Friday, 31 December 2010
But is it "brighter", or a more heavily certificated world? I am reminded of the Isaac Asimov story "Profession" (2), in which there are "Education tapes" which put knowledge into people's heads:
"The turning point came when the mechanics of the storage of knowledge within the brain was worked out. Once that had been done, it became possible to devise Educational tapes that would modify the mechanics in such a way as to place within the mind a body of knowledge ready-made so to speak. But you know about that. Once that was done, trained men could be turned out by the thousands and millions, and we could begin what someone has since called the 'Filling of the Universe.' There are now fifteen hundred inhabited planets in the Galaxy and there is no end in sight."
In Asimov's vision, of course, the tape process is relatively painless and quick, and it leads to a society where profession is flaunted by certification. George Platten, the protagonist of the story, has parents with registered professions, as do most of the population.
"Let's see, George. It says here on your card that your father is named Peter and that he's a Registered Pipe Fitter and your mother is named Amy and is a Registered Home Technician. Is that right?"
But it still leads to problems of supply and demand. I have seen this most clearly with nursery schools training in the late 1990s, when Highlands College was busy providing NVCQs in Early Leaning and Childhood, but not matching this to the demand. As a result, over a relatively few years, the qualification required rose from NVCQ grade 2 to grade 3, to whittle down the numbers required. An increasingly certificate driven society will do this, however good the certificates, because the number of certificates does not directly match the employment prospects. An education course is useful for someone retraining, trying to change direction to improve employment prospects, but on its own, it can lead to crowding out of the marketplace:
George had argued with Stubby Trevelyan about that constantly. As best friends, their arguments had to be constant and vitriolic and, of course, neither ever persuaded or was persuaded. But then Trevelyan had had a father who was a Registered Metallurgist and had actually served on one of the Outworlds, and a grandfather who had also been a Registered Metallurgist. He himself was intent on becoming a Registered Metallurgist almost as a matter of family right and was firmly convinced that any other profession was a shade less than respectable. "There'll always be metal, he said, "and there's an accomplishment in molding alloys to specification and watching structures grow. Now what's a Programmer going to be doing? Sitting at a coder all day long, feeding some fool mile-long machine."
Even at sixteen, George had learned to be practical. He said simply, "There'll be a million Metallurgists put out along with you."
"Because it's good. A good profession. The best."
"But you get crowded out, Stubby. You can be way back in line. Any world can tape out its own Metallurgists, and the market for advanced Earth models isn't so big. And it's mostly the small worlds that want them. You know what per cent of the turn-out of Registered Metallurgists get tabbed for worlds with a Grade A rating. I looked it up. It's just 13.3 per cent. That means you'll have seven chances in eight of being stuck in some world that just about has running water. You may even be stuck on Earth; 2.3 per cent are."
On education day, George goes with his classmates to receive the education tapes, and discovers to his horror that he can't be taped. He is an outcast in a society where everyone is registered:
He was led by a red-uniformed guide along the busy corridors lined with separate rooms each containing its groups, here two, there five: the Motor Mechanics, the Construction Engineers, the Agronomists - There were hundreds of specialized Professions and most of them would be represented in this small town by one or two anyway. He hated them all just then: the Statisticians, the Accountants, the lesser breeds and the higher. He hated them because they owned their smug knowledge now, knew their fate, while he himself empty still' had to face some kind of further red tape.
He is told the shocking truth:
The man said, "Good evening, George. Our own sector has only one of you this time, I see."
"Only one?" said George blankly.
"Thousands over the Earth, of course. Thousands. You're not alone."
George felt exasperated. He said, "I don't understand, sir. What's my classification? What's happening?"
"Easy, son. You're all right. It could happen to anyone. He held out his hand and George took it mechanically. It was warm and it pressed George's hand firmly. "Sit down, son. I'm Sam Ellenford."
George nodded impatiently. "I want to know what's going on, sir."
"Of course. To begin with, you can't be a Computer Programmer, George. You've guessed that I think."
"Yes, I have,' said George bitterly. "What will I be, then?"
"That's the hard part to explain, George." He paused, then said with careful distinctness, "Nothing."
"But what does that mean? Why can't you assign me a profession?"
"We have no choice in the matter, George. It's the structure of your mind that decides that."
George went a sallow yellow. His eyes bulged. "There's something wrong with my mind?"
"There's something about it. As far as professional classification is concerned, I suppose you can call it wrong."
Ellenford shrugged. "I'm sure you know how Earth runs its Educational program, George. Practically any human being can absorb practically any body of knowledge, but each individual brain pattern is better suited to receiving some types of knowledge than others. We try to match mind to knowledge as well as we can within the limits of the quota requirements for each profession."
George nodded. "Yes, I know."
"Every once in a while, George, we come up against a young man whose mind is not suited to receiving a superimposed knowledge of any sort."
"You mean I can't be Educated?"
"That is what I mean."
"But that's crazy. I'm intelligent. I can understand - " He looked helplessly about as though trying to find some way of proving that he had a functioning brain.
"Don't misunderstand me, please," said Ellenford gravely. " You're intelligent. There's no question about that. You're even above average in intelligence. Unfortunately that has nothing to do with whether the mind ought to be allowed to accept superimposed knowledge or not. In fact, it is almost always the intelligent person who comes here."
George becomes a "ward of the planet" and is sent to a "house of the feeble minded" where he can learn from books if he so chooses, but there is no certification process. He decides to leave and attend the "Olympics" a competition not of physical sport, but where different professions can compete in a series of tests for the marketplace; those succeeding well being snapped up by the rich and prosperous outer worlds:
He had expected to be stopped before leaving the grounds. He wasn't. He had stopped at an all-night diner to ask directions to an air terminal and expected the proprietor to call the police. That didn't happen. He summoned a skimmer to take him to the airport and the driver asked no questions. Yet he felt no lift at that. He arrived at the airport sick at heart. He had not realized how the outer world would be. He was surrounded by professionals. The diner's proprietor had had his name inscribed on the plastic shell over the cash register. So and so, Registered Cook. The man in the skimmer had his license up, Registered Chauffeur. George felt the bareness of his name and experienced a kind of nakedness because of it worse, he felt skinned. But no one challenged him. No one studied him suspiciously and demanded proof of professional rating. George thought bitterly: Who would imagine any human being without one?
At the Olympics, he sees his old friend Trevelyan who takes part, but fails, in part because he has used older tapes, and there are better, more advanced educational tapes.
"Didn't do so well did I?" Stubby dropped his cigarette and stepped on it, staring off to the street, where the emerging crowd was slowly eddying and finding its way into skimmers, while new lines were forming for the next scheduled Olympics. Trevelyan said heavily, "So what? It's only the second time I missed. Novia can go shove after the deal I got today. There are planets that would jump at me fast enough - But, listen, I haven't seen you since Education Day. Where did you go? Your folks said you were on special assignment but gave no details and you never wrote. You might have written."
"I should have," said George uneasily. "Anyway, I came to say I was sorry the way things went just now."
"Don't be," said Trevelyan. "I told you. Novia can go shove - At that I should have known. They've been saying for weeks that the Beeman machine would be used. All the wise money was on Beeman machines. The damned Education tapes they ran through me were for Henslers and who uses Henslers? The worlds in the Goman Cluster if you want to call them worlds. Wasn't that a nice deal they gave me?"
Trevelyan is wedded to the idea of a society in which knowledge is designated by certification status. He cannot think outside that box. Because his education has only taken him so far, he is unable to come out with any original thought beyond his training, and this is the reason why he has failed:
"Sure, but I lost time wondering if I could be right in my diagnosis when I noticed there wasn't any clamp depressor in the parts they had supplied. They don't deduct for that. If it had been a Hensler, I would have known I was right. How could I match up then? The top winner was a San Franciscan. So were three of the next four. And the fifth guy was from Los Angeles. They get big-city Educational tapes. The best available. Beeman spectrographs and all. How do I compete with them? I came all the way out here just to get a chance at a Novian-sponsored Olympics in my classification and I might just as well have stayed home. I knew it, I tell you, and that settles it. Of all the damned -"
I'm not going to reveal the twist which comes later in the story, but it makes some clear points during its course.
1) A certificate based society, in which everyone has qualifications, becomes overcrowded, and the qualifications lose their value. This was well known when Parkinson wrote his books. By all means, improve employment prospects with courses, but those of skilled professions must be matched to the demands of society.
2) A society which only understands knowledge in terms of certified qualifications is a society which is only half a society; it is a society that will stagnate because in the pursuit of certain knowledge, it has turned away from the kind of open ended problems that occur in the real world, which cannot all be enumerated, and require problem solving thinking, which is a quite different kind of skill. The benefits of time spent not gaining qualifications, but gaining real workplace experience are being downgraded as a result.
This also brings us back to the idea of "brighter". Under the baneful influence of the IQ test, many people have come to believe that intelligence can be measured by means of a closed, fixed option, series of puzzles, which as far as testing knowledge is concerned, are little more than a sterile backwater.(3)
So is Jersey "getting brighter"? I would say not.
Here is an interesting puzzle which requires thought for its solution. It is not a multiple choice test, but it could be seen as a "theory of mind" test.
A striking feature of many of El Greco's pictures is the way figures and faces often appear to be excessively elongated . In trying to account for this idiosyncratic style, an ophthalmologist proposed in 1913 that El Greco may have had a form of astigmatism, which distorted his vision and led to elongated images forming on his retina (Trevor-Roper, 1970). Although such an explanation may initially seem reasonable, it does not stand up to logical scrutiny. Why?
Thursday, 30 December 2010
Rather than being all of one piece, the aim is now the development with underground car park on the old car park, and only later, if the demand and economic climate is right, will the sunken road go ahead.
"It would be funded by the private sector and development would be in phases and strictly in response to real demand." (1) (JEP report of speech)
"However, Mr Izatt yesterday revealed that a new vision of the so-called Hopkins masterplan was now taking shape, and that detailed planning applications should be ready for submission by the end of next year." (JEP)
What in heaven's name is a "new vision" of a "masterplan" that has been drawn up by architects? Answer - as the comedian said, "It's a fiddle", otherwise known as redrawing the plan without admitting as such. The Masterplan was a complete entity designed to do that ever so important piece of claptrap - "join the Waterfront to the rest of the Town".
Quite why that was a good thing is not clear, when the main problem of crossing was not the zebra crossings, but the main streets - to be retained - that one had to cross over by Sand Street to get to the car park and then the zebra crossings, but it was repeated diligently like some kind of Buddhist mantra, and was the reason for a sunken road in the first place.
Now it seems the "new vision" can develop the "masterplan" in phases, and somehow leave out the option of the sunken road (with its 1/2 million pound maintenance costs) until a sunnier economic climate.
Obviously Mr Izzat is keen to get on with providing some value for his extraordinary salary, and wants the development, any development really, to go ahead.
"There was, meanwhile, a danger that the general public - and some States Members - were taking the artist's impression of the masterplan too literally."
I am sure that Senator Cohen, nor Hopkins Architects, will be too pleased with this sort of thing. When we are shown a picture, done in wonderful detailed graphics, as is presented in the plan, now we are told it is simply "an impression". I think the real impressionist is Mr Izzat, who is doing a wonderful impression of a man trying desperately to get something built, as quickly as possible, no matter what.
"The 400 residential units, meanwhile, would not be of the sort that some expected. 'I don't believe that they will be apartments,' he said. 'They are likely to be town houses in traditional squares"
So all that glass and concrete flats that we saw in the original masterplan was clearly an illusion; the artist was just sticking blocks of flats there as an artists impression of some vague kind of dwellings for accommodation!
All you need is a "new vision". And the old plan, which involved a huge risk, such as a sunken road, and the dangers of flooding near Gloucester Street can be gently shelved.
I don't mind that - any scheme which does not involve half a million pound maintenance costs (for the sunken road), funded by the taxpayer in perpetuity, seems good to me.
The only secure basis on which that could realistically go ahead would be if the ground rent and common areas included payment for maintenance of the road below, so the taxpayer would not have to finance it.
But I do chuckle at the way in which the "new vision" is presented by Mr Izzat as if nothing has changed.
What can one say of Mr Izzat? He must have gone to Specsavers!
Wednesday, 29 December 2010
Jersey Plants Direct has this about him:
Dennis is a true cockney, (born within the sound of Bow bells) has resided in Jersey for 42 years and is one the island´s most popular gardening experts. Now retired from lecturing Horticulture at Jersey´s Highlands College, Dennis keeps himself busy with a weekly gardening chat show on BBC Radio Jersey, as a judge for both Britain in Bloom and the Royal Jersey Agriculture & Horticultural Society and of course tending his own garden. He has been writing articles and commenting on our plants and bedding since January 2007, and long may it continue! (1)
Dennis was still going strong this year, with tours of Jersey gardens. I'm not so sure that the "tax haven" bit in the following extract is correct though! I'd say it was probably truer that there are more gardens than perhaps urban areas in the UK, and they are usually well tended, which does not necessarily mean spending vast amounts of money on them. Perhaps "View from the West" can give the true picture!
The Channel Islands have the warmest climate of anywhere in the British Isles. This favours plant growth, but the strong winds cause damage. Because the Channel Islands are a tax haven, there is no shortage of money for garden maintenance. Brightwater Holidays offers a 4 night tour of the Private Gardens of Jersey, led by the garden correspondent for BBC Radio Jersey - Dennis Shaw. The tour departs on 14th June 2010 (2)
Reg's Garden also has this to say: "Dennis Shaw, Jersey's gardening guru uses the garden on occasions when `keen gardeners` come over to see what Jersey has to offer in the way of gardens."
Dennis Shaw will be missed. I still remember his distinctive voice, talking of autumn, and quoting Keats - surely a gardeners poem, if ever there was one:
SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.
Tuesday, 28 December 2010
Piniec: A Tale of Brittany
One evening a young peasant was working in his field by moonlight. He was a very thrifty young man and most eager to make his farm a great success. Having been unable to finish his work by daylight, he was continuing by the light of the moon. The wind whispered and murmured in the pine trees near by, owls hooted and the young man put his plants into the ground with as much speed as he could...
Suddenly from among the pine trees a figure appeared : a tall grey figure with long clinging draperies. The peasant felt his hair rising on end and his blood froze but he endeavoured to be brave and faced the grey figure, waiting for it to speak. As it did not move, the peasant tried to imagine that he had seen nothing and went on with his planting. But at that the figure moved and advanced towards him. Throwing down his tools, he turned and ran. A thousand hobgoblins might have been chasing him, so fast did he run, and never drew breath till he reached his own house. He looked then towards the woods ; the figure was still visible, but had turned round and was walking away amongst the pine trees.
His family were celebrating a fete that evening and long tables had been laid in the stables. Soup and chickens and honey cakes, with jugs of cider, were spread out and all the neighbours had assembled to make merry. . The young man ran into their midst crying out that he had seen the grey man of the woods. .
Everyone circled round him and he was asked to tell his story so many times over, that by the end of the evening he felt a real hero ! The next day the news had spread all over the village. Even the Cure and the Holy Sisters came to see him.
"Tell us the colour of his clothes," they asked.
" Grey ! " said he.
" Ah ! " they all exclaimed. " That is surely Piniec whom we have always heard of in those woods."
Two years later the young peasant went into the neighbouring town, and feeling thirsty, he went to an inn and ordered some cider. . A tall man approached him, and laying a hand on his shoulder said : "How long is it-my friend-since you saw Piniec ? "
" What ! the grey ghost ? " asked the peasant.
" It is two years now since I saw him."
" Well ! for a glass of wine, I will tell you some more about him," said the tall man.
" Gladly will I give you the wine," answered the peasant, and they sat down together at a small table.
" Two years ago," began the man, " I was in need of a Christmas tree for my children. But I could not afford to buy one. In the wood near your land there were many fir trees and I had settled to go by night and dig up one of these. Alas ! when I arrived with my spade, I found you working in your field. . What could I do to frighten you away ? Wrapping my grey cloak over my head, I advanced towards you, and to my great surprise you were immediately scared away ! I dug up my tree and returned home unmolested while you flew homewards and became the hero of the village ! "
Both men laughed heartily over the success of the joke but they both kept the secret very close, and for all I know the peasants still think that Piniec had been seen in their woods.
Some are vague generalities, and don't really commit the politician to anything at all - like the Mystic Meg and her "cold reading", they can be taken as appealing to virtually everyone, because everyone can read into them what they want to hear, but in reality - like with "cold reading" - they say nothing much at all. Here are a few examples of this by Terry Le Sueur from 2005:
Finance industry - Our primary source of jobs and revenue needs support by political stability, modern legislation, realistic regulation, confidence in our future and good fiscal policy.
IT industry - Essential to have a good IT service industry to support States and business sector in delivering maximum efficiency.
Who is really going to say that is a bad thing? But it is hardly a commitment to anything but the most banal cliché.
But he has some statements - just one of two - that do make a definite statement:
Health - More focus on preventative care. Realism about the need to find specialist treatment elsewhere, including France.
Since 2005, of course, Jersey has lost the reciprocal health agreement with the UK. And never have I seen the slightest indication of any consideration of links with France. Did the idea get dropped after he got in? Or was it just put in as an example of "forward thinking", which never would ever really amount to anything.
Tourism Industry must be more forward looking. Waterfront development must stimulate growth. Joint marketing with other Channel Islands.
Waterfront Must be developed into a top quality product serving needs of residents, tourists and business community. Some reasonably high buildings could enhance this, and should not be condemned irrationally.
This was clearly mooted at a time when high buildings on the waterfront were being seriously suggested - remember the rigged JEP phone vote - and Terry is trying to have one foot in that camp. High buildings where fire engines are unable to reach upper floors would, I would consider, to be a rational condemnation of the idea, but that's the sort of fact that doesn't enter this.
As far as "forward looking" tourism goes, there is not really much in the way of joint marketing that has emerged. One possible contender was a proposed CI-Paris air link in 2006, which was scuppered when Jersey did not want to give the same backing as Guernsey. Nothing else has really emerged.
Turning to Freddie Cohen, there are a few interesting surprises there.
I would promote measures to encourage local businesses to lower consumer prices and I have innovative proposals to develop new industries.
Well - prices have been going up, and I can't recall any "new industries" emerging from those "innovative proposals", or indeed, hearing that much about those proposals at all since 2005.
The JEP also reported that Mr Cohen would "also insist on GST being pegged at three per cent", which seems to have been one of those commitments like Philip Ozouf's that vanished, although perhaps because it was tucked away in a JEP election profile and interview rather than Hansard, did not come to the public view.
When she was standing for Deputy in 2005, Juliette Gallichan also said: "I believe there is a strong case for exemption from GST on medical items, food and children's clothes." Her voting record is completely to the contrary.
Ian Gorst, on the other hand, in 2005 said that "GST and exemptions - I will vote against any proposal to increase this from 3%. I would support a review to exempt medical supplies, providing the administration costs of such an exemption were not prohibitive. It might be that help towards medical costs are best dealt with through the new low-income support scheme." True to his commitment, he did vote for exemptions in the recent vote in 2010.
However, nothing seems to have become of his other - and I think good - suggestion: "Tax incentives - I would support tax incentives for employers who take on trainees and apprentices." In these times of high unemployment, that might be open to review.
Deputy Sean Power - in his 2005 version, was supporting "the need for a Parish Newsletter and the proposal to have alternate Parish Assemblies at Communicare." The former has occurred; the latter has not. But I had not realised until I read his 2005 manifesto that he was as committed as Guy de Faye towards reclamation at St Aubin:
The reclamation project for St. Aubin, including much needed parking, is a never-ending story, and it needs to move on. St. Aubin is now at a stage, where it is choking with cars, and residents and visitors alike will benefit from new car-parking. Businesses and the local tourism community will benefit. Given the remedial works now necessary to rebuild the north pier (on the Parish Hall side ) at St. Aubin, it is time for Parish authorities to now sit down with the Harbours department and see if the two projects can go hand in hand together. It may well be possible to re-use the beautiful granite on the sea wall at St. Aubin and integrate it into the new sea wall needed to encircle the new proposed reclamation area.
The 2005 reclamation scheme was totally chucked out by the Parish, but last year Mr de Faye has come up with his own fantasy version. It would be interesting to know what Mr Power now thinks of that.
Incidentally, in 2005, the following Parishes returned candidates unopposed: St Ouen, St Peter, St Saviour No 3, Grouville, St Martin, Trinity. If 5 1/3 Parishes had no elections in 2005, what does that say about the state of Island democracy?
And finally, another generality, but this time with a characteristic grammatical mistake of the kind that John Prescott makes.
To make policies that is good for all employers so that they are successful.
Any guesses as to the Jersey politician?
Sunday, 26 December 2010
Elsewhere there was a very dark version of Murder on the Orient Express, with significant departures from the book, making Poirot very much an upholder of the law and utter repelled by what he sees as a lynch mob. Removing Pierre, the Wagon-Lit conductor, from the list of suspects made the rationale for the murder taking place on the train simply an opportunistic
random event, and the obtaining of the spare uniform thereby became a complete loose end. Suchet's Poirot was very much out of character, ranting about the need for the law, where the Poirot of the book - and earlier stories with Suchet - have shown that he was capable (like the best private detectives, such as Sherlock Holmes) - of seeing the difference between justice and legality. Here, instead, an older Poirot (and perhaps an older Suchet) was morose and angry at the murderers, and yet came to see that justice and law could differ, and yet seemed, in the final scenes, to be weary with the world. Psychologically, whatever liberties it took with the book, it places Poirot far closer to becoming the character who we see in "Curtain", and I wonder if that was intended.
The weather on Christmas Day was surprisingly warm - unfortunately last night was so cold the pipe to the outside tap burst, but now fixed, thank goodness for a plumber who turned out - and it was good to be able to go out in the day to enjoy the warm sunshine, and no bitterly cold wind, for a morning walk. Fortunately there were no creepy shadowy figures pursuing me along the beach, unlike the unfortunate John Hurt, in "Whistle and I'll come" where he picks up a strangely carved ring and is menaced by a malignant force, seen only out of focus, or in scratching sounds, or rapping violently on the door of the hotel where he is the sole visitor in the cold winter months. Gemma Jones was also brilliant as his wife, portraying a passive, uncommunicative Alzheimer's patient, but in a few moments, indicating that despite what her husband thought, there was a mind trapped within a body, helpless to communicate. It was an extremely dark and bleak script, quite terrifying in not showing anything of substance, and will haunt me for some time to come.
Saturday, 25 December 2010
Elsewhere, Christmas Carols abound. Later today sees the modern take with Bill Murray in Scrooged, and the fabulous Muppets Christmas Carol - how is it that other puppets are puppets, but you just forget it when watching them. Meanwhile there was
A Christmas Carol (1938) starring Reginald Owen, Gene Lockhart, Kathleen Lockhart, June Lockhart, Leo G. Carroll, and Terry Kilburn
A Christmas Carol (1951) starring Alastair Sim, Meryvn Johns, Michael Hordern and Glyn Dearman, with a brief appearance from a young George Cole - originally black and white, but showing as colourised.
A Christmas Carol (1984) starring George C. Scott, David Warner, Susannah York, Frank Finlay, Edward Woodward and Nigel Davenport. 100 min
Christmas Carol: The Musical (2004), starring Kelsey Grammer
and the one I like best of modern versions, especially for the Ghost of Christmas future - the 2000 ITV version starring Ross Kemp as loan shark Eddie Scrooge.
Meanwhile, on Radio 4, Timothy West and June Barrie head a wonderful cast in "Crisp and Even Brightly", an extremely funny comic play which tells the "truth"behind the story of "Good King Wenceslas", or as he prefers to call himself, Well Intentioned King Wenceslas (brilliantly played by West as a selfish, self-centred bully)- in which Slavonic spies intent on killing the king, a small page loaded up to carry all the goodies from the carol, and a hermit called Kermit all appear, along with a peasant by a demolished hovel (a legacy of the government's new slum clearance policy), and a man with a harpoon, and his wife Nora. Still available on Listen Again, it is a wonderful romp, and if you have ever wondered why "a poor man came in sight, gath'ring winter fuel" when surely the best source of wood would have been not in the city but where he lived "a good league hence, Underneath the mountain, Right against the forest fence", this will explain everything about how the carol came to be written - as a piece of political propaganda. It will never sound the same again!
Comedy also takes centre stage in the surrealist mayhem of the Goon Show over on Radio 7, where the Goons produce their own madcap version:
SELLERS: (offsite BBC type announcer) And here, at Christmas we see the great venerable offices of Scrooge and Marley, importers and exporters for the great year of eighteen eighty seven.
MILLIGAN: Aba, ova to you ..
SCROOGE: Aba da you. Marley is dead, Marley is deaeed.
MILLIGAN: (accent?) No I'm not ...
FX: PISTOL SHOT.
SCROOGE: Yes you are. Ahh. Now to enter certain thingsss in the all weather leather ledgers:
FX: SCRIBBLING UNDER:
SCROOGE: One barrel of blungers violent stone and ginger purge. ... One gill (*1) of rare leopard oil! Tin newts. One box of feathered shirt lifters.
Back to Radio 4, an exploration of "The Santa Story" tracing the historical connections between St Nicholas and the modern "ho ho" fellow at the North pole; five 15 minute programmes, full of anecdote and interest.
"Something Understood" on Radio 4 looks at the Nativity in words and music, and has Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch, fresh from his "History of Christianity", to unpick the stories - the bible has only "magi", not kings, and doesn't give the number of them - that, and the gifts all come in later stories.
But, for me, the gem was on Radio 7 in an adaptation of Wynyard Browne's "The Holly and the Ivy" for radio.
The Holly and the Ivy is a captivating Christmas tale with a difference. Wynyard Browne's play, set in 1940s Norfolk, begins on Christmas Eve and slowly unfolds over 24 hours, during which time secrets are revealed, skeletons are wrenched out of closets and lives are changed forever. Martin Gregory is an elderly pastor who refuses to retire, despite pleas from his sisters. Cared for by his loving elder daughter he bumbles on, completely unaware that she has fallen in love with their neighbour. The pair long to marry and move away but she cannot bear to leave her father alone at the vicarage. Things come to a head when the family - made up of an errant younger daughter with a penchant for whisky, two fussing aged aunts and a carefree cad of a brother - descend on the vicarage for the festive season. The play is compelling from the outset, as characters are introduced and their stories established. Everyone is emotionally troubled in some way, and the vicar, caring as he is toward his parishioners, seems blind to his own family members' turmoil - until, of course, everyone's personal problems begin to emerge in a poignant scenario.
Surprisingly modern in tone, it packs illegitimate birth, child mortality, alcoholism, existential despair and the bitterness of old age and wasted years.
"It began with feeling, of course, but feeling soon exhausts itself. You can't feel even grief forever."
"Grief leaves an emptiness, there's always a blankness..."
"Yes: I know, but it's not that. It's something far bigger than that. It's...it's as though, in that blankness, I had suddenly stumbled on something that affects everyone. Everyone in the world. Well look, listen: Robert was killed. I really did love him, you know. And after that, I found I was going to have Simon, well that seemed important. Because, not only because of Robert, but another life in the world is...important, so for the next four years I did everything I possibly could for Simon. Well then, he died. And I just felt, well, what's the point, of it all. What was the value of all that effort? Don't you see? It was then that I first began to realize that, in the end, It's the same for everyone. Practically all the efforts that people make are simply to keep life going, well their own or somebody else's, and the whole thing's doomed to failure, we know that. Life can't be kept going indefinitely, with the sun's growing cold and in the end the human race will be frozen off the Earth, well what sense does that make?"
And as the parson points out, reflecting that he too had felt that existential despair about life, that is the start of the journey of faith, not its end.
Friday, 24 December 2010
The Fourth Wise Man
I was lost, following a wandering star,
Went astray, in strange lands, very far;
And my brother Magi, who found a way,
Went to Bethlehem, arriving on that day;
While I was lost in a land of dark and mists,
Along a winding track that turns and twists;
And so I did not come upon the babe that lay,
But only the bitter cold, and harsh dismay;
And incantations failed, and did not prevail,
To find the path I sought, the sacred trail;
Young I was then, not old, and many years,
I had forgotten so much wisdom in my fear;
But as I journeyed through the land of ice,
Time took my youth, and age paid the price;
And stooped and weary, my staff in hand,
Wandered along the dust roads of the land;
Until one day, I found a sign again, above,
And sought the glories of the promised love;
Hurried forth, lest I should miss once more
The signs and wonders of our ancient lore;
And came towards the city now in sight:
Hope anew to see and hear the Lord of Light;
But as I drew near, I felt instead a sudden chill,
As I saw three shapes, three crosses on a hill.
Thursday, 23 December 2010
The editorial starts by berating "the gossip and scandalmonger" in a manner which makes one think of the criticism heaped on bloggers by some (but not all) of the writers in the Jersey Evening Post. But the giveaway is that the mention of "international and local events", which surely refers in part to the German confiscation of radio sets - which had been ordered towards the end of November. Equally, there probably was, as is usual in Jersey, the usual Jersey "grapevine" spreading tidbits of news, some true and some false. What is interesting is that the international and local aspects are conflated, so that the editor gives the impression that any spread of gossip, even if it is British news, is bad, and that only an indirect mention is made of the confiscation orders ("local events").
The editor then turns his eye on fuel and food. Nowadays, fuel and food is still subject to a kind of rationing, but instead of everyone getting an equal share under rationing, under GST, those who can pay most have comfortable warm heated homes, and plentiful food, while those who cannot afford it do not. It is the new kind of "black market", except that it operates openly and legitimately.
It is interesting that the sugar ration is increased for children, presumably on health grounds to provide nutrition for growing bodies, while we have had cut backs on free school milk for primary school children, despite studies showing it helps healthy bones.
Lastly, there is an interesting comment on raising the school leaving age. Today, as then, there seems to be young people "kicking their heels at home, there being as it is, a surplus of both skilled and unskilled workers in the labour market", and the fiscal stimulus fund has been used to increase available places in education at Highlands. The November figure this year was 1,310 people unemployed, and Alan Maclean, the Economic Development Minister said that the figures would have been worse had the States not agreed to invest fiscal stimulus funding into training initiatives and capital projects. But sooner or later, the training initiatives will end, and will we be out of recession then, or will there be an even greater rise? How much greater would it have been without more young people still in education?
How much of our misery is because of the world recession, and how much have we done to make it worse? Some local businesses are hanging on by their fingertips above the precipice. GST at 5% may be the last little nudge to send them off it. And more and more local businesses are being snapped up by UK shareholders (who have to pay nothing on profits), and thereby place an ever greater tax burden on the local taxpayer. So far, all we have had is promises that Philip Ozouf will do something; not unlike Mr Micawber in Dickens, saying "something will turn up".
Anyhow, here is a brief window into Christmas 1940, where the soup was not on offer to raise money for charity, but to be charitable, and where freedom of speech would be obliquely criticised as "odious", and people who spread news from the BBC would be sent to prison for breaking the law.
The Islander - Editor's Window
Both international and local events have brought to the fore that interesting but odious specimen, the gossip and scandalmonger. No Act can be passed without a comment, which is always far-fetched, rash and frequently imbecile, made up of general reflections containing no thought and scarcely a phrase that has not been overworked. His ears are long and his eyes are quick, but especially so with regard to perceiving faults which are often than not increased by his intermeddling. Rumours sweep through the town and country-side with an amazing rapidity and cause many nervous or highly strung people quite unnecessary fears, anticipations and worry. We think that this form of amusement should cease.
The. dark, long, winter nights are approaching and, the black-out and curfew tending to anchor people to the fire-side, there are in this particular, two main commodities which will be required : fuel for the fire and fuel for the mind.
We hope that the States' Schemes of peat cutting and wood felling and also the import of coal and coke will be sufficient to satisfy the demand in the first case while the Public Library will no doubt do its best to satisfy most people in search of reading matter. Owing to the limited size of the fiction section, habitual novel readers would be well advised to realise that biographies and books of travel can be just as entertaining. To this end, we propose, in next month's issue of the " Islander," to give short reviews of some non-fiction books obtainable at the Public Library which might
be of interest to readers.
With the limited resources at one's disposal, it is only the expert cook who can concoct a tasty dish. For those devoid of the " culinary art," we strongly recommend the daily Communal Meal served at the Technical School in Phillips Street. Here a splendid hot meal of soup and meat or vegetable dish may be obtained for 6d. For an additional 1d. or 2d, a dessert of some kind is served. We understand that many of the vegetables used at the Communal Kitchen are obtained from the products of the Stadium Scheme mentioned in last month's " Islander." The Communal meals are planned by Miss Fraser, who is the cooking instructress at the School, while the efficient service is performed by an enthusiastic body of voluntary helpers, who together with Miss Fraser, deserve all praise. If we make one small criticism, it is that there seems to be somebody entrusted with the seasoning who is inordinately fond of pepper and peppers on the same principle as the Duchess in " Alice in Wonderland " who said " he can thoroughly enjoy pepper when he pleases."
The tobacco rationing has started a lot of unjustified grousing. Whilst not condemning smoking as " a custom loathsome to the eve, hateful to the nose, harmfulle to the braine, dangerous to the lungs, and in the blacke stinking fume thereof, neerest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomless " as King James I did, we feel that the regular amount of tobacco allowed per week is ample.
"To smoke more is to take it as tinkers do ale, 'tis a plague, a mischief, a violent purger of goods. lands, health, hellish, devilish and damned tobacco, the mien and overthrow of body and soul " as sour-minded Burton remarked. We should smoke a cigarette as we smoke a cigar, on an appropriate occasion, after a meal or last thing at night, not, as so often happens, when we have nothing to do for a moment.
It is with great pleasure that we learn that the sugar-ration for children has been increased to 8 ounces per week. In these times, when attention is concentrated on the war, we ought to be extremely thankful to the authorities concerned for having had such foresight with regard to the generations who will, we hope, inhabit a more peaceful and prosperous world.
This attention to the health of children brings us to another aspect : their education. Many boys and girls who would normally have left school and obtained employment are now kicking their heels at home, there being as it is, a surplus of both skilled and unskilled workers in the labour market. Might this not be an opportunity of extending the school leaving age, thus equipping the man and woman of the future with an education which will be a real use to them in playing their part as citizens ?
Wednesday, 22 December 2010
The Time of Ice
(A Meditation for the Solstice)
Come in, and sit down, as the fire burns brightly. Close the door, and keep the draughts at bay. For this indeed is a tale told by the fireside, a tale for fire, but also a tale when there is ice outside, and the cold fingers of the Northerly wind rake their frosty hands upon the window pane.
It is said, and was told to me, that long ago, the days were mild and temperate, and the sun shone brightly throughout the year. The trees blossomed with fruit all year long, and rivers irrigated the land. This was the golden age of the world, and happy indeed were those who lived in those glorious days.
But one day, there was a change, as a breeze sprang up, and the breeze became a strong wind, and then a gale, coming from the North, and the land grew colder, and the days grew ever shorter. The sun lost its strength. The crops failed, the land grew cold and barren, leaves turned brown and began to fall from trees, and there was hunger in the land.
There was a blight on the land, and the tribe felt the darkening of the days, the cold that chilled to the bones. They were full of a deep foreboding, a deepening gloom, a malaise that only the sun could shake off, but little by little, the days drew in, and the cold, dark night came, and brought only despair and melancholy.
It was a cold walk to the cottage where the wise woman lived, so the leaders of the tribe, an old man and a young maiden, set off in search of an answer to the blight that had afflicted their lands. And she welcomed them in, and soon they stood warming themselves before her fire. They asked her for help, and she gazed into the fire, as if falling into a trance, and spoke softly:
Branches dancing wildly through a stormy night
Sea foaming, waves churning against sea walls
As if an elemental force was loose, an evil wight
With destruction in its wake, as darkness falls
Seek the wisdom in the sacred fire, heart of gold
The sparks from where the shattered vessels fell
And fight against the darkness rising, be so bold
And venture forth into the lands where shadows dwell
And in those days, there was also a wise man, the keeper of the sacred flame. This was surely were wisdom was to come from. So they went to the wise man.
Now the wise man kept the flame upon the high places, set among the stones of the ancestors, and it burned as a beacon to guide sailors by night, and also a place where the tribe made the offerings to the gods of wheat and barley, of the first fruits, and of young lamb, when they sang of the blessings of the land, and gave a measure to the gods in thanksgiving.
The keeper of the flame told them that the seasons were out of balance, and the strange weather days were the result of an evil come upon the world, and he would strive to find the cause, and return to the tribe the heat of the sun. But the days grew ever dark and cold, and it seemed that the land would become a land of night, beset by wolves and bears, where no crops would grow, and all hope would die.
And so he set forth, and they kept the flame alight, in faith that he would return, and never gave up hope, even when the children cried with hunger pains, and their parents sought firewood with, venturing out with fingers chilled to the bone, and hurting in the cold winds that tore through this once pleasant land.
But when all hope had almost gone, he returned, after forty days, from the wilderness, and sat down by the fire, and told us his tale; the tale that I tell you now.
The keeper of the sacred flame had ventured far into the north, along the narrow mountain paths, and passed down through deep gullies, and the snow was thick upon this land. At last he came upon a mountain. This mountain was taller than any he had seen.
On the mountain's peak, lightening struck the land, with powerful energies, while all around a thunderous boom echoed across the valley. And on its summit stood a fortress, wall upon wall, battlement upon battlement, black, immeasurably strong, with a gate of cold steel, and above those cruel pinnacles, a great tower of black stone.
Upon that tower, the keeper saw a dark shape around which the firestorm blazed out, and yet sucked in the heat and light, and remained in shadow. He held a staff high in his hand, summoning the elements, and crying out an ancient spell:
Cold and blackness on the land
The void consumes the light
Gather darkness, reach out hand
And bring forth endless night
Tenebrae, O Tenebrae!
Et Ite Nunc!
And as he spoke, a colder wind spring up, and flakes of snow began to fall.
The keeper knew that this was the Ice Lord, and he had taken our fire and bound it to his will, stealing the light and warmth from our sun, drawing it to his mountain realm, and causing the days to weaken, and the tribe to feel despair, as all light and joy was stolen from them.
The keeper raised his own staff, and chanted an incantation of light:
We celebrate the sun returning
Growing light, early dawning
The sun brings life and growth
Rain and sun bring fruits both
As the light of the sun grows
Passion for life it now bestows.
Love is as powerful as death
Passion for life in each breath
Bursting into strongest flame
Let us rejoice, now proclaim
Burning heat like raging fire
Tongues of flame to inspire
So it was that the keeper of the sacred flame battled the Ice Lord, and great was their struggle. Bolts of fire rained down, setting fir trees on fire, and a storm raged around the mountain peak. But the Ice Lord was held at bay, and weakened, and his fortress crumbled, and the dark tower fell. The rocks of the mountain themselves slid, and all came crashing down.
Then the keeper bound the Ice Lord, and chained him with many binding spells, and with his baneful power gone, the days began to grow longer once more, and the warmth and light of the sun began its slow return.
The keeper of the sacred flame was weary from his struggle, but victorious, and gradually, he retraced his steps, returning to our village. But it can cost him dear; he lost all his powers in that fight, and died soon afterwards.
Now all that took place many years ago, and the tale was forgotten, almost lost, except among those who passed it down the years, telling it to each other.
And it is said that every year, the Ice Lord breaks his chains, and casts an evil enchantment, binding the sun to him, summoning warmth from the land, and robbing the earth of life, and the people of joy. Then the winter storms bring a dying year, and a fading sun, and despair casts a shadow on the land.
But also every year, we rekindle a portion of the sacred flame, when we take the Yule log and burn it anew
And as we do so, it is said that the spirit of the keeper of the flame returns to keep us safe, as he awakens from his deep sleep within the trees. Then he ventures forth once more to battle against the dying light, and at the shortest day, he holds the darkness at bay, and the days begin their slow march back to light, growing longer and longer once more.
As the trees burned brightly when the battle fought, so we keep a remnant of the burning fires ourselves, and light the Yule log, for hope, for the renewal of the sun at the turning point of the year, and as we leap over the smouldering wood, we too cross the threshold from darkness into light and are reborn.
Pass through fire, be not burned
Such is promise now discerned.
Tuesday, 21 December 2010
About a fortnight before, the priests prepare and bless certain white cakes as thin as wafers, and about six inches in diameter. These cakes they send to all the families of their, parishes, and there is not a dwelling, from the palace to the hovel, which does not receive one, making in return a suitable donation to the church in proportion to their means.
Christmas eve is still a day of fast, followed by feasting at the first star, with hay under the table, and the white cakes would appear to be the "Oplatek" described below from a modern description of Polish Christmases, although it doesn't appear that the clergy are now involved in the making of the bread.
The traditional Christmas dish in Poland is 'Oplatek', a piece of bread pressed with a holy picture on the surface. People carry it from house to house and share it with their family members, friends and immediate neighbors and wish them a Merry Christmas. Each person who shares the bread is supposed to forgive everything that may have hurt them in the past year, befriend the person once again and wish the person all the happiness in the coming year.
The unleavened wafers are baked from pure wheat flour and water, are usually rectangular in shape and very thin; they are identical in composition to a round wafer which become the Host after the Consecration during Mass in the Roman Catholic Church. Being only a reminder of the Body of Christ used in private homes, Oplatki lack sanctification by a priest or bishop.
The changeover from the priests preparing and distributing the bread (which is the case in 1868) seems to have come about when Poland lost its independence after the Second World War, although some bread is still taken to the priest to be blessed:
On Christmas Eve, the Poles have a beautiful custom that recalls the Eucharist: Oplatki ("oplatek" in the singular) -- very thin, crisp, large rectangular breads with the consistency of Communion wafers and impressed with religious designs -- are eaten on Christmas Eve (Wigilia) . They are laid at the center of the table this night, on a bed of straw. Just before supper, the father wishes all a holy Christmas and recalls those who've died during the year and brings to memory Christmas Eve suppers past. He takes an oplatek that's been blessed by a priest, and breaks off a piece to give to his wife. He places it in her mouth with a blessing such as, "May the Lord bless and keep you through this next year." The mother reciprocates and then hands a piece to the person next to her and blesses him. That person does the same to the one next to him, and so on, until all have received and given a piece.
So it does appear that some oplatek are blessed by priests, although they no longer appear to be involved in the baking of them, they are involved in the distribution, and it is still supporting church funds. As one writer says in 2009:
In Poland we buy "Oplatek" in our churches. It is accessible in shops too - but our tradition is to get it from church. Nobody is baking it in home
Anyway, here is Whitnash Parish Magazine, 1868 on a Polish Christmas:
Whitnash Parish Magazine 1868
The Christmas festival is one of those which the Polish clergy celebrate with extraordinary solemnity. About a fortnight before, the priests prepare and bless certain white cakes as thin as wafers, and about six inches in diameter. These cakes they send to all the families of their, parishes, and there is not a dwelling, from the palace to the hovel, which does not receive one, making in return a suitable donation to the church in proportion to their means.
Christmas eve is a strict fast-day throughout the country; but no sooner does the first star appear in the heavens (an event impatiently watched for) than the lucky person who is the first to see it has to has to tell the mistress of the -house; who then orders dinner to be served. A little hay has :previously been strewed under the table, in. order to remind the guests that Jesus was born in a-stable. Every one takes his seat, the master of the house at one end of the table and the mistress at the other ; the sacred cakes are brought in, the master and mistress each break off a bit and send the rest round the table, each guest in his turn breaking off a morsel.
A little after midnight the company go to their parish church, .where a solemn hymn announces the birth of the Saviour, and the words "Jesus is born"' are spoken aloud by all present.
In the country; the day is enlivened by parties of people wearing masks going in sledges, accompanied by fiddlers and singers, to surprise their friends. These parties are foolishly meant to represent the three Magi bringing offerings to the Lord. In towns, the poor go about with a box representing a stable and the infant Jesus, Joseph, the ox, and the ass; they sing rude carols, and get some coppers from the bystanders.
In Servia the head of the family goes into the woods on Christmas-eve about nightfall, cuts down a young oak tree, as straight an one as he can find, and brings it home, saying, "Good evening, and a merry Christmas !" The others reply, " God grant it you," and at the same time strew a few grains of corn on his head; the sapling is then laid on the hearth.
On the following day pistol-shots axe heard, and a visitor appears at the door, throws in a handful of corn, and cries, "Christ is born!" Those who have been hit reply, "He is indeed!" The visitor then approaches the fire, where the sapling is still glimmering, strikes it with the tongs, and exclaims, "So many sparks, so many oxen, horses, goats, sheep, pigs, and beehives!" After which the mistress of the house throws a veil over the visitor, and the remains of the oak tree are carried into the garden or orchard.
When dinner is announced, each of the guests approaches with a lighted taper in his hand; prayers are said, after which they all embrace each other, saying, "The peace of God be with you; Christ is truly born, we. adore Him!" Then, in order to represent the intimate union of the members of the family, the master of the house collects all the tapers, ties them in a bundle, and lays them on a dish containing various kinds of grain and a loaf of unleavened bread; which has had a: silver coin put into it while it was being kneaded. This loaf is then broken into pieces, each person takes one, and he to whose lot the silver coin has fallen is reckoned the luckiest member of the family during the year.
The hospitable board is open to all comers for three days, and. until New Year's-day the universal salutation is, "Christ is born ! He is truly born."
Whitnash Parish Magazine 1868
Monday, 20 December 2010
He had been standing with his knees in front of the open oven door open because he could not afford to heat the rest of his home. (1)
Jersey's citizens advice bureau says people living there less than five years will be hit hardest by the rise in the goods and services tax (GST). Malcolm Ferey, from the bureau, said they may not be able to apply for income support. Jersey politicians voted to keep GST on food and fuel and to increase the tax to 5% from June 2011. Malcolm Ferey said he was disappointed the States did not allow goods and services tax (GST) exemptions. He said there was a portion of the community that falls into the gap and loses out on support. This group includes pensioners and those who have been there for fewer than five years. Mr Ferey said that the increases would also hit the middle earners who have no tax buffer and would mean many could not afford "life's little luxuries". He said: "There are people who fall through the gaps and if someone has been here for four years it is feasible they have contributed to society, they have a family and fall on hard times.
"These are the type of people, it is a social group that do need to be looked at.
"They won't qualify for income support because they have been here for less than five years, there is little or no support for these people."
Mr Ferey said there were no reduced tax thresholds to soften the blow of the increases. It is into these "gaps" that the 80 year old pensioner falls, quite literally, and where income support does not catch the relevant people within its net.(2)
Even within income support, and its cold weather component, there can be problems.
A "Memorandum submitted by National Energy Action" to the UK Parliament noted that:
The time-lag in fuel poverty data means that official statistics are not current. However even on the basis of older data covering a period before the worst effects of energy price increases there was no prospect of meeting the 2010 target and little prospect of meeting the 2016 target for England (4)
The definition of households in fuel poverty commonly used-i.e. those households where more than 10% of income has to be spent on fuel for adequate heating
The reliability of official fuel poverty data is compromised as a result of the time-lag between collation and publication of survey findings.(1)
The figures for "fuel poverty" under these thresholds gives a significant weight towards the elderly single pensioner, which is precisely where the pensioner above falls:
One person aged 60 or over 34%
Couple aged 60 or over 14%
Jersey doesn't use this measure of benchmarking and instead bases its component of income support upon "the aggregate of the amount by which the average daily temperature of each day in that month falls below 15.5 degrees Celsius".
When the JEC had an increase of 25% in its heating bills, the basis for doing this was refined so that the component was first increased, and then fixed to the Retail Price Index.
The Minister decided to amend the Income Support (Special Payments) (Cold Weather Payments) (Jersey) Regulations 2008 to increase the value of the cold weather payment by approximately 20% and to link future cold weather payments to the fuel and light element of the Retail Price Index and accordingly requested the Law Draftsman to prepare the necessary draft legislation.
It is possible for fuel prices to fall as well as rise and the regulation should allow the base value to reduce as well as increase from year to year.
This is a better measure for statistics than the UK, where a time lag of several years occurs, but it is still deficient in giving a three month lag, where the cost of fuel - as we have seen in recent months - can increase extremely rapidly. This means the quarterly heating bill may well be hitting the home at least 15 days before the retail index is published. It is also not clear whether the retail index is the best measure - an index based primarily on fuel costs would probably be better, as it would not be reduced by the averaging and weighting effects of other items in the calculation.
Moreover the current advice on hypothermia, which is more likely to effect the elderly (whose temperature regulation is poorer) is to keep the room temperature warmer. The temperature of 15.5C is the minimum given in the UK NHS guidelines, and this reflects the problem of Jersey in taking what might be fine for younger families, and applying such a criteria across the board, without reflecting the very real dangers to older people.
Even if you keep your temperature between 60°F (15.5C)and 65°F (18.3C) , your home or apartment may not be warm enough to keep you safe. For some people, this temperature can contribute to hypothermia. This is a special problem if you live alone because there is no one else to feel the chilliness of the house or notice if you are having symptoms of hypothermia. Set your thermostat for at least 68°F (20C) to 70°F (21C).
The paper on "Evaluating welfare state efforts and the model family approach: problems and promises" notes that one of the problems with benefits systems is "The methods used to target assistance at households which need it most". The Income Support Cold Weather payments does target infants under 3, and elderly over the age of 65 years, which are the two most significant areas, but only for those who are "in receipt of income support".
But the paper notes that:
The correlation between social assistance levels and poverty risks is probably rather weak because the model family approach focuses on only one specific dimension of social protection, that is the level of fiscal and social benefits. The adequacy of social protection arrangements however also depends on other factors.
and in particular, because:
Firstly, the eligibility rules can exclude certain categories from income protection. (3)
If this is the case for the pensioner - that he falls into the "gap" where eligibility ceases, but need is still there, then clearly the rules need reconsideration. Part of the problem may be how the family types considered by income support are defined:
Because the impact of social protection measures is necessarily calculated for only a limited number of family types, model family results are far more illustrative than representative. (3)
But what is equally significant is to do with how "pro-active" claimants are. In the days of Parish Welfare, the disadvantage was that the system was not on a universal Island wide statutory level, but the advantage was that Parish officials were employed to proactively seek claimants who - perhaps like the pensioner in question - may have a need but had little or no idea how to go about that. This is a finding of a problem across Europe of pretty well all welfare systems:
Secondly, family models assume that all families claim and receive the benefits for which they are eligible. In other words, family models do not take into account the administrative feasibility of social protection measures and related non-take-up rates. Nevertheless several studies indicate that non-take-up rates for social assistance benefits can amount to 20 % and more
The UK Report on "Winter Fuel Payments and Cold Weather Payments" to the Select Committee noted that the problems with take-up were significantly high to pose a risk to the health of those vulnerable to cold weather, and that a universal fuel payment was probably a better safety-net.
There is understandable ambivalence about the Winter Fuel Payment as a fuel poverty initiative and this is inevitable whilst the payment is based solely on age with no reference to need. However the universal nature of the payment overcomes a number of difficulties including non-take-up of entitlement, which is common amongst pensioner households, and the issue of those who would be marginally excluded from entitlement if the benefit were to be means-tested. (4)
That is, of course, a political decision, but so is the decision not to exempt domestic fuel from GST. Clearly better safety nets need to be organised so that a near tragedy does not turn into a real tragedy, and people like this pensioner are found and given help. This occurrence should act as a warning, flagging up deficiencies that need to be addressed sooner rather than later. For later may turn out to be too late.
First Collector: At this festive time of year, Mr. Scrooge, it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute.
Ebenezer: Is there no income support?
First Collector: Plenty of income support for those who can access it. Although it barely supplies enough to keep off the cold, and little enough for food.
Ebenezer: Oh, from what you said at first I was afraid that something had happened to stop it in their useful course. I'm very glad to hear it.
First Collector: I don't think you quite understand us, sir. A few of us are endeavoring to buy the poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth.
First Collector: Because it is at Christmastime that want is most keenly felt, and abundance rejoices. Now what can I put you down for?
Ebenezer: Huh! Nothing!
Second Collector: You wish to be anonymous?
Ebenezer: [firmly, but calmly] I wish to be left alone. Since you ask me what I wish sir, that is my answer. I help to support the establishment I have named; there is income support, and forms to complete, and those those who are badly off must go there.
First Collector: Many can't go there. They are not eligible.
Second Collector: And some don't know that they can, and would die.
Sunday, 19 December 2010
The air is cold, and the snow begins
To fall, softly, as the daylight thins
The blizzard blows with biting wind
Once Winter Solstice underpinned
The seasonal days, the feast of Yule
When for twelve days, Woden's rule
Brings the gods closest to Midgard
The middle world, and the graveyard
Lets loose the restless dead, in strife
Seeking restitution for enmity in life
Shadows seeking to be reconciled
Bound fast as if by ghostly chains
Now vixen howls in hunger pains
And wolves are hunting in the wild
The forest white, the snowdrift piled
Deep in hollows, the gale blowing
Swirling whorls of ice are flowing
In the frosty air, but then comes heat
As the Yule log is lit, mince pies eat
Mulled wine warms away the cold
Lanterns shining, bright and bold.
This is the bleak midwinter, but now
Time to celebrate in many ways how
Rebirth of the sun comes once more
As if knocking opens Winter's door
Crackers like Woden's hammer smite
Making sparks, a portent of the light
That shines above in the starry skies
Somewhere below, a new-born cries.
Thursday, 16 December 2010
(Professor Wilson Lowrey, University of Alabama)
In her book "Blogging", Jill Walker Rettberg notes that there are different ways in which blogging overlaps with traditional journalist. Bloggers may report and comment on mainstream media, and bloggers may also "give first-hand reports from ongoing events".(1)
It is in the latter sphere that "Citizen Media", as bloggers are popularly called, have locally found potential conflicts over reporting from meetings where they wanted to video events, as with either Scrutiny meetings, or with the Hustings at Elections.
Journalists, as Wilson Lowrey points out in his article "Mapping the Journalism - Blogger relationship" often want jurisdiction over these kind of domains, and a special privileges to report them:
Conflict is likely to continue because bloggers and journalists stake out much of the same turf. Each claims some jurisdiction over the tasks of selecting events and issues for audience attention, commenting on these issues, and, to a lesser degree, gathering information for reports.(2)
He notes that this has led to attempts to differentiate between the "amateur blogger" and the "professional journalist", but apart from the fact that one is doing it for free, and the other is being paid, it is extremely difficult to find any cast-iron criteria:
To map out areas of vulnerability and confrontation, blogging and journalism must be conceptually differentiated. The search for a fundamental difference reveals a number of possibilities, most of which have been discussed by media observers. For various reasons, none quite hit the mark.
There are, he notes, the "traditional" values of journalism are accuracy, fairness, and objectivity (International Federation of Journalists, 1986; Kovach and Rosenstiel, 2001; McQuail, 2000; Society of Professional Journalists, 1996). But he points out that, far from being "traditional", these evolved as a defense against the challenge to journalists by politicians, corporations, and others.
It was because they served the news organisation, and protected it from criticism, that these values came to be accepted; any consideration of history shows that quite different standards were acceptable in the past. Locally, in the 1948 elections, the Jersey Evening Post abandoned all pretense at impartiality, and gave its readers the names of people whom they urged them to vote for, and this was not differentiated as editorial comment, but incorporated seamlessly into the same pages reporting on the election hustings. Nowadays, that kind of behaviour only occurs in the partisan "Sark News", because the "traditional values" have in fact changed.
A printed paper is also, by itself, not a guarantee of journalism. As the Guardian reports:
In America major newspapers including the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Christian Science Monitor have gone web-only, while in Britain, Maxim and the Ecologist are among the magazines that have followed the trend. (3)
So what about the distinction between payment and non-payment? Lowry observes that, even here, the boundaries are starting to become more blurred, with blogging becoming a means of raising revenue.
Journalists benefit from their organizations' physical capital in the form of pay and benefits. Most bloggers are not paid for their efforts, and they therefore lack this incentive for the grittier, less glamorous aspects of news work, such as tracking down sources, and attending local government meetings. Lack of pay and benefits also prevents bloggers from attending to these efforts on a full-time basis. Thus bloggers are dependent on mainstream news media for original reporting, a situation that strengthens the position of mainstream journalism. This could be changing, as advertising and corporate money gifts in exchange for mentions in postings are becoming more common. (2)
Of course, it is noteworthy in Jersey that some of the bloggers who attend political meetings are not working, because of retirement or infirmity, and can therefore devote their time to the "less glamorous aspect" of attending meetings and recording them.
This brings me neatly to several advantages that bloggers have over journalists. In their study on "Blogs in Campaign Communication", Gracie Lawson-Borders and Rita Kirk note that:
Freed from the economic pressures, bloggers opened doors and created pockets of public opinion that pressured the mainstream into assessing the validity of stories the dominant parties and candidates might be tempted to suppress. (3)
Journalists, as they point out, have commercial pressures which may lead them to avoid certain stories, or leave aside stories that will sell less newspapers. The bottom line is the advertiser and the newspaper buyer, and this leads to more headline grabbing news, which is soon forgotten once it ceases to be "newsworthy" - in other words, no longer something that would cause people to buy papers, and hence advertisers to want to advertise in them. As Lowrey notes:
Though organizational structure offers benefits, there are drawbacks. Being housed in an organization means journalists must compromise professional values so as to move in directions that enable organizational survival or ensure corporate profit. For journalists this may mean adopting a marketing or entertainment orientation at the expense of serving the public through in-depth and meaningful coverage and opinion (Beam, 1990; McManus, 1994).
This has led, over time, to a much less diverse kind of journalism. One has only to look at the journalism of the Victorian era, for example, or even the time before the Second World War, to see how diverse and iconoclastic the reporting could be in newspapers, periodicals, gazettes.
Some, like Hilaire Belloc, or the Chestertons, would begin writing for publications, and then found their own ("The Eye Witness"); others, like W.T. Stead, would pioneer radical new kinds of journalism - the interview (with his ground-breaking interview of General Gordon). It is interesting that some local blogs have been running quite interesting and wide ranging interviews, such as the recent series on faith and politics, and also noteworthy that they have been scrupulously fair in letting the participants get over their point of view, and not using it as a platform for cheap polemic.
For all the history made by newspapers between 1960 and 2000, the profession was also busy contracting, standardizing, and homogenizing. Most cities now have their monopolist daily, their alt weekly or two, their business journal. Journalism is done a certain way, by a certain kind of people. Bloggers are basically oblivious to such traditions, so reading the best of them is like receiving a bracing slap in the face. It's a reminder that America is far more diverse and iconoclastic than its newsrooms. (Welch, 2003)
This too, is the case with Jersey, where local bloggers have appeared with cameras and the politicians are uncertain as to how what is recorded is going to be controlled. There has been a always a criticism that the blogger may "door-stop" a politician, and indeed I remember this happening in the Royal Square, with (if I remember correctly), William Bailhache. And equally, a clip of one of the election candidates who didn't want to be interviewed had a criticism of him that was not there on other candidates.
But that doesn't mean that the accredited media are above "door-stopping". BBC programmes such as "Watchdog" and "Panorama" are plentiful with examples of a far more aggressive interview technique, and no one (apart from the recipient) floods the BBC with complaints. And I also remember Channel Television taking time to door-stop a rather inebriated politician (in fact outside his front door!) on a disappointing Senatorial election night, and broadcasting his words on their website for all and sundry to observe. Objectivity, anyone?
What is clear with the demands to only open up debate to "accredited journalists" (which is in fact a misnomer, as there is no set form of accreditation) is a desire to channel debate and broadcast news into a much more constrained framework. And whereas Channel Television, for example, may only broadcast 2 minutes of a meeting (be it scrutiny or hustings), the blogger has the advantage of widening the amount of material broadcast, and give longer interviews, which can be viewed again - which means politicians, used to the usually ephemeral nature of most reporting, need to be more careful with what they say.
The demands and constraints of routinized production mean journalists must typify some events as news and ignore others. Tuchman (1978) says journalists use a 'news net', which allows small stories through but which catches big ones. (2)
What of the future? Either bloggers need to have a code of conduct to follow to ensure that they indeed follow the values of accuracy and fairness, or they can simply be excluded. But I suspect that if the latter course of action prevails now, there will come a time when change will be forced upon the States, and exclusion is a failure to engage with the emerging culture, and instead is a strategy of taking refuge inside a castle, pulling up the drawbridge, and indulging in a wishful fantasy that matters can remain as they have ever been.
Just in case anyone gets the wrong idea about my blog, I do not regard myself as "citizen media", or any kind of journalist. I am just a commentator, musing on the world.
(1) "Blogging", Jill Walker Rettberg, 2009
(2) "Mapping the Journalism - Blogger relationship", W. Lowrey, Journalism, 2006, Vol 6
(4) "Blogs in Campaign Communication", Gracie Lawson-Borders and Rita KirkAmerican Behavioral Scientist 2005, vol 49
Wednesday, 15 December 2010
Doing nothing: so this is the man who would not hold have any committee of enquiry into the suspension of Graham Power, until his hand was forced by Deputy Bob Hill bringing a proposition. Then he finally took the decision to have Brian Napier compile a report (his preferred option), and then just sat on that report when it came back (citing "possible legal implications"" which never in fact emerged) until his hand was finally forced by Deputy Bob Hill.
Doing nothing: Senator Terry Le Main was told that he would need "training and education" after Senator Le Sueur admitted that the Minister should not have written to the Courts. When did this happen? Has Senator Le Main said that he now understands why he should not have taken that action?
Doing nothing: Senator Le Sueur tells the States that Bill Ogley has been "disciplined" but refuses to say what the nature of the discipline was. Given the "proven track record", it's probably very little. But citing confidentiality ("passing the responsibility to a higher authority") means he doesn't have to say.
Passing the responsibility to a higher authority? Does that mean that signing the contract for the incinerator without looking at hedging against price changes in the Euro is something he will now take responsibility for rather than heaping all the blame for it on the head of States Treasurer Ian Black?
I could go one, but as usual, Senator Le Sueur has a knack of saying one thing, and doing exactly the opposite, and hoping that if he bumbles along, no one will ever notice. And no one will blame him. After all, doing nothing, or passing the responsibility to a higher authority, means that one cannot get blamed.
The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them....To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies - all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth. (2)
(2) Orwell, George (1949). Nineteen Eighty-Four. Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd, London, part 1, chapter 3, pp 32
Tuesday, 14 December 2010
I have always held the opinion that any tax which taxes life's essentials is immoral, unfair and falls disproportionately on the less well-off....The argument that has always been used by successive Ministers for Treasury and Resources in regard to GST is "keep it simple", "it's only 3%". I sign up to keeping things simple, but not to an inequity; it was wrong to tax these items at 3% and to consider taxing food and heating at 5% is indefensible (Andrew Green)
Does order matter?
Freeze GST for 6 months?
Freeze GST for a year?
Keep GST at 3%?
GST rise to 4%
GST to 5%, but with exemptions
GST to 6%, but with exemptions?
GST to 5%
Does the order in which a debate is carried make a difference to the final outcome? Where there are so many amendments on the table to the final option (GST at 5%), I think it could well make a difference, and that the person controlling the order by which the choices are given (the agenda maker) has great control over the outcome. There is a considerable body of literature which has examined this phenomena, starting with Schwartz's groundbreaking study on "Agendas and Control of Political Outcomes".
Understanding amendment rules and voting methods is important for political analysis because it reflects the degree to which outcomes depend on structure rather than votes
After a bill is reported to the floor and amendments are offered, the voting method employed can have significant effects on the final collective choice. The method of choosing between mutually exclusive legislative proposals, and the position of the status quo (i.e., when it comes up in the decision sequence and when it is the default alternative), varies across countries.
The voting agendas in place to decide on the details of the bill vary cross-nationally. The two most studied procedures are the so-called amendment and the sequential-elimination procedures. The first is employed primarily in Great Britain and its former colonies including the U.S., and the latter is mainly used in Continental Europe and Latin America. The two archetypical methods have existed since at least the Roman Empire (Farquharson 1969) (1)
Jersey uses the "amendment procedure" rather than the "sequential-elimination procedure"
Under the amendment procedure, amending votes precede an enacting vote: a draft bill is pitted against amended versions until, at the end, a surviving version is pitted against the status quo. The winner is the alternative chosen in the last vote, after all other alternatives have been voted at least once
Under the sequential elimination method, mutually exclusive alternatives are voted up or down in a given order. If a majority chooses one alternative, it is the outcome; voting on that section stops, and all other mutually exclusive alternatives are considered rejected. (1)
How can this effect outcomes?
In the 1950s Duncan Black first noted that under the amendment procedure the later an alternative enters the voting stage, the greater its chance of adoption. Under sequential elimination agendas, it is the opposite: the sooner and amendment comes up for voting, the greater its chance of winning (Farquharson 1969). (1)
So the order in which matters are presented in Jersey, and the amendment system means that the likehood is that items such as a 4% rise on GST rather than a freeze would have stood a better chance. In fact, Senator Francis Le Gresley tried to boost support for the freeze by withdrawing his own suggestion to raise GST to 4% instead of five. Philip Ozouf then (citing the "mood of the house"!!) withdrew the amendment to GST of 6% but exemptions from the table, so the only choice was over exemptions - against which he could argue a revenue loss, rather than a tax neutral option.
But if the freeze options had come last, before the final 5% with no exemptions, it would have been a straightforward tussle between the two options. With no other options in the pipeline, such as GST at 6% but with exemptions, there was always a chance that those who were convinced of exemptions, such as Andrew Green, Brian Le Marquand, Jacqui Hilton and Ian Gorst, might have voted for a freeze, which might have given time, both for a changed economic outlook, and, of course, a changed political outlook as with even the 6 months option (taking the rise to December 2010), a new house would be sitting.
As it stands, it is a "win win" situation for some politicians who voted against exemptions, such as John le Fondré, because come the next election, they can say they had voted for a delay in GST, and they can even get off Montfort Tadier's "GST Party Win's Again" list, even though they were only voting for a delay, not a cancellation!
Francis Le Gresley's vote was surprising, especially as the Citizen's Advice Bureau took a completely different line. Clearly once he had withdrawn his 4% offer, there was nowhere else for him to go but 5%, as he didn't want exemptions.
Jersey's citizens advice bureau says people living there less than five years will be hit hardest by the rise in the goods and services tax (GST). Malcolm Ferey, from the bureau, said they may not be able to apply for income support. Jersey politicians voted to keep GST on food and fuel and to increase the tax to 5% from June 2011. Malcolm Ferey said he was disappointed the States did not allow goods and services tax (GST) exemptions. He said there was a portion of the community that falls into the gap and loses out on support (BBC News)
Here is the voting list - it can be seen that Ian Le Marquand, Jacqui Hilton, Ian Gorst - who have consistently been elected on a mandate of exemptions on GST have continued to honour their commitment. Ministers or Assistant Ministers they may be, but they still show an independent which is to be welcomed, and which derives from thinking ethically rather than managerially about the debate. There is, I think, too little discussion of ethics, and what would constitute a just society, in today's politics, and too much concentration on a "fixit" economics. While we need to have a budget that works, we should also be mindful of the poorer members of society, and not just look for an easy managerial solutions.
Anne Dupre had another change of mind, citing 5% as too high, although less generously minded commentators such as myself think that as she voted against exemptions just after the last elections, she needed to do something to boost her credibility before next year's elections.
The Constables are split by 9 parishes to 3.
POUR: 24 CONTRE: 26 ILL: 3
Senator Terence Augustine Le Sueur
Senator Paul Francis Routier
Senator Philip Francis Cyril Ozouf
Senator Terence John Le Main
Senator Frederick Ellyer Cohen
Senator James Leslie Perchard
Senator Sarah Craig Ferguson
Senator Alan John Henry Maclean
Senator Francis du Heaume Le Gresley, M.B.E.
Connétable John Le Sueur Gallichan
Connétable Daniel Joseph Murphy
Connétable Michael Keith Jackson
Connétable Silvanus Arthur Yates
Connétable Graeme Frank Butcher
Connétable Peter Frederick Maurice Hanning
Connétable Leonard Norman
Connétable John Martin Refault
Connétable Juliette Gallichan
Deputy Robert Charles Duhamel
Deputy John Benjamin Fox
Deputy James Gordon Reed
Deputy John Alexander Nicholas Le Fondré
Deputy Anne Enid Pryke
Deputy Angela Elizabeth Jeune
Deputy Edward James Noel
Deputy Tracey Anne Vallois
Senator Ben Edward Shenton
Senator Alan Breckon
Senator Bryan Ian Le Marquand
Connétable Kenneth Priaulx Vibert
Connétable Alan Simon Crowcroft
Connétable Deidre Wendy Mezbourian
Deputy Frederick John Hill, B.E.M.
Deputy Roy George Le Hérissier
Deputy Judith Ann Martin
Deputy Geoffrey Peter Southern
Deputy Carolyn Fiona Labey
Deputy Jacqueline Ann Hilton
Deputy Paul Vincent Francis Le Claire
Deputy Shona Pitman
Deputy Kevin Charles Lewis
Deputy Ian Joseph Gorst
Deputy Philip John Rondel
Deputy Montfort Tadier
Deputy Daniel John Arabin Wimberley
Deputy Trevor Mark Pitman
Deputy Anne Teresa Dupre
Deputy Michael Roderick Higgins
Deputy Andrew Kenneth Francis Green M.B.E.
Deputy Jeremy Martin Maçon
Deputy Collin Hedley Egré
Deputy Sean Power
Deputy Deborah Jane De Sousa