Thursday, 31 January 2013

St Brelade Deputies - Deputy John Young

I'm doing a look at our Parish deputies in St Brelade, in a follow up to the current stalled proposition by Constable Sadie Rennard in the States about pay, and asked the Deputies some questions about that, but I also thought it was a good occasion to widen the scope of my enquiry, and ask some extra questions about their work in the Parish.

They have very kindly found time to reply, and consented to this information being made public.

I make no comment on the replies; these questions and answers are purely to be informative. I have a very strict personal code of conduct on information supplied in this way, which should not be presented selectively or with spin of any sort. So here are just questions and answers, and nothing more. In fairness to the Deputies, I won't be allowing comments, but I will ask them any questions arising from comments.

Over the next three days, I'll be posting their responses, and here is the final one - Deputy John Young:

1. Did you take the pay rise, or refuse it?
I have refused to accept the pay rise and will be paid at the pre-existing rate

2. If you took the pay rise, are you donating all of it to charity? If so, which charity/charities?
Not applicable, see above

3. If you took the pay rise, and are donating it to charity/charities, will you continue to do so for this term of office?
Not applicable, see above

4. Do you have parish surgeries? (If you can supply any details, that would be great)
I have held three parish surgeries jointly with other members at Le Quennevais and St Aubin , but to be frank although advertised they were not well attended, so I have not arranged further. I find the majority of contact I receive from constituents or from the public are by phone ( mobile 07797 713273 and home 743677) an by emails to my personal email jhyoung@suakin.com<mailto:jhyoung@suakin.com> or J.young@gov.je<mailto:J.young@gov.je> . all contacts are publicly available and i receive several calls a day and many emails more than sufficient to keep me working a full day and into the evening including weekends . I take on work from other parishes on planning issues at request of people on other districts of the island and other States members . I visit most people who contact me personally at their homes

5. Do you think Deputies should, if possible, be elected in the Parish in which they are living (at the time of election)
Yes , I live in the district

6. What do you think are the most important Parish issues that need addressing? (only reply if you have time)
Planning - managing pressures of development , traffic management , parking in St Aubins , affordable homes , sheltered housing

7. Do you try and attend notable public Parish events? (e.g. Jubilee celebrations last year, Christmas celebrations at St Aubin)
Yes to parish meetings and civic events , active in our jubilee fete this year but have not been able to attend all social events as not my main strength .

8. Do you communicate with the Constable on a regular basis, or an ad hoc basis?
Yes regularly and ad hoc - Steve is copied into all my emails on parish matters , we speak frequently and working on parish initiative. Steve is a member of scrutiny and we discuss issues frequently.

9. Do you communicate with your fellow Deputies on a regular basis, or an ad hoc basis?
Yes regularly and ad hoc , Monty and I sit next to each other in the states , discuss policy frequently and share membership of scrutiny and Machinery of Government review groups. Sean is a member of scrutiny and chair of planning panel and we have much common interest we speak frequently and discuss issues . If meetings are organised by the Constable I think we all attend as far as is possible. My preference is for regular frequent informal communication which works well trying to get things done in the States under the Ministerial system of government . In my view , this system needs to be improved.

10. Can I make this information public?
Yes , if you wish

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

St Brelade Deputies - Deputy Montfort Tadier

I'm doing a look at our Parish deputies in St Brelade, in a follow up to the current stalled proposition by Constable Sadie Rennard in the States about pay, and asked the Deputies some questions about that, but I also thought it was a good occasion to widen the scope of my enquiry, and ask some extra questions about their work in the Parish.

They have very kindly found time to reply, and consented to this information being made public.

I make no comment on the replies; these questions and answers are purely to be informative. I have a very strict personal code of conduct on information supplied in this way, which should not be presented selectively or with spin of any sort. So here are just questions and answers, and nothing more. In fairness to the Deputies, I won't be allowing comments, but I will ask them any questions arising from comments.

Over the next three days, I'll be posting their responses, and here is the second of those - Deputy Montfort Tadier:

1. Did you take the pay rise, or refuse it?I have taken the rise. I have no problem in doing so, as I have consistently fought to secure cost of living adjustments for other workers in the island.

2. If you took the pay rise, are you donating all of it to charity? If so, which charity/charities?
I have agreed/decided  to support the following non-profit organisations/charities with the increase:  Reform Jersey, Jersey Hospice and Jersey Care Leavers.


3. If you took the pay rise, and are donating it to charity/charities, will you continue to do so for this term of office?I give according to my means and future generosity will depend on future means.

4. Do you have parish surgeries? (If you can supply any details, that would be great)Yes. Currently, the St Brelade reps hold joint ones. I will be recommencing personal ones from the Horse and Hound on Monday evenings. Details to follow on my blog.

5. Do you think Deputies should, if possible, be elected in the Parish in which they are living (at the time of election)Ideally in the same district. But most important is that they are perceived to have strong links to the parish; be available and in tune with the needs and opinions of constituents. After all, they are the districts representative in the States. It is for the voters to decide ultimately.

6. What do you think are the most important Parish issues that need addressing? (only reply if you have time)As a States Member, many of the issues facing the parish are the same for the whole island. I cannot speak for the whole parish, as I represent only one district which happens to be in the Parish. Nonetheless, the big issues of interest to residents are:
1) The provision of a new or revitalised secondary school (Les Quennevais) - this affects a very large catchment area, not just St Brelade. Notwithstanding  the schools excellent performance, it is far too small now for its intake.
2) Provision of a new Hospital for ALL islanders.
3) Regeneration of Les Quennevais, including parking, road maintenance and green spaces. Les Quennevais is one of the most densely populated areas in the island, yet has been neglected by the States (and previously the Parish). Ideally, I would like to see a masterplan with joined thinking for the whole area.

7. Do you try and attend notable public Parish events? (e.g. Jubilee celebrations last year, Christmas celebrations at St Aubin)Yes

8. Do you communicate with the Constable on a regular basis, or an ad hoc basis?We have regular meetings, but also ad hoc when issues arise.

9. Do you communicate with your fellow Deputies on a regular basis, or an ad hoc basis?We have regular meetings, but also ad hoc when issues arise.

10. Can I make this information public?Yes


Tuesday, 29 January 2013

St Brelade Deputies - Deputy Sean Power

I'm doing a look at our Parish deputies in St Brelade, in a follow up to the current stalled proposition by Constable Sadie Rennard in the States about pay, and asked the Deputies some questions about that, but I also thought it was a good occasion to widen the scope of my enquiry, and ask some extra questions about their work in the Parish.

They have very kindly found time to reply, and consented to this information being made public.

I make no comment on the replies; these questions and answers are purely to be informative. I have a very strict personal code of conduct on information supplied in this way, which should not be presented selectively or with spin of any sort. So here are just questions and answers, and nothing more. In fairness to the Deputies, I won't be allowing comments, but I will ask them any questions arising from comments.

Over the next three days, I'll be posting their responses, and I begin with Deputy Sean Power, as he was the first to reply.

1. Did you take the pay rise, or refuse it? I refused the pay rise and I am donating the same amount to Caring Hands. Therefore I am handing away or refusing £1,632.00.

2. If you took the pay rise, are you donating all of it to charity? If so, which charity/charities?  Refused the pay rise, see above.

3. If you took the pay rise, and are donating it to charity/charities, will you continue to do so for this term of office? Refused the pay rise, see above.

4. Do you have parish surgeries? (If you can supply any details, that would be great)
Just agreed with Constable [Steve Pallett] and Montfort [Tadier]. 1st Friday of every month bar August at Communicare

5. Do you think Deputies should, if possible, be elected in the Parish in which they are living (at the time of election)?
Many Deputies do not live in their electoral district such as Bob Hill and were returned many times. It is preferable but a moot point

6. What do you think are the most important Parish issues that need addressing? (only reply if you have time)
Construction of a new Quennevais school, H1 and H3 housing out west, parking in Quennevais Park and Clos des Sable, parking in St Aubin under one statutory authority such as the Parish, neighbourhood disputes, static cars and vans parked for months at a time on estates and Parish roads.

7. Do you try and attend notable public Parish events? (e.g. Jubilee celebrations last year, Christmas celebrations at St Aubin) 
Yes

8. Do you communicate with the Constable on a regular basis, or an ad hoc basis?
Yes with this Constable . Not with previous.

9. Do you communicate with your fellow Deputies on a regular basis, or an ad hoc basis?
Yes

10. Can I make this information public?
Yes

Monday, 28 January 2013

Architectural Ancestor Worship

A COUPLE whose home is 'so cold it's like living outside' have been refused permission to replace their ancient timber windows. The pair say that their old single-glazed windows are in such poor condition that they let in drafts, rain and, last week, snow. This winter, which saw a cold snap hit in mid-January, left them needing to wear two jumpers while they sat at home. (1)

This is, of course, a listed building, hence the reason for the rules. I have a great deal of sympathy for listing sites of special interest and buildings, as most of those that are of a particular interest to me, namely the dolmens and menhirs of the Neolithic era, are only preserved in part; the Victorian antiquarian drive to preserve history came too late for all of them as complete wholes, and only Hougue Bie still survives.

But people don't actually live in dolmens; they do live in houses. Most houses have been changed over the centuries, added to, build upon, as a reading of Old Jersey Houses makes clear. When the earliest old Jersey farmhouses were being built, as with the Great Houses in England, there was no electricity, no hot and cold running water, no telephones etc. All of these were intrusions into the original fabric of the buildings, and sometimes difficult ones, but ones that were felt to be necessary.

Apart from the light switches on the wall, and in the ceiling, and the hot and cold taps in the bathroom, these are buried deep inside the building, behind the walls, and we are so used to flicking a light switch, and seeing a light bulb come on, that for the most part this is invisible to us. A visit to the Jersey museum, where restored floors of a merchant's house can be seen, and there is flickering gas lighting, provides a very different picture. I don't think the most fervent conservationist wants to turn the clock back, and insist that a listed building, still lived in, have all the accretions of the centuries removed, gas lighting - or candles - reinstated, and plumbing torn out. That would be seen as a step too far. As long as it is hidden, it is fine.

But there is a prejudice against items that appear outside the building like windows, which has even extended, from time to time, to television aerials or satellite dishes. That windows they can be replaced sympathetically with modern materials is frowned upon, and permission is refused for double glazing. It is forgotten that the purpose of a house is that people should live in it, not that it should be preserved as some kind of mausoleum to the ancestors.

It is not as if these buildings are in danger of demolition; that is not the case. Buildings are for living in, after all, and that should be the fundamental importance, not a place where apparently there are icicles inside in cold icy weather. I realise that questioning the popular mantra is not a popular one, but I think it is important when fundamental human values get overlook because of a new kind of fundamentalism.

The common features of fundamentalism is that they are rigid, inflexible, unbending, and that they leave human considerations out of their equation. There's an interesting Father Brown story by G.K. Chesterton, called "The Doom of the Darnaways", which tackles this attitude to architecture head on. Chesterton was an artist as well as a writer, so he knew both the merits and dangers of a purely aesthetic approach to life, and why it was important to put people first:

'I tell you to think about something else,' replied the priest cheerfully. 'What has become of the rising art of photography? How is the camera getting on? I know it's rather dark downstairs, but those hollow arches on the floor above could easily be turned into a first-rate photographic studio. A few workmen could fit it out with a glass roof in no time.'

'Really,' protested Martin Wood, 'I do think you should be the last man in the world to tinker about with those beautiful Gothic arches, which are about the best work your own religion has ever done in the world. I should have thought you'd have had some feeling for that sort of art; but I can't see why you should be so uncommonly keen on photography.'

'I'm uncommonly keen on daylight,' answered Father Brown, 'especially in this dingy business; and photography has the virtue of depending on daylight. And if you don't know that I would grind all the Gothic arches in the world to powder to save the sanity of a single human soul, you don't know so much about my religion as you think you do.'

Chesterton has sometimes been called "the apostle of common sense", and reading the story in the JEP, I can't help be struck by how little common sense seems to have entered into the decision made. I can only hope that the people living there do not die of hyperthermia, and that is not what it takes to bludgeon some common sense into the heads of those refusing permission. A little imagination, a little compassion, and a lot of commonsense is needed, and better before a tragedy than after it.

Links
(1) http://www.thisisjersey.com/news/2013/01/26/freezing-couples-plea-rejected/

Sunday, 27 January 2013

The Crisis of Democracy

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves (Rom 13:1,2).

In April, Jersey is hoping to have a Referendum of three options before it. These are three options whereby people elect the people who govern, and have the ability to dismiss them - in four year - without bloodshed. They are three forms of democracy, although there are some who criticise some of the options as not being "democratic" enough.

But for much of history, democracy has not been something that people have had. In Jersey, for example, until the post-war reforms, those consisting the States of Jersey were the Jurats (there for life), the Rectors, the Constables and the Deputies. Only the latter two positions were elected by the common people.

In much of world history, there has not been a system whereby the people vote for their own government. Rather it has been a case of one ruler, a king or emperor, who is ruling, but who ideally rules justly, keeps the peace, and ensures the kingdom is in good order. What that is to you may depend on whether you are a lowly serf, or in Roman times a slave, or higher up on the rungs of society.

But the Roman Empire, for example, did keep the peace, it had armies part of whose purpose was not just to subdue the population, but also to ensure under Rome, good order continued. The roads to be kept free of thieves, the seas to be kept free of pirates. Piracy in the Mediterranean was a major scourge of the times.

So the early Christians were not very worried about how people came to power. They were very concerned about how people in power conducted themselves, and about holding people in power to account. The quotation from St Paul above can be seen as legitimisation of power by tearing it from context, but context is everything.

NT Wright's talk on "God and Government" delves into this, and highlights the problems that we find ourselves in with "democratic governments" that seem to ignore the people. He comments that:

Ever since the massive majorities of Margaret Thatcher, for most of the last generation we have had governments that could, and did, effectively ignore parliamentary process, with a very small number of people, sometimes only one, taking key decisions which nobody dared to
oppose and which were rammed through Parliament with scant regard for proper debate. A generation ago Lord Hailsham spoke of the need 'to challenge and frustrate the tyranny of the elected dictatorship'. (1)

Part of the problem here is the legacy of the enlightenment, in thinking that improved voting, universal suffrage, better voter parity etc will deliver Utopia, and the government will deliver the will of the people, and usher in Utopia. The other current in thinking about democracy, as seen in the works of Karl Popper, and mentioned by C.S. Lewis, is that people are not inherently good, they are corruptible, not least by power and the privileges of power, and democracy is the best of a bad job; better than an absolutist monarchy or tyranny, because it has mechanisms by which those in power can, to some degree, be held to account.

That's a more realistic view, but it is not one you are so likely to hear. I've always been struck by how newbies standing for the States in Jersey for the first time have a manifesto in which they promise they will do this, that and the other, almost ignoring the fact that they will have to persuade all the other States members to vote on those measures, and a majority to agree with them. Sometimes, they have clearly gauged how the States works, and make modest promises, but more often that not, they are promising Utopia. And Utopia is not what democracy delivers, to return to N.T. Wright:

We have all realised that voting every few years doesn't deliver Utopia, as some really did believe in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Here, with some caution, I stand partly at least beside Prince Charles: the French Enlightenment proposed that liberté, egalité and fraternité would follow universal adult suffrage, and were prepared to kill quite a lot of people to make the point. Almost nobody now believes this, at least in Europe (though in America the illusion is still widely, if precariously, maintained). Our politicians have to go on promising us Utopia, because if they didn't the press would pillory them; but this essentially modernist dream, of socially engineered progress leading to Paradise, sits increasingly uncomfortably with our postmodern electorate, trained now in the high arts of cynicism, of 'Yeah, yeah' and 'Whatever'.(1)

We have therefore a crisis of legitimacy, a government that may be democratically elected, with election boundaries redrawn periodically to make better voter parity, but what we end with is a kind of dictatorship, which can claim to have a legitimate mandate from the electorate. N.T. Wright argues that part of the problem for Christians is the way in which politics and religion have been torn asunder.

When Alistair Campbell said that 'Downing Street doesn't do God', he was merely putting into words what had been taken for granted for the previous two decades. Margaret Thatcher didn't even believe in society, after all - as the battered remnants of 'society' in some parts of our country ruefully attest. If she did believe in a God, that God was firmly locked up in the attic, while the individuals downstairs made money, made war, and made empires. (1)

Holding up a mirror to power is a primary ecclesial task, and reminding the authorities that they are not God is a major task. Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's press officer, said, "Downing Street doesn't do God." What happens when you do that is God gets kicked upstairs. He's pushed out of the system, which allows the present occupants of the office to occupy at least part of the space. So almost at once what we had was Tony Blair and others talking about, "We are going to go and solve the problem of evil."

That sort of messianic temptation is not diminished -- because it's actually enhanced -- by getting God out of the equation. It is the church's job to figure out how to put God back in the equation without going anywhere near something that could be seen as theocracy in the wrong sense. (2)

That leads us back to the purpose of government, and the saying of Paul. In its context, Paul is saying that a disordered society is one in which the bullies come to the front, vigilante justice takes hold, and even if you don't agree with the rulers, you need a government there; that's not to say it should not be called to account, but it is part of a fabric of links which ensure that society works. This is what N.T. Wright calls " the ambiguity of human authority."

God wants order in his world. If you don't have appropriate authorities in the world, the bullies and the bad guys always win. Oh, it's a thorough nuisance when the police stop us for speeding when we're driving down the highway, but if somebody steals your car or even something out of it, you want the police to be on the case and to sort it out. We do not actually want to live in a world of anarchy and chaos. We know that the bullies and the bad guys will always win. And I believe that we ought to be saying that globally right now as well. But those to whom authority is entrusted are always tempted to abuse it. Which is why in early Christianity and in the long Jewish tradition of critique of civic authorities, people aren't nearly so much worried about how people get to be in authority - how did they get there, by democratic means, by overthrowing a previous government, whatever - they don't seem to worry about that; they care very much indeed about what people do once they're in power. (3)

Many of the Old Testament narratives are about Royal and Priestly concerns; these were the rulers of ancient Israelite. And while David was elected King by popular consent, it was a hereditary monarchy. But monarchy can become corrupted; priests can become venal. The proper ordering of society to provide law and order can be perverted to use the law as a mechanism for injustice. The people themselves can accede to this corruption, when it is to their advantage to do so. Against this come the prophetic narratives, the prophets, whose concern is to speak up and remind kings, priests and people what they are supposed to be about. That is what prophecy is, not as has been misunderstood, about some kind of predictive ability, but about seeing the signs of the times, and sounding a warning of what will come to pass if matters do not improve.

We can sell worthless wheat at a high price. We'll find someone poor who can't pay his debts, not even the price of a pair of sandals, and we'll buy him as a slave." The LORD, the God of Israel, has sworn, "I will never forget their evil deeds. (Amos 8:6-7)

You are doomed! You make unjust laws that oppress my people. That is how you keep the poor from having their rights and from getting justice. That is how you take the property that belongs to widows and orphans. What will you do when God punishes you? What will you do when he brings disaster on you from a distant country? Where will you run to find help? Where will you hide your wealth? (Isaiah 10:1-3)

And against the corruptions of the ruler, they hold up a mirror of how things should be:

The spirit of the LORD will give him wisdom and the knowledge and skill to rule his people. He will know the LORD's will and honour him, and find pleasure in obeying him. He will not judge by appearance or hearsay; he will judge the poor fairly and defend the rights of the helpless. At his command the people will be punished, and evil persons will die. He will rule his people with justice and integrity. (Isaiah 11:2-5)

This kind of model of Kingship is also something we find in the "Magician's Nephew", C.S. Lewis story about the birth of Narnia, where the first King and Queen of Narnia are told their duties:

"You shall rule and name all these creatures, and do justice among them, and protect them from their enemies when enemies arise. And enemies will arise, for there is an evil Witch in this world."
"Can you rule these creatures kindly and fairly, remembering that they are not slaves like the dumb beasts of the world you were born in, but Talking Beasts and free subjects?"
"I see that, sir," replied the Cabby. "I'd try to do the square thing by them all."
"And would you bring up your children and grandchildren to do the same?"
"It'd be up to me to try, sir. I'd do my best: wouldn't we, Nellie?"
"And you wouldn't have favourites either among your own children or among the other creatures or let any hold another under or use it hardly?"
"I never could abide such goings on, sir, and that's the truth. I'd give 'em what for if I caught 'em at it," said the Cabby. (All through this conversation his voice was growing slower and richer. More like the country voice he must have had as a boy and less like the sharp, quick voice of a cockney.) (4)

And this is where Paul is coming from. He is supporting of what government does right, but when the people in charge forget how they are supposed to conduct themselves, he calls them to account, it is not to do with how governments come to power (over which he has no control) but what they do when they are in power:

And again and again Paul, no doubt most annoyingly, presumes the right to tell the authorities their business. Beaten and imprisoned without trial in Philippi, when the local rulers tell him to leave town he points out that, as a Roman citizen, he has been wrongly treated; he demands a public apology, and he gets it. Slapped in the face by the High Priest's henchman, he reminds him of the rule he's just broken, while taking care, when it's pointed out, to acknowledge the High Priest's office even while leaving clear the implication that the present holder of it is unworthy. (5)

It's fine to point out the wickedness of earthly rulers, but when someone steals my car I want justice. It's all very well to say that people in power are self-seeking, but if nobody is in power the bullies and the burglars have it all their own way, and the weak and helpless suffer most. God doesn't want that. God has therefore instituted rulers and authorities (even at the obvious risk that most of them don't acknowledge him and only have a shaky idea of what justice actually is), in order to bring to his world such order as is possible until the day when the rule of Jesus himself is complete on earth as in heaven. This is the Christian version of the political viewpoint we find in Daniel, Wisdom and other Jewish texts. Romans 13 is not, then, a carte blanche for rulers to do what they like. Paul is not setting rulers on a high pedestal, above criticism. Instead, he is reminding them that they have been instituted by God and remain responsible to him for the authority they bear. (6)

This is very much a tradition we find in England, where Orwell describes how people consider the law:

It is not that anyone imagines the law to be just. Everyone knows that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor. But no one accepts the implications of this, everyone takes it for granted that the law, such as it is, will be respected, and feels a sense of outrage when it is not. Remarks like 'They can't run me in; I haven't done anything wrong', or 'They can't do that; it's against the law', are part of the atmosphere of England. The professed enemies of society have this feeling as strongly as anyone else. One sees it in prison-books like Wilfred Macartney's Walls Have Mouths or Jim Phelan's Jail Journey, in the solemn idiocies that take place at the trials of conscientious objectors, in letters to the papers from eminent Marxist professors, pointing out that this or that is a 'miscarriage of British justice'. Everyone believes in his heart that the law can be, ought to be, and, on the whole, will be impartially administered. The totalitarian idea that there is no such thing as law, there is only power, has never taken root. Even the intelligentsia have only accepted it in theory.(7)

Whether Islanders vote for A, B or C in a Referendum in April, it is only part of the story, and without the rest of that story, all we will be doing is substituting on mechanism for removing leaders for another; it is what happens between elections which is more important by far. That's when decisions are made which can effect all of us, and which need to be called to account.

The danger of seeing one Option, for instance "Option A" as democratic and the others as "undemocratic" is that we may lose sight of the bigger picture, which is that no voting system can give complete legitimacy to a government to do as they like. Yes, there is the ballot box awaiting them - but the existence of "safe seats" in the UK shows how shallow this can be. Voting systems are like plumbing, you need them there, but they are only one small part of government for the common good.

In Jersey, I think we are better placed without a strong tradition of party politics, because one thing which also seems to be the case is that the left  / right split legitimises a party to follow a mandate which may have many elements that people themselves do not want. All they want is a better, fairer world. There's a strong tradition of Jersey independent politicians who cut across the UK style divide between left and right; at times reformist, at times conservative, and providing a much more nuanced approach; it would be a shame if that was lost:

You know how it goes, that somebody votes one way on one issue and so it's assumed that there's a package of all sorts of other issues that go together, and if you tick one box on the left you're going to tick them all and if you tick one box on the right you'll tick them all. I need to tell you your left-right spectrum in America does not correspond to our left-right spectrum in Britain - it does a bit but it's quite confusing, actually, it's quite different. And we need to uncouple those issues and name them one by one, and sometimes as a Christian you'll find yourself voting with the left and other times you'll find yourself voting with the right. And if that means that ultimately we need to vote for better systems with better ways of discovering what we really deeply believe, maybe we ought to be doing that too. And we are not to be scared, we are not to be scared, by the rhetoric of the new right, nor are we to be conned by the rhetoric of the new left - if you have ears then hear - rather we are to work and pray for exodus, for liberty, not for free trade but for fair trade, in economic and military and ecological matters. (6)


Links:
(1) http://campaigndirector.moodia.com/Client/Theos/Files/GodandGovernmentNTWright.pdf
(2) http://www.faithandleadership.com/multimedia/nt-wright-working-building
(3) http://www.faithandleadership.com/multimedia/nt-wright-working-building
(4) The Magician's Nephew, C.S. Lewis
(5) http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_God_Caesar.pdf
(6) http://www.spu.edu/depts/uc/response/summer2k5/features/postmodern.asp
(7) http://orwell.ru/library/essays/lion/english/e_eye
(8) http://www.jerseylaw.je/judgments/unreportedjudgments/documents/display.aspx?url=2012/12-12-20_Vibert-v-AG_237.htm

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Breakwater Cafe

In the middle of the colder weather, a poem about a warm and cheerful seaside café, which can be just the place for romance...

Breakwater Cafe
 
Along the breakwater, the tide is high
Fisherman braving the pelting rain
Seagulls wheel above, a plaintive cry
And we are walking down lover's lane
 
Inside the café, it is so cosy, so warm
Rain beating against the window pane
Good to be inside, where outside storm
Our journeys end, down lover's lane
 
Victoria Sponge, and fried egg rolls
And cups of tea, such pleasure gain
Together here, with hearts and souls
Our respite here, down lover's lane
 
Short break in the day, but not mundane
For here we came, down lover's lane
 

Friday, 25 January 2013

Something Funny for Friday


Senior Politicians of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man sign an agreement to take turns wearing a toupe (here seen on Sir Philip Bailhache's head)



Guernsey Watch

I thought today I would take a brief look across at unfolding news in our sister Island, to see what has been happening there of note. The first breaking story was one on autism:

CLAIMS from a bio-medical businessman that his company could cure cancer and autism sparked a passionate debate at a Chamber of Commerce seminar yesterday. Immuno Biotech CEO David Noakes suggested that the use of GcMAF could repair  the body's immune system and act as a 'rifle-shot' to cure the diseases. Mr Noakes claimed that more than 50 research papers had shown GcMAF, which is extracted from healthy human blood, could cure the diseases. One doctor, who wished to remain anonymous, criticised the evidence presented by Mr Noakes. 'You've cherry-picked the research to support what you're saying, and the  journal that has been published is very poor quality, whereas you have  Cancer Research UK saying "if it sounds too good to be true it probably is",'  he said. But Mr Noakes responded: 'Cancer Research is a front man - it's rubbished  the research saying it all depends on one person, but there are 119 other eminent scientists who have done their own research too.' (1)

Autism is a peculiar condition in that its causes, while having a strong genetic component, are by and large unknown, so that it is described and diagnosed in purely behavioural terms. There are a number of theories which associate it with some kind of compromised immune system, most notably a compromise of a genetic weakness by childhood vaccination, but the immune link is unproven and autism remains defined by behaviour.

As a result, there may be a cluster of different causes which converge to produce similar behaviours, which would explain why anecdotal evidence of "cures" often seems initially strong, yet becomes bafflingly elusive when applied to all autistic children. From a brief survey of the literature, so far this product has only small scale studies done, and some anecdotal evidence in forums indicates improvement, and others increased challenging behaviour. As one might expect, even the increase in challenging behaviour is cited as "evidence" of increased normal functioning, so I would say the evidence for the claims to date is relatively poor. Parents of autistic children are often desperately trying to find a cure, which is why they latch onto the slightest change in behaviour as proof that a new cure is working.

COMMERCE and Employment could have a solar power plant up and running in three months if it were not for planning laws, its minister has said. Deputy Kevin Stewart, pictured, explained his department was currently  working with Environment to advise it of the strategic opportunities that creating a photovoltaic panel site would have. He had announced previously at an Institute of Directors presentation that the department had already identified a disused vinery site that could be used as a test bed solar power plant, but this change was blocked by planning laws. 'It's bonkers that we cannot set up a pilot project that will give a 6-7% return on capital employed because we cannot do it under the laws,' he said at the time. (2)

A "green" story, but blocked by problems with Planning. Given the current state of the weather - increased cloud cover and rainfall last year, I would be interested to know just how much power could be generated by a solar power plant. But it does show that Guernsey - like Jersey trying to get wind speed trials on the Ecrehous - is serious about  alternative forms of energy to fossil fuel. Ironically, in Jersey, it is some conservationists who are blocking progress; in Guernsey, it is their planning department.

CT PLUS has backed down over its rota changes to avoid mass industrial action. Bus driver representatives met yesterday with the company and Unite regional  officer Bob Lanning to continue discussions about a compromise. Speaking afterwards, Mr Lanning, pictured, said that the company and drivers had agreed to hold regular meetings to avoid any further upset.  'It's all peaceful now,' he said. 'What they were upset with was the loss of the four-day weekends and cuts to the signing off and signing on time. That has been put back to what it should be.' (3)

CT Plus seem to be getting a well known in Guernsey for changing bus routes, buses missing stops, last minute alterations not adequately conveyed to the public. They've had the bus company there since last April, so you might expect any "teething troubles" to be over!

Unlike Jersey, Guernsey bus drivers terms and conditions were not published online, so we have no idea how they compare, or if there are limits on weekly working hours. CT Plus have been remarkably coy about mentioning that, which is strange, considering their criticism of working hours in Jersey; you might expect them to say - well, we have done it in Guernsey too. In Jersey, I hear they have been messing about with shifts too, and I may post further on that later. One thing which also seems to be the case is that the time allotted to "turn around", for instance with the Corbiere bus stopping and waiting at Corbiere, has been radically cut, so that when there are delays due to traffic, this vital period to enable to bus to catch up to timetable is diminished, making it more likely that the bus will be late.

Deputy Lester Queripel has been writing about a sex offenders register:

WRITE to endorse the sentiments expressed by Sharon Munn in her excellent letter (Guernsey Press, 20 December), under the heading, 'Still no sex offenders register?' In her letter, Ms Munn was seeking clarification as to whether or not we  actually have a sex offenders' register. Also, if we do, why don't the public have access to it? 'After all, don't we have a right to know who our neighbours are?' was the essence of Ms Munn's letter. I agree with Ms Munn because, in my opinion, we have every right to know if  our neighbours are convicted sex offenders or not. However, after undertaking extensive research, I have now been informed that type of 'freedom of information' is unlikely to be made available to the public. There appears to be two main reasons for this, which are:

1. Sex offenders' rights.
2. The fear that vigilante groups might persecute the families of convicted sex offenders.
My response to those two points is as follows:
1. Didn't a sex offender forfeit their rights when they destroyed someone else's life?
2. Would it not perhaps be an idea for a family to publicly disown a relative who is a convicted sex offender? Surely by doing so they would then eliminate the possibility of the family being persecuted.

The law, as it stands, offers protection, counselling and rehabilitation to a convicted sex offender. I can understand that to a certain extent in the case of a 'first offender'. But a 'repeat offender' is such a danger and a continued threat to the community that surely it's only logical they should be treated as such? So, even though I have been informed that it is 'unlikely' that the current law regarding public access to the sex offenders' register will ever be amended, I will continue with my research. I will do so because the word 'unlikely' means there is still at least a semblance of hope. It is not a lost cause.

In tandem, I will also continue my attempt to amend certain conditions within the Common Travel Area law, which allows convicted rapists and pedophiles to travel freely between the UK, the Republic of Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, without having to inform the relevant authorities of their intention to travel, or their destination. I see it as my duty as a deputy to campaign for issues such as these, in an attempt to ensure the wellbeing and safety of the community. The wellbeing and safety of the community is, of course, the responsibility of any government throughout the world. And even though it could be said that many governments fail miserably regarding that responsibility, it doesn't mean that we have to follow their example. Or even simply do as they  say. We have human rights as well. (4)

I'm still not sure whether the legislation (which was approved by the States of Deliberation) has actually been passed yet. It was approved in 2011, but there may have been a need for a period of consultation, which as we all know, can be slow. It would certainly, as in Jersey, rule out the USA's "Megan's Law", which I think is sensible. The USA has problems with vigilante action there.

However, I can see no mention of the much more limited, but commonsense and prudent approach of the UK which is loosely termed "Sarah's Law".  Following a decision by Ian Le Marquand last year, Jersey has now also adopted that approach. "Sarah's Law" allows restricted access in circumstances such as

a personal relationship (like a single mother and her new boyfriend) or someone who had regular, unsupervised contact with their children, they would be able to contact the police and "register an interest" in that person. The police would first determine whether the person of interest had any child sex offense convictions. If the person of interest was a convicted child sex offender, the police would next evaluate whether he posed a serious risk of harm to the children of the person who registered the interest. If the offender posed a serious risk of harm, the police would subsequently disclose the offender's information to the requestingperson (5)

I notice in the Guernsey decisions about the law that:

The legislation will create a requirement for convicted sex offenders to register with the Police and to keep relevant agencies informed of their whereabouts and other relevant information whilst in the Bailiwick

Wouldn't the introduction of a joint scheme of registration be a good idea? One area, perhaps where the Channel Islands could pool information? As it currently stands, a convicted Guernsey pedophile could move to Jersey where they would have no information on file for the offenses over there, and would have a lower risk. I suspect, however, that someone at police HQ probably keeps a beady eye over the water to Guernsey. 

Given the geographical proximity of the Islands, and the fact that you can cross between the Islands in 20 minutes, wouldn't a more co-ordinated approach be a good start to the Channel Islands working together? Something, perhaps, for Ian le Marquand to consider with his Guernsey counterpart.

And on that subject, would a joint Channel Islands Police Commission would also be a good way for a move away from any suspicion of partisanship, and make a more politically independent body.

Links
(1) http://www.thisisguernsey.com/news/2013/01/24/cancer-cure-claim-sparks-heated-debate-at-seminar/
(2) http://www.thisisguernsey.com/news/2013/01/24/planning-law-stops-solar-power-plant-seeing-light-of-day/
(3) http://www.thisisguernsey.com/news/2013/01/24/ct-plus-halts-changes-%E2%80%93-strike-threat-lifted/
(4) http://www.thisisguernsey.co.uk/discus/messages/11779/12367.html?1358347899
(5) http://digitalcommons.pace.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1749&context=lawfaculty

Thursday, 24 January 2013

On the Box

"Call the Midwife" is back for a second series, and just as good as before. While it has a central focus in the character of Jenny, it is also very much an ensemble piece, with all the actors having some of the stories focused on them. The framing device, where the older Jenny speaks as a voiceover is also very good, as it draws the viewer in, it is the older Jenny speaking about her life directly to you, the viewer. And it is never sugar coated and sentimental; it has a gritty edge to it in its realist depiction of the 1950s.

But nor does it just present life then as grim - the young midwives go to the cinema, to dances; this is very much a complete "slice of life" with all the good and bad times shown. And although it deals with issues - a battered wife, prostitution, etc, it doesn't have the feel of being issue driven, but character driven, which is very much to its advantage. It can have you on the edge of your seat one moment, and relaxing at the humour in the next. And it doesn't feel like a period drama, which can be fatal to a suspension of belief.

"Father Brown" is buried in the middle of the day, and perhaps a good thing. It tranposes the Father Brown stories to a 1950s rural setting from the original Edwardian setting, but it is more picture-postcard Midsomer Murders territory. Mark Williams as Father Brown portrays a Father Brown very well, but he is not the Father Brown of the Chesterton stories.

This Father Brown, despite the blurb, is not a slightly crumpled, shambolic and mild-mannered Catholic priest. Instead, he pursues the criminals doggedly, and his cassock always seems neat and tidy, and mostly he preaches at the criminals, telling them to confess their sin. It's a far cry from the original stories, where he comes across as slightly absent minded, muddled, but surprises by showing that he is really sharp as a razor in knowing who the criminal is.

In the original stories, that's because of his understanding of human nature; in this series, he's just another detective looking for clues. And while the titles of the stories may be the same, they are just pegs to hang largely very different stories upon. "The Eye of Apollo" was a creditable enough story, for example, taking a swipe at New Age thinking, but it wasn't a patch on the original, where the murder is committed - but the killer is seen at the time of the murder chanting on a balcony, hands upraised, in front of a street full of pedestrians looking up at him.

That's the kind of paradox that Chesterton did so well, and if you want to find how Father Brown knew from the start that he was the murderer (and it all makes perfect sense; Chesterton plays fair and you are even told enough to see the events unfold exactly as Father Brown does), either read the short story, or watch the earlier version (on DVD).

In that earlier series (filmed in 1974), Kenneth More plays Father Brown, and he does so perfectly, just the way Father Brown is portrayed in the books. Only lightly changed, the stories by G.K. Chesterton are followed quite faithfully, and it is a very good series. This new upstart just does not compare.

The original story can be read for free at:
http://fiction.eserver.org/short/innocence/eyeofapollo.html

I like "Lewis" and in its latest series, it's still providing well thought out crime puzzles against the backdrop of Oxford. I'm not too keen on the two part format, with one part one week, and the follow up the week after.

That made sense with some series - the original Adam Dalgliesh stories starring Roy Marsden, for example, went over a period of three weeks, and was paced accordingly. That worked well, and a three hour detective drama is probably a bit overlong for one sitting. But two episodes of one hour long could quite easily be fitted as one of two hours, and the only rationale I can think is scheduling.

"Death in Paradise" is in its second series, and it's on top form. It plays fair with the viewer. All the clues are there, and it is question of whether you can make than imaginative leap and bring them all together. At one point in each episode, Ben Miller as DI Richard Poole always does this, and it is remarkable how all the little bits and pieces mesh together like a jigsaw so that we can see the whole picture.

Ben Miller gives a wonderful performance as this somewhat stiff Englishman (always in a suit on duty), a fish out of water who just doesn't want to fit in, but who also has a dry sense of humour. His working relationship with his second in command, Sara Martins playing Camille Bordey is also excellent, and both actors have very good lines which they bounce off each other. It's definitely a good series, not played out - just on its second season - and refreshingly different from the ones based in England.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Choice and Democracy

I've just reading Sam Mezec's latest blog. I would note that he puts a good case in numbers for Option A, and larger districts.
http://sammezec.blogspot.com/2013/01/reform-option-deputies-for-states.html

However, several submissions to the Commission did also put a very good case for versions of Clothier, smaller districts but with voter parity. Some people think that losing the Islandwide mandate is also something not to be taken lightly; ask Lyndon Farnham for his views, or my mother, for that matter! Others think that you cannot simply play a numbers game without respecting the heritage of the Island, and that Constables can supply an important and very different voice to the States. So I'm not that swayed by the rhetorical flourish which says:

"It is a clear choice between one democratic option and two undemocratic options."
"The Only Democratic Option"

Now Sam does a good job of arguing the case for Option A, but that's the only one he looks for positive arguments for, so not unnaturally, he finds them. I am sure that there will be supporters for Option B and Option C, and they will think they have positive arguments for their case, and against Option A. Some of those can already be seen in the submissions to the Commission, others may be forthcoming.

What I contend is that we cannot prejudge the vote by saying that one option is "more democratic" than another as a proven fact. An argument is not like a proof in mathematics, which is either valid or not, or a scientific theory which can be falsified. It's a means of persuasion, of mustering facts to support a particular position, and while some arguments may appear more compelling or persuasive to me, they may not be so to another individual. What is blindingly obvious to Mr Smith is wrong to Mr Jones, and it doesn't matter what the numbers say, he knows how they can be manipulated. In short, people don't just argue like calculating machines, as a Council of Vulcans, applying cold logic. There are all sorts of other factors which come into a decision, not least because we are flesh and blood and have feelings.

Rationality and cold logic brought in the metric system, built solidly about base 10, the attempt to bring order to time with "decimal time" failed, despite several attempts to introduce it. Spelling reform left a legacy in which many American spellings are phonetic unlike English counterparts, but the fervent attempts to complete the task failed. There are very few Esperanto speakers in the world, yet it was devised as a model language, a child of reason and the enlightenment. That's why numbers don't always provide the whole picture; people make decisions on other factors, as no doubt we will see in the voting, and is clear from the submissions, most of which say all kinds of differing things.

And even the most basic of assumptions can be questioned, for instance:

"If you accept the objectives tests of democracy (equality, representation and choice) then Option A, 42 Deputies in 6 super-constituencies, is the only option on the table that meets all the criteria. It is simple, clear and fair."

For the ancient Greeks of Athens, democracy was something which gave each citizen an equal vote. An Athenian citizen at the time of Pericles may well be horrified with the idea of representation. In his novel "October The First is Too Late", Fred Hoyle puts this very neatly:

Our hosts were concerned with the structure of the seas beyond the Pillars of Hercules, with what we believed about the nature of the world. How was our political life organized? They didn't like the idea of elected representatives of the people. To them it was important that every free adult member of the community should be permitted to vote on every specific issue. It was impossible to explain that the very size of our population precluded their own democratic system. Morgan pointed out that our people were scattered in many cities, that it was impossible for them to be constantly travelling in order to discuss things together. It was essential for each city to appoint its own representatives and for the representatives of all the cities to confer together. I was surprised and rather alarmed by the serious, chilled manner in which this was received. (1)

While the Greek system - often called "direct democracy" excluded slaves and women from political participation, all citizens debated and voted on every issue. Pericles noted how all citizens took part, not at one stage removed, but directly:

Our political system does not compete with with institutions which are elsewhere in force. We do not copy our neighbors, but try to be an example. Our administration favors the many instead of the few: this is why it is called a democracy.

An Athenian citizen does not neglect public affairs when attending to his private business.... We consider a man who takes no interest in the state not as harmless, but as useless; and although only a few may originate a policy, we are all able to judge it.(6)

Today in most countries, democracy means electing representatives to debate and vote for you and me, and it is not the case, as with Athenian democracy that "we are all able to judge a policy" and whether that detachment from the actual voter leads to a better system is debatable. For the Ancient Greeks, modern "representative democracy"  would be a process by which the people are disempowered to govern the society they live in. Others do it for them.

Cecil Chesterton was inclined to think this system was not good, and could be manipulated - "The Party System" which he wrote with Hilaire Belloc is an attempt to show this. Their theme was that "Votes and elections and representative assemblies are not democracy ; they are at best machinery for carrying out democracy." and they argued that the system of political parties was a sham, whichever party was in power worked for vested interests, not the people who elected them. That was because they argued that with a Party system, in practice no candidate can run with much of a chance of getting elected without their sanction. And when they were writing, around 1911, what they could see was two Parties with very similar agenda, so that the voter's choice was severely limited. For them, the Parties had effectively stitched up the public, so that Party Politics was the most undemocratic way of people having their say. Looking at the coupon elections, and the later National Government under Macdonald and then Baldwin, it certainly seems they had a point. Even today, with manifesto "promises", it is still very much like choosing between two set menus, always with the possibility that the chef will tell you a particular course is not available, and you will have to settle for a replacement.

And as G.K. Chesterton himself pointed out in a letter about the UK's system of representative democracy, "I say our representatives accept designs and desires almost entirely from the Cabinet class above them; and practically not at all from the constituents below them. I say the people does not wield a Parliament which wields a Cabinet. I say the Cabinet bullies a timid Parliament which bullies a bewildered people. Is that plain?" It is that deflection by the disadvantage of representation, which is the weakness of that system over Athenian democracy, where "only a few may originate a policy, we are all able to judge it".

I think that while it is probably the only workable system with large numbers of people, a point made by Fred Hoyle, it doesn't mean that it is not defective in all kinds of ways, as can be seen above. So I'd question whether Sam can say that "representation" is an objective test of democracy. You may have candidates standing none of which you wish to vote for, or believe could adequately represent you, which is where the campaign to have NOTA (None of the Above) on voting slips comes from, addressing what they see as a marked deficiency - the inability to have that choice counted.

Arguments can be mustered for and against any option, and a good philosopher would do just that. It is one of the areas where Richard Dawkins fell out with Michael Ruse. For Dawkins, atheism was the only answer, and it is important to argue against what he perceived to be "the enemies of reason", but Ruse, as a philosopher, was prepared to argue different points of view, even ones he did not personally believe in:

I, like Dawkins, am a non-believer. Yet I, like Williams, refuse to put science and religion at war. This is partly because I do not think they have to be - I see them as asking different questions. But it is also because I think there is something socially and psychologically unhealthy about the course that the debate has taken, especially by those on my side of the fence. I do not think the faults are all on one side, but let me speak to the side to which I might naturally be expected to belong.

There are many aspects of religion that I find really offensive, celibate old men in skirts telling young women how to run their private lives being one. Not all scientists are keen on authority; plenty would say that the best thing about science is that it is anti-authoritarian. Nonetheless, when scientists start talking about values, they often find it hard to resist the temptations of moralising and authoritarianism. (2)

It's that which I find debatable about Sam's approach. There's a certainty about it. It is the right option, and if you can't see that, it is because of ideological blinkers. The argument is clear cut, and irrefutable. But not everyone accepts Sam's axioms about what he considers "objective tests of democracy". I don't think it is such a "clear choice"; it is to him and his supporters, it plainly is not to everyone.

For Karl Popper, for example, democracy mean the ability of the people to remove political leaders they did not want and replace them without bloodshed; it is very much a minimalist idea. for him, the vital question is not 'Who should rule?' but 'How can we minimize misrule?"

For we may distinguish two main types of government. The first type consists of governments of which we can get rid of without bloodshed - for example, by way of general elections; that is to say, the social institutions provide means by which the rulers may be dismissed by the ruled, and the social traditions ensure that these institutions will not easily be destroyed by those who are in power. The second type consists of governments which the ruled cannot get rid of except by way of a successful revolution - that is to say, in most cases, not at all. I suggest the term 'democracy' as a short-hand label for a government of the first type, and the term 'tyranny' or 'dictatorship'; for the second. This, I believe, corresponds closely to traditional usage.

Seen in this light, the theory of democracy is not based upon the principle that the majority should rule; rather, the various equalitarian methods of democratic control, such as democratic elections and representative government, are to be considered as no more than well-tried and, in the presence of a widespread traditional distrust of tyranny, reasonable effective institutional safe-guards against tyranny, always open to improvement, and even providing methods for their own improvement. (3)

C.S. Lewis had a similar notion of democracy. It was the best of bad options, because, as with Popper, the question was not "Who should rule?" but how can we prevent misrule:

I am a democrat [proponent of democracy] because I believe in the Fall of Man. I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason. A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that every one deserved a share in the government. The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they're not true. . . . I find that they're not true without looking further than myself. I don't deserve a share in governing a hen-roost. Much less a nation. . . . The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. (5)

The word "democracy", as Orwell noted, is a shifting one, capable of many uses, and many definitions, all of which are used to legitimise kind of government - "In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning."

A perusal of the Isle of Man, the Swiss Cantons, the USA, the UK, and the European Parliament shows that there are certainly many kinds of representative democracy. All have their supporters, and there are people who will argue strongly in favour of first past the post as there are those who want some kind of proportional representation.

The mathematical treatment of voting systems, as New Scientist showed (an article by mathematician Ian Stewart in 2010), was that they all had their deficiencies, although of course those are generally glossed over by their supporters. Kenneth Arrow actually used mathematics to prove that no voting system can be perfect.  In Jersey, this can be seen in the varying arguments in the submission to the Commission's website, and there are those who think that Option A, losing an Island wide mandate (which some want to be increased) is not a good way to go. Clothier, as is well known, favoured removal of Constables and Senators, and adjusting numbers among the existing Parishes and districts. 

So in short, the one thing about a "clear choice" is that it is not clear. There is no unanimity in it. And there is nothing reprehensible about taking a different point of view, and going for Option B or Option C, or even spoiling the paper or not voting because you don't like any of the options available. For some people, it is being told "take a card", and the card trick uses the fact that only the suit of clubs is available. There should not be any presumption that somehow supporters of Option A have the truth and that those who do not are lesser beings, perhaps even somewhat shifty or immoral.

In fact returning to what has been said:

"It is a clear choice between one democratic option and two undemocratic options."
"The Only Democratic Option"

In fact, the real democratic option is to give the people the ability to choose - a Referendum. That is the one democratic option, and whichever option comes out as that chosen, no one can see it is not "Vox Populi", the people of Jersey will have spoken. It may well be a result that the supporters of Option A do not like. It may be an option that I do not like. But it is the democratic option, in a very real sense of direct democracy, of actually letting the citizens decide, just as the Athenians did.

Perhaps I am naive, but like G.K. Chesterton, I tend to think that the instinct of the people is probably better than intellectuals. I'm prepared to put my trust in the commonsense of the ordinary man or woman, and let them decide what is the democratic option, rather than prejudge it. By all means let's argue the Options, but let's not say that our own choice is "democratic" and the others are "undemocratic" until after the vote is counted.

If there is one class of men whom history has proved especially and supremely capable of going quite wrong in all directions, it is the class of highly intellectual men. I would always prefer to go by the bulk of humanity; that is why I am a democrat. (4)

Links(1) http://scilib-fiction.narod.ru/Hoyle/October1/index.html
(2) http://www.aeonmagazine.com/world-views/michael-ruse-humanism-religion/
(3) http://lachlan.bluehaze.com.au/books/popper_open_society_vol1.html
(4) http://www.gutenberg.org/files/11505/11505-h/11505-h.htm
(5) Present Concerns, C.S. Lewis
(6) http://www.dcn.davis.ca.us/~sander/mensa/popper1.html
(7) http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20627581.400-electoral-dysfunction-why-democracy-is-always-unfair.html
(8) http://cowles.econ.yale.edu/P/cd/d11a/d1123-r3.pdf

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

RIP: Michael Winner

I do not lurk. I ponce about, cause trouble, bring light and happiness to the world and generally behave with impeccable (if misplaced) self-assurance. (Michael Winner)

British film maker Michael Winner has just died, aged 77. He himself said that "A little vulgarity is a thoroughly good thing.", and he was just that, a larger than life persona, vulgar, rich, pompous (but not really arrogant), and very much at home with the persona that he had created. He often seemed preposterous, a kind of living caricature, just like one of the larger than life characters we meet in Dicken's Pickwick Papers.

Winner might have been a great director, but instead became a jobbing workmanlike director, most notable for the Death Wish films, where Charles Bronson was the actor delivering a performance that is so wooden and stilted. Bronson could deliver good performances, as in the Great Escape, for example, but Winner clearly was not a director who could coax an emotional performance, not did he want it. Bronson plays Paul Kersey, who is supposed to be a liberal New York architect. After his wife is murdered and daughter is raped, he seeks revenge and becomes a  a gun-wielding vigilante. He is totally unconvincing either as a liberal architect or as a vigilante. But the public evidently liked it enough for it to turn a profit, and sequels followed.

And only Winner could direct the oddest version of Gilbert and Sullivan, entitled The Cool Mikado (1962), and starring Frankie Howerd, produced by Harold Baim (the king of the quota quickies). He had a brief flirtation with drama documentary, with the kind of series on might expect - "True Crimes". When the plug was pulled on it for its somewhat gruesome reconstructions, he lamented "But the public loved True Crimes"!

His stint as a restaurant critic was always fun to read, because it wasn't really about food at all, but an excuse for him to be self-indulgent in prose. As the Guardian noted:

Michael Winner was not as other restaurant critics. The fact was, he didn't really give a toss about the food, as long as it wasn't too demanding or showy. For him it was about the room and the service. Most of all it was about Michael Winner, and whether he was having an utterly terrific time. He was Mr Toad of The Wind in The Willows made flesh. And how could you not like Mr Toad?

Over the years people would rage about his column in the Sunday Times. What, they asked, did the man know about gastronomy? Not much, to be fair. But that's to misunderstand the job. Restaurant critics aren't there to sell restaurants. They are there to sell newspapers, and he did that very well indeed, mostly by giving people an insight into the life of a rich and famous man with an overweening ego. Whether he was dismissing Michel Roux Snr of the three Michelin star Waterside Inn as a chef "fit only for motorway cafes", calling the famed Spanish restaurant Arzak "ghastly" or declaring AA rosettes to be "worth less than a used plastic cup" as a measure of quality, he was always highly entertaining. (4)

The Telegraph had a number of typically Winner quotations, but then Michael Winner was the kind of man who would deliberately say something slightly provocative just to get quoted. Here are some of the best:

. 'If you want art, don't mess about with movies. Buy a Picasso'
. 'The truth of the matter is that muggers are very interesting people'
. 'Men are awful: arrogant, nasty creatures'
. 'Hitchcock said actors are cattle, but show me a cow who can earn one million dollars per film'
. 'He was a very good actor but he wasn't used as an actor as much as he should have been because he became famous as Peter Ustinov'
. 'I don't want to live in a tolerant society. I want to live in a very intolerant society'
. 'In this business disaster is always just around the corner'
. 'Women like to be treasured for themselves. They don't get taken in by men with money. In fact, I did far better when I was an assistant director'
. 'The hardest part of directing is staying awake for nine weeks at a stretch'
. 'Since the plate decorators and poncified chefs took over, food has not improved at all. It has become pretentious. It has become mini-portions, whose descriptions on the menu take longer to read than the food takes to eat'
. 'An OBE is what you get if you clean the toilets well at King's Cross station. I really don't care if I get anything or not'
. 'Children should not be allowed to go on holiday. They scream, they shout, they yell. All children should be locked up until the age of 10 and only selected ones should be let out when they are 10'
. 'The only way to hold a decent dinner party in Hollywood now is to have a séance'
. 'I do not lurk. I ponce about, cause trouble, bring light and happiness to the world and generally behave with impeccable (if misplaced) self-assurance'

I rather liked Michael Winner, although I didn't like his films, not because of their violence, just because they were not, on the whole, very good films; equally, I didn't agree with some of what he wrote. But he had a lively ebullient style, and never seemed to want to be taken too seriously. I think he knew exactly how he sounded and enjoyed it, and above all loved being entertaining as a public persona, making typically outrageous comments, but rarely malicious ones. On one notable occasion, he demonstrated unexpected support for lesbians, when the host expected him to be a reactionary conservative who would side with his own bigotry:

He appeared as a guest on LWT's new Friday evening talk show, hosted by Richard Littlejohn. Two lesbians, including the former leader of Lambeth council, Linda Bellos, had been invited on to the same programme to be insulted by the host, who turned to Winner to invite him to say a few words in favour of the traditional nuclear family, and got an answer very different from the one he was expecting. Appalled by the sight of Littlejohn brandishing a test tube, a yoghurt carton and a pathetic eagerness to offend at Linda Bellos and another lesbian mother, Winner exploded, "I think the lesbians have come over with considerable dignity and you have come over as an arsehole". (3)

As he told the host, "I'm quite appalled - and very nearly walked out - to be on a British television programme where lesbians are wheeled in for you to make smutty and offensive remarks to".

He's the kind of character who will leave a void. In his case, a rather large, almost spherical one, as he would have been the first to concede.

Links
(1) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/film-news/9815983/Michael-Winner-in-quotations.html
(2) http://www.irishtimes.com/blogs/screenwriter/2013/01/21/michael-winner-and-the-lesbians/ [You Tube Clip]
(3) http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2013/01/21/michael-winners-finest-hour/
(4) http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2013/jan/21/michael-winner-unique-restaurant-critic

Monday, 21 January 2013

Guernsey: The Decline of the Parish

Most Guernsey parish elections to be uncontested. Just 13 of the 43 Guernsey parish posts up for election in November are to be contested. All other elections, for douzeniers, constables, procureur of the poor and school committees, have the same number of nominees as seats. Eleven douzenier posts and two seats on Les Beaucamps High School Committee will be decided on 2 November. The contested elections are due to be discussed at the parish meetings of the Castel, St Peter Port and St Saviour. The elections will either be decided at those meetings or a polling date will be set. (1)

Most Guernsey parish elections unopposed. Only 10 of the 85 Guernsey parish roles up for election will be contested. Six douzenier posts and four seats on the St Martin's School Committee are due to be discussed at parish meeting on Wednesday. And one position, for a constable in the Forest, has yet to receive any nominations. All other elections - for constables, douzeniers, constables and school committees positions - have the same number of candidates as open seats. The contested elections, in St Saviour and St Martin, will be decided at the parish meetings or a polling date will be set. (2)

There is widespread apathy in Guernsey on Parish elections, which have no effect on the outcome of the general elections for the States. The
Constables came out of the States in 1844, when an order in council replaced Constables as States members with Douzaine representatives; it being though, possibly, that the task of being Constable and in the States was too onerous. The structure is also quite different. While the term "Constable" is used, in Guernsey there is a Senior Constable and Junior Constable, and no Honorary Police system in operation; all demands of policing - as for instance for events - are expenses born by the States and taxpayers.

The 10 Douzaine representatives (representing parish authorities) were removed from the States in the 2004 constitutional reform. Since then, the voting patterns have been consistently low on all Parish elections.

While elections of Constables in Jersey are uncommon, in Guernsey they are not only uncommon, they also attract paltry voter turnout. The notion that "There will be life in the Jersey Parishes if the Constables cease to sit in the States." which I read recently could only have been written by someone who has turned a blind eye to developments in Guernsey. Note how the douzenier votes, which until 2004 were perhaps closest to a Parish Constable in the Jersey States, have ceased to be contested.

The results of the Election of a Constable held in the largest Parish (St Peter Port) in 17th November 2010 was contested. The results display just how much "life" there is in the election process. The last general election commanded a 70% turnout; the Parish election commanded a 3.5% turnout. The lowest Parish turnout in Jersey for a Constables election can do much better than that, but if the Constables are removed from the States, never mind the rhetoric that it will "bring life", Guernsey shows us what we probably should expect.

The following was duly elected: Mr. Dennis Henry Le Moignan : 127 votes. Unsuccessful Mrs. Jennifer Mary Tasker : 89 votes. Total votes cast were: 217. There were 1 spoilt papers. The percentage poll was 3.5%

In 2012, Channel Television picked up on the voting patterns in a story entitled "Election Apathy":

Parish elections are being held throughout the island tonight. Douzainiers and Constables are being appointed for all ten parishes. But in all the parishes except two, the elections will be uncontested, with just one candidate for each seat. Only in St Martin's and St Saviour's will a vote
have to be held.

Locally, parish officials admit many islanders were more interested in seeing Barack Obama secure a second term, than they are in their own parish elections. But Constables and Douzainiers say they make decisions affecting all aspects of parish life, from deciding who gets liquor and Sunday trading licences, to approving parish events, and inspecting everything from hedges to quarries. They are also the first point of call if parishioners have complaints about parish-level issues. (3)

In the event, St Saviour residents turned out as the Guernsey parish officials elections took place. The story noted that "Voter turnout is traditionally low, but on this occasion 87 residents, more than 5% of the electoral roll voted." That's really demonstrating "There will be life in the Jersey Parishes if the Constables cease to sit in the States." Senior constable Andrew Courtney said it was the highest turnout in recent years!

Matters were slightly better in an election in 2010, where a contest in St Saviour had a turnout of 19% of the electoral role with 903 votes cast. That's still way below even the bottom end of the Jersey turnout for elections.

Shane Langlois, the Chairman of the Douzaine Council, speaking in 2008 said that:

 "Once upon a time the douzaine representative was the voice of the people in the States of Guernsey. Casting your vote for douzenier was the only way to have some influence on what the States of Guernsey was doing as the rest of it consisted of rectors and Jurats. In the last hundred years it has changed dramatically and for the good I think with the directly elected deputies a very healthy development."

He thinks something does need to be done to address the problems of apathy suggesting that the relationship between parishes and the States needs to be redefined as "it is very open ended and needs to be sorted". (4)

And also speaking in 2008, John Foster, the Dean of the Douzaine in the Parish of St Sampson puts the low turnout  down to "general apathy on the island".

He explained the current system in place: "Years ago it was decided that the douzaine elections would all be on the same evening to try and encourage people as the general election. "Unfortunately just the general apathy seems to have crept in and people just aren't interested anymore in coming to the meetings and voting."

Figures at the general election in April 2008 put the population of the parish at 8,880 and those on the electoral roll at 4,848 meaning that the 26 who turned out was 0.54% of the electoral roll and 0.3% of the population. (5)

John Foster sounded this warning note: "People are going to see the apathy and say why should we bother putting ourselves up voluntary to do many hours of work for the parish and the community when no one seems to be bothered in backing us."

And Deputy Shane Langlois said turnout is traditionally low but it is a chance to make a difference in the community. He said: "The parishes are the only counterweight we've got to the States and the Civil Service." (6)

That is something worth bearing in mind as well, that not only will option A remove the Constables, most likely with the election apathy which is endemic in Guernsey, there will also be little counterweight to stop the central Government throwing its weight around, and deciding on matters which effect Parishioners.

The Deputies will represent a District, not a Parish, and the Deputies available for you to choose to vote for may not even live in your Parish at
all. What connection will they have to Parish problems, and bringing the voice of the Parish to the States?

And the question raised by John Foster may well also raise its ugly head: "People are going to see the apathy and say why should we bother putting ourselves up voluntary to do many hours of work for the parish and the community when no one seems to be bothered in backing us."

"There will be life in the Jersey Parishes if the Constables cease to sit in the States.". Not if Guernsey is anything to go by!

Links
(1) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-guernsey-15500610
(2) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-guernsey-20222904
(3) http://www.channelonline.tv/channelonline_guernseynews/DisplayArticle.asp?ID=502279
(4) http://www.bbc.co.uk/guernsey/content/articles/2008/11/06/douzaine_council_shane_langlois_feature.shtml
(5) http://www.bbc.co.uk/guernsey/content/articles/2008/11/06/st_sampsons_douzaine_elections_nov08_feature.shtml
(6) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/guernsey/8339813.stm

Sunday, 20 January 2013

On the Nature of Taboo on Horsemeat

Muslims and Jews have centuries-old taboos on pork, which is the most favoured meat of the Ukrainians, the Czechs, the Germans and the Chinese. The Russians prefer beef (pork comes second with them), which is forbidden to the Hindus. The Kazakhs, the Kyrgyz and the Tatars prefer horse meat - an abomination to Christians. And all these confessions have a taboo on dog meat - the Koreans' favourite. Eating in public, or - worse - offering someone such forbidden food (not to say forcing them to eat it, as was done in the Soviet army where Muslims were served pork) might cause an inter-ethnic conflict.
(Moshe Gamme, The Caspian Region)

Isn't it strange how much of a clamour there is about horse-meat in Burgers?

It's not the deception, the notion that the ingredients were not properly detailed, for if they were, it would have been only the poor and desperate who would have eaten those meals, knowing what was in them. There is a taboo against eating horse meat, and where there is a taboo, the action in question is bound up with deep rooted feelings of disgust and revulsion.

But not all cultures have this taboo. As Wikipedia notes:

Horse meat is the culinary name for meat cut from a horse. It is a major meat in only a few countries, notably in Central Asia, but it forms a significant part of the culinary traditions of many others, from Europe to South America to Asia. The top eight countries consume about 4.7 million horses a year. For the majority of mankind's early existence, wild horses were hunted as a source of protein. It is slightly sweet, tender, low in fat and high in protein. (1)
"Low in fat" sounds good, so why is there this taboo in British and American culture? I don't dislike horses, but I have never ridden a horse, nor do I have any desire to do so. My sister had riding lessons, went to help out at riding stables, and obviously loves horses more than I do. But I still feel a revulsion against the notion of eating horse meat. It seems something very deeply embedded in our culture, and moreover not something that is taught, but something that just becomes an unconscious part of growing up, like learning to speak a language.

There's a long history of eating horse meat:

In the late Paleolithic (Magdalenian Era), wild horses formed an important source of food. In many parts of Europe, the consumption of horse meat continued throughout the Middle Ages until modern times, despite a Papal ban of horse meat in 732. (1)

I think it is related in part to how we relate to animals. Horses do work on the farm, but they can also be pets, like cats and dogs. As John Feffer notes, there is a taboo against eating pets:

While vegetarians naturally reject meat of all kinds, the rest of America maintains some form of double standard--chicken but not crow, beef but not horse, venison but not reindeer, lamb but not mutton, legs and wings and rumps but not hearts or lungs or tongues. Some Americans are adventurous meat eaters who will cross the line and enthusiastically tuck into possum, ostrich, or alligator. One line in America, however, is inviolable. Anonymous livestock and wildlife are fair game, but pets are a different matter, and dog in particular remains the most potent meat taboo. (2)

And yet dog meat has formed a staple of Korean cuisine to this day, although it as common as animal rights protestors make out, because it became illegal in 1988:

While dog is usually listed as the fourth most popular meat in Korea after beef, pork, and chicken, the government banned sales of all "foods deemed unsightly" during the 1988 Olympics in Seoul so as not to give foreigners the wrong impression of Korean culture. Although some legislators are trying to overturn the ban and regulate the industry--an eminently sensible approach that should satisfy diners and activists alike--the government is unlikely to change the law with the World Cup around the corner.(2)

There has in fact been a trend with globalisation for the taboos on food to effect other countries, as cultures become more aware of their own singularity. It is interesting, because you might expect a widening of cuisine to lessen the effect of the taboos on food, but instead, the opposite has taken place:

Consumption of whale meat in Japan has fallen precipitously since the Second World War. Cat, which was once eaten in parts of Spain, can no longer be found on the menu there. Smoked dog ham and dried dog meat were once popular in Switzerland, but no longer. In globalization-speak, this might be called "harmonization": Difference is tolerated only within certain parameters.(3)

Part of that is conscious, at attempt to ensure - as with Korea - that cultural sensibilities of the rest of the world are considered when hosting major events, where the last thing anyone wants is to highlight foods that cause offense. But it also seems that the deep seated unconscious nature of the taboo makes it spread more widely as well.

Another element of food taboos has been addressed by the idea of "usefulness":

Why, however, should Jews and Muslims abhor pork and Hindus beef? One theory is that as long as a food source is economical to grow, rear or catch it remains culturally acceptable; but if circumstances change so that it begins to waste resources or human effort it falls out of favour. So, the argument goes, beef is taboo to Hindus because cattle are an inefficient food source that would compete for land in an already overcrowded sub-continent. Before 800 BC when India was sparsely populated beef eating was perfectly acceptable. The religious prohibitions since have coincided with increasing economic deprivation as the population has grown. Crops to feed cattle for meat are more wasteful than crops to feed people directly. (3)

But the "usefulness" theory is not the whole story. Because there is also that element common to taboos in general - that of disgust or revulsion. And while some people go out of their way to try a different culinary experience, they are the exception when it comes to a lack of sensitivity to the taboo. As Michael Freeman notes:

Food prejudices are among the strongest we have and the hardest to shake off. No one can understand how their normal diet can be perceived as strange, and even disgusting, by anyone from a different culture. But making a deliberate effort to accept and enjoy what they consider "bizarre" foods can sometimes be an impossible exercise.(3)

To understand the taboo in depth, we need to look at our evolutionary roots, where it is linked to the emotion of disgust. Charles Darwin commented on the idea of "disgust" in his book "The Expressions of Emotions in Man and Animals"

The term 'disgust,' in its simplest sense, means something offensive to the taste. It is curious how readily this feeling is excited by anything unusual in the appearance, odour, or nature of our food. In Tierra del Fuego a native touched with his finger some cold preserved meat which I was eating at our bivouac, and plainly showed utter disgust at its softness; whilst I felt utter disgust at my food being touched by a naked savage, though his hands did not appear dirty. A smear of soup on a man's beard looks disgusting, though there is of course nothing disgusting in the soup itself. (4)

Darwin notes how the repulsion over food leads to vomiting, and how this is an involuntary action, although he speculates that it comes from the distant past, when it was a voluntary mechanism to avoid being poisoned by foods:

It is remarkable how readily and instantly retching or actual vomiting is induced in some persons by the mere idea of having partaken of any unusual food, as of an animal which is not commonly eaten; although there is nothing in such food to cause the stomach to reject it. (4)

When vomiting results, as a reflex action, from some real cause-- as from too rich food, or tainted meat, or from an emetic--it does not ensue immediately, but generally after a considerable interval of time. Therefore, to account for retching or vomiting being so quickly and easily excited by a mere idea, the suspicion arises that our progenitors must formerly have had the power (like that possessed by ruminants and some other animals) of voluntarily rejecting food which disagreed with them, or which they thought would disagree with them; and now, though this power has been lost, as far as the will is concerned, it is called into involuntary action, through the force of a formerly well-established habit, whenever the mind revolts at the idea of having partaken of any kind of food, or at anything disgusting. (4)

He notes how it still appears to be a voluntary action with other species:

This suspicion receives support from the fact, of which I am assured by Mr. Sutton, that the monkeys in the Zoological Gardens often vomit whilst in perfect health, which looks as if the act were voluntary. We can see that as man is able to communicate by language to his children and others, the knowledge of the kinds of food to be avoided, he would have little occasion to use the faculty of voluntary rejection; so that this power would tend to be lost through disuse.

And he also describes how it is a very deeply ingrained part of our biology, from birth:

I never saw disgust more plainly expressed than on the face of one of my infants at the age of five months, when, for the first time, some cold water, and again a month afterwards, when a piece of ripe cherry was put into his mouth. This was shown by the lips and whole mouth assuming a shape which allowed the contents to run or fall quickly out; the tongue being likewise protruded. These movements were accompanied by a little shudder.

While the different foodstuffs which cause disgust to arise in different cultures, the taboo, once inculcated is a very strong one, and it would appear that, as Darwin noted, it has deep roots in our evolutionary history, much as a fear of spiders on snakes is involuntary, because to survive, the body must react with speed, either to avoid a dangerous creature, or to eject a dangerous foodstuff.

Modern psychological techniques can probably can desensitise ourselves and overcome it, but is there any real point? After all, it has enabled human beings to survive so far, and the ability to eat hitherto unpalatable foodstuffs may also be the removal of a safety net that which we would not appreciate until it is too late. After all, it seems good to be desensitised to snakes, until one fails to react quickly, and gets a fatal bite. There's often a reason for apparent irrationality in our world, and we would be wise not to always scoff and despise it. I won't be eating horses anytime in the near future.

Links(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horse_meat
(2) The Politics of Dog: When Globalization and Culinary Practice Clash. John Feffer, The American Prospect, 2002
(3) Food for Thought, Michael Freeman, Geographical, 1998
(4) The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, Charles Darwin

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Winter's End

The wintry weather, and a re-reading of "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe" inspired this poem...

Winter's End

Snow lay heavy on the trees, and all the land
A white blanket drawn by mighty hand
But now it began to melt, soft dripping sound
Thaw had come, exposing grass and ground
The Queen stopped, cold her stare, an icy rage
A spell had been broken, an ending of an age
And green grass appeared beneath a winter white
Snowdrops emerging, grasping for the light
The snow was melting, dripping off the tree
A robin redbreast flew, and sang so joyously
The falling snow now turning to soft sleet
The stream bubbling up, breaking icy sheet
And in the woods, the lamp post standing tall
Shining brightly, a sign of the Witch's fall
Along the track, to coast, and Cair Paravel
Where wait four thrones, as tales do tell
The prophecy, the children come this day
Through the wardrobe, finding secret way
The cold and bitter magic reigned no more
As like a mighty wind, came the Lion's roar.