September 3114 BC, that in all likelihood being the equivalent of Mayan This is not very ancient. Even if we regard the system as cyclical, and another whole cycle before that, we are still a long way off even 100,000 BC, when the Neanderthal man was hunting wooly mammoths from the vicinity of La Cotte de St Brelade. As for the age of the earth, the "deep time" of 4.54 billion years, the Mayan Calendar, long though it may be, scarcely scratches the surface.

The notion of cyclical time has recently been extended to include the Universe, but it is clear that the ancient concept of cycles of time, which we find in Hinduism or in the ancient Mayan calendar system, was clearly related to the earth as well as the universe. That's not surprising, because a geocentric model of the universe was the norm among most ancient peoples.

Of course another form of immunisation is to rework the texts to make them say something quite different. As Dr Shukavak Dasa notes in his Hindu Primer:

"I have seen interpretations by modern Hindus that attempt to show how modern particle theory was known at the time of the Rig Veda, and how this knowledge was secretly inserted into the text of the Vedas. I have seen attempts by modern Hindus to rationalize and reinterpret Puranic cosmology, which holds a geocentric view of the universe and describes the sun as closer to the earth than the moon, to name just a few differences, in terms of modern astronomy." (4)

The cyclical idea was that Earth has no beginning or end. The notion of "time's arrow" or linear time, was an alien concept. That's not to say that cyclical time cannot be extended into the idea of the universe itself going through cycles, but that is clearly not the ancient understanding, where civilisations would rise and fall into barbarism, and rise once more. Catastrophe would wipe out the world, only for it to be reborn. It's easy to see where these ideas came from, for remains of ancient civilisations, perhaps destroyed by floods, earthquake or wars made it look as if a pattern was recurring. And the four seasons and patterns of the stars appeared cyclical, and well-developed time keeping did not develop until the 14th century.

But that's not the way history works. The Earth had a beginning in time, and also a history that did not repeat. Human beings and their civilisations came very late in the earth's history, contrary to the legendary pre-history that we find in tales. Dinosaurs are nowhere to be seen. Evolution of life is unknown. And the ultimate fate of the earth is that it will, in all likelihood, be consumed by an expanding sun as it comes to an end.

In "The Time Machine", H.G. Wells traveler goes to the far future, when humanity has long become extinct, and most of the life on earth has ended. Here is a modern view of the end of the world, based on scientific knowledge:

"So I travelled, stopping ever and again, in great strides of a thousand years or more, drawn on by the mystery of the earth's fate, watching with a strange fascination the sun grow larger and duller in the westward sky, and the life of the old earth ebb away. At last, more than thirty million years hence, the huge red-hot dome of the sun had come to obscure nearly a tenth part of the darkling heavens. Then I stopped once more, for the crawling multitude of crabs had disappeared, and the red beach, save for its livid green liverworts and lichens, seemed lifeless. And now it was flecked with white. A bitter cold assailed me. Rare white flakes ever and again came eddying down. To the north-eastward, the glare of snow lay under the starlight of the sable sky and I could see an undulating crest of hillocks pinkish white. There were fringes of ice along the sea margin, with drifting masses further out; but the main expanse of that salt ocean, all bloody under the eternal sunset, was still unfrozen."

In "October the First is too late", Astronomer Fred Hoyle has a strange world which has split off our own. In this bifurcation, parts of different epochs of the planet are together side by side, with Britain in the 1960s (when the novel was written), and Europe in the midst of the First World War. Over Asia and Russia is nothing but a vast plain of glass, hard, smooth and unbroken. The scientist John Sinclair discusses this with his friend:

`You were talking about the Plain of Glass. Why does it belong so obviously to the future?'
`Because it's been melted, everywhere, smoothly. You know the Sun is going to get hotter and hotter as time goes on. There'll be a stage when the whole surface of the Earth melts, after that the Sun will cool. Everywhere over the Earth here'll be smooth glass. You remember what I said about it's not being etched by blown grit or sand. There couldn't be any sand with everything fused. Besides at that stage there would be no atmosphere, no wind. The Plain of Glass is the ultimate fate of the Earth.'

That is the real end of the world. That's not discounting the possibility that an asteroid might hit the planet and wipe us out as easily as it wiped out the dinosaurs, or that the changing climate may lead to an ecological catastrophe which wipes us out, but probably not the bacteria. But ultimately, the sun will eat her children, and there will be no earth, and no life on earth. It's a one way street.

(1) Mapping Time: The Calendar and Its History. Contributors: E. G. Richards - Author. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: Oxford. Publication year: 1999. Page number: 193
(2) Archaeology and Folklore. Amy Gazin-Schwartz, Holtorf - Editor, 1999

Monday, 17 December 2012

Eye on the States: Shadow Boxing

Some interesting stuff in the latest issues of Hansard online. One of the more irritating facets of Hansard for me is the way that the names are incomplete. Where there is more than one Deputy for a district, their name is given, but where there is just one, all we get is the title, for instance "Deputy of St John". Where the Deputy of St John has changed, it is extremely difficult, outside of memory, to determine who the previous Deputy was.

For example, in recent years, the Deputy of St John (in Hansard) has been Andrew Lewis, Phil Rondel, and now Patrick Ryan! Phil Rondel is now Constable of St John, another title with name alone, and I had to rack my brains to remember that it was Graeme Butcher (who left under a cloud after repaying the Parish "£2,500 of ratepayers' money following the discovery of 'financial irregularities' in his parish's accounts." - JEP). But when reading it, and going back and forth, you have to follow Phil Rondel and remember which incarnation he is in - Deputy or Constable. It's as bad as Dr Who, although at least he hasn't changed his appearance, or the glasses almost always perched on top of his head. Does he ever use them?

The Constable of St Peter - who is currently John Refault - was answering a question about over-prescribing drugs, and mentioned incidentally one of the side issues to do with prescriptions:

I think one of the issues that the Deputy may be concerned with, which is of a great concern, is that there are a number of patients who get prescribed drugs and go and collect them because they do not cost anything but never take them and then they return for another visit to their G.P.s and get another prescription and then collect them again. There is evidence occasionally - and I have had one in my own Parish - where somebody has passed away and we have found large hoards of drugs and that is because they have been prescribed, collected them because they do not pay for them, and just kept them within their premises. I am not sure if that is what the Deputy is concerned about as well.

I can't really imagine why someone would just be stockpiling drugs that they didn't need to take, unless perhaps it was something like anti-depressants. But I'm normally prescribed antibiotics when I need them, and Pantoprazole on a regular basis (I need to take one a day). Of those, antibiotics are more likely to accumulate. There's a tendency to forget to take them towards the end of a course, which is not good practice of course, but I suspect happens a lot of the time. But I can see that painkillers or antidepressants could well accumulate, if taken when needed.

Deputy Montfort Tadier had a bit of a spat with Senator Ian Gorst about changes to Verita. He asked:

Will the Chief Minister explain why the Verita recommendation (agreed by the States in 2011) to "review what actions the Government took when concerns came to light in 2008 and what, if any, lessons there are to be learned" has been omitted from the Council of Ministers' proposition "Committee of Inquiry - Historical Child Abuse" P.118/2012?

Ian Gorst's reply was that "It is considered that the term of reference referred to by the Deputy is covered by the other proposed terms." and went on to comment that:

while the Deputy has made a number of accusations in his supplementary question there with regard to me, he has simply read the first sentence of the referred term of reference and not followed on because it follows on and says: "... by the various Health and Social Services committees between 1996 and 2005 and by Ministerial Government from 2006 to the current day."

This in full, as Ian Gorst in fact did not read out either was:

Examine the political oversight of children's homes and fostering services by the various Education Committees between 1960 and 1995, by the various Health and Social Services Committees between 1996 and 2005, and by ministerial government from 2006 to the current day.

As Montfort has noted, this does not exactly look the same as the missing section:

Review what actions the government took when concerns came to light in 2008 and what, if any, lessons there are to be learned

The "concerns" mentioned were "concerns of abuse". Actions regarding concerns of abuse are clearly not the same as examining political oversight of children's homes and fostering services, as Montfort point out - that "has nothing to do with the actions that the Government took in response to Operation Rectangle in 2008." However, presumably as the Senator has said the latter is covered by the former, any attempt to exclude that could be met with the rejoinder that the Chief Minister has said this is implicitly part of the remit.

Ian Gorst realised that there were problems with communication: "Perhaps we did finally hit on what his concerns were in his final supplementary there with regard to Operation Rectangle." He offered to discuss the matter with Deputy Tadier in a meeting which the Deputy says he does not want if it is "covert", which conjured up wonderful images of a darkened room, and Deputy Tadier sneaking in wearing a hoodie, to be greeted by Ian Gorst disguised in a balaclava. However Ian Gorst did also make it clear that he understands and is happy with the Deputy making the details of that meeting public.

Whether as Deputy Tadier said, the question was very clear is another matter: "If the Minister really does not understand what I am asking and the question, he receives these, I believe, on Thursday or Friday, he can contact me and in fact, this is completely disingenuous, the question is very clear."  and "I, and the public, expect a straight answer to a very straight question."

It is clear to the Deputy, because when he is asking it, he has a return to Operation Rectangle and the suspension of Graham Power in his mind, but that is just not there in the question. There's no need to attribute some kind of Machiavellian design on the part of the Chief Minister; he's just not a mind reader, and the question doesn't refer to any specifics.

Now it could have been deliberately omitted to avoid returning to well-trodden ground - especially as the inquiry is focused on child abuse in Jersey, and could be diverted away from its primary purpose, but the question that Deputy Tadier asks should have been more specific. It's the old problem. A question may make assumptions that are clear to the person asking the question, because they have that at the back of their mind, but if it is not explicit another, it can be misunderstood, so that people end up talking past one another.

It is something where a course in source criticism would come in handy. That teaches one how to read what is in a text, and see what is not there, but which has been assumed to be there, and what assumptions may underlie a question, but are not explicit in it.

Two examples spring to mind. The story of the magi, or wise men, is a common one for Christmas, but no where does the text mention that there are three of them, or that Jesus was born in a stable - the text says "they went into the house". People bring that to the text because of other narratives, but it is not there.

The second one is perhaps even more subtle, and I only came across it through the writings of the philosopher Mary Midgley. Rousseau is well know for the aphorism "man is born free and yet is everywhere in chains" and for a philosophy which called for men to be "unchained". But when he said "man" or "men", we tend to attribute this as saying "man and woman". Not so for Rousseau. For him, "man" meant precisely that; man was to be "unchained", women however, should know their place, as subservient.

Both show, I think, how easy it is to fall into the mistake of thinking that because I know what a question implies, the other person will as well. As a result, we get this kind of "shadow boxing" occurring a lot of the time in questions and perhaps discussing the matter outside of the States Chamber could lead to greater clarity in both question and response.

The other matter I find strange on this question about terms of reference is that if the loss of a term of reference is of such importance, why none of the politicians raising that matter have done what is an obvious action to take - and that is to place an amendment to the proposition to reinstate it. Why hasn't Deputy Tadier? Surely that would be the proper step to take if unhappy with the state of affairs?

More shadow boxing comes with Deputy Southern asking a question about CT Plus:

Will the Minister inform Members how many bus drivers have now been transferred to CT Plus on full-time contracts from Connex, how many driving positions remain to be filled and whether non-driving staff, that is administrators, cleaners and mechanics, have been transferred, and if not, why not?

Deputy K.C. Lewis of St. Saviour (The Minister for Transport and Technical Services):

The CT Plus contract will commence on 1st January 2013. That is the date on which staff are eligible to transfer from Connex to CT Plus. They will then start employment with CT Plus at that time. No staff have been transferred as yet, they will transfer on 1st January 2013 and their first operational day with CT Plus will be Tuesday, 2nd January 2013.

What that doesn't say, for which we have to wait for supplementary questions, is how many of the existing staff have signed contracts, not whether they have been transferred. Later on, Deputy Lewis in a reply notes that "Most have signed contracts already", but it is not until Trevor Pitman asks specifically "Could the Minister clarify, he said that the vast majority had already signed contracts. Could he just enlarge upon that for the Assembly with some figures as to what sort of percentage we are dealing with because there seems to be some dispute, confusion around that statement?"

Deputy K.C. Lewis: Yes, it is still about 30 but I believe some members are still on holiday but I believe it may be 3 or 4 who will not be transferring, they may have other jobs, they may be retiring.

If only Deputy Southern had asked the question that Deputy Pitman asked in the first place, about numbers signing contracts rather than transferring to CT Plus, it would have saved a few questions in between, during which we learned rather little in a good few minutes. Kevin Lewis is answering the question about transferring correctly - the transfer doesn't take place until 1 January. Now it could well be that he is dissembling, but then again, it is easy to see that when we grasp the import of Deputy Southern's question, which we do once it is essentially asked again by Trevor Pitman, that it gets the answer that I'm sure Deputy Southern wants to know.

What is happening is that by design or happenstance, Ministers are answering questions quite literally, and not looking to see through the question to what is in the mind of the member asking the question. The result is not the answer they expect to hear, but the question didn't ask what was in their mind, but something similar. As a result, we get "shadow boxing" as the question becomes clearer with supplementaries, until it has the precision needed to elucidate an answer.

Of course, anyone who watches "Yes Minister" knows, politicians do often try and avoid giving straight answers, especially when they think a trap may be lurking for them. Equally, members of the States asking questions often seem to shy away from a direct question, because, let's be honest, they may well be trying to lay a trap for the unwary Minister. That's how it appears from an outside perspective - a game of shadow boxing, in which quite a lot of questions and answers are talking past one another. One way or another, it's something which probably won't go away any time soon.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Peace after Plemont

"In a quarrel, leave room for reconciliation" (Russian proverb)

It is recorded that there were arguments in the marketplace around the time of the Nicene Creed about the nature of Christ, and every shop keeper would have their opinion, often debated with some intensity. Sometimes matters even came to blows. This was a problem for the Emperor Constantine, who saw Christianity as the social "glue" for keeping a cohesive Empire together, hence the reason why a Council was summoned at Nicaea, to thrash out these disputes once and for all. There's an excellent audio drama called "The Council of Nicaea" which brings this very much to life.

But disputes never quite die, and while the result of Nicaea was a creed which gained universal acceptance in time, the same kind of disputes resurfaced in other forms. A peace came with the Nicene Creed, but it was an imposed peace, with Arius and the proponents of a different view sent into exile. Fortunately, we do not settle disputes this way today in Jersey, with the use of force.

Sides sharply divided between families were also present in the debates over Plemont this week. Like the debates of the 4th century, it was a debate that reached the marketplace, the workplace, and even a wedding party. It was divisive, with a fierce intensity. While it was a secular matter, there was nevertheless a fervour that was almost religious, and an imagery of an unspoilt, undefiled wilderness that undoubtedly had religious overtones. The President of the National Trust in Jersey did not exactly call her opponents heretics, but if she had, the language would have not been far away from the strong words which she did use speaking that "island jewels may be raped again", and saying that "It was the last chance to save the headland and they will be the cause of future damage."

The Jersey Evening Post further criticised those who had voted against the Plemont purchase - "Jersey is a sad and diminished place today, let down by small-minded, short-sighted politicians with a warped sense of priorities."

Hurts can fester and cause pain and divisions for many years. When Philip Le Feuvre proposed the introduction of social security, he was vilified by his fellow farmers, and then effectively sent to Coventry by them. He was a pariah, someone not to speak to, someone not to invite to gatherings of those who had been his colleagues and friends. That's something I think we need to avoid.

There's always a danger that the divisions caused by Plemont may rankle for many years. There have even been threats that this will be something brought up as an election issue. I think that would be a mistake. Just as the debate about the nature of Jesus was between fellow Christians, so the debate about Plemont was between fellow environmentalists. Pretty well everyone in the debate shared a concern about Plemont, but the additional factor was the way in which this concern was being addressed, which my fellow blogger Sam Mezec, has deconstructed in some detail.

Compulsory purchase and a blank cheque, with the prospects of litigation and associated costs probably swayed the issue against the purchase; if a figure, even a higher figure, had been agreed, it would have been concrete and definite, but disputed valuations of 4 millions did not help. The spectre of Le Pas Holdings must have been in the background.  The Fief de la Fosse cost £200, and initially the States were going to fight the ownership rights in the Courts, and even used compulsory purchase to secure the land in February 1998. But that didn't end the matter as the figures involved led to the possibilities of extensive litigation, and open ended costs.

So there were sound reasons based on the lessons of the past against thinking that compulsory purchase would settle the matter easily. But that didn't mean that those who rejected that, or thought the valuation unsound, were not aware of the value of Plemont in terms of environment. What was probably easier for them also was the developer's plans which looked nothing like the grotesque and giant white neo-Le Corbusier style development at Portelet. They didn't want to see that in place, but they wanted to make a decision based on fixed points, not floating clouds.

The Treasury Minister's role in this was, to say the least, slippery. On the one hand, he wanted to stress that monies could be available outside of the States budget for this kind of "contingency", but at the same time, he wanted to stress that the monies would have to be held back in "contingency" and would not be available for other projects if the States did not approve the purchase of Plemont. Why the States could not also back the use of this "contingency" for other projects was not really well addressed, and gave the impression that there was a contradiction at the heart of his financial magic. Now you see it, now you don't!

In the wake of this, it is unfair to demonise those the opposed the proposition as being narrow minded, or short sighted. On the contrary, it could be argued that some of the opposition was looking further into the possible implications of the proposition, and seeing possible outcomes that were not so positive.

What is needed is now reconciliation and an end to hostility on the subject, which is difficult, as it means understanding that different points of view can be very close, but not in agreement, and not all those who disagree are reckless.

There's an interesting book called the "The Torah Of Reconciliation" by a Jewish writer, Sheldon Lewis, and he has a good deal to say which is pertinent to this issue, and this quotation in particular, is worth pondering:

"Peace is often understood as synonymous with oneness. Rabbi Kook challenges that perspective. Instead he suggests a notion of peace encompassing diversity which includes all of the unnumbered dimensions and pathways to wisdom. To attain truth, in his view, is to encourage the full exploration of possibilities. In honest and passionate dialogue and dispute lies the greatest hope for unearthing the nuances of knowledge. A greater wisdom emerges from open discourse than from any other more limiting approach."

"Implicit in his approach is appreciation for those who hold opposing views in dialogue. Even when an argument is passionate, even when each party steadfastly holds onto its position and rejects the opinion of the other, there should be an underlying sense of valuing the other. Out of the give and take of dialogue and even polar division emerges a much richer vision of what is true and right. Peace and division are not antithetical."