Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Fantasy Island comes to Jersey

Do you remember the TV show called "Fantasy Island"? It starred Ricardo Montalbán as Mr. Roarke, the mysterious overseer of a mysterious island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, where people from all walks of life could come and live out their fantasies, albeit for a price.

I sometimes feel that there are a few Jersey politicians who are behaving as if they were on Fantasy Island, living out their fantasies, whether it is a Minister permitting  grants of £200,000 to film companies apparently with very little due diligence before signing off the cash, or a Minister sounding out across the Island on BBC Radio Jersey about how police should be armed with a Spiderman web gun.

Here, then, are two examples of local politicians who have strayed onto Fantasy Island. The price, in this instance, is met by the taxpayer.

Crystal Ball Gazing

I see from the JEP that the film Crystal Island has been delayed and may not start in the summer at all:

"Keith Cavele has met Economic Development representatives to discuss the latest developments in the Crystal Island project. Plans for developing a network of creative industries to support film production generally in Jersey were also discussed. While the meeting has been described as 'productive' by both parties, a number of setbacks with the film have also been identified which could lead to the filming schedule being delayed further." (1)

A cynic might translate that line about "setbacks" as follows:

Director: We need more cash
EDD: Well, we can't give you any!

Isn't it interesting that when matters are good PR, as when the film was first mooted, the Minister - Alan Maclean - was the person grabbing the headlines and publicity, but when the news is not so good, it is just "representatives" (and who are these nameless individuals?) meeting Keith Cavele.

I think Senator Maclean deserves an Ostrich of the Week Award. The golden Ostrich is like the Oscar, but it is handed out to people who give away taxpayers money to film projects which may never be made. And then bury their heads in the sand.

I wonder if the Senator will be in the audience to see Psychic Sally at Fort Regent, or request a private consultation to look into her crystal ball and see what the prospects of Crystal Island are, or for that matter, his chances of re-election.

The Amazing Duhamelman

Every so often Rob Duhamel astounds me with the extraordinary off the wall things he says. I have to pinch myself to make sure I am not dreaming, and that an elected politician could actually say such things seemingly without embarrassment.

This was the case on Sunday, when in the Politics Hour, the subject of Tasers came up. Subject to the most stringent rules on deployment, including permitting only trained firearms officers being allowed to use them, the States have voted in favour of their introduction.

That last requirement, which I made the case for in my own submission to Scrutiny, is necessary. A trained firearms officer not only knows how to fire accurately, he or she also is trained not to be trigger happy. Training is as much about learning not to deploy the firearm except as last resort as using it. That's unlike some UK forces, when a minimal training is given to ordinary officers, sometimes leading to tragic consequences.

But Deputy Duhamel was firmly against Tasers full stop. Citing Isaac Asimov, "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent", he gave the impression that any use of force by the police must therefore reflect badly on their competence. I suspect he has rarely been confronted by aggressive drunks.

In fact, of course, it is not Asimov who says that, but a character - Salvor Hardin - in one of Asimov's Foundation stories. To identify a character's beliefs with those of the authors is a mistake; if it is not a form of the biographical fallacy, it comes close. In another of the stories, the heroine saves the day by shooting a psychologist with a blaster before the villain learns their secrets. There is not one iota of criticism in any story on this; rather the narrative, and other characters praise the courage of the heroine.

Having said his piece, Deputy Duhamel suggested the police response should perhaps also look to science fiction, and to the hero known as the amazing Spiderman. He shoots webs from his hands and these wrap round the villains, and incapacitate them in a harmless way.

Why, speculated the Deputy, could not the technology be developed for a "gloop gun" which would ensnare the violent criminal in sticky goo, and prevent them from hurting anyone?

The obvious answer is that Spiderman is a fictional character, and his spider web does not exist in the real world. But apparently something rather like a "gloop gun" does exist - my thanks to Dave Rotherham for pointing it out. Wikipedia noted that:

"Sticky foam is an incapacitant, used when less lethal force is required, consisting of various extremely tacky and/or tenacious materials carried in compressed form with a propellant and used to block, entangle, and impair individuals. A National Institute of Justice-funded project at Sandia National Laboratory developed a "gun" which could fire multiple shots of sticky foam."

However, there is a fly in the ointment (an appropriate cliché where Spiderman is cited!):

"Problems with this technology include: the serious risk of smothering (suffocating) the subject; skin clean-up (the foam may not be toxic, but solvents are often harsh); "gun" clogging; targeting and firing; and gun cleaning."

A photo of deployment can be seen at the end of this blog.

In fact, it is not nearly as simple to deploy as Spiderman's web gun, which is perhaps not surprising because that is, after all, science fiction. Here's a description:

"The image of soldiers blasting away with soapy-looking foam instead of using riot batons was almost quaint. With the foam stored in silver cylinders mounted on backpacks, the sticky foam gun had a kind of campy James Bond jetpack look to it, like something from the future, if your present is, say, 1958."

"After a person has been immobilized, the sticky foam, which is made out of rubbers, resins, oils, and flame retardants, can be removed, eventually, with hard scrubbing and baby oil."(4)

The official tests have this to say:

a) sticky foam adheres immediately to skin,
b) mineral oil (baby oil) is a reasonable cleaner for removing sticky foam from skin,
c) Using mineral oil to remove sticky foam from skin requires significant mechanical effort (5)

Its deployment was not perfect; some physical force was also needed to subdue people after the sticky foam was used, and there was a potential suffocation risk

There seemed however to be no indication that Deputy Duhamel was aware of the problems with sticky foam when he was eulogising about his "gloop gun".

I sometimes get the feeling that the good Deputy has some good ideas, but he never quite manages to subject them to critical thinking before unleashing them on the general public.

No, the bearded holder of the gloop gun is NOT Deputy Duhamel!


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