Friday, 31 August 2012

August - The Diary of a Country Parson

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

A few notes on the text:

The Archbishop of Canterbury mentioned was Frederick Cornwallis (1713 - 1783), who bore the distinction of being the only Archbishop of Canterbury to have a twin brother (Edward Cornwallis). Wikipedia notes:

As archbishop, his sociability and geniality made him popular. He was a consistent supporter of the administration of Lord North, and led efforts in support of dispossessed Anglican clergy in the American colonies during the American Revolution. On the whole, Cornwallis has generally been judged as a competent administrator, but an uninspiring leader of the eighteenth century church - a typical product of eighteenth century latitudinarianism, whose lack of zeal paved the way for the differing responses of both the Evangelicals and the Oxford Movement in the early 19th century.

In "Writings of Canterbury Cathedral Clergy, 1700-1800", Stanford Lehmberg notes that:

Frederick Cornwallis, archbishop from 1768 until his death in 1783, was the seventh son of Charles, fourth Lord Cornwallis. The fact that his twin brother Edward became a general illustrates the fact that younger sons of the aristocracy often found careers in the church or the military establishment. Educated at Eton and Cambridge, he was a fellow of Christ's College, dean of Windsor, and prebendary of Lincoln before advancing to the episcopate. He was named bishop of Lichfield and Coventry in 1749 and dean of St. Paul's in 1766. Soon after Secker's death he was appointed archbishop of Canterbury. It was said that no one was more beloved at Cambridge; Hasted, the contemporary historian of Kent, wrote that "he gives great satisfaction to everybody [at Canterbury]; his affability and courteous behaviour are much taken notice of, as very different from his predecessors."

His publications consisted almost entirely of sermons preached before he became archbishop on the occasions that were generally graced by senior clergy; the commemoration of Charles I's martyrdom before the House of Lords, 1751; the annual sermon for the president and governors of London hospital, 1752; the anniversary sermon for the SPG in 1756; and the address at the annual meeting of children educated in charity schools, 1762. (Lehmberg, 2004)

The violent storm of 1787 is also mentioned in John Wesley's journals:

Sat.11.-We went on board the Queen, a small sloop, and sailed eight or nine leagues with a tolerable wind. But it then grew foul, and blew a storm, so that we were all glad to put in at Yarmouth harbour. About six Dr. Coke preached in the market-house to a quiet and tolerably attentive congregation. The storm continuing, at eight in the morning

August - The Diary of a Country Parson


AUG. 2. . . . Mr. and Mrs. Custance got into their new House for the first time to sleep there. But Mrs. Custance was taken ill before she got there. Supposed to be in labour.

AUG. 6. . . . Nancy took a walk this morning to Mr. Custance's new House and there stayed and dined and spent the afternoon there. I walked in the afternoon there and drank Tea, and about 8 walked back to our House with Nancy. Begun shearing Wheat today. Harvest very forward. Gave Mrs. Davie a very genteel steel Cork Screw this afternoon. Gave Nancy some Muslin to make a shawl.

AUG. 18. . . . Mr. du Quesne returned home Wednesday last. The Arch Bishop of Canterbury and his Lady Mrs. Cornwallis are come also to Mr. Townshends at Honingham.

AUG. 21. . . . Nancy and myself dined and spent the afternoon at Mr. Jn. Custance's at the New Hall with him and Mrs. Custance. They sent their Coach after us and carried us back home in it. We had for dinner Ham and 2 Fowls boiled, some young Beans, Veal Collops and hash Mutton for the first course. A rost Duck, baked Puddings, Apple Tart etc. second. They behaved very civil and very friendly to us. Mrs. Custance gave Nancy a Pearl necklace and Pearl Chain to hang from the Necklace, a Pr of Pearl Earrings and another Pr of Ear-rings. Mrs. Custance is exceedingly kind to my Niece indeed. We returned home about 8 o'clock in the evening. After spending a very agreeable day.

AUG. 22. . . . I took a ride to du Quesnes this morning, stayed with him about an Hour, found him rather low still, and fretting himself about being so tyed by the leg, in dancing backward and forward to Townshends with his great Company. The Archbishop of Canterbury and Lady are there etc. The Archbishop and Lady go from Townshends Saturday next. Du Quesne is then determined to visit his Neighbours, tho' Townshend be ever so much affronted at it. . .


AUG. 7. . . . Robert Shoard who married Farmer Corps Daughter and since the Farmer died, has continued my Estate at Ansford, called on me this Morning and paid me a Years Rent due Lady Day last past the Sum of 35. 0. 0. I paid him out of it for Poor Rates and Church 1. 12. 2 ½. I paid him also for a new Gate 0. 7. 0. I gave Robert a Receipt on stampt Paper, and to let him with his Mother Law continue on the Estate. Poor Farmer Corp died just before we came down. He had over-heated himself it was said and was imprudent to drink cold Water after it. Brother John and Wife and Js Clarke spent the Aft: with us. Js Clarke supped and spent the Evening also with us.

AUG. 10. . . . Nancy and self very busy this morning in making the Charter having some Company to dine with us -- But unfortunately the Cellar Door being left open whilst it was put in there to cool, one of the Greyhounds (by name Jigg) got in and eat the whole, with a Cold Tongue &c. Sister Pounsett and Nancy mortally vexed at it. Js Clarke and Wife and Jenny Ashford dined and spent the Afternoon with us -- We had for Dinner some Maccarel, boiled Beef, a Couple of Ducks rosted, a brace of Pigeons rosted and a Barberry Tart. Mrs. Pounsett Senr dined and spent the Afternoon with us.


AUG. 10. . . . About 10'clock this Morning there was a most violent Tempest -- very much Lightning and the most vivid, strong and quick I think I ever saw before -- Not so much Thunder but very loud what there was -- The Rain was some time before it came but then it was very heavy, the Rain did not last long. We were much alarmed, the Maids came downstairs crying and shrieking at 10'clock. I got up immediately and thinking when I went up Stairs to bed last Night that there was likelihood of a Tempest being so hot, I had lighted my little Lamp, and only laid down on my Bed with most of my Cloathes on and was just dozing when I heard the Maids all of a sudden shrieking at my Door. We lighted some Candles. Nancy had one in her Room, they were much frightned. It continued incessantly lightning from before 1 till 4 this Morning -- then it abated and then I went to bed and slept comfortably till 9 o'clock.

Thank God Almighty, for preserving us all safe from so violent a Tempest. May all others escape as well. It was most dreadful to behold the Lightning. Mr. Massingham, Dr. Thornes Apprentice, just called here in the Evening to enquire after Betsy Davy &c.

AUG. 11. . . . My Parlour and Study Chimnies finished this Day and I thank God safe and well. I gave the Men to drink on the Occasion 0. 1. 0. A great deal mentioned on the Papers concerning the dreadful Tempest on Friday Morn' last, but thanks be to the Lord, but very little damage done or any Lives lost. May all other Parts escape as well.

AUG. 12. . . . I read Prayers and Preached this Aft. at Weston C. Mr. and Mrs. Custance at Church this Afternoon they returned from Yarmouth last Friday. The Cossey Singers at Weston Church this Afternoon. I likewise christned two Children this Aft: at Church

AUG. 28. . . . My Greyhounds being both very full of fleas and almost raw on their backs, I put some Oil of Turpentine on them, which soon made many of them retire and also killed many more. . .

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Daniel Wimberley's submission regarding the Constables

I'm presenting here Daniel Wimberley's submission regarding the Constables. It will be available on the electoral commission website, but as I suspect most people don't go through the entries there, I'm making it more widely available here.

As readers of my blog know, I favour retention of the Constables, at least for the present time, and deal with the representation issue on the same grounds as the Sherman Compromise in the USA.

Constables are often elected unopposed - there were only three Constables elections in the past election where sitting Constables were involved. But part of that has to do with their Parish electorate. I don't think it's that people favour the status quo as such, but they do favour any Constable who keeps the Parish finances in order, and so keeps the rates in check. It was high rates because of excessive spending which lost Bob Le Brocq his position as Constable of St Helier.

In fact, looking at where Constables lost or won an election is interesting. Mike Jackson gave the appearance of being an absentee Constable, never available to Parishioners, because he was engaged in States business, but it was probably taking the wrong side over a debate over black tombstones, where he abrogated any responsibility for taking the matter up ("it is not within my gift") rather than being pro-active, that was against him. Peter Hemming forcefully took a case for development, and pursued it against the wishes of many Parishioners. It is when Constables become partisan, or seem to, that they lose the support of the Parish. Although left-leaning, Deidre Mezbourian fought off a challenge from James Le Feuvre (with the weight of his mother Iris, a former Constable) because Parishioners saw her as supporting the Parish and being non-partisan in Parish affairs.

And when it comes to looking after the Parish first, and then the Island issues, let's not forget that most Deputies play that card at election time. That's why they can vote against exemptions to GST, vote for the ludicrous sunken road master plan ("Freddie's Nightmare"), and still be elected - they play the Parish card - representing Parishioners, and Parish matters - for all its worth. See how they put Parish issues in their mandate ahead of Island ones! Note that unpopular Senators, in contrast, have no "local hand" to play, and either decline to stand (e.g. Frank Walker, Terry Le Sueur) or are out (Freddie Cohen).

But here's Daniel Wimberley's submission, which takes quite a different point of view. The bulk of his analysis involves charts and diagrams which I can't easily post here, so please look for it appearing here:

See also his comments on the commission itself here:

Daniel Wimberley: Main submission, part one

Note to commissioners: this first part of my main submission focuses on just one class of member - the Constables.  I will deal with all other issues in part two.


It is my firm belief that the Constables should not be in the States.  This would not weaken the parish system, quite the reverse.
The arguments are very clear.  First, their presence in the States contradicts the principle of fair representation - that each vote shall be of equal weight. With the Constables in the States some voters are worth very much more than other voters.
Any attempt to keep the Constables in the States and then to correct the unfairness will generate an equal and opposite anomaly.
Second, they are mostly not elected in the normal sense of the word.  Some become Constables unopposed.  Many remain Constables unchallenged. This suggests that their role is seen as non-political, which is borne out by their being in the States ex officio.
I think it is generally accepted that they are seen primarily as 'mother or father of the parish' and only secondarily as politicians - people who decide on policies, programmes and laws affecting the whole island. This is not a criticism, just a statement of fact.
This issue of the Constables not being elected is linked to the question of democracy within the parish system and how the parish system can and should be rejuvenated.
Third, and no doubt linked to the preceding, the Constables, as a group, do not do their fair share of States work.  I present detailed evidence to show that this is so, just as it was 10 years earlier, when Clothier did the same research.
This is highly relevant when there is so much talk about reducing the number of States members.  It also raises the question of remuneration.  They are not paid for the work they do in their parish, for which they are "elected", but they are paid, the same as other States members, for doing the work which they do ex officio.
So there are real problems with the Constables being in the States.  They contradict the principle of fair votes; they more often than not are not elected in the normal sense of the word; and they do not do the same amount of work as other members.
Those who defend the position that they should be in the States mainly argue from tradition and they say that the Constables being in the States is a vital support for the parish system.  They also say that the Constables represent the views of their parishioners in some special way.
I suggest that we must be mature and discerning in our approach to tradition, not slavishly following it but selecting what to keep and what to discard.  I show that maintaining and enhancing the parish system depends in no way on the Constables being in the States.  And I show that the notion that they represent the views of their parishioners in some special way is deeply flawed.
I close by pointing out the political function of the Constables and why it is so important to the ruling group that they stay in the States. I do this so that it is completely in the open what is at stake here politically. [1] This helps the public, the Commission, and anyone reviewing this process for whatever reason later on.

[1]    For example, it helps to explain why the Electoral Commission was changed by the States, at the prompting of Senator Bailhache, now the chairman of the Commission, to be non-independent. I would prefer not to be cynical like this but unfortunately all the other signs point the same way.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The Unelected Classes of States Member - the Dean

The Commissions' brief is to consider:

"The classes of States member"

"all other issues arising in the course of the work of the Commission which are relevant to the needs stated above"

While the Commission website focuses on the elected members of the States, surely it should consider ALL classes of States Member, and to ignore the unelected, ex-officio members of the States is to diminish the scope of its terms of reference - which nowhere state that it is elected members alone that should be considered in its four paragraphs.

In this respect, two members of the States should be considered - the Bailiff and the Dean. In this submission, I'd like to focus on the Dean, and put forward a framework in which the Dean's continued presence in the States could be validated.

I'll start by looking at February 2009, when there was a discussion on the role of the Dean in the States. In this debate, Deputy Paul Le Claire asked the following questions:

Is the Dean representative of the vast majority of the Island's religious attendees?  Does his moral guidance extend from his religion through to all people in Jersey?  Are these questions necessary to us?  Can they be satisfied?  Unless we have a review they will not be satisfied.

The Lieutenant Governor and the Dean are both eloquent and hard-working and very nice individuals.  I personally like them both, but it is not about whether or not we like these individuals, and 9 times out of 10 we are going to because these sorts of appointments are made to capable individuals, affable people.  It is not about the individual.  It is about whether or not we have a fully functioning democracy in Jersey.

If we are going to have moral guidance, is it right in this day and age that we appoint a particular religion to give us that moral guidance because that particular religion happens to be hundreds of years old?  That moral guidance and that political direction and that Christian direction may suit me, and largely the advice and the contributions that the Dean has made do suit my way of thinking, but they do not necessarily suit the entire population's way of thinking.

The Constable of St Helier, Simon Crowcroft commented:

Let us accept that, certainly in the case of the Dean, there is an opportunity for a Dean to influence political matters.  I am not saying that this Dean does that, but clearly there is an opportunity because the Dean is able to speak.  I think it would be a serious shortcoming if this review were to proceed without reviewing that role.

While Stuart Syvret, then a Senator, commented:

We are a multi-denominational, multi-faith society now and the concept that merely one representative of one denomination has an official seat in this Assembly would appear to me to be certainly unsustainable, but nevertheless, even if Members ultimately agree or disagree with that view, what possible objection ... or let me rephrase that, what possible credible objection could there possibly be to examining the subject and taking a review of it?

I've no really seen any really coherent arguments against these apart from the well-worn "time immemorial" one that I remember from Frank Falle's history lessons - it used to be always an argument used by Jersey people (usually landowners) against removal or questioning of their rights.

This is the variant of it given by Deputy Ian Gorst:

I am absolutely 100 per cent behind the position of the Crown and the established church in this community.  This is our history.  We should not just turf it out, turn it aside; it is the bedrock upon which this society and this community was built.  I am, and I recognise that I am, an incomer; I have married into a Jersey family.  Perhaps that puts me in a position of wanting to support and fight for the traditions of this Island in a way that some people who have been here for generations perhaps do not.

Now while I can see dangers in wholesale adjustments to the political system, the problem with this argument is that it could equally well have been applied in the 1940s, just before the Rectors were removed from the States. Yet no one today would deny that the change in 1948, when the Rectors were removed from the States, was a necessary one. But back then, this argument could have been made with just as much force. So why keep the Dean as a special case?

I think to answer in part some of the criticisms levied at the role of the Dean, one would have to look further afield, at the position of the Bishops in the House of Lords. Now the Bishops can not only speak, they can also vote, so there is to some extent even less rationale for keeping them.

But Tom Wright, when Bishop of Durham, noted that there could be definite advantages to the non-elected House of Lords. He's speaking generally, but the main thrust of his argument has to do with the Bishops:

Our present system, where you have a non-elected House of Lords -- it is mostly people who have been selected by their peers through whatever business they're in or profession they're in who eventually get put in there -- has had a very good effect of having people who are not career politicians able to provide a very strong check and balance on people who are career politicians. (1)

He looks back at the way in which early Christians looked at power, and of course, they were living in the 1st century in a Roman Empire that was hardly a model democracy.

The early Jews and the early Christians were not very worried about how people came to power. They were very concerned about holding people in power to account. Somebody has a military coup: "OK. So-and-so is now in power. That's the reality. Let's not pretend. Let's not say, 'Oh dear, you weren't voted for, so we're all worried about that.' "No. You're in power. Now we are going to remind you what your God-given responsibilities would be." (1)

So he sees the advantage of having people like the Bishops as non-career politicians, who cannot really do more than persuade (the Upper House has largely lost its power since Lloyd-George's day), but who are independent in a way that a career politician, always with an eye to re-election, may not be. The Bishops can, to use a phrase of the Quakers, "speak truth to power".

There is no party whip to call them to order, and make them tow the party line, which is why they can stand up to speak out at injustices in the government of the day; seldom, of course, is that as strongly felt as in the Diocese of Durham, a mining community which has been variously dismembered by respective governments following their own agenda, and often (of course) with an eye to the more prosperous southern voters. Who can forget David Jenkins, the thorn in Mrs Thatcher's time. Tom Wright is also keenly aware of the ravages that the loss of an industry can have on community, as anyone who reads his book "The Cross and the Colliery" will see.

Clearly the Dean in Jersey can remind the Assembly - and Bob Key has often done so - that government is not just about managerial decisions and pragmatism, or about being provocative with an eye to votes from the disaffected electorate. But unlike the Bishops, he can only speak; his only voice is that of persuasion. It may be argued - as Simon Crowcroft does - that he can influence that States, but he can only do so by the cogency of what he says, and the strength of his arguments.

It's not that great an influence, except where he has respect for making wise contributions that may help clarify muddle, and ask valid question matters of social concern. And if he were to be a cantankerous, venomous arrogant individual like the Rev. Mr. Parker, of Oddingley, not only would he be properly ignored by States members, but complaints could be made to the Bishop of Winchester.

The comments by Tom Wright are echoed in the select committee interview with Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, where he notes that:

Our view is that a second Chamber should be composed so as to ensure the just use of power entrusted to the Government of the day, one which commands a majority in the House of Commons; so as to ensure true and impartial accountability, scrutinising and revising government legislation with a degree of independence not possible in the House of Commons; and so as to represent the diversity of what I and others have called non-partisan civil society and intellectual life. (2)

And he notes how Bishops are often better placed that career politicians to be in touch with grassroots.

One of the things that we hear most often in the Crown Nominations Commission from non-church representatives from the diocese who have been consulted is that they want someone who will speak for the city, speak for the county and speak for the region. That is not just a matter of empty words, as I think is shown by the number of diocesan Bishops who have served and continue to serve in regional partnerships, often in the chair. The rooted presence of the Church of England in every community of England and the committed membership of nearly 1 million regular weekly attendees gives Bishops personal access to a very wide spread of civil organisation and experience-perhaps wider than is enjoyed by many comparable public figures. Their personal contribution to the work of the House of Lords therefore draws not on partisan policy but on that direct experience, as well as engagement generally with questions of ethics, morality and faith. (2)

Rowan Williams also addresses the problem raised of the representation by one denomination in the States. Speaking of the Bishops, he notes that the Chief Rabbi is in favour of them remaining, because they can act as spokesmen for other faith communities, to ensure that they are also heard:

The Chief Rabbi has said that if the established church is removed from the public square, common values become more difficult to articulate. It is also fair to say that some Members of both Houses of Parliament look to the Bishops to offer a faith perspective, which they may sometimes hesitate to volunteer in their own right.(2)

Dr Williams said that the bishops "are not there to represent the Church of England's interests: they are there as bishops of the realm, who have taken on the role of attempting to speak for the needs of a wide variety of faith communities."

Finally, Rowan Williams notes that while change might take place, there will be a loss if change "is brought about in a simply formulaic way and if we have not addressed what we want the House of Lords to do before considering what composition and basis of appointment best deliver that function."

I'm not saying that the system with the Dean in the States is perfect, by any means, but there are some advantages to having an independent voice, not subject to the lure of ministerial office, or with an eye on the ballot box, neither of which may always be in the Island's best interest. But I've laid out here some of the rationale for keeping the Dean in the States. I expect some flack will come my way as a result!


Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Blue Moon

For information about the five meanings of a "blue moon", see my historical posting here. The next "Blue moon" is 31 August, according to one definition.

Blue Moon

There is a tide in life and death:
Currents flow with passing breath;
Waves break upon the sands of time,
The spray flies upwards, so sublime;
The blue moon has come this night:
Gravity's rainbow, subtle, slight;
In increments, it changes motion,
Slow builds the wave, a cumulation
Of time and change, a tidal flow.
Now gently lit, the flaming glow
Of blue candle, marked with iron
To harness flow, and thereby govern
The breaking crest of time this night;
Drawn down upon this candlelight,
An archetype is born this way,
That Selene may come to stay;
Moon beams fall upon the earth:
Flowing down, here is rebirth.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Astronomy and Science Fiction: Part 2 - Venus

The "Nebular Hypothosis" was a theory proposed for the formation of the solar system. It was first proposed in a very simple form by Kant in 1755, but the more mature development came with Laplace in 1796.

What this did was to provide a model for the formation of the solar system that explained how

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

With this model, the solar system forms from a hot rotating nebular of dust  and gas. As the rotating gas cools, the nebular decreases in size, but as it contracts, there is a corresponding increase in rotational speed. This would  throw out a rotating ring of gas and dust, which would be rather like the ring around Saturn, but composed of dust and gases. Gravitational forces would lead this ring to would contract along its orbit into a planet, and this would repeat, as the central nebula's speed led to further expelling of matter, causing the formation of the planets. So the gravitational collapse of the nebular gives rise to the sun and planets, and in particular, the further out a planet, the older it is, the closer to the sun, the younger.

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

If we take the case of Venus, Venus is seen as a cloud covered planet, and watery and humid, often with jungle where there is a modicum land, but with a great deal of water, and very little land.

In Robert Heinlein's "Between Planets", Venus is portrayed as a world covered in hot, steamy swamps, which are used to explain the constant,
unyielding cloud cover.   Edgar Rice Burroughs has a Venus which is a tropical world shielded from the heat of the sun by a perpetual cloud cover. C.S. Lewis story about Venus - Perelandra (in the Old Solar language) has the whole surface of Venus covered by an ocean upon which are free-floating islands - natural rafts of vegetation large enough to support animal life, and there is the exception of a single mountainous land-mass. Isaac Asimov's "Oceans of Venus" has a surface totally of water, colonised by human beings using giant underwater domes, where the native species are all aquatic.

Perhaps one of the best examples of this is John Wyndham's "The Man  from Earth", which is set in the far flung future of Venus, where the inhabitants have evolved into intelligent bipeds.  But at the time the narrator arrives in Venus, it is past the age of the dinosaurs, and starting the evolution of primitive mammals.

The man from earth arrived as part of a mining expedition, where rivally between two greedy corporations - Metallic Industries Incorporated and International Chemicals leads to a ship to sent to Venus by one of them to exploit the resources of that planet. This is how Venus appears:

It was not a landscape, for in every direction stretched the sea - a grey, miserable waste. Even our relief could not make the scene anything but dreary. Heavy rain drove across the view in thick rods, slashing at the windows and pitting the troubled water. Lead-grey clouds, heavy with unshed moisture, seemed to press down like great, gorged sponges which would wipe everything clean. Nowhere was there a darkling line to suggestland. The featureless horizon which we saw dimly through the rain was a watery circle

They land on an Island, where there is a hot tropical climate, which is the same worldwide.

Our island was permanently blanketed beneath thick clouds. One never saw the sun at all, but for all that the heat was intense and the rain, which seldom ceased, was warm.

The narrator is a saboteur for one of the companies, and kills off the crew one by one. Unfortunately, the space ship is destroyed as well, and he waits for a rescue that will never come; his company has also betrayed him. But as he explores, he gathers two four legged mammals as pets, and comes across a valley in which there are dinosaur like creatures:

Farther on an enormous head reared above the trees, looking directly at me. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before but thoughts of giant reptiles jumped to my mind. Tyrannosaurus must have had a head not unlike that. I was puzzled as well as scared. Venus could not be still in the age of the giant reptiles. I could not have lived here all this time without seeing something of them before

He discovers that this Valley - called by the later intelligent Venusians "The Valley of Dur" has unique properties -

"at some remote date in the planet's history certain internal gases combined in a way yet imperfectly understood and issued forth through cracks in the crust at this place, and this place only. The mixture had two properties. It not only anaesthetized but it also preserved indefinitely. The result, was to produce a form of suspended animation. Everything that was in the Valley of Dur has remained as it was when the gas first broke out. Everything which has entered the Valley since has remained there imperishably. There is no apparent limit to the length of time that this preservation may continue."

He succumbs to the gas, only waking after millions of years have passed, and the descendants of his four legged pets are the intelligent race on Venus. When he finally manages to communicate, they show him the Earth through a telescope:

Gratz looked back at the scarred pitted surface of the planet. For a long time he gazed in silence. It was like the moon and yet - despite the craters, despite the desolation, there was a familiar suggestion of the linked Americas, stretching from pole to pole - a bulge which might have been the West African coast. Gratz gazed in silence for a great while. At last he turned away. "How Long?" he asked. "Some millions of years."

There's a strong ecological message here - the great mining companies have exploited the earth, and all that is left is a barren planet, now devoid of life. Venus on the other hand, has evolved into a planet of intelligent life, and its climate has also changed to a climate not unlike that of Earth's temperate regions - "occasional clouds, occasional rain, warmth that is not too oppressive."

It's a perfect fit with Laplace's Nebular hypothesis, and the evolution of the planets also is mirrored by evolution on the planets. And it reflects
ideas about the cloud cover of Venus, and the idea that Venus is a planet at a more primitive state than earth.

It isn't until the middle of 1960s that we start to see a more accurate picture of the planet Venus as we know it today with the Mariner probes. And Venus is revealed, not as a watery swamp land, but a runaway greenhouse planet, a hell hole of sulphate clouds, with no water:

Radio observations published in 1958 showed an amazingly hot temperature, upwards of 600°K, around the melting point of lead. "It was very disappointing to many people," one of the discoverers recalled, "who were reluctant to give up the idea of a sister planet and perhaps even the possibility of life." Some astronomers worked up arguments that the radio measurements were misleading, representing something in the upper atmosphere, so that life might still exist on Venus. The matter was settled in 1962 when the spacecraft Mariner II flew past and showed unequivocally that the heat radiation came from the hot surface. (1)

And from Venus, the next exploration is an older world, within Laplace's Nebular hypothesis, that of Mars. My next posting on Astronomy and Science Fiction will look at that.


Sunday, 26 August 2012

Secrets of the Druids

The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids has a course in druidry, with different levels, which take the student to finally "graduate" as a Bard. There is no indication, in fact, that the system like that did actually exist. As Isaac Bonewits pointed out, Ross Nichols, the founder of the group, and a British college professor, mirrored academia with a semi-academic system, with Bards, Ovates and Druids being the equivalent of bachelor's, masters and doctors degrees.

The course materials for training are actually secret, and students have to pledge not to violate that secrecy. Now there's nothing wrong with any society setting up to do anything whatever, and having all kinds of secret passwords and practices, but it doesn't say that it does that on its website.

There's a hint in the FAQ though - "We create the course materials with as much care and attention to detail as possible. They are sent in the 'old-fashioned' way through the mail to you." A suspicious mind might also think that there is less chance of widespread dissemination if that is the case rather than by email. But the material is bound by copyright anyway, and there's no hint of any "hush hush" secrecy about the different grades; OBOD is a fairly opaque organisation. There is a rationale for this, one commentator notes:

"The Bardic grade just lays the foundations for the other two grades.  Philip explained the secrecy of the order to me in this way:  that it was not secrecy to be mysterious but because the material in the lessons is organized in a particular way to guide the student through a series of inward unfoldings and explorations.  Part of the process is not knowing what comes next, but waiting for that to be revealed after the preliminary seeds have been sown."

That's all very well, but it could also be a piece of very selected special pleading.

Part of the problem comes in that part of what it is purveying what it says are historical facts, yet those are not subject to critical scrutiny - in the same way that more public domain history is subject to peer reviewed analysis - and there is no check on what they might be saying is sheer nonsense. Where history is concerned, this is not a good idea. It is all too easy to control how people think by protecting a core  with secrecy. The course, after all, is a course of instruction. It's not clear how critical scrutiny can enter that. Even outside history, the realms of theology, for example, which impinge and draw on history, are open to review and critical discussion in a public domain. It's the fundamentalists who try to apply a protective shell, although they can't use secrecy to do this.

Wicca, as well, has the idea that "generally information must only be shared with those 'properly prepared', and that is the wording of the oaths of secrecy initiates are likely to be asked to make. " Where this covers ritual use, this seems quite proper, but again, where it covers history, it could well mean that the fantastical notions of Margaret Murray about witches is taken as gospel.

But where does instruction end and indoctrination begin? Where there is no critical scrutiny, the secrecy perpetuates an exclusive tradition, and the line is very thin. What would be much better, and what Isaac Bonewits and the reconstructionists were trying to do, was to created a body of shared knowledge and practice that was open to critical scrutiny, which is why Bonewits was so critical himself of various trends which he had come across.

Isaac Bonewits, founder of Ar nDraoicht Fein, asserts in his initial manifesto outlining the principles of ADF that:

there are some definite "nonfacts" about the ancient druids that need to be mentioned: There are no real indications that they used stone altars (at Stonehenge or anywhere else); that they were better philosophers than the classical Greeks or Egyptians; that they had anything to do with the mythical continents of Atlantis or Mu; or that they wore gold Masonic regalia or used Rosicrucian passwords. They were not the architects of (a) Stonehenge, (b) the megalithic circles and lines of Northwestern Europe, (c) the Pyramids of Egypt, (d) the Pyramids of the Americas, (e) the statues of Easter Island, or (f) anything other than wooden barns and stone houses. There is no proof that any of them were monotheists, or "Prechristian Christians," that they understood or invented either Pythagorean or Gnostic or Cabalistic mysticism; or that they all had long white beards and golden sickles (Bonewits 1984

This is a complete contrast to OBOD, which does state:

"Many people believe that the teachings of the Druids were lost with the coming of Christianity, and that we couldn't possibly be teaching authentic Druid wisdom."

OBOD, of course, can recover those:

"We believe these teachings were entrusted to future generations by being encoded in certain ancient stories. Within these stories we can find embedded entire programmes of Druidic training, which form the core of the teachings that we present in the training of the Order. In addition to this material, we draw on the wisdom of the Druidic triads, which were recorded by Christian clerics but which reflect much of the wisdom of their pre-Christian ancestors."

But how do you determine what is wishful thinking, and what is genuine in the "decoding" process? The Eddas, for example, are supposed to preserve aspects of Norse religion, but are at odds with the archeology. The blood offerings of horses, cattle and pigs during great indoor banquets, but the archaeology suggests outdoor sacrifices at the sites of sacred trees. The Bible suggests that the Israelites invaded Canaan after the fall of Jericho, but no such mass invasion seems to have occurred in the archeological evidence. The general practice of history writing was not history in the modern sense, but history reimagined, and often reflecting the culture of the day in what was important, how it was told. It's like taking West Side Story as the only narrative we have of a Shakespearean play and trying to piece together what the original must have been like.

Hypothetical reconstructions are entirely feasible, but weaknesses arising from the reconstruction can only be ascertained in a public peer-reviewed arena. By placing any reconstruction or "decoding" off limits, OBOD effectively closes off debate. But parts leak out, and one commentator noted that "Anyone who has read Ronald Hutton's Blood and Mistletoe will know that the history of OBOD as presented by OBOD is not consistent with the available historical information." This has now apparently been rectified, but the point of history is not just to replace one version with another; it is to engage in historical thinking. Otherwise, it may just be replacing one mythological framework with another one.

The fact that there is a complete framework - Bards, Ovates, Druids - which does have no firm footing in history makes one wonder just how far the "correction of historical errors" has taken place. That's part of the problem. "Celebration of the four Celtic fire festivals" is all very well, but it's decidedly suspect as to whether there were four such festivals that took place across the Celtic peoples. Indeed the very notion of Celtic, outside of a placement in linguistics (of Gaelic languages) is also highly suspect.

And of course, the whole aspect of a course to move up grades and become a druid would have excluded one of the most notable druids of modern times, Dr William Price (1800-1893).

One statement about Druidry (although this is not OBOD's) states (and notice how dogmatic this is!)

"1. Druid training takes around 7 years to complete - and I've NEVER come across ANYONE calling themselves a Druid/Ovate/Bard unless they had actually done the training.
2.   The full training - including correspondence work, research, Grove working sessions with others and One-to-one mentoring etc is about equivalent to a Masters Degree in stuff covered and the depth.  It is really very deep!"

Well, that would have thrown William Price out from being a druid! He became a druid after an visionary epiphany in the Louvre, and returning to Wales shortly after, set himself up as a druid. But then he had the benefit of living in an age where the commodification of knowledge and practice had not become rife.

Saturday, 25 August 2012


A poem about understanding the pattern in our life...

Time weaves a tapestry through life
Of love, of joy, of sorrow, and strife;
Unweave the rainbow, at a peril cost:
All shall be undone, all shall be lost;
So we reach instead to see the whole,
As if to find a way to though to control,
The weaving threads of life; But not so,
Because threads tightly bound just so;
Form one pattern, and we are too close
To grasp the whole. Ambition grandiose,
But doomed to fail, because of chance,
Plays a random factor that can enhance;
The pattern in ways unpredicted, strange,
The even order is broken by this change;
And we can only understand, apprehend,
When it is completed, at our very end.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Odds and Ends: Asbestos and the Constables Submission


A Jersey campaign group says there are 217 containers with asbestos in at the Energy for Waste Plant.  Save Our Shoreline (SOS) initially thought there were 40 containers with the material in, but there is actually more than five times that amount. SOS are concerned the units are not air or watertight, meaning asbestos fibres could seep out into the atmosphere.  If they do and are inhaled they can cause lung damage, although the symptoms can take many years to appear. Deputy Kevin Lewis, the Transport and Technical Services Minister, confirmed to Channelonline there are 217 containers and that a long term solution to handling asbestos needs to be found. He said: "It was my election pledge to get rid of the toxic ash and asbestos from La Collette and I remain committed to doing that."  Deputy Lewis insists there is no short term danger in storing the asbestos in containers, but admits they are not a long term fix. He has set himself a target of finding an alternative method within the next twelve months. (1)

Deputy Lewis has stated that "They are getting old now, I am happy with it as it is, in a sense it is double wrapped and sealed in containers but the containers are starting to rust." (2)

So are we to believe the containers will remain safe? The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality has a guideline on "Approved Asbestos Disposal Containers"

It notes that "Asbestos disposal containers do not have to be new. Containers may be used but must be in such a condition that
the structural integrity and impermeability of each container remains intact"(3). Important factors are that the containers are " free of all but minor rust" and "free of sharp creases and dents". Obviously the latter could impact on the wrapping material inside, if the dent caused the structural integrity of that to fail. It's not clear who can examine the containers at La Collette, or if there were any dents or creased, especially with the lifting of the containers, whether that would be reported on; it is certainly unlikely that it would appear in the public domain.

US Guidelines on hazardous waste also require that containers are labelled, not just of the kind of waste, but also the "Accumulation Date - the day, month and year that you first placed waste in the container" (3). Labels must be durable and not obscured by other markings.

Release of fibres or dust that could be inhaled is the main concern with waste asbestos. I've not been able to trace any incidents of storage containers breaking down, and causing environmental danger with asbestos, but there is, of course, always a first time. The longer the containers rust, the greater the risk to their structural integrity, whether in situ, or when attempts are made to move them.

Constables Again

It's been brought to my attention that Article 2(1) of the States of Jersey Law 2005 states the 12 Connétables are members of the States by virtue of their office. That Law states the Constitution of the States is as follows: "2 Constitution of the States (1) The States of Jersey are constituted as follows - - the Bailiff; - the Lieutenant-Governor; - 10 Senators, elected as provided by this Law; - the Connétables of the 12 Parishes of Jersey, who are members of the States by virtue of their office; - 29 Deputies, elected as provided by this Law; - the Dean of Jersey; - the Attorney General; - the Solicitor General. (2) All members of the States shall have the right to speak in the Assembly. (3) Only elected members shall have the right to vote in the Assembly." Under the definitions in that Law "elected member" means a Senator, Connétable or Deputy.

This means that while the Constables are "elected members" of the States under the definitions, it is "by virtue of their office" that they are members of the assembly. Now this may seem nit-picking, but the Constables are also members of other committees by virtue of their office - for example, the Constable of St Helier is the President ex-officio of the St Helier-Bad Wurzach Partnerschaft, and that of St Brelade is an honorary member of the St Aubin's Boat Owner's Association.

But it would be a strange use of language, surely, to say that they were "elected" to those bodies. If the Constable changes, the person taking over (by a public election for Constable) also appears as a member, but there is no specific election within the St Helier-Bad Wurzach Partnerschaft or the St Aubin's Boat Owner's Association. It is just that the Constable, whoever that might be, is a member. There is no election within the body itself.

So the presentation of the Committee of Constables which states that the Constable "is indeed elected to office in order with the Public Elections (Jersey) Law 2002" is in fact being rather disingenuous in its presentation. The procedure for elections is set out in the law, as it states "the same law which sets out the procedure for the ballot for the election of Senators and Deputies" - but they don't state that the reason why Constables are in the States is quite different, it is by virtue of their office. The said law, as in fact they point out, also lays down procedure for ballots for Procureurs du Bien Public and Centeniers, but they are not in the States. That part of the law is just about elections, not about membership of the assembly, which is stated elsewhere.

One oddity which no one has yet remarked upon was that the recent change in the law in May 2012, which revoked the Constables right to carry a warrant card, also gave the Procureur du Bien Public the ability to deputise for the Constable in the States if they are incapacitated for a long period, but because the position is an honorary one, they would not be paid. This seems a very bizarre situation, and singles out the Constables as quite different from the other classes of States member. I cannot think of any other government where members have effectively alternates to be present and vote in the States if they cannot be present because of incapacity. It is an anomaly which should be rectified if the Constables remain in the States.

I'm still in favour of retaining the Constables, for reasons stated clearly elsewhere in this blog, and I will not re-iterate my arguments. But if they do remain, they should do so on proper grounds, not on a spurious presentation to the Electoral Commission.

And why, oh why, did they end  by saying that the submission would "assist the Committee in its review in reaching a conclusion" which will "ensure the delivery of an effective and efficient public service at island and parochial level and provide 'joined up Government' for the benefit of all islanders". The banal phrasing and descent into cliché - "joined up government" does their submission no credit at all.


Thursday, 23 August 2012

School Uniforms

The whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school

- William Shakespeare, All the World's A Stage

There's been quite a lot in the news recently on the price of school uniforms, but that's not what this blog posting is about. Rather, I'm looking at the history of school uniforms, their function (as given by proponents), and how well school uniforms work.

School uniforms are a relative recent innovation. By relative, of course, I don't mean wholly modern, but it only dates from around the 16th century. Here it was the children who attended charity schools that first wore uniforms, to clothe them as cheaply as possible. But it was much more recently in the 19th century that the wearing of uniforms spread widely elsewhere:

Uniforms were first instituted in 16th Century England at the charity schools for poor children. It was not until the 19th Century that the great English public schools began instituting uniforms and even later for them to be widely accepted at state schools--especially state elementary schools. (1)

The reason for school uniforms was partly to prevent public school boys from competing in how they were clothed to show off their family wealth, strutting like finely dressed peacocks - all of which worked against any school ethos. Before uniforms were introduced, the expense on clothes was actually greater:

A school boy even in the late 18th Century could own a dozen shirts, almost as many cravats, half a dozen waist coats and tightly fitted breeches, hats, gloves, stockings, hankerchiefs, and heeled shoes. Their wardrobes became much more complicated in the 19th Century, especially as sports became more organized and specialized sport equipment became required. (1)

We catch a glimpse of the boundary between the older regime, and the newer public school ethos in the book Tom Brown's Schooldays, where bullying is, at first, rife, and the boys are largely left alone by the masters to indulge in all kinds of brutality against the weaker pupils. Games were chaotic, badly organised, and part of the change in regime was the taming of games into organised sports with rules and referees. Thomas Arnold, the educator who is probably the most famous for initiating the changes, took what was there, and made it a powerful instrument of conformity rather than anarchy:

He accepted the two great features of English public schools, the liberty allowed to all, and the power exercised by the senior over the junior boys, but he bent all his energies to bring it about that the liberty should not be mere licence, and that the power should be exercised for good and not for than evil, as had too often been the case. (2)

It is within this context that changes were made to tame the unruly school - including the introduction of school uniforms:

The English public school in the 18th and early 19th century had become anarchic, dangerous places in which boys from aristocrats and wealthy families as they wished and played voluntary games in whatever worn and battered gear was to hand. Interestingly many of our most popular modern sports (rugby, soccer, football, cricket, and baseball) originated in the informal, off rough and chaotic play of English school boys. Conditions were so bad that many parents refused to send their boys and instead had them educated at home until they were ready for university. The uniformity in clothing was one of the measures designed to replace chaos with disciplined order. (1)

So from a symbol of a charity school, of poverty, very swiftly school uniforms came to represent high status. This travelled across the empire as new schools were founded in the colonies:

The British school uniform followed empire as new public schools were founded in the colonies which adopted the styles set by the established schools--no matter how unsuitable to tropical climates. (1)

States schools began to follow the lead of the public schools, requiring uniforms. The Education Act of 1870 committed Britain to financing a modern school system for every child, and uniforms became widespread.

The advantages of school uniforms are given in a neat summary by David Jamison:

The major justifications for such policies include the following: Uniform policies; (1) eliminate outward evidence of class/income disparities, (2) reduce incidences of theft/violence over expensive brand names, (3) head off the possibility of gang violence resulting from the purposeful or accidental display of gang colors/symbols, (4) eliminate general distractions over the types of clothes worn or not worn by students, (5) recognizes the shared commitment among students of learning as the most important duty, and, (6) creates a sense of community within the school.

Opponents of uniform policies argue that the emphasis on uniform policies attract attention away from other policy changes that could and should be made toward improving the school environment and the process of learning. They also argue that school uniforms punitively constrain self-expression manifested through dress and therefore impinge on the rights of children. (3)

Jamison looks at clothing, and how uniform functions. He notes how

Clothing has served, probably as much or even more so than any other single aspect of material culture, as the symbolic representation of group identity (Eicher, 1995). Nuances of color, style and (drapery) can serve as the basis for in and out group identification (Roach and Eicher, 1979). (3)

Nowhere is this more prominent than in youth culture - outside of the constraints of school uniform, where young people, drawn in by peer pressure, have imbibed the advertising of brand as a powerful image of "coolness". It is frightening how little critical scrutiny is given by them to their own seduction by what Vance Packard called "The Hidden Persuaders". Jamison notes how:

The emphasis on "coolness", a term that, along with some derivatives, captures the essence of the adolescent value system, is so overwhelming that it pervades the thought, actions and speech of many adolescents (Widdicombe and Woffitt, 1995). According to Danesi "conformity takes place around outward features--looks, personal hygiene, body composition, clothes, language, music, and "one elusive but all important outwardly demonstrated inward state--Coolness" (1994).

The social appropriateness of the brand named clothes (the "totems" of this discussion) of adolescents in helping to establish and fulfill social roles and identity and the impact of peer pressure on the individual desire to obtain and to display brand named clothes is also apparent

Children lacking access to such symbols find themselves at a disadvantage relative to those who do. They are marked as unable to afford the symbols of adolescent belongingness, and therefore carry the negative stigma of poverty (Elliot and Leonard, 2004) or, perhaps even worse, are seen as unable to understand what the proper symbols are and are therefore marked as socially backwards. As children mature, brand names are often replaced by life-style specific clothing/uniforms that reflect specific interests (e.g.; musical genres) or attitudes (e.g.; the basic black of neo-punk nihilists). (3)

It's clear that we are back on similar grounds to the public schools before uniforms, where the style and kind of clothing is used to demonstrate an appearance of wealth. Of course, in the case of designer clothes, such wealth may in fact be deceptive, rather like the individual who is on income support payments but nonetheless manages somehow to have a smart phone. By phone companies pricing monthly charges, smart phone tariffs can become in reach, and again demonstrate an appearance of escaping the poverty trap.

School uniforms replace the adolescent means of identifying and boundary creation by means of brand names clothes with a single symbol; as such they run counter to the peer group, and its seduction by advertising.

Jamison notes that a survey on school uniforms suggested that a uniform policy "may result in a heightened sense of community and in the breaking down of social barriers that are based upon the ability of some children to dress better than others."

However, some parts of school uniform policy are inconclusive. Students attempt in various ways to personalize their "standardized" outfits in a manner that allows self-expression despite the perceived constraints of the uniform policy. Also:

Research regarding the effectiveness of school uniform implementation remains inconclusive. Supported by studies which indicate that school uniforms have little influence in reducing delinquency or gang activity, parents of a few students in districts with mandatory school uniform dress codes have challenged such policies in court (ETS, 1998)  (4)

There is another problem with school uniforms, which I can note from personal experience. While a uniform means that discrepancies over income are removed within the school, like the charity schools where uniforms began, they can act as a badge to identify poorer, less academic schools. In Jersey, there was a stigma attached to children who went to St Helier Boys or St Helier Girls. This was the equivalent of the Secondary Modern school in the UK - it was the place for those who had failed the 11 plus. The uniform was a distinctive badge that highlighted that failure.

The ending of the 11 plus, and the introduction of the Comprehensive School meant that the kind of stigma associated with the uniform diminished. But it is notable - in Jersey, for example - that States schools have a uniform which consists of trousers or skirt, white shirt, school tie, and a jumper with the school badge, where the private schools have blazers with the school badge on them.

In the case of Victoria College, this is an unmistakable garish black blazer with a golden trim around it; this replaced in the 1970s a much more subdued black woolen blazer with badge. A badge on a jumper is not instantly visible, but a blazer flaunts the school much more visibly.

Class distinctions can still be a side effect of uniform policy, and in this respect, we are still living with a legacy from the 19th century.

(3) Idols of the Tribe: Brand Veneration, Group Identity, and the Impact of
School Uniform Policies. David J. Jamison, Academy of Marketing Studies Journal. Vol: 10:1, 2006

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

The Unelected Classes of States Member - the Bailiff

This is my latest submission to the Electoral Commission.

It covers some ground previously in a blog posting, but has been reworded with some extra text. It seems extraordinary to me that the Terms of Reference do not mention whether they deal with elected or unelected States members - of which the Bailiff and Dean are surely there - but the Commission website excludes those in its list of types of member. It's clear that the terms of reference do not rule out any consideration of those offices, but the Commission, in its wisdom (!), has seen fit to restrict the way it interprets those terms of reference.

Daniel Wimberley (in the guest post on Trevor Pitman's blog) notes that:

One of them, Mr. Storm I think, said that bias is in the eye of the beholder. He completely ignores the fact that people have every reason to think the Commission is biased.

In the case of the Bailiff, given the Carswell submissions, Sir Philip Bailhache may or may not be biased, but he is certainly conflicted. How can he judge his own actions fairly, dispassionately? Or will the submission, and the whole question of whether the Bailiff should stay in the States be ignored, or put off for another day?

Laying my cards on the table, as will be seen, I have no objection to the Bailiff presiding over the States (although cost-wise, I'm not sure it is necessarily value for money), but I do have an objection to his right to veto - however finely you want to dress it up - any propositions put forward.

That's the key problem - not that he's in the Chair, but what he does when he's not in the Chair in the Chamber. When even an Advocate like Tim Herbert is patently ignorant of that power, that needs to be made more public: an unelected member of the States deciding on whether elected members propositions can be accepted by him or not, with no need to put anywhere on the public record that they have been rejected, with reasons why.

The Unelected Classes of States Member - the Bailiff

The Commissions' brief is to consider:

"The classes of States member"

"all other issues arising in the course of the work of the Commission which are relevant to the needs stated above"

While the Commission website focuses on the elected members of the States, surely it should consider ALL classes of States Member, and to ignore the unelected, ex-officio members of the States is to diminish the scope of its terms of reference - which nowhere state that it is elected members alone that should be considered in its four paragraphs.

In this respect, two members of the States should be considered - the Bailiff and the Dean. In this submission, I'd like to focus on the Bailiff, who has considerably more political power than the Dean.

While the Bailiff is President of the States, unless deputised to the Deputy Bailiff, the Greffier or even (as in the law), a States member (which has happened in the past), what is of more concern is not keeping order, making sure standing orders are adhered to, but what happens behind the scenes.

In a recent exchange with Deputy Mike Higgins, Deputy Higgins said that the Deputy Bailiff (acting on behalf of the Bailiff) had denied the opportunity to bring forward a proposition to the States:

I have asked for this proposition to be put forward to the States because I believe the States were misled by the former Minister for Home Affairs at the time. My matter of privilege is that you have denied me the opportunity to bring this proposition, which I think needs to be heard by the House and the decisions need to be made by the House, and I believe the public must be assured that information that was put out at the time is correct.

In reply, the Deputy Bailiff noted that "the arrangements are that when a Member wishes to lodge a proposition he or she needs to have the consent of the Bailiff before it is an option."

Propositions should, as Deputy Higgins himself mentioned, meet three tests -to be lawful, to corresponds with Standing Orders and not to be detrimental to States business. What emerged was that the Standing Orders make it plain that a Member has no right to lodge a proposition without the leave of the Bailiff.

This incident is significant because it shows an often overlooked power of the the Bailiff or Deputy Bailiff - the ability to use his power to block propositions again - this relates to Haut de La Garenne and the Historical Child Abuse Enquiry. Mike Higgins wants to open up a short piece of the transcript of an "in camera" debate on the suspension of Graham Power to the public gaze.

Importantly, it shows that there is a power to veto propositions held by the Bailiff (and by virtue of that office, devolving to the Deputy Bailiff). Note the way in which the Deputy Bailiff suggests that it is just a matter of form - "a Member has no right to lodge a proposition without the leave of the Bailiff. That leave has not yet been given.".

What is clear is that he has in fact blocked the proposition from Deputy Higgins, and if Deputy Higgins had not raised the matter, no one in the States would know.

Now I'm not objecting to his power to veto a proposition; the States must make their own mind on the powers of the office. But it cannot be good for open and transparent government if the Bailiff or Deputy Bailiff (unelected members) can veto a proposition, and that the grounds for that are not made public - or even the fact that he has done so.

This is something which is perhaps an overlooked section in the Carswell report on the role of the Crown Officers in the States. The report notes that:

Outside the Chamber, the Bailiff has to consider draft propositions and draft questions, which he must admit unless they contravene Standing Orders. The Bailiff may on occasion discuss these matters with individual members of the States. If questions are not properly framed, the Greffier or the Bailiff will regularly suggest amendments to address the defect and allow the questions to proceed.

It was represented to us by a number of respondents that although the Bailiff must apply Standing Orders in all decisions which he makes and is bound to give all members an opportunity to speak when they express a wish to do so, he nevertheless exerts a degree of political influence by the manner in which he carries out his function.

Members of the States may also suppose that the Bailiff has allowed political considerations to affect his application of Standing Orders, particularly when he has ruled against their submissions

Former Deputy Bob Hill made this plain in an interview he had with the Carswell committee:

There are problems where conflicts are clear, and my first conflict came when soon after being elected as a member of the States and we had a big debate on the sixth form college. And I felt really that there was an opportunity here for us to have an overall sixth form college, and I tried to lodge an amendment to include Victoria College as part of the sixth form college system, and it was refused. But, of course, I did argue with the Bailiff [Sir Philip Bailhache] and said, "Well, with respect, sir, you are Chairman of the Governors of Victoria College as well". He said, "Well, that doesn't come into it" and I said, "You allow me to put an amendment in about the ladies' college, but not allow me to put an amendment in". He said, "Well, I make the final decision".

Sir, I learnt at an early stage that there was no right of appeal, because that is the situation. You make your application to the Bailiff, and the Bailiff says you can have something or you cannot. That is the same for amendments and propositions in questions so, if one wants to ask a question, at the end of the day, it is the Bailiff that has the ultimate decision as to whether you can ask it or not.

In his written submission, Bob Hill summarised the lack of appeal against a decision, which might be conflicted:

At present the Bailiff is responsible for approving requests from Members when lodging questions, both oral and written, propositions, amendments and making personal statements. If the Bailiff rejects the requests there is no ability to appeal against that decision. I have personal experience and the current arrangements should not continue.

The lack of accountability, and the way in which the Bailiff could and did block questions and propositions came up in the public meeting that was held by Lord Carswell:

Deputy Le Claire stated that it could be difficult to separate the personalities from the offices they inhabited. He advised that he too had often been to see the Bailiff [Sir Philip Bailhache] in the Bailiff's Chambers en masse with other elected Members. He had personal experience of bringing propositions which had ultimately been refused. Deputy Le Claire admired the Bailiff; however, it was time for his role to be put to rest as the question continued to tear at the community. He hoped that the Panel could untangle the situation through its Review.

Mrs Corbett highlighted that the pertinent issue was the Bailiff's discretion in relation to decisions regarding questions et al. There would always be some form of discretion; however, it was not possible to subject these decisions to judicial review (as might otherwise be expected) given the Bailiff's judicial functions. Advocate Sinel advised that the Royal Court had no jurisdiction over the procedures of the States.

Former Deputy Paul Le Claire expanded on this in his written submission:

Censorship of Propositions: There have been occasions when States members, including me, have put forward propositions, only to have these amended, censored or ruled out of order by the Bailiff in his role as President or speaker of the States. This has happened in the context of matters which were potentially critical of the Courts and the judiciary, ultimately only being permitted without further delay by the Bailiff [Sir Philip Bailhache] in an amended proposition P62/20093. (That proposition related to my involvement in respect of a children case. My criticisms of the Court were vindicated in the Serious Case Review in respect of those children at paragraphs 8.14-8.18, 9.3 and 10 of the recommendations. Further concerns are highlighted subsequently in my submission).

States members (who have been duly elected by the people of Jersey) have consequently felt frustration when thus denied the right to debate an issue by virtue of a decision of an un-elected Crown appointee.

As former Senator Ted Vibert highlighted some 5 years ago that "The right to approve the content of questions and personal statements is a subtle power that controls a certain amount of what a member can say in the House. It will be argued that this vetting process is to ensure that there is no breach of Standing Orders but this power is discretionary and open to question"

"I would contend that there have been occasions in my own experience, where this power has been misapplied. Others have made the same point, the other Deputy and three Senators, one being myself when I was the holder of that office some years ago"

This was a point also made by Advocate Philip Sinel in his submission to Carswell:

The Bailiff is also President of the States Assembly. That is to say that he convenes all meeting of the States and presides over all sittings. He controls the debates and in particular controls the contents of questions which can be asked of the Government.

In practice the position as President of the States is one of enormous political power. He controls what questions may be asked in the States, he is able to refuse to table questions such as might embarrass the Government, which he heads, himself or his supporters.

Advocate Tim Herbert, in his submission to the Carswell Review, stated that

The title "President of the States" is just that. It does not connote political power.

But Advocate Herbert is mistaken. Clearly, the ability to rule a proposition out, and not allow the States to vote on it, as appears to be the case with Deputy Higgins, does connote political power.

But it is a subtle form of power behind the scenes, which is not usually in display, for which there is no means of appeal, and no way to call the Bailiff to account for using his powers to veto any question or proposition. That's probably why Deputy Higgins wished to raise the matter in the States, to call to account that this was happening.

Obviously, there may be occasions where such a veto is justified under the Standing Orders of the States, but as Deputy Higgins states, there are no reasons that he can see why his proposition has been rejected. It is currently being reconsidered, but will if it is rejected, will the reasons be made public?

They have not in the past, and this is a serious lack of transparency at the heart of the Bailiff's power. By all means he should be able to veto propositions, as it is within his powers, but he should also make available to public scrutiny the reasons for this, if this is requested.

I have no objection to the Bailiff remaining President of the States, but - because his office is not open to election at the Ballot Box, the power of veto, behind the scenes, should not be exercised by an unelected and unaccountable individual.
Clearly the Committee should consider this, and they should also consider whether Sir Philip should excuse himself from any decision, as the evidence of a veto, as noted by Carswell, would mean that he is conflicted from his time in office; he is hardly likely to be an impartial judge of his own actions.

This would be a similar step in a way, to the Bailiff's consultative panel, which was formed after it was decided that the Bailiff himself needed a wider forum to discuss matters rather than summarily ruling on whether shows could be performed or cinema films be shown (soon after, notoriously, one Bailiff banned "The Life of Brian").

One individual cannot often see their own bias, which is why that body came about. A similar reform should be considered by the Committee at the very least, and certainly there should also be provision to appeal.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012


My comments about the Constables in my last posting raised a lot of flack, which I am very pleased about.

Reading the electoral commission submissions, they seem about evenly divided over whether the Constables remain. I agree wholly that voter parity does not sit well with the Constables in the States, which is why my argument that they should remain is based on the Sherman Compromise in the USA, which I still think has some validity; it was designed to ensure that smaller States could not be run roughshod over by larger States. The opposite is the UK, where despite fine words about devolution, while County Councils deliver a range of services, they are at the mercy of Central Government, which in principal means the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. That's the situation we will get in Jersey with the Constables out of the States.

Some people may welcome that, but I distrust the centralisation of power, which is also why I think a healthy Trade Union movement is a good counterbalance to Government. And I'm not sure our current one is that healthy at all. I don't want massive strikes, but I want a Trade Union movement that has sharp teeth to negotiate with, not one with false teeth that can't protect workers interests. It was amazing how people praised the late Rene Liron, yet when he was in office, there were plenty of insults and jibes against him, and talk of holding the Island to ransom. We catch a glimpse of that from a comment in the JEP in 2009 - "All this goes back to the 1970's & 1980's when Rene Liron and friends managed to negotiate unreal pay rises for public employees." Nothing of that sting in the glowing obituaries. It's always easier to praise a dead person than the living; they can't annoy you!

But not a lot of attention has been given to the Deputies. Some truly bizarre suggestions have been made in the submissions. One said there should be one Deputy per Parish, a truly odd suggestion, but there have been a lot of suggestions that the number of Deputies should be cut, and in particular, St Helier has too many Deputies. The idea of voter parity seems to have gone out of the window. However, there is a certain degree of support for the Clothier model, or a rough rearrangement of it, which might even give St Mary a vingtaine from St Ouen for numbers, to keep the Deputy Parish link. I'm in favour of breaking that. Deputies in smaller constituencies, such as the rural districts - or even St Brelade Number 1, mean that the first past the post system doesn't reflect the popular vote in the way that the Senators or Deputies elections with 3 or 4 seats do.

Instead, the Deputy of a smaller rural district, one in, can if they are clever, hold onto that district, and yet behave in paradoxical ways, because they represent a mixture of Parish and Island issues. One expects the Constables to focus on Parish issues. But Deputies will focus on Parish issues that are supporting the Parish, perhaps against the States, yet on matters like GST and other Island issues, they will pretty well ignore the electorate - in our example, they don't need to vote against GST because they have enough popular Parish support - they attend Parish events, Parish meetings, Battle of Flowers, take up Parishioners concerns, and get themselves seen out and about. One would hope they would, but because there's a Parish link to the Deputies, that ensures that even if the Parishioners disliked their policy on Island issues, it doesn't feature heavily in the manifesto - Parish trumps, and comes first.

So I expect a lot of resistance from Deputies who see themselves, and their constituency base, threatened by a move to larger electoral districts. I've even been told by one St Lawrence Deputy that he certainly doesn't want to be part of a larger constituency. He attends energetically to Parish affairs, and - yes - he voted for the Waterfront with its sunken road, and for GST, and still got in. The Parish is Top Trumps.

If Deputies are to be better representatives for Island issues, it is important that that Parish link is diminished. Larger constituencies will do that. A Deputy will have to address local concerns of a much larger area - perhaps Jersey West - St Brelade, St Ouen, St Peter. Of course, they can still take part in Parish events in the Parish in which they live, but that will have to be second in their manifesto, not first.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Electoral Commission Watch

A light snack at lunchtime with my father, who viewed my electorial submissions with some dismay. He is not in favour of keeping the Constables in the States. It was the old argument - "if they want to stand, let them stand as Deputies". All well and good, but then he went on to say how he thought (from many years experience, going back to the 1950s), that a lot of the Constables didn't do very much anyway - he made an exception for his own Constable, Simon Crowcroft, whom he said did a good job.

That's all very well, but if the Constables are removed from the States, and can stand as Deputies if they want, who are the ones who are most likely to do so? Those from the smaller rural Parishes, with a lesser workload, I imagine.

After all, if Simon Crowcroft, as Constable, stood as Deputy in a States without the Constables, wouldn't someone standing as Deputy against him be likely to say: "I can commit to be your Deputy 100% of my time. If you vote for Constable Crowcroft, you'll have someone who has to devote at least half of his time to Parish matters." In the smaller rural Parishes, however, the Constable could stand and say "My duties as Constable are very light, and I'll have plenty of time to participate in the States". So I think the reverse of what is intended would be the result: the Constables with smaller rural Parishes, some of whom may well be lazy (although I've only head that said of one), would be the ones most likely to get in as Deputies.

Meanwhile, the transcripts of the hearings continues to lag behind - it is still in July, and I wonder if Ian Gorst's will appear on the site before the closing date at the end of August, so that we can examine in detail what he said. It means it is difficult to present any submission to take into account the Chief Minister's point of view and address it. Michael Dun may well catch up with me, in the meantime. He's up to his third submission.

David Castledine's submission has suggested compulsory voting to boost numbers, as in Australia. I think that would be a violation of people's rights, turning the Island close to a police state - unless there is an option to vote for "none of the above".

To save embarrassement from large numbers of spoilt papers as protest, the Australian system counts them as "informal votes", which sounds so much better than "protest votes". In 2010, more than 600,000 Australians lodged informal votes at the federal election after former Labor leader Mark Latham advocated blank ballots in protest against the political system. He had also stated that he did not think it was fair for the government to force citizens to vote if they don't have an opinion or threaten them into voting with a fine.

Some of those votes were blank, but some could have been due to mistakes in numbering in the preferential system. Nevertheless the figure was 5.65% of the ballots cast compared with only 3.95 per cent at the 2007 election.

This was deemed by the Australian Electoral Commission to not break any election laws, despite Chief Justice Barwick's opinion that voters must mark the ballot paper, and Justice Blackburn who thought that it was a violation of the election laws. Of course, if there is a secret ballot, no one can prevent anyone spoiling their paper; conversely, if someone was taken to court for spoiling their ballot paper, it would mean that the ballot was not truly secret, and the whole system of democracy would be exposed as a hoax in that country.

Paul F.D. Letherbarrow's submission, as well as removing Constables, says that "It is essential to re-draw boundaries to create democratic balance. The current system does not allow true representation. In setting boundaries it is important to ensure as best a demographic mix of socioeconomic classes as possible."

That's all very well, but it is far easier to group Parishes, say St Brelade, St Peter and St Ouen to form "Jersey West", and decide the number of deputies to have parity with other large districts, than it is to decide on arbitrary boundaries with all the costs involved. Populations of Parishes are a matter of record. An artificial boundary is not only more prone to gerrymandering - just look at the controversy in the UK - but also means confusion for the electorate. It is difficult enough for the poor devils in St Helier with all the different districts.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Philosophical Investigations: The Limits and Importance of Locality

The BBC has an interesting story about Ramadan. In Northern Finland, the hours of daylight are at present extensive:

Practising Muslims across the world are observing Ramadan. For one month, they are fasting between first light and sunset. But what do Muslims do in a town where the sun never really goes down?

The town of Rovaniemi in Finland lies in a land of extremes. At 66 degrees north it straddles the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland. During midwinter it is cloaked in total darkness. But in the summer it is bathed in daylight. The long days pose a particular problem for fasting Muslims like Shah Jalal Miah Masud.  The 28-year-old moved to Rovaniemi - 830km (515 mile) north of the capital, Helsinki - from Bangladesh five years ago to study IT. He has not had any food or water for 21 hours. And he laughs: "It doesn't get dark. It always looks like the same, the sun is always on the horizon and it's quite difficult to get what the time is actually right now," he says. (1)

But there are ways to avoid the problems with "the land of the midnight sun", to mark the duration of fasting hours by the rising and setting of the sun in countries far to the south of Finland.

Dr Abdul Mannan - a local Imam and president of the Islam Society of Northern Finland - says there are two schools of thought. "The Egyptian scholars say that if the days are long - more than 18 hours - then you can follow the Mecca time or Medina time, or the nearest Muslim country time," says Dr Mannan. "The other (point of view) from the Saudi scholars says whatever the day is - long or short - you have to follow the local time." Dr Mannan says the majority of Muslims in northern Finland observe either Mecca's fasting hours or Turkish time because it is the nearest Muslim country to Finland. (1)

But the way in which doubts creep in can be seen with Nafisa Yeasmin, a researcher at the University of Lapland; for her, choosing when to fast has not been an easy decision. "It was very difficult to follow because in Bangladesh we are used to 12 hours' daytime and 12 hours' night-time," she says. "Then I thought, not any more. I have to follow Mecca's timetable. But I'm a little bit worried whether Allah will accept it or not."

It shows how localised geographical customs can cause problems because they were not originally created with universal practice in mind, in a world where geography can effect how they are practiced.

The problem is not one just for Islam - Wicca, and Neopagan revival traditions which follow the "Wheel of the Year", have reverse their practice in the Southern Hemisphere. Celebration of Samhain, which takes place on 31 October, the secular Halloween, has been swapped with Beltane, on the grounds that it precedes the winter solstice, which takes place in Australia and New Zealand in the Northern hemisphere's summer. That of course has its own problems - the equatorial regions do not have a solstice, so presumably any Wiccans living in Africa (if there are any!) would follow a Northern or Southern pattern, much like the adaptation of Islam.

But what of space? The International Space Station has its own rhythms of day and night, and certainly doesn't have a solstice in the traditional sense. If there were moonbases, or even settlements in the future on Mars, how would they adapt to the new geography, and where would Muslims turn to face Mecca? It's hard to bow down when the line of sight might be overhead.

In contrast, Christianity is not time bound to locality, but has its own circular time mapped onto calendar months. That's all very well, but in a possible world, travel towards near light speeds would cause "slippage", and which time basis would be used then? On the earth calendar, the parallel earth seasons would slip by in days or even hours.

That's not to say that local customs don't have their place. The celebration of geographical custom, in a particular locality, undoubtedly has a strong effect in binding people to the rhythms of the seasons. This still persists even in secular society with folk customs - in Jersey, cider making in the autumn, black butter making on dark nights as winter begins, all bring community together. That's one function of both shared customs and rituals. If we forget the seasonal aspects of life, as urban industrial civilisation is prone to do, we are both poorer for that, and the detachment from the roots in the land and its seasons can lead to a dismissive attitude towards ecology and the environment, or one which fails to grasp the bigger picture - buying carbon credits as an offset to produce a large carbon footprint means there is no engagement with the issues at hand.

But we should treat locality lightly. To be worried if Allah will accept a custom or not shows what can happen if there's too rigid an adherence. The Egyptian scholars take a more pragmatic view. The Saudi scholars have a much rigid line. And it is the rigid lines that bring about fear, and the purpose of the ritual can be destroyed by anxiety. Neopagans often have a much more relaxed attitude to ritual - if something doesn't go quite according to plan, just carry on, don't worry. Any ritual, any custom, religious or secular, should be life enhancing, and also help us to engage with the world.

And tonight, there's the blessing of the waters at St Aubin's harbour; a reminder that engagement towards those go out in all weathers to bring the harvests of the sea, and those who risk life and limb in the lifeboats to rescue anyone calling for help:

All those
comfortable swabs
who sit at home
in their beam-ends
reveling in the luxuries
that seamen risk their lives
to bring to them...
and despising
the poor devils
if they so much as touch
a drop of rum, and--
and even sneering at people
who try to do them some good
like you and me.
(The Ghost and Mrs Muir)