Monday, 30 April 2012

Look A Like


Deputy Sam Buttery, the singing politician.
Would butter melt in his mouth?



The Voice UK Talent Show
Singer Jeremy Macon
Big voice. Big quiff. Big glasses.
Big personality. Big future.
Who just failed to get to the final!

Is it my imagination or does Deputy Jeremy Macon look like Sam Buttery?
Maybe they both eat butter?

Sunday, 29 April 2012

The USA Presidential Elections

I was listening to a discussion on "Beyond Belief", the Radio 4 programme. Despite the avowed separation of Church and State, it appears people's religious beliefs do play a large part in determining whether they stand a chance of standing for President of the USA.

Alongside presenter Ernie Rea were Bob Vander Plaats, head of "The Family Leader" pressure group, Boo Tyson from "Coalition Mainstream" and Dr Alexander Smith from Huddersfield University.

Lecturer Dr Alexander Smith noted how strong fundamentalist beliefs didn't always work to the advantage of the candidates: ""To a man and a woman, every moderate Republican I interviewed as part of my research in Kansas said that they now felt liberated to be able to vote for Obama, because they felt that the choice of Sarah Palin was such a disastrous decision, an effort to placate the religious right within the Republican ranks "

Surprisingly, in the Southern States, the slander that Barak Obama is really a closet Muslim is still being made, according to Boo Tyson.

Mr Platts also came out with the argument that given the choice between a Marxist and and Mormon, the American people will elect the Mormon. However by "Marxist", it turned out he meant Barack Obama!

Asked at the end by presenter Ernie Rea whether an atheist could stand a chance, extreme skepticism was on offer from all the panelists:

ERNIE RAE: Do you think that a publicly declared atheist could win the presidency at this point in time?

BOO TYSON: No. No I don't, and I think you would be hard pressed to win "dog-catcher" for County Commissioner, much less be the president of the United States, who takes an oath with "under God" in it, and on a Bible.

ALEXANDER SMITH: I suspect not. No. And in fact interestingly, I mean, Ron Paul, who we haven't talked about in this discussion, is probably the closest candidate you could come to who might be described as something of an agnostic. But you know, he's trailing well behind, and obviously isn't much of a prospect.

BOB VANDER PLAATS: I certainly hope not. For us to say that an atheist could lead this country, I sure hope we're not at that point. If we are, I believe God would have every right to remove his blessing from this country.

That is an extraordinary thing to say, and I find it alarming that there is that presupposition that an atheist would somehow be morally flawed because they didn't believe in a God. In fact, the philosopher Bayle argued that this notion was completely false. Pierre Bayle (1647-1706) argued in what he called "paradoxes" for toleration. He was a Calvinist in a France - a country dominated by Catholics, and yet he specifically addressed the idea of a society that was largely composed of atheists.

One of these "paradoxes" is the assertion "that atheists are not a social menace, and that a society composed only of atheists would be perfectly viable." Here, an atheist refers to a person who holds that religious beliefs of any kind are false, and therefore the moral values related to those beliefs can have no validity, so it "would seem that such atheists would undermine society". Against this, Bayle argues that people are, in general, motivated in their conduct by "self-love", by behaving out of concern for reputation and out of fear of punishment; they only pay "lip service" to their beliefs. The result is that people are kept in check by moral principles regardless of their motivation, which may be devoid of moral and religious significance. The idea that good actions must be motivated by underlying moral values is, therefore, false. Moreover, even where such moral values exist, they are no guarantee of virtuous behaviour, as can readily be confirmed by observation. As Bayle comments: "It is no more strange that an atheist should lead a virtuous life, than a Christian should commit any kind of crime."

In his paradox about a society of atheists, Bayle is also arguing for toleration. He cleverly defends toleration for his beliefs with a more general argument, for if atheists are not to be feared by the state, then still less are Calvinists to be seen  heretics. It is clear that his thinking on this matter arose out of his historical situation. It is clear that  everything Bayle wrote can be seen as a response to the religious intolerance of his times. And yet his arguments should also be assessed on the basis of their merits, and not their genesis.

And I would like to hope that an atheist would one day be President of the United States, if he or she was a just and compassionate individual, with the ability needed to lead the government of that nation. That, after all, is what really matters, not lip service to a deity that can just as easily be used to justify atrocities.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

The World


The World

The cosmic dance of all creation
Here in her glory, bare in elation
The world as we see her living form
Gaia revealed here as the norm
The joy of living nature that should be
When not the shadow that we see
But a harmony of earthly paradise
A new creation that will suffice
Four creatures sing in harmony
Of this, time’s final destiny.



Friday, 27 April 2012

Muggs

Today, I'm posting an extract from James Thurber - from "The Dog That Bit People". It's a wonderful story, full of Thurber's humour. As readers of this blog will know, I think Thurber is one of the best humorous writers of the last century.

The story appeared in Thurber's My Life and Hard Times, a collection of short stories, in 1933. It's a brilliant evocation of the dog, but you also get to know Thurber's family.

Thurber's mother, in particular, comes across as a wonderful, lovable and totally eccentric character. I think that's probably true of mothers in particular. My own mother once, in a fit of exasperation at me replying "yes" to everything she said, threw an onion at me. I ducked, and it went through the kitchen window; the neighbours came out to see what had caused the sound of smashing glass.

Another time, she tried to open a very large glass jar of tomato ketchup (from a wholesale store) where the lid was around 9 inches in diameter. It wouldn't budge, so she came up with the idea of bashing it against a worktop. We heard a shriek, and came into the kitchen to see her standing there, with broken glass on the floor, and what looked at first sight like blood all over the place. Fortunately there was no blood there; only ketchup!

Here is Thurber's gloriously funny family, and a dog called Muggs!



From The Dog That Bit People...

Probably no one man should have as many dogs in his life as I have had, but there was more pleasure than distress in them for me except in the case of an Airedale named Muggs.

But the Airedale, as I have said, was the worst of all my dogs. He really wasn't my dog, as a matter of fact: I came home from a vacation one summer to find that my brother Roy had bought him while I was away. A big, burly, choleric dog, he always acted as if he thought I wasn't one of the family. There was a slight advantage in being one of the family, for he didn't bite the family as often as he bit strangers. Still, in the years that we had him he bit everybody but mother, and he made a pass at her once but missed.

That was during the month when we suddenly had mice, and Muggs refused to do anything about them. Nobody ever had mice exactly like the mice we had that month. They acted like pet mice, almost like mice somebody had trained. They were so friendly that one night when mother entertained at dinner the Friraliras, a club she and my father had belonged to for twenty years, she put down a lot of little dishes with food in them on the pantry floor so that the mice would be satisfied with that and wouldn't come into the dining room. Muggs stayed out in the pantry with the mice, lying on the floor, growling to himself-not at the mice, but about all the people in the next room that he would have liked to get at.

Mother slipped out into the pantry once to see how everything was going. Everything was going fine. It made her so mad to see Muggs lying there, oblivious of the mice-they came running up to her-that she slapped him and he slashed at her, but didn't make it. He was sorry immediately, mother said. He was always sorry, she said, after he bit someone, but we could not understand how she figured this out. He didn't act sorry.

Mother used to send a box of candy every Christmas to the people the Airedale bit. The list finally contained forty or more names. Nobody could understand why we didn't get rid of the dog. I didn't understand it very well myself, but we didn't get rid of him. I think that one or two people tried to poison Muggs-he acted poisoned once in a while-and old Major Moberly fired at him once with his service revolver near the Seneca Hotel in East Broad Street-but Muggs lived to be almost eleven years old and even when he could hardly get around he bit a Congressman who had called to see my father on business.

My mother had never liked the Congressman- she said the signs of his horoscope showed he couldn't be trusted (he was Saturn with the moon in Virgo)-but she sent him a box of candy that Christmas. He sent it right back, probably because he suspected it was trick candy. Mother persuaded herself it was all for the best that the dog had bitten him, even though father lost an important business association because of it. "I wouldn't be associated with such a man," mother said, "Muggs could read him like a book."

We used to take turns feeding Muggs to be on his good side, but that didn't always work. He was never in a very good humor, even after a meal. Nobody knew exactly what was the matter with him, but whatever it was it made him irascible, especially in the mornings. Roy never felt very well in the morning, either, especially before breakfast, and once when he came downstairs and found that Muggs had moodily chewed up the morning paper he hit him in the face with a grapefruit and then jumped up on the dining-room table, scattering dishes and silverware and spilling the coffee.

Muggs' first free leap carried him all the way across the table and into a brass fire screen in front of the gas grate but he was back on his feet in a moment and in the end he got Roy and gave him a pretty vicious bite in the leg. Then he was all over it; he never bit anyone more than once at a time. Mother always mentioned that as an argument in his favor; she said he had a quick temper but that he didn't hold a grudge. She was forever defending him. I think she liked him because he wasn't well. "He's not may not have been well but he was terribly strong.

One time my mother went to the Chittenden Hotel to call on a woman mental healer who was lecturing in Columbus on the subject of "Harmonious Vibrations." She wanted to find out if it was possible to get harmonious vibrations into a dog. "He's a large tan-colored Airedale," mother explained. The woman said that she had never treated a dog but she advised my mother to hold the thought that he did not bite and would not bite. Mother was holding the thought the very next morning when Muggs got the iceman but she blamed that slip-up on the iceman. "If you didn't think he would bite you, he wouldn't," mother told him. He stomped out of the house in a terrible jangle of vibrations.

............


Lots of people reported our Airedale to the police but my father held a municipal office at the time and was on friendly terms with the police. Even so, the cops had been out a couple of times-once when Muggs bit Mrs. Rufus Sturtevant and again when he bit Lieutenant-Governor Malloy-but mother told them that it hadn't been Muggs' fault but the fault of the people who were bitten. "When he starts for them, they scream," she explained, "and that excites him." The cops suggested that it might be a good idea to tie the dog up, but mother said that it mortified him to be tied up and that he wouldn't eat when he was tied up.

............

In his last year Muggs used to spend practically all of his time outdoors. He didn't like to stay in the house for some reason or other-perhaps it held too many unpleasant memories for him. Anyway, it was hard to get him to come in and as a result the garbage man, the iceman, and the laundryman wouldn't come near the house. We had to haul the garbage down to the corner, take the laundry out and bring it back, and meet the iceman a block from home. After this had gone on for some time we hit on an ingenious arrangement for get-ting the dog in the house so that we could lock him up while the gas meter was read, and so on. Muggs was afraid of only one thing, an electrical storm. Thunder and lightning frightened him out of his senses (I think he thought a storm had broken the day the mantelpiece fell). He would rush into the house and hide under a bed or in a clothes closet. So we fixed up a thunder machine out of a long narrow piece of sheet iron with a wooden handle on one end. Mother would shake this vigorously when she wanted to get Muggs into the house. It made an excellent imitation of thunder, but I suppose it was the most round-about system for running a household that was ever devised. It took a lot out of mother.

............

(Above is a picture of the real life Mugg's that Thurber's family owned)

Muggs died quite suddenly one night. Mother wanted to bury him in the family lot under a marble stone with some such inscription as "Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest" but we persuaded her it was against the law. In the end we just put up a smooth board above his grave along a lonely road. On the board I wrote with an indelible pencil "Cave Canem." [translation: "Beware of the Dog"] Mother was quite pleased with the simple classic dignity of the old Latin epitaph.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Respite Care for Children and Young Adults Review

"You do not suddenly stop being autistic because you achieve your 18th birthday. It is a life-long disability."

The excellent review on Respite Care for Children and Young Adults has just been published. It's available online, but I'm putting up a few extracts from it which give an idea of how critical it is of the current practice. The current situation for both children and adults whose carers need some kind of respite has no formal structure, and no legislative framework.

Clearly, matters have been allowed to drift, and families have suffered from breakdowns and divorces as a result of this kind of situation. And it has been going on for a long time, at least as far back as Stuart Syvret's time at social services, when I remember one extremely frustrated parent asking Stuart to come and see what it was like to live without respite. Another parent who wrote directly to Stuart had a letter with a "cut and paste signature" on the reply, saying that nothing could be done. But the fault just doesn't lie there - the Ministers who have taken over the Social Services portfolio in the years since have been just as bad in letting matters drift along, and ignoring parental pleas; all too often, I suspect, these get filtered through officials and never get to the Minister at all.

In our time, we had endless meetings, some of which were with Phil Dennett who was in charge of Children's Services, and nothing ever came of them apart from various options which would appear, and then disappear, like a mirage held out to tempt a thirsty man in a desert. Social workers came and went like spinning wheels, probably frustrated by the inability to help, and blocked by line managers, and on one occasion a chap called Le Sueur from the properties area popped out of the woodwork to mention possibilities, only to burrow down out of sight, never to be seen by us again. Another individual, like a conjurer performing a trick, produced plans for a sheltered unit at St Clement to show us; these were described as "exciting". Nothing came of that either, and the conjurer, along with his plans, vanished out of sight.

Children - especially in their teen years - can be "challenging" - and that may be violent to the point of inflicting considerable injuries on themselves or others - and this leads to considerable stress - the home environment is not one for relaxation, but one where calms are punctuated by storms. Respite becomes a necessity, an opportunity for a real break, and this - as the report shows - is poorly managed. Last minute cancellations can be extremely upsetting when one is expecting relief from a stressed environment, and usually the person in charge - the line manager - on their 9 to 5 hours - would be off home, leaving staff to pick up the pieces.

Transition planning for adulthood, despite the best efforts of teachers such as John Grady, former head of Mont A L'Abbe, were let down by a failure to follow through. Education work as hard as they can, and it's not their fault that transition collapses once the child leaves school. The report shows that transitions are badly handled by Social Services, with lack of continuity, and an ad hoc approach to planning which, quite frankly, from experience seems more like presenting something fairly good on paper beforehand, and tear it up as unworkable shortly afterwards.

One sentence sticks out, and should sound alarm bells for any politician with a social conscience:

Too many families have experienced extreme stress from a lack of respite care, and far too many families have been pushed into breakdown, divorce and ill health as a result.

EXTRACTS FOLLOW:

4.16 Problems with the Supply of Respite Care

During the course of the review, the Panel learned that under certain circumstances, the supply of respite is inadequate to meet the needs of the community. In particular, the Panel identified three relatively predictable 'flash points' at which the current system of respite care experiences significant strain and/or reduces in supply, which are outlined in this chapter.

These circumstances are exacerbated by the relative shortage of resources and staff available to deal with an increased demand for respite services. Specifically, staff working across the respite service are pooled to help deal with a client experiencing a high level of demand, which reduces their ability to support other families. The Panel feels that the Department should as a priority improve their staffing numbers to ensure that even under periods of strain the supply of respite care remains stable. This is critical to ensure that other families do not have their support suddenly withdrawn during a 'flash point' for the respite service, as they may suffer a breakdown as a result.

During Emergency and Crisis Situations

The Panel learned that the supply of residential respite care had experienced significant disruption as a result of homes being used for emergency care placements. Witnesses described the impact that this had caused to their lives:

"Due to a family going into crisis Eden House has effectively been closed for respite. In the meantime, parents of children with acute behavioural problems have received no respite, but a little outreach in some cases".

"The current situation where a child with severe ASC has had to be placed with Social Services as a Looked After Child... has resulted in all respite for children on the Autism Spectrum being stopped as the only place for the child to be accommodated was Eden House. The knock on effect this has caused is that many families who may get a short break have had nothing for over 2 months".

In his appearance as an independent witness, Deputy Green also confirmed that he had been contacted by numerous constituents who had been allocated a regular respite slot only to lose it when somebody needed intensive or long-term care, and that this was "the problem" in terms of his understanding of the current supply of respite care.

The lack of adequate provision, in terms of manpower and facilities, to cope with families going into crisis meant that respite care homes are under almost constant threat of being used as substitute emergency care or long-term care facilities in times of crisis.

According to one service user, "Both (respite) homes will continue to walk a tight rope, as there is still nowhere available for emergency care." The disruption to the regular operation of respite care homes had enormous and significant implications for other families who relied upon regular respite to cope day-to-day, as well as upon the staff and Managers of the respite homes.

A representative from Jersey Mencap identified that any plan for developing an emergency care service should take into account the "soft outcomes" of emergency respite in terms of costs saved by securing respite for regular users and therefore preventing other families going into meltdown and requiring costly off-Island placement.

Rather than starting by identifying the current and future needs of the community and basing a supply model around this quantifiable data, need is responded to as and when it arises and/or is brought to the attention of Social Services. Continuing to operate a model along these lines, rather than building for the future inevitably means that the supply of respite care will always be under strain.

4.20 Witness's Experiences of Transition

The Panel heard that the current system to plan for and provide for this important step was felt to be poorly managed, inefficient and inadequate to meet the needs of the user. The Vice Chairman of Autism Jersey felt that there was no strategy in place for the provision of respite care for children who turn eighteen, and was frustrated by Social Service's lack of proactivity in identifying and working with older children approaching adulthood:

"They should not be a surprise. You cannot suddenly say: "Eighteen, whoops, where did he come from?" They have been in the system since they were toddlers and it should not be a surprise and we should not be having this fight for service. It should be a properly managed  transition programme."

Another witness who had formerly lead a school for autism in the UK expressed concern about the fact that support offered during the transition period does not appear to be planned and are not in place early enough.

In particular, the Panel was surprised to hear that even if a family has a social worker they have to be reassigned a new one when the child turns 18 - they effectively become a "closed case", and a valuable working relationship is lost.

The Business Manager of Jersey Mencap highlighted that there is currently no handover between the child social worker and adult social workers, and no named social worker for the family to work with. The family must start again by contacting Social Services and getting a named social worker to refer them for the adult respite services. In her opinion, the current transition planning is not coping with demand: "It seems as if a fortnight before people [turn] 18, alarm bells are ringing off all over the place."

The Panel, parents and stakeholders were dismayed at the precariousness surrounding continuity of respite care for young adults with life-long disabilities. There appears to be an attitude amongst providers that when a child turns 18, they should no longer need respite, despite having the same disability and family situation as before. Representatives from Autism Jersey were clear in their recommendation that all services for people with autism should be life-long, not just respite.

Deputy Green told the Panel that the haste with which disabled children are passed into Adult Services is "almost indecent" and he felt sure that this was down to "budgetary" issues.

The reality, however, does not meet this expectation. The main issue following the end of education was the struggle for young adults with special needs to find any kind of meaningful employment. Some parents questioned the value of an education system that raised expectations of a fulfilling adult life in this way:

"...You have to ask yourself... why we bother to take them through the education system, build up their expectations and then say: "But we do not have anything for you." You have to ask yourself that. I think it is soul destroying frankly. We told them that they are going to be able to do this and they are going to be able to do that and when they leave, they sit at home because there is nothing there for them."

Key Finding: The Department's perceptions of the transition service are unrealistic. The current transition system does not work properly, reflecting problems with the delivery of transition support by two separate services.

Too many families have experienced extreme stress from a lack of respite care, and far too many families have been pushed into breakdown, divorce and ill health as a result.

Links:
http://www.statesassembly.gov.je/ScrutinyReports/2012/Report%20-%20Respite%20Care%20for%20Children%20and%20Young%20Adults%20-%2026%20April%202012.pdf

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Bettany Hughes Divine Women - Part 2

I've been watching Bettany Hughes - Divine Women. I do despair of this series. It plays fast and loose with context.

She cites the Acts of Paul and Thecla, and tells part of the story to show Christian women's attitude to sex, no longer needing for procreation, they were free to be virgins! And she mentions it as part of the movement in the Church against women - giving the misleading impression that was the reason that it was left out of the New Testament.

Crucially, what she doesn't mention is that this was known to be a fiction. These Acts were written in honour of St Paul, by a presbyter of Asia, whose fraud was found out, and he was degraded from his office, at a date about AD 160. That's all documented, and no one has ever disputed it.

Moreover, so far from reflecting the role of women, these Acts represented what a man thought women should be - holy virgins. Not to mention that part of the document's background is sloppy; to present these Acts as something deliberately excluded from the New Testament when it was known to be a fake is criminally misleading the average viewer.

When it comes to the Council of Nicaea, it is presented as "a tidying up exercise". Hardly that! Constantine was hoping to use the Church as a unifying force, only to find it tearing itself apart over what become known as the Arian controversy, about whether Christ was God (the Athanasius position) or one in purpose only (roughly the Arian position). Naturally, he called a council to try to resolve matters. That was the main reason. The Big Finish Audio drama "The Council of Nicaea" brings this home very forcibly.

While the Council met it did conduct "tidying up", such as deciding how the date of Easter was to be calculated, and other sundry matters, but these weren't why it met in the first place.

Another bit of tidying up concerned the Paulianists (a sect considered heretics). How were they to re-enter the Christian community if they wished to do so. The Council decided that any ordinations made by them were invalid, and that's where we get the section on women ordained (who are Paulianists):

"Likewise in the case of their deaconesses, and generally in the case of those who have been enrolled among their clergy, let the same form be observed. And we mean by deaconesses such as have assumed the habit, but who, since they have no imposition of hands, are to be numbered only among the laity."

What the position is with non-Paulianists may be assumed to be negative with regard to deaconesses but that is an assumption. Nicaea doesn't say anything one way or the other.

Her take on Augustine as a misogynist fermenting ideas of original sin cause by procreation also were very glib. She didn't mention that his asceticism came about because after his libertine youth, he took up with a non-Christian ascetic sect called the Manicheans, and it may be that never left him.

Augustine wrote: "What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman. I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children."

What Hughes missed out was that between being a libertine and a Christian, Augustine converted to the sect called the Manicheans. This was a Gnostic version of Christianity, which rejected and scorned the Old Testament as being primitive and immoral, and selected from the New, especially the letters of Paul. The Old Testament bore the hallmarks of a sub-creator, an evil being (as was fairly typical in Gnosticism). On sexual matters, it taught Augustine the doctrine that sex was synonymous with darkness and bore the marks of the evil creator.

Once we know that background, which she misses out, a lot of his attitude about sexuality and women can be seen as a left over from his dalliance with Manichaeism before he became a Christian, and which was not sufficiently purged from his theology.

On the present day, she remarks that many of today's Christians do not think that women should have a place in the church, and speaks to a Catholic woman who takes the Vatican hard line very strongly. But a recent survey in Ireland suggests matters are not as uniform as she might think. 77% of Catholic lay people believe that women should be ordained to the priesthood. In a less robust survey carried out on radio, 70% of priests who called in favoured the ordination of women. But both figures show that the supposedly rock-solid Vatican position may be built on sand.

The series suffers from coming out a day after Mary Beard's Meet the Romans. The almost forensic skill in which Mary Beard brings together the portraits of ordinary Romans, going from inscription to inscription, contrasts strongly with Hughes very broad brush (and loud music).

There were one or two nice touches in  - the Bishop ordaining a women in the mosaic. It is a shame it was spoilt when she mentions the alb as a Eucharistic garb worn only by priests. I'm not convinced that it was - certainly the alb (the white robe) can be worn today by both clergy and lay ministers who serve at the altar, and it is difficult to discern its history.

Moreover, the mosaic comes from the 3rd  or 4th century, so it could reflect less the early church, and more the Montanists - a charismatic breakaway movement in which prophecy and women were valued very highly. By not giving the date, she's again pulling the wool over the eyes of casual viewer.

That, incidentally, is an assessment that the movement for women's ordination in the Catholic church agrees with - at http://www.womensordination.org/content/view/68/52/ , they note it is:

"A fourth century fresco, also in the catacomb of St. Priscilla, shows a bishop ordaining a woman."

So the question is whether it is reflecting something early , or something later but popular like Montanism. The trouble with Hughes presentation is that she doesn't give much picture of all the ferment that was happening - Gnosticism, Montanism, Arianism - those are obviously shorthand labels - but they do represent movements that sprang up, and not always early.

I'd like to note, of course, that I think there are very good grounds for women being ordained within the church.

A subtle point, often overlooked, is that in 1 Corinthians 11.2-11, Paul says "And any woman who prays or proclaims God's message in public worship with nothing on her head disgraces her husband" - instructions which indicate that they did pray and proclaim God's message in public worship - and he doesn't forbid them to do that, just tells them how to dress.

Also what amazed me was that she didn't cite Paul who calls a woman named Junia an apostle in Romans 16.7 - that's really early. Junia becomes "Junias" and turned male by later interpreters. Yet even up to the time of John Chrysostom (c.347-407), we have his statement: "Oh! how great is the devotion of this woman, that she should be even counted worthy of the appellation of apostle!". There is a strong case for a female apostle.

The last section tonight is on "the return of the goddess", by which I suspect she means female figures of adoration in Christianity and Eastern religions. It's a pity she can't look at Neopaganism, where not only is the goddess revived as a figure for adoration, but it also sees the return of the priestess to forms of worship.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Dominic Sandbrook on the 1970s

I didn't get round to my review of Dominic Sandbrook's history of Britain in the 1970s last week, so here are my views on both last week and this week.

The first programme, with its emphasis on the new consumerism, and the advent of the package holiday brought back memories of such holidays - I remember a package holiday where the hotel venue was still being built; some of the radiators for the cabins had yet to be plugged in. The brochure of course showed a shopping centre and swimming pool, but the builders were still there. On the same holiday was the then Comptroller of Income Tax, who asked us please not to tell any other holiday makers what he did for a living!

The way in which such package holidays were often in half-completed buildings, and not planned terribly well comes across in Carry on Abroad, which is a conflation of all that could go wrong, and often did.

I'm not sure the affluent of the 1970s was quite as rapid here in Jersey as Sandbrook's presentation of the UK. We didn't get a colour TV until the 1980s, friends in Jersey got them earlier, in the late 1970s, but not the early part of the 1970s. All my friends an I  grew up watching Jon Pertwee's colour version of Dr Who in Black and White. In fact it wasn't until 1976 that colour was available in the Channel Islands because of the need to provide a stronger network feed from the UK, and upgraded studio facilities.

While Sandbrook mentioned the start of wine culture with what were later seen as terrible wines such as Blue Nun (he forgot Liebfraumilch), he didn't mention the rise of the dinner party, where women would arrive wearing thin diaphanous clothes that looked almost like night-dresses, and the fondu set came into its own. The distinctive meths smell of the heater, the way in which the metal prongs would get tangled, and cubes of meat fall into the sizzling oil, was all part of the 1970s experience. The dinner party, of course, was wonderfully satirised in Abigail's Party.

The Common Market was of course central, and very important as a milestone for the UK. Yet just as far reaching was decimalisation, which Heath brought about, but Sandbrook didn't mention. My memories of the 1960s are endless school exercises with pounds, shillings, and pence, to say nothing of guineas. Thankfully the 1970s brought a welcome release from possibly one of the most cumbersome currencies in the world - although as numbers go, long multiplication with Roman numerals is also not the simplest thing.

But that apart, it was an interesting program,. My son, watching, asked me how granny coped with the power cuts and the 3 days week. Jersey getting its fuel from France for its power stations was not in that position. I remember BBC closing early evening, perhaps 8.00 or thereabouts to save fuel. But Channel Television, the local station, put on ancient films starring a very young Stanley Baxter or Norman Wisdom to fill the gap, and there were some good films that I might have missed had it not been for the miners strike!

The second programme proved even better than the first,  as Dominic Sandbrook takes us down the culture and history of the 1970s when the oil crunch began to bite, the Green movement began, the miner's struck, inflation was spiraling out of control, and the sexual revolution really began.

There was a mention of Doomwatch, and a clip from Dr Who, when it was mirroring the miner's strike (The Monster of Peladon). Science fiction, in both Dr Who and Doomwatch, had a strong ecological and environmental slant - with Dr Who, Colony in Space, the Green Death and Invasion of the Dinosaurs stand out in particular. I watched both Dr Who and Doomwatch which had a strong influence on me.

'This planet,' said Ashe, 'has been classified as suitable for colonisation. That means farming, so far as we're concerned. But if the big mining companies move in they'll turn it into a galactic slag heap in no time.' 'Don't you have any rights?' asked the Doctor. 'The big mining companies don't bother about people's rights,' said Leeson, full of bitterness. 'They move in, rip the minerals out of a planet, and move on somewhere else. It happened to the planet we got our seed from!' (Colony in Space)

The literature of the time also had people like EF Schumacher in "Small is Beautiful" and John Taylor's "Enough is Enough" making a strong case against a runaway consumer society.

There is obviously no surer way of arousing the emotions of economists than to suggest that the highly developed countries of the West should deliberately stop the growth of capital investment, slow down industry's consumption of raw materials, and set about educating the citizens to expect a leveling-off of the standard of living. To say these things is to challenge the basic assumptions of the economic theory by which we have lived since the 1930S and, with rather less awareness, for far longer than that. (John V Taylor, "Enough is Enough")

It seemed strange to see Mike Yarwood's impressions of Edward Heath, very much a broad brush, and with the passing of time, not very convincing now.

Bruce Forsyth appeared looking much as he does now (he's got a kind of wrinkled face that never really ages) popped up with a topical joke about BBC closing down each night at 10.30 pm because of the fuel shortage - the studio lights were dimmed, and he said, "this is what you'll see now", struck a match, and said "match of the day" (cue groan).

The petrol queues and shortages must have struck a chord with anyone who has seen the panic buying in Britain recently, only then it was the Arabs restricting supply, now it is the threat of tanker drivers striking. It shows how we are still as vulnerable with respect to the energy that powers our kind of society.

With the sexual revolution, faces like Malcolm Muggeridge, Lord Longford and Mary Whitehouse appeared, along with the Festival of Light. They seemed almost caricatures of themselves. I never agreed with them, and listening to clips of the "Mugg" pontificating, I can see why. This was the high point of Christian fundamentalism, but their strident self-righteousness is extremely unattractive now (as it was to me then).

One film that really aroused their dire condemnation was "Last Tango in Paris", and there were masses of letters, some in praise, but mostly from "an ordinary housewife" against what they saw as "the rising tide of filth". Apparently masses of people flocked to see "Last Tango", which did have an X certificate, after all, restricting who could see it to those of 18 or over. I suspect that had a lot to do with the fact that it was seen as "forbidden" and heavily publicised by the moral majority who had only drawn attention to it, otherwise it would have sunk without trace as a moody brutal but actually rather boring movie of the art house genre.

I explained to my son something of the historical background to the troubles in Northern Ireland, the last part of the documentary, and why the IRA took their fight to mainland Britain to attack ordinary people to get pressure on the UK government.

It was fascinating to see Dominic Sandbrook at archive records of the Wilson years, and the different scenarios that they considered, including the "nuclear option", just pulling out and leaving Northern Ireland to its fate. I wonder if that's an option somewhere in a locked filing cabinet for Afghanistan.

I think it wasn't so much the Peace Programme, though that laid the foundation for peace, that ended the "troubles"; it was the McCartney sisters, going to America, and exposing the hypocrisy of the IRA in murdering their brother Robert, who was, after all a Catholic. We underestimate how much funding came from Irish Americans, who saw the IRA as freedom fighters against British imperialist and Protestant designs. Once that ceased, and Gerry Adams suddenly became persona non gratia in Washington, matters were forced to change; the generous funding had tried up, the tap turned off.

This has been an interesting programme, charting the shifts between the sunny optimism of the early 1970s to the middle of the decade, when the dreams began to fracture, with blows to the sure confidence of a better world, and the idea of "progress". But we forget easily, and dreams of progress always return, until the next crunch, when we have to come to terms with falling standards in living once more.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

TV Reviews: Once Upon A Time, CI5, Titanic Episode 4

Once Upon a Time - "All Magic Comes With A Price"
Last week was centered was centered on the story about how Prince Charming  met Snow White. The juxtaposition of the fairy tale fantastic narrative, flipping back to the realist American township works very well, and there was a very cunning transposition in this episode, where a Troll Bridge becomes a Toll Bridge. It's certainly one of the most original fantasy series I've seen for a while, and the acting is excellent, the actors giving two similar but distinctive renderings of each character, which is part of the fun!

This week was the turn of the Cinderella story, both in the magic kingdom, and in the present day analogue (where there's a pregnant maid called Ella). Another chance for Robert Carlyle as the wicked Rumplestilskin / Mr Gold to shine. "All magic comes with a price", as Cinderella's fairy godmother disintegrates in a puff of smoke, and Rumpelstilskin makes the deal for her unborn child. The fairly tale sequences are excellent, conjuring up the right world, with the slightly archaic patterns of speech.

In the real world analogue, Ella is a young girl of 18 whose got herself pregnant, and whose boyfriend's father has made a contract with Mr Gold to secure a future for the child, as an unmarried mother, he states, would really not be the right person to bring up the child. It's interesting how cleverly they fit contemporary opinions into the story. Ella, of course, lives with her step-mother and two step-sisters. They take the traditional story, and rework it imaginatively.

CI5: The New Professionals
In between, on one of the satellite channels, I caught up with show I had never seen before CI5: The New Professionals. This had Edward Woodward replacing Gordon Jackson, and a different team. That kind of thing doesn't always work well. The New Avengers was a pale shadow of its former glory days in The Avengers. In this case, the plot held up surprisingly well (a hostage situation, with a suspected war criminal held hostage), and Woodward was excellent. It was originally shown on Satellite, and never made it to terrestrial TV. The theme music is a slightly mellow version of the original, without so much brass.

Titanic
As I haven't yet posted a review of Titanic on ITV, which ended last week, I thought I'd better do so for the sake of completeness; I have, after all, commented on the previous episodes. In this one, the ship goes down, and everyone who survives clambers into the few lifeboats remaining.

As this is a budget production, a few lifeboats are all there are. Ismay climbs into a lifeboat and Captain Smith, showing surprising prescience, realises that this will make Ismay will be seen as a coward in the inquiry to follow, and himself as a fool.

Meanwhile, Lord Duff-Gordon hands out £5 to each crewman to prevent them rowing back in his lifeboat. Well, it was supposed to be each crewman, but there only seemed to be one there, because of budget cuts. The ship cracks and creaks and goes down, but in comparison with the 1957 model work in the film "A Night to Remember", this is incredibly badly done. It's all so dark, all one can make out are shadows for the most part; in the 1957 film, one of the funnels breaks off and smashes into the sea (as witnesses recorded) giving it a sense of finality; here it is like watching an Airfix model sink, despite the use of CGI. Actually there is a model of the Titanic done by Airfix, so perhaps they cut back on the CGI and used that instead.

Toby Jones' lawyer survives the cold water to be taken on a lifeboat, but his wife dies of exposure. Quite how he survives so long is rather amazing, especially as he has breath to mourn his wife again and again. The survivors in the water is always a problem, as it always looks like people in a large water tank, which it obviously is; even James Cameron didn't really solve this problem, although he did add a shot or two of the night sky. Apparently the tank used for this sequence was the largest ever used on a TV production, and I think they should have asked for a refund.

There's no mention of the Californian, no officer shoots themselves, and finally the Carpathia comes into view, a small dot on the horizon. And it ends there, before the small dot can resolve itself into anything more solid; clearly the budget had finally been used up.

This has been one of the worst productions of Titanic that I have seen. The trailers have been calling the finale "epic", but epic it most decidedly is not. The impact of the Titanic is left to a few paragraphs on the screen, as the end titles play; there was more impact in Coward's Cavalcade, where the two shipboard lovers part to reveal the words Titanic on a life ring, or Upstairs Downstairs where Lady Bellamy goes down with the ship - we only hear about it third hand, but with compelling dramatic telling by her Ladyship's personal maid. Here, we just leave the survivors - some of these, of course, are real people about whom we do know what happened, but Julian Fellowes fictional creations are just out there drifting, waiting for someone to pick the story up, which is a very low key way to end such a series.

I suspect that when people in future refer to the "Titanic disaster", there may be confusion over whether it was the ship sinking, or this TV series.

Robert Heinlein's Tribute to Cats

Cat Poem by Linda Barnes

They will not go quietly,
the cats who've shared our lives.
In subtle ways they let us know
their spirit still survives.

Old habits still make us think
we hear a meow at the door.
Or step back when we drop
a tasty morsel on the floor.

Our feet still go around the place
the food dish used to be,
And, sometimes, coming home at night,
we miss them terribly.

And although time may bring new friends
and a new food dish to fill,
That one place in our hearts
belongs to them. . . and always will.

The best Science Fiction story I ever read with a cat in it was Heinlein's "Door into Summer". Indeed, it is possibly the best depiction of a cat that I've come across in any literature, never mind science fiction. This is the memorable way he introduced his cat, and this has the ring of experience to it; no one could have written this without a cat around the house. Here are the opening paragraphs. It's a brilliant opening to any book.

One winter shortly before the Six Weeks War my tomcat, Petronius the Arbiter, and I lived in an old farmhouse in Connecticut. I doubt if it is there any longer, as it was near the edge of the blast area of the Manhattan near miss, and those old frame buildings burn like tissue paper. Even if it is still standing it would not be a desirable rental because of the fall-out, but we liked it then, Pete and I. The lack of plumbing made the rent low and what had been the dining room had a good north light for my drafting board.

The drawback was that the place had eleven doors to the outside.

Twelve, if you counted Pete's door. I always tried to arrange a door of his own for Pete-in this case a board fitted into a window in an unused bedroom and in which I had cut a cat strainer just wide enough for Pete's whiskers. I have spent too much of my life opening doors for cats. I once calculated that, since the dawn of civilization, nine hundred and seventy-eight man-centuries have been used up that way. I could show you figures.

Pete usually used his own door except when he could bully me into opening a people door for him, which he preferred. But he would not use his door when there was snow on the ground.

While still a kitten, all fluff and buzzes, Pete had worked out a simple philosophy. I was in charge of quarters, rations, and weather; he was in charge of everything else. But he held me especially responsible for weather. Connecticut winters are good only for Christmas cards; regularly that winter Pete would check his own door, refuse to go out it because of that unpleasant white stuff beyond it (he was no fool), then badger me to open a people door.

He had a fixed conviction that at least one of them must lead into summer weather. Each time this meant that I had to go around with him to each of eleven doors, held it open while he satisfied himself that it was winter out that way, too, then go on to the next door, while his criticisms of my mismanagement grew more bitter with each disappointment.

Then he would stay indoors until hydraulic pressure utterly forced him outside. When he returned the ice in his pads would sound like little clogs on the wooden floor and he would glare at me and refuse to purr until he had chewed it all out... whereupon he would forgive me until the next time.

But he never gave up his search for the Door into Summer.

When Pete scratches someone, we are given this advice:

"Uh, yes... but you weren't cat-petting him; you were dogpetting him. You must never pat a eat, you stroke it. You must never make sudden movements in range of its claws. You must never touch it without giving it a chance to see that you are about to... and you must always watch to see that it likes it. If it doesn't want to be petted, it will put up with a little out of politeness-eats are very polite-but you can tell if it is merely enduring it and stop before its patience is exhausted."
Dan, the narrator, creates a robotic house help for sale to the public - he is an engineer. Heinlein - an engineer himself - was often big on engineering in his stories. As we know, robots around the house have lots of complicated movements; to react to objects is not as simple as it seems, which is why we don't have robotic house helps. But Heinlein makes it seem plausible, and this is a nice touch with Pete the Cat that sells the story:

In the meantime I smoothed a lot of bugs out of his control system. I even taught him to stroke Pete and scratch him under the chin in such a fashion that Pete liked it-and, believe me, that takes negative feedback as exact as anything used in atomics labs.
And there are some other wonderful descriptions of Pete through the book. Here are a few:

I looked down at his waffle-scarred head. Pete wouldn't sue anybody; if he didn't like the cut of another cat's whiskers, he simply invited him to come out and fight like a cat.

It was then that Pete started wailing. You don't hear a cat wail very often; you could go a lifetime and not hear it. They don't do it when fighting, no mailer how badly they are hurt; they never do it out of simple displeasure. A cat does it only in ultimate distress, when the situation is utterly unbearable but beyond its capacity and there is nothing left to do but keen. It puts one in mind of a banshee. Also it is hardly to be endured; it hits a nerve-racking frequency

Once I was on my feet I stayed behind bushes and moved around to the side of the house; I wanted to get away from that open door and the light pouring out of it. Then it was just a case of waiting until Pete quieted down. I would not touch him then, certainly not try to pick him up. I know cats. But every time he passed me, prowling for an entrance and sounding his deep challenge, I called out to him softly. "Pete. Come here, Pete. Easy, boy, it's all right." He knew I was there and twice he looked at me, but otherwise ignored me. With cats it is one thing at a time; he had urgent business right now and no time to head-bump with Papa. But I knew he would come to me when his emotions had eased off.

"Oh, the poor little fellow!" She scratched him under the chin, doing it properly, thank goodness, and Pete accepted it, thank goodness again, stretching his neck and closing his eyes and looking indecently pleased. He is capable of taking a very stiff line with strangers if he does not fancy their overtures.

Pete lay on the table between us, making a library lion of himself with his forepaws on the creased letter, and sang a low song like bees buzzing in deep clover, while he narrowed his eyes in contentment.

I was hampered by Pete, "following me ahead of me," that exasperating habit cats have of scalloping back and forth between the legs of persons trusted not to step on them or kick them.

I made notes while the notion was fresh and then got some sleep, with Pete's head tucked into my armpit. I wish I could cure him of that. It's flattering but a nuisance.

And here is how he describes thinking about cats getting older and dying:

I am not mad at anybody and I like now. Except that Pete is getting older, a little fatter, and not as inclined to choose a younger opponent; all too soon he must take the very Long Sleep. I hope with all my heart that his gallant little soul may find its Door into Summer, where catnip fields abound and tabbies are complacent, and robot opponents are programmed to fight fiercely -but always lose-and people have friendly laps and legs to strop against, but never a foot that kicks.
As a cat lover, I think Heinlein creates in Pete, a cat who is totally realistic. It fits the picture of cats as we know them, and were memorably described on a piece "On cats" by Canon Liddon.

CATS are like oysters, in that no one is neutral about them ; every one is, explicitly or implicitly, friendly or hostile to them. And they are like children in their power of discovering, by a rapid and sure instinct, who likes them and who does not. It is difficult to win their affection ; and it is easy to forfeit what it is hard to win. But when given, their love, although less demonstrative, is more delicate and beautiful than that of a dog.

Who that is on really intimate terms with a cat has not watched its dismay at the signs of packing-up and leaving home ! We ourselves have known a cat who would recognise his master's footstep after a three months' absence, and come out to meet him in the hall, with tail erect, and purring all over as if to the very verge of bursting. And another cat we know, who comes up very morning between six and seven o'clock to wake his master, sits on the bed, and very gently feels first one eyelid and then the other with his paw. even an eye opens, but not till then, the cat sets up a loud purr, like the prayer of a fire-worshipper to the rising sun.

See also:
http://tonymusings.blogspot.com/2011/01/on-cats.html

Saturday, 21 April 2012

The Last Judgement





















The Last Judgement

The Angelus sounds one clear note
That marks for death an antidote
This is the crisis of the end of time
Embodied for the new springtime
Judgement calls for all to rise
Significance concealed verifies
But cannot reach all meaning now
Only that this is promised as a vow
That those that die will rise again
Wonder, adoring, this Amen.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Specialist Tuition on Offer

Following the high take up (of one student from America by correspondence course) I'm offering tuition in popular specials subjects to students - either secondary school, university, or mature students. If you come across anyone who needs extra tuition, please let me know. Reasonable rates.

BEGINNING DISILLUSION (11-18)

A course designed to imbue the incoming student with a feeling of basic helplessness in regard to the more pressing problems confronting the world he/she lives in. Discussions will cover such topics as the inevitability of the Rotten Society, the insignificance of the individual in world affairs and the adoption of a realistic attitude that everything is bound to get a lot worse before it gets better, if ever.

INTRODUCTION TO APATHY (all ages)

This survey course is geared to help the over-zealous student achieve the degree of apathy required on the college level. Lectures will concentrate on the futility of retaining such immature traits as ambition, ideals and a sense of school spirit.

Followed by: "Remedial Indifference"

Prerequisite to INTRODUCTION TO APATHY for unusually difficult students who refuse to accept the status quo even after they have gained a fuller understanding of it.

INTRODUCTORY NON-PARTICIPATION (for ages 11-99)

Especially designed to assist the naive student in conquering his/her immature desire to become involved in normal extra-curricular activities. Discussions will concentrate on loss of prestige, useless expenditure of energy and the lack of meaning in later life inherent in non-compulsory activities.

FUNDAMENTALS OF KILLING LEISURE TIME (for ages 19-21)

Although specifically designed to assist the incoming University student (who worked hard in school preparing for University acceptance) to adjust to goofing off now that they are here, this course also lays the foundation for apathetic lolling after graduation. All aspects of unproductive leisure time activity will be examined with special emphasis on prolonged day dreaming.

TECHNIQUES OF SCAPEGOATING (ages 19-25)

Learning to blame teachers, parents, employers and society in general for personal shortcomings will be the student's objective in this course. Guest lecturers from the Department of Speech will assist with instruction in whining.

CONTEMPORARY SELF-ACCEPTANCE (ages 19-20)

For the second year student who has mastered the fundamentals of apathy, including the avoidance of responsibility and constructive participation, but who still experiences twinges of anxiety as to where his/her emerging lack of identity may lead them. This course enables the individual to drift with renewed confidence by pointing up how the growth of automation makes them increasingly unnecessary; the disintegrating world situation makes their future increasingly improbable, and the population explosion makes their inability to produce increasingly desirable.

PRINCIPLES AND METHODS OF CHEATING (all ages, discounts to politicians)

Areas covered to help students achieve better grades without studying or learning are microfilming techniques, trends in infra-red printing, skillful plagiarism and beating around the bush on final exams in 2,000 words or more.

MEANINGLESS VOCABULARY-BUILDING (all ages)

Vital to the student whose incompetence has developed to the point where they can't even learn to cheat. This course enables such individuals to prepare acceptable term and examination papers through the frequent insertion of impressive but meaningless words and phrases. A free copy of Impressive Fake Quotes from Rumi, Lao Tzu and the Dalai Lama will be supplied.

PRACTICAL MATERIALISM

Naive college students will learn to replace love, faith, happiness and similar unprofitable emotions with chromium worldly goods: large homes, high-powered sports cars, color television sets, yachts, jewelry, self-defrosting refrigerators that make round ice cubes, etc.

HUMAN SELECTIVITY (discount to politicians)

This course is constructed to teach the student to lean on others in order to survive. Experienced faculty members, long familiar with the cultivation of useful connections as opposed to meaningful relationships, will conduct Seminars to assist under-graduates in the selection of rich, brainy, influential acquaintances who will do, the student the most good after graduation.

MARRYING FOR MONEY

Open only to students who have exhibited sufficient cunning to by-pass HUMAN SELECTIVITY. Instruction will concentrate on the choosing of a single member of the opposite sex to fulfill lifetime needs for wealth, job security, family position and a head start in career after graduation.

INTERMEDIATE DIS-ORIENTATION

This course is designed to meet the needs of the second year University student who, inadvertently, has seen a relationship between two or more facts he/she learned as a first year fresher and finds themself unable to be totally apathetic about it.

DEVELOPMENT OF AESTHETIC DEPRECIATION (discount to architects and planning officers)

Students with little or no aesthetic awareness will receive guidance in producing a comfortable environment where their deficiencies can be maintained in later life. Instruction will include lectures in national park de-forestation, rural stream pollution, proper placement of highway billboards, suburban split-level home selection, trashy book and motion picture enjoyment, and approved methodology in general littering.

PROGRESSIVE UNDERACHIEVEMENT

Creating the impression that you are not performing up to capacity, and mistakenly leading professors to believe that you are an intelligent and worldly individual is the basis of this course. Emphasis will be placed on obscure name-dropping, thought-provoking question-asking, feigned appreciation of professorial witticisms, and carrying books above your class and age level.

UNPROGRESSIVE OVERACHIEVEMENT

Invaluable to the student who seeks a passing grade without ever completing a homework assignment. This course offers guidance in skimming through unassigned reading material to create the assumption that you are engrossed in the subject and are pursuing it beyond established requirements. Instruction also is given in embarrassing professors through the memorization and use of foreign phrases with no particular meaning, frequent reference to non-existent theorems, and scoring academic points by citing analogies that don't apply to the discussion topic.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

At the Sharp End

There's a lot of comment recently about "confidentiality" with respect to the Sharp Report on incidents of child abuse taking place at Victoria College under the Headmastership of Jack Hydes by a teacher Mr Jervis-Dykes . While it does have "Strictly Confidential" on the first page, and Patrick Ryan, Education Minister correctly states that the report was given in confidence in the strict understanding that it would not be published, it's not clear whether there is a precedent for Ministers violating confidentiality in the public interest.

In particular, I am thinking of the Wiltshire Report, which has a raft of statements about confidentiality - "highly confidential", "disclosure of information would be likely to prejudice relations between the United Kingdom and Jersey". It does allow the Minister to disclose details, but only "after the outcome of the case", i.e, the disciplinary case with respect to Graham Power. But of course, no case reached any outcome, as it ran out of time, and Ian Le Marquand took it upon himself (no doubt with legal advice) to publish a redacted Wiltshire report
in place of the "outcome of the case"! So there seems to be some kind of a precedent for Ministerial decisions deciding that disclosure would be in the public interest.

This has been seen also to be the case with regards to the golden handshakes of Bill Ogley and Mike Pollard - matters can be reviewed, and with the agreement of Mr Ogley and Mr Pollard, details published. Why can't that happen with the Sharp report?

In the case of the Sharp report, apart from the names of those involved which appeared in the JEP, and in the Courts, and in DYKES v. ATTORNEY GENERAL (Court of Appeal, transcript in public domain), there is not that much that might need redaction - perhaps one or two of the investigating officers names, but the victims are simply referred to as Victim 1, Victim 2 etc, with nothing in the report capable of identifying them.

A lot of the information was published in the JEP, and can be found online. It is a matter of public record. For example, this report neatly gives a précis of the court case, and also how the JEP got hold of the report via Senator Stuart Syvret:

In 1999, Andrew Jervis-Dykes had been given a four-year sentence for a series of indecent assaults on teenage pupils who he had plied with alcohol and sometimes shown soft porn before abusing them.

Allegations had first been made against Jervis-Dykes four years before he was eventually arrested. It was only after his arrest that the school suspended him. According to the report, the head teacher had told a senior school governor - later deputy bailiff of the island - Francis Hamon about the earliest allegations over a game of squash, and had been told to keep quiet about it. It was not clear when the rest of the school governors knew - these included the still-serving bailiff, Philip Bailhache.

After Jervis-Dykes's arrest, a colleague, Piers Baker, who had also been on the trips, wrote a letter supporting Jervis-Dykes to the police and then refused to give the police a witness statement, allegedly with the backing of the head teacher. When called to the police station to watch a video, apparently showing Jervis-Dykes masturbating a sleeping boy in a ship's bunk, Baker said he could not identify the boy.

Baker resurfaced as a civil servant in the States soon after, as a maritime official, where his role, among other things, gave him responsibility for child protection at sea.

The parents of one of the victims had approached Syvret, trying to obtain a copy of the Sharp report, which criticised Baker, among others, and highlighted the years of failure to act against Jervis-Dykes - years in which he was free to continue to abuse. Syvret could not get the report from official channels, even though he was a States minister. Neither the attorney-general nor the education minister would give it to him. He eventually obtained it from a mole and leaked a copy to the Jersey Evening Post that, he said, never bothered to publish it.

The appellant was charged in the Royal Court with six counts of indecent assault and one count of possession of an indecent photograph of a child.

The assaults all occurred over a seven-year period when the appellant was a schoolteacher. The victims were pupils at his school and all were boys aged between 16 and 17 years of age when the offences occurred. The assaults usually took place during school expeditions led by the appellant and often occurred after the boys had been drinking, with his encouragement. Evidence was given of interviews conducted with the boys with the purpose of determining their psychological damage. However, the way in which these interviews were conducted was criticized by an expert witness. The appellant was convicted after pleading guilty to the offences and sentenced to four years' imprisonment (1)

The Court of Appeal case also makes plain all kinds of material, which again is a matter of public record:

The appellant [Jervis Dykes] was charged in the Royal Court with six counts of indecent assault and one count of possession of an indecent photograph of a child. The assaults all occurred over a seven-year period when the appellant was a schoolteacher. The victims were pupils at his school and all were boys aged between 16 and 17 years of age when the offences occurred. The assaults usually took place during school expeditions led by the appellant and often occurred after the boys had been drinking, with his encouragement. Evidence was given of interviews conducted with the boys with the purpose of determining their psychological damage. However, the way in which these interviews were conducted was criticized by an expert witness. The appellant was convicted after pleading guilty to the offences and sentenced to four years' imprisonment.

The indictment charged him with six indecent assaults upon male adolescents, spanning a period of approximately seven years. Each assault involved a different boy and each boy was aged between 16 or 17 years at the time he was assaulted. Usually the boys were in the appellant's mathematics classes and most of the assaults took place on 40 board a yacht in the course of school trips organized by the appellant.

The Appeal Court (which dismissed the appeal for a reduced sentence) noted that:

The aggravating features of these offences are, firstly, the nature of the relationship between the appellant and the victims. The appellant is a well-educated man with many of the advantages in life so often denied to many of those adults who commit these kind of offences with young children or adolescents. The abuse of trust was the greater because the appellant was the sort of teacher in whom his pupils found it easy to confide and had done so. Until these incidents, the victims held the appellant in the highest regard. They were at an age when confidence in a particular adult is especially valued by an adolescent. The appellant betrayed that trust which the boys in particular and by extension their parents placed in him.

The second aggravating feature is that each offence involved a different victim. Furthermore, the offences were persistent, occurring with some regularity over a seven-year period.

Thirdly, there was evidence of deliberation and system. Usually the victim had drunk too much with the knowledge, if not the encouragement, of the appellant. The advantage the appellant took of the disinhibiting effect of alcohol on these boys must be regarded as an aggravating feature of his conduct. Furthermore, the assaults took place out of the Island on board yachts in circumstances in which the appellant had complete responsibility for the welfare and well-being of the boys concerned.

Fourthly, there is the question of psychological and emotional damage to the victims. The accounts given by the Children's Service in the reports which were placed before the Royal Court and to which we have had access go some way to giving insight into the nature and extent of the impact on the victims of these assaults.

The Sharp Report reviewing the case noted that "The handling of the complaint was "more consistent with protecting a member of staff and the college's reputation in the short-term than safeguarding the best interests of the pupil."
The Irish Independent and the Daily Telegraph also has reports on this - as you can see - there is a lot of information in the public domain:

According to an independent report into the case, allegations about Jervis-Dykes surfaced in 1992 and 1994. Both times, the school's headmaster Jack Hydes failed to notify the police or investigate further, the report said. Former chief education officer of Buckinghamshire, Stephen Sharp, who conducted the inquiry, said Mr Hydes instructed his staff not to discuss the allegations. He accused Mr Hydes and his deputy Piers Bakers -- who was in charge of pupils alongside Jervis-Dykes on one yachting trip -- of putting the interests of the college and supporting a colleague above protecting its pupils. The pair subsequently resigned. "If the correct procedure had been followed, it is most likely that Jervis-Dykes would have been suspended and perhaps arrested in 1992,'' Mr Sharp said. (4)
Jack Hydes was in many ways not a typical head teacher for a public school, coming from being a Deputy Head of a Comprehensive school in the UK. This was his first appointment to such a prestigious position (or him). Jack Hydes was also a strange individual in other ways. As a Head of Junior school recalled:

He [Jack Hydes] proceeded to wrap himself in these long drapes of multi coloured cloth and dance around his study. I was supposed to tell him how the material responded to the movement. How the light bounced off the sheen. Yet, all I could think about was, keep a straight face, this is bizarre, I cannot believe this is happening.
There were difficulties with him attending the headmasters conference, perhaps because the school was not considered to be a proper public school, and also perhaps because of his own background outside the public sector - as a 1995 article in the Times Literary Supplement noted "Jack Hydes is headmaster of Victoria College, one of Jersey's two secondary grammar schools."

This lead to the school becoming more "arms length" from the States of Jersey (the 1994 amendment to the Loi sur Le College Victoria), and hence from oversight from the Educational department, and a more independent board of governors. However, there is no indication in the Sharp report that Jack Hydes reported his internal investigation into Mr Jervis-Dykes to the governors.

Aside from those mentioned in the JEP reporting of it, the main individual missed out in the Sharp Report might have been one of the Deputy Heads at the time, who as the report notes, "asked that Mr Jervis-Dykes be allowed to leave with some dignity", after he had been found showing boys porn videos. When a boy disclosed a sexual assault, the Deputy Head was also present in the Headmaster's study along with parents, when the boy was summoned and questioned about his statement.

Clearly that "internal investigation" ran completely contrary to all the guidelines (as Sharp points out), but the Deputy Head had no training in the new guidelines; the one individual competent to give advice was the Headmaster's wife, and she give completely the wrong advice. In those circumstances, the Deputy Head while in hindsight acting unwisely, could not be expected to know the proper procedures, and the old style internal review probably seemed the right way to go.

However the Sharp report, as was noted by the JEP at the time (from the leaked documents), does say that "There had, however, been enough warning signs from 1984 onwards for the Headmaster and [the Deputy Headmaster] to be jointly more vigilant and suspicious". I would mention there were two Deputy Heads; this refers to one of them.

But the old style internal way of doing things that we would now regard as grossly mistaken was still very much part of the culture of the 1980s. Changes were taking place, but they hadn't quite caught up with Victoria College, and in 1988, the College had indicated that it saw no need for in-service training on child protection matters. It must be remembered that this was relatively new to the Island - in 1987, the Jersey Child Protection Committee had only just been formed under the chairmanship of Jurat Mabel Le Ruez.

By 1988, there was a survey to established a list of "named persons" , and the named person for College was the headmaster, Jack Hydes. His wife was the only individual with any knowledge of child protection procedures from her time as "named person" in the UK in 1992, and she proceeded to give information on how to proceed to Jack Hydes which directly contradicted that of the UK school guidelines for child protection in 1992. So it is perhaps not surprising that both the Headmaster, and one of the Deputy Heads, took it upon themselves to conduct their own investigation. The other was purely a witness at some meetings with parents, and had no active part in the investigation.

Handling matters "in house" was accepted practice. I know of two cases in schools back in the 1970s where pupils were asked to leave or suspended, and no information concerning this leaked into the outside world. In one case, the pupil threatened a teacher and class with a home-made bomb, which I gather from my sources was something akin to a Molotov cocktail. In another, a pupil was involved in a case of arson in a derelict building used for lost property. In both cases, the matters were dealt with internally. A third case involved a physical assault of one pupil upon another, and the parents were informed, but it was decided not to take the matter further. In a fourth case, a new and popular English teacher who frequented shower rooms left suddenly.

These are not cases of pupils being abused, but they do highlight the kind of mentality in which matters which could cause reputational damage to schools were dealt with internally, in such a manner that incidents would not be logged or flagged up. The 1980s saw the transition between that kind of practice, and a better regulated and monitored environment, so we must be careful in not wholly applying retrospectively modern standards to incidents of those days. I think the Sharp report is aware of this, which is why it comments that "The attitudes of the Headmaster, one of the Vice-Principals, and the Head of the 6th form during the police investigation were in
some respects inappropriate."

The case of Jervis-Dykes straddles that divide, and betrays a certain slackness in the leadership of the need to be fully appraised of the new protocols for child protection. Sharp noted that "there is a substantial need for training of all the staff, and particularly staff with pastoral responsibilities". The old way of doing things was no longer adequate.

But most of the content of the Sharp report is in the public domain, either in JEP, or newspaper reports, or other blogs, Appeal court judgments, or indeed, (if you search diligently enough), several sites have the PDF file itself. It seems rather perverse to not let it out into the public domain, or at least make it available to States members. Otherwise it will no doubt ferment notions that there is something to hide.

It would be wise for Patrick Ryan to reconsider his position - the position on Sharp surely has altered since the apparent violation of confidentiality by Minister for Home Affairs with the publication of reports by Wiltshire, BDO Alto, and those on so-called Operation Blast, but I suspect that the political instinct to keep secrets will prove too strong. Of course, principles will be stated for retaining confidentiality, but I suspect these are more to justify and provide a plausible rationale to an already agreed
a priori position. Maybe the Deputy needs to take stock of the changing world of transparency, which should also see a redacted hospital report released next week.

Links
(1) http://blog.staggeringstories.net/?m=200805
(2) http://www.no2abuse.com/images/articles/sharp_report-jersey.pdf
(3) http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storyCode=95319&sectioncode=26
(4) http://www.independent.ie/opinion/analysis/gruesome-finds-at-islands-abuse-home-1300405.html

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Blogwatch: James Rondel

I'm doing a brief look at a local blogs today, and this one is fairly recent:

http://jimwillfixit.blogspot.com/

This is by James Rondel, who tells us that:

"I am 21 years old and have a real passion for politics, and in particular the politics of Jersey, (in the Channel Islands). I currently study History & Politics at the University of Reading and am the President of the University's Debating Society as well as the Student Representative for Politics & Causes. All thoughts are my own as others probably don't agree with them!"

Recent posts include:

Condor Ferries: The Unsinkable Monopoly

Here he notes that a change in regulations means that Condor has increased its fares significantly, and suggests that competition is needed:

"Interestingly, at the same time as celebrating its anniversary/one time offer, (with a commemorative mug) BBC Jersey reported of how the Jersey Kennel Club had been quoted more than double for using Condor, in comparison to last year. "

And he asks what the States are doing to ensure that fares are not excessive for what is, in essence, a monopoly business, which also suffers from a poor record with regard to breakdowns and delays:

"By increasing the costs so significantly, it certainly makes it difficult for Islanders on a budget to continue their favourite past times that take place off Island, or to holiday without breaking the bank. So where are the States of Jersey in all of this? How can a company be allowed to continue to demand so much from its consumers without delivering a fair service. Fair I define as: for the majority of the year, sailings depart on time, on a fully functioning vessel. (Preferably one that isn't on fire). "

He also notes that the Daily Mirror reported that by registering vessels elsewhere - in the Bahamas - Condor allegedly have been paying Ukrainian employees £2.35 an hour!

Other matters dealt with in the blog over the past weeks have been:

Sir Philip Bailhache, the United Kingdom, and the independence question

If the States of Jersey can find an equilibrium whereby our interests are not undermined, and we can maintain a relationship with the Crown, then this may well be the most satisfying result.

However I believe that we should not be afraid to go it alone, and I am glad that we have someone of Sir Philip Bailhache's calibre in leading the Island abroad, representing our interests.

I'm not wholly convinced how well Sir Philip does represent our interests. On the matter of low value consignment relief, despite being "foreign minister", he seems to have left most of the running to Senator Alan Maclean, and taken a very low key (if not invisible) position - the cynic in me thinks it is because he was probably bright enough to see that the legal challenge would fail, and if he was involved, it wouldn't do his reputation as a statesman of high calibre much good.

There's been a lot of talk from Sir Philip on independence, and some nice column inches in the JEP, but it's not clear that anything substantial apart from verbal sabre waving has taken place.

Golden Handshakes - A catalyst for change?

How can there possibly be a defence against the cutting of sports grants or the scrapping of school milk if this secret stash of money which the public are unaware of can keep bailing out these silly school boy errors in the case of the euro, and petty squabbling in the case of the golden handshakes?

He makes some good points, and notes that there seems to be almost a total lack of accountability by the States. Of course, the prime movers in this, politicians like Frank Walker, have moved on (and out) and can enjoy sailing round the Med in a luxury yacht while others are left to deal with the muddy waters that the deal left behind.

Review of the Economist: Crime and Democracy

One criticism heard too often is notion of megalomaniacs ruling roost in the Honorary Police Force. This is simply not the case. Obviously there are always going to be a small number who may have ulterior motive for volunteerism, but the vast majority are hard working, honest people. A real credit to the society which we live in.

It's nice to see a positive attitude to the honorary police. So often they are attacked, and while there have been one or two rotten apples in the barrel - Roger Holland springs to mind (his appointment was a result of judgement by Sir Philip that didn't exactly demonstrated much fine calibre) - the honorary police should not be judged by that, any more than all trust companies should be tarred by the rogue element (who usually ends up in prison for embezzlement), or teachers tarred by the relatively few cases of children being abused (e.g. the Sharp report).

The honorary police are not power hungry, and they regularly provide much needed extra manpower. Moreover, there is a procedure for training new recruits, so that it is not simply a case of being elected and getting on with it; there is a learning curve involved, so that honorary police can work alongside their States of Jersey police counterparts.

And there are a few other postings - Esplanade Development, Ian Gorst, States members expenses. This is an interesting blog because it is not too tightly focused but looks over a whole range of Island issues, exploring them very well, and making some very pertinent comments.

As the blog has progressed, it has seemed to me to widen its scope, from just looking at States matters, to looking at subjects like the honorary police and Condor. I'd like to hear what he would have to say about buses, and traffic congestion, or tourism and the high cost of getting to Jersey.

It would also be interesting to see what his fellow students at Reading make of Jersey. Do they know where it is? (Surprisingly, when at Exeter, quite a few people thought the Channel Islands were off the coast of Scotland). Do they know how it is run? What do they think of it as a holiday destination (camping, back-packing?), and of its reputation as a tax haven? Something for another day.

In the meantime, here are some snippets, but I'd advise looking at the whole blog. It's well written, flows well, and is not averse to the odd moment of humour.

Esplanade Development

Accumulating 460,000 square feet of offices and creating a £100 million development for the construction industry, the States have passed the development without keeping the check and balance of deciding how/what is going to be constructed.

Ian Gorst - The Route To Chief Minister

So just how did he become Chief Minister? My opinion is that, by not being risk averse and through sticking to his guns, he has now reaped the rewards.

States Members (2008-11) out of touch

Seeing the rise in politicians expenses by 10% last week made me feel bitter-sweet. Bitter in the sense of witnessing yet another example of just how out of touch our politicians are, but sweet in the fact that the current Assembly has little shelf life left.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Respite Care for Children and Young Adults Review

The recent Scrutiny panel has had the following remit:

To assess what respite services are available to support families who have children and young adults with special needs such as complex health needs, "challenging" behaviour and autistic spectrum disorders.

To assess whether the respite services available are fit for purpose and whether they can meet future needs.

To determine what agencies are involved and what resources are available with particular reference to:
Financial resources including government funding

To assess what involvement third sector organisations have in the delivery of respite services and how these are funded.

To examine what criteria is used to determine access to respite services and the level of care provided.

To assess how the short and long term needs of the users are determined, and how these needs are provided for.
To examine the transitional period from children's service to adult service, with particular reference to:
- Resources available
- How the transitional period is managed
- Any variation to the level of respite care provided

To determine whether the States has responded to recommendations of previous reviews and enquiries into respite care for children and young adults.

To examine any further issues relating to the topic that may arise in the course of the Scrutiny review that the Panel considers relevant.

http://www.scrutiny.gov.je/Pages/Review.aspx?ReviewId=153

This is the remit of the Scrutiny Panel, and submissions are on one side of the site, alongside transcripts of interviews from professionals.

But you will look in vain to see any sign of parental submissions.

The reason for this is that following advice from the Data Protection Commissioner, it was been agreed that no submissions from parents should be put into the public domain. This is regardless of whether or not:

- parents agree to waive confidentiality in order to place their record in the public domain - after all, interviews in the JEP about the plight of different groups in society do this all the time;
- parents are given a choice whether to make their submission public or not.
- an option for the submission to be made public in redacted form

What is even more startling is that I only found this out by accident, when I was wondering why my own submission had not appeared. There is no indication on the request for submissions noting that this be the case, and the Data Protection Commissioner does not seem to have requested that to be made transparent on the Scrutiny website.

I don't regard that as conspiracy; unlike some bloggers, I don't see a conspiracy around every corner. However, I do regard it as a serious oversight, and I do think it shows a certain lack of courtesy to people making submissions, who may wonder where their submissions have gone to. At present, it looks simply as if they vanish into the void.

No doubt parts of those submissions will appear in the report. But unlike the professionals submissions, they will appear in edited forms, as anonymous "snippets", and the editing will not take place (as far as I am aware) with consultation with the parents, so that matters that they consider important might be left out.

There may be a reason for this: it may be, for instance, felt that it duplicates submissions by others. But unless we know the submission, we may not know how many parents making submissions make the same points (which surely is important in itself), and whether the submissions are in fact identical, or subtle differences exist which might in fact be important.

The important factor is that the primary source documents - letters, emails, transcripts of interviews - are hidden from public gaze. There may be stories there of quiet desperation that need to be told, that, in other circumstances, the JEP might well tell, as indeed they have on occasion, without any problems over Data Protection.

It seems preposterous to me that the Wiltshire report, a document over 500 pages long, can be released in a redacted form, with names removed, and yet it is impossible for this to be an option for submissions to this panel.

It may be remarked that in a small Island like Jersey, people who know the families concerned will be able to identify the submissions. Yet people who know the families will no doubt already be aware of their situation; the submissions will only be telling them what they already knew. As for the others, they will be none the wiser.

The same will have been true for the Wiltshire report. Those within the police, or close to the people involved, would have been able to identify the names, because they already knew most of the background. Outsiders will be none the wiser, which is why Ian Le Marquand was able to release the report to the public domain without, it appears, any problems over Data Protection issues that could not be resolved.

There seems to be a default reaction of secrecy, that the basic instinct of politicians and public sector professions is to keep things off the public domain - Bill Ogley's pay off, or the recent hospital report (still unavailable, and only discovered by chance).

It should be remembered this is nothing new - the Kathy Bull report, for example, was kept under wraps until Stuart Syvret, much to the disgust of his colleagues, leaked it to the JEP because he thought it was in the public interest that they should know the full report, rather than selected and judiciously edited highlights. The JEP obviously didn't mention names of people involved, but the substance of the report could be presented in whole, rather than in part, and not spun by politicians.

I don't think that here there is an intention to spin matters, but I do think that decisions have been taken which have not been as transparent as they should have been, and which may lead to less information about respite reaching the public domain about how parents themselves feel about the matter, despite the best wishes of the panel involved. There are Data Protection issues, but I do think that Wiltshire shows they are not insurmountable. There should be consistency in these matters.

So that it is in the public record, here is my submission, suitable redacted to prevent names of people being identified:

Respite

1) Consistency - when X received respite care, there was a considerable amount of frustration at the way in which it would be cancelled. Cancellations due to insufficient manpower are of course a fact of life, but they invariably happened at the last minute, and with a degree of frequency which suggested that either the manpower resources were insufficient or that the organisation of the manpower was poor.

Part of the rationale of respite is to provide carers with a breathing space, but not knowing whether it would be cancelled or not until the last minute meant that the opposite was the case, and it could add to stress.

2) Another failure of consistency was the relatively high turnover of staff. Special needs social workers and management at Y changed frequently, and there seemed to be no key contact providing a first port of call when changes took place.

The upper levels of lead workers did not seem to have or have had any "hands on" experience in being at a respite centre. The contrast at Y, when the management changed from Z, who had very much a "buck stops with me" style of management, and the subsequent management which was clearly "arms length" was very notable. In a business environment, a successful manager is one who takes time to see how things work on the shop floor.

3) The stresses of bringing up an autistic child - especially in their late teens - when they exhibit challenging behaviour such as self-harm or harm to others - is considerable. Various attempts were made to address this issue, which included staff from respite who worked with X, but there was no consistent strategy to deal with incidents escalating in the home.

Any assessment of respite needs should also involve looking at the home situation, rather than treating respite in isolation. That may also involve seeing whether the situation in the home is so stressful that marriage breakdown may occur if respite is not adequate or consistent (see item 1 above). The statistics on marriage breakdown show that if the child has a severe handicap, the likelihood of marriage breakdown is high.

4) The transitional period from child to adult care was managed primarily by the school, and the plans in place, such as supported work at Acorn, failed to materialise after X had left school. There seemed to be a very ad hoc procedure for developing transitional plans, and some would be brought out (in interminable meetings), only to vanish into the ether a year down the line.

While transitional arrangements would vary from child to child, it seemed that there was a lack of strategic overview [in this case] by a responsible project leader with the authority and team to take the transition through. With children / adults who will always need care, who (for example) are not capable of crossing a road safely without adult supervision, the importance of this kind of overview and planning would be helpful.

5) While not in the immediate remit of the panel, another transition that does not seem to be addressed at all, at least not in any documents that I have come across, is the transition from a carer to the State. As carers get elderly, they may no longer be able to care for a severely handicapped autistic child, and obviously there will be a time when they will no longer be there to do so.

Where you can find documents about bereavement, probate, retirement etc which are publically available and provide a valuable overview of arrangements in these transitions, there is nothing available for the parents, who naturally are concerned for the long term care of their children after their deaths or if they are incapacitated by poor health.