Wednesday, 11 December 2013

How to Boost the Power of Your Vote

Despite the disappointment of the recent referendum on electoral reform in Jersey, where a poor selection of unsatisfactory options led to an inconclusive result, there remains an imperative to make overdue improvements. Thus, a proposal has been made to overhaul another aspect of Jersey elections.

Although the referendum failed in its purpose of giving The States a mandate for change, or even a mandate for no change, it did succeed in being a demonstration of transferable voting in Jersey. While such a system had never been used in an election for office here, the referendum offered first and second choice voting for the three options, so that, if there were no clear majority in the first count, as indeed happened, the third placed minority would drop out in the run-off count and their second choices added to the others. This had to produce a majority. Sure enough, it established that the Option A, which I personally preferred, was marginally less acceptable than the Option B to the overall voters, although commanding the largest minority of first choices, so B was the democratically chosen winner. At least the derisory turnout vitiated the referendum to the point that it could be ignored with clean consciences by The States. However the mechanism of the voting was vindicated.

One of the conundrums (the pedant in me thinks I want the word conundra, but my spellchecker doesn't!) of first-past-the-post voting is whether to pick one's honest choices or whether to attempt to game the system with tactical voting. If you fear that your preferred choice will not command enough other people's votes to succeed, but one you are strongly opposed to will, there is some sense in voting for a third candidate who is less desirable, but has a worthwhile prospect of victory. This may help to keep the wrong one out, but it fails to send a message of support and approval to your real choice, and tend to discourage future candidates from offering a similar manifesto.

By contrast, transferable votes mean ranking candidates, so that you can give your honest first choice your primary vote. If they fail, then whoever you ranked next receives your vote, and so on for however many rounds of run-offs it needs to obtain a final result. This delivers the most widely supported, or at least accepted candidates, without posing any pressure to understate the true level of support for the also-rans.

Rather than attempt to go into detail myself on this subject, I would recommend anyone interested to go to the excellent article my fellow Jersey blogger “Tony The Prof” has written at He says everything I would want to, and in better English than I can manage.

Anyway, variations of transferable voting systems have been widely used in many countries around the world for decades. The advent of cheap and easily used computers has taken the hard work out of the necessary “number crunching” that is the only real drawback, so there is no longer any sound argument against the introduction here, too. It would also facilitate the success of another large multiple constituency system based on the rejected Option A, which is probably the most urgent electoral change Jersey needs to revitalise the democratic legitimacy of its government. Even if this particular attempt to introduce it fails, (and despite the proposal's inherent merit, it is not unimaginable that The States will reject it simply to spite its proposer), it needs to be returned to again and again until it does prevail.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Bald Truth and Bare-faced Lies

The Bald Truth Jersey, as linked in my blog list, is a witty title for the blog of my friend and erstwhile political colleague, Trevor Pitman, who has a bare scalp and a passionate commitment to calling things how he sees them.

However, he has cross-branded the title to a Facebook group, run by one Steve Southers, whom I believe to be Trevor's brother-in-law, although I may be mistaken. The Facebook group does run links to Trevor's blog, but otherwise, it has evolved its own identity, and become a very different kettle of fish.

Any Facebook group can only be as good or bad as the people who bother to join it, but the group administrators can, and usually do, shape the group to some extent, by constraining the content the members post, and controlling who is allowed in the group. I have volunteered as co-admin for a couple of the groups I am in, myself, and have been surprised at how many ethical challenges arise.

The Bald Truth Facebook group was initially populated with Trevor's Friend list, and has attracted others with an interest in Jersey affairs, until the thousand-plus membership has made it the largest Jersey discussion group, that I know of. Unfortunately, as the membership has grown, the proportion of posts from members with profoundly counter-factual worldviews has also grown. The headline posts letting us into the secret that humans were genetically engineered from apes by extra-terrestrial visitors can be enjoyed as comedy in small doses and the resident climate change denier's obtuse failure to absorb the resident environmental expert's patient debunkings also has a comedic dimension, reminiscent of the Monty Python sketch where an inept swordsman continues to bark challenges sans limbs after a comprehensive hacking.

The glimpses of an alternative reality get worse, though. There is much evidence of conspiracy theories on the page. Trevor Pitman's own political career has been hampered by a closing of ranks against him, so I can see why he would be inclined to sympathise. The tone of Steve Southers' Facebook group, however, is an anything-goes credulity towards suggestions of sinister forces secretly manipulating the world to their own benefit. (I am old enough and worldly enough to realise that great wealth does carry power, and the private and informal relationships of the very wealthy and powerful do play in counterpoint to the overt and formal structures of law and government. I am also wise enough to know that key words like Illuminati flag a need to engage extreme scepticism at least, if not ignore altogether.)

What has become the most worrying feature of the group, though, is that in spite of its links to a serving legislator, it has begun promoting the dangerously false legal advice of the Freeman On The Land movement. This is a Canadian variation of a scam that has been circulating in the USA for some years, in which dishonest legal advisors sell misinformation to to laymen on how the law is not legitimately the law of the land, and they can repudiate their obligations by declaring their independence from it. Although, they often assert that the state does have massive counter-obligations in their own favour. All untrue, of course.

Were the FOTL (Please yourself whether you read that as Freemen On The Land or Fruitloops On The Loose!) links posted as genuine discussion points, in the way most things are in topical Facebook groups, then at least the more rational members of the group could attempt to steer the more vulnerable members away from taking an unhealthy interest. Alarmingly, Southers, in spite of presenting himself as a defender of free speech when he turns up on other discussion groups is prepared to protect FOTL posts with active steps to suppress dissent. 

Note Southers' minatory response to criticism of a link to a FOTL video

The offending comments were rephrased in a way less open to misinterpretation as a slur on fellow group members.

But, it seems that the problem must have been disrespecting FOTL because Southers answered that question with a ban.

Not that that saved the piece from further attack from one of the other group admins.

So, there is one admin on the group not prepared to go along with it. Even so, it must be cause for concern that a Facebook group riding the coat tails of a current Member of The States of Jersey is actively fomenting disregard for the law, and doing so under false pretences, too. You may disregard my opinion as that of a layman, although I seem to know more real law than the FOTL gurus. You may even feel that Sam Mezec's LLB is not a sufficiently lofty qualification to impress you. Never mind, if you have a few hours to devote to some heavy and slightly repetitive reading, Chief Justice Rooke, of the Canadian Province of Alberta, has written the definitive debunking of the FOTL and all related “Organised Pseudolegal Commercial Agreements”:

I don't like to write blogs without points, so this one is coming to two. The first is that despite the links to Deputy Pitman, the actual Facebook group may promise Bald Truth, but abounds in Bare-Faced Lies, and should be viewed with caution and suspicion, if at all. The second point, incidentally arising, is that FOTL and other like OPCAs are utter buncombe beneath the mock-legal phraseology, and if they seem interesting, just remember that their facts are simply untrue, and don't be tempted to act on their advice.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Clothier? Think Twice

Many of my politically interested friends are pleased to see that this week The States Of Jersey finally approved, in principle, a referendum on the revised electoral system proposed by the Clothier Commission. There is certainly a strong case for replacing the current mish-mash of accidents of history with a modern and coherently designed process. Nevertheless, despite those around me telling me how good Clothier is in theory, I have yet to see any explanation that actually convinces me it is the right way forward.

The Clothier scheme successfully addresses the equality questions that so many hold against the current complex voting system. Neither voters in their representation, nor politicians in their mandates, have any kind of equality from parish to parish and office to office. Clothier would have a single rank of members, all from similarly-sized constituencies. Job done.

However, I feel Clothier has provided the right answer to the wrong question. In general, equality is a better principle than inequality, but I disagree that it should take priority over effectiveness of representation. Before they started chipping at the current system, I had fourteen representatives, the Constable, a Deputy and twelve Senators. In the urban districts, despite their whinging about getting less than their share, the multi-Deputy districts had sixteen or seventeen representatives, including up to four of their own local ones. So, apart from uncontested elections, we all got to vote for or against over a quarter of our little parliament. That is actually pretty strong democracy, that most of the world would envy, despite the awkward structure benefiting the kind of candidates, that people who read blogs like this would not want. Now, cuts in Senators bring our shares down a little, but I can still look forward to ten votes at the next election. Even so, that is still almost a quarter, a real say in the make-up of the States.

What, in contrast would I have to look forward to on the first election day after an implementation of Clothier? Possibly, one single seat to vote on, and in my particular locality, if it were contested at all, there would still be only one potential winner. Thus, as an avid follower of politics and current affairs, I would find myself denied any significant power to contribute to the success of those I would like to see in government.

All around Jersey, others like me would find the same disengagement foisted upon them. Each district would put forward its popular local bigwig, with or without the bother of seeing off a no-hoper or two, and except in a handful of less predictable town seats, effective democracy would be wiped out. That prospect saddens and scares me.

A “Yes” vote for Clothier would certainly blast the present political establishment, but it would be a suicide bomb that takes our own hopes for better democracy with it. Don't do it!

One Moron, One Vote

I think it was Winston Churchill who pointed out that democracy was a bad system, but everything else that has been tried was even worse. I grew up indoctrinated with the orthodoxy that democracy was, on the contrary, a very good thing. However, living and learning do little to substantiate that opinion, and each passing year deepens my suspicion that the great man was right.

For small groups and trivial questions, simple majority voting is more than adequate. As the voters rise into thousands and millions, though, the scale brings practical problems to all but the most sparing use of general popular votes. Moreover, as the questions become more complex and arcane, the validity of the general lay voters' judgement necessarily declines. Thus, we have to resort to representative democracy, where the nominally empowered voters elect, according to context, a committee, council, board or parliament comprised of those who the voters trust most to study the complex questions they lack the time, if not the capacity to research, and vote appropriately on their behalf. Well, that is what they need to do to make it work, anyway.

Regular readers will have noticed a mundane tendency of this blog to pay more attention to real world outcomes than the beauty of theories. So, the reality is, many voters, especially political voters, do not ask themselves whether they trust their representatives to judge well on their behalf, but instead vote for either the most famous candidate or the one from their loyalty group, without the least attempt to assess their capabilities to make the well-informed and thought-through decisions they are unable to make for themselves.

Equality of rights is a fine and good principle, that I am proud to uphold. Even so, equality of ability is an absurd fancy, so a presumption of it is an unsound basis for anything. The compromise lies in the concept of fairness. Unfortunately, fairness is an inherently subjective matter in a way that equality is not. We all know what honestly seems fair to each of us, but our individual ideas of fairness vary and even conflict. Yet another matter where consensus is probably the best thing, for all the reflexive difficulty in fairly determining it.

One way to resolve the conflict between equal rights to vote and unequal ability to use that vote is to weight the voting, so that those likely to have better judgement count for more. I do not know why political thinkers generally shy away from considering this. The only writer I personally know to have explored it was the mid-20th Century novelist Neville Shute.

Shute once wrote a dystopic fantasy of what Britain and the Commonwealth might have been like in the 1980s, projecting from a time of writing in the early1950s, called “In The Wet”. His premise, reflecting his personal circumstances as the proprietor of an aircraft factory under the Attlee government, was that the UK was a hotbed of creativity and engineering talent dragged down by an electoral system favouring talentless union placemen, while the entrepreneurial spirits had all baled out for colonies with go-ahead leadership, as Shute himself did in real life. In the book, the extra votes went for having a degree or equivalent, working abroad then coming back, being a clergyman, raising a family to adulthood without divorce and a few other indications of being a solid citizen. Shute's vision, rightly or wrongly, was that this would lead to a sharp increase in the quality of candidates being elected.

Sixty or more years on from when Shute flew his kite, the electoral process is a hot topic in the Bailiwick of Jersey. The current electoral districts are gerrymandered to restrict the representation of urban voters to way below pro rata, and the urban voters do their own part to justify their under-representation, by mostly abstaining from voting for the few Members they do get. Despite this manifest apathy, the minority, who do care, have long clamoured for reform.

2013 actually saw a referendum on electoral reform, but the questions were fudged to make a three-way choice between a fine reform, a botch to make matters worse, or leaving things be. Of course, people will be people and the botch narrowly won, fortunately with too small a turn-out to provide any sort of mandate for implementing it. However, one interpretation that could be put on such a result is that the democratic will of the people of Jersey is for an unequal distribution of voting power. This is where Shute's additional vote scheme comes in. With updated and locally appropriate criteria, only politicians rash enough to suggest that anyone of superior judgement would be prejudiced against them could object.

While the principle is not unreasonable, the devil would be in the detail of how the additional votes were assigned. Could we trust the States of Jersey to give the extra power to the wisest voters, or would they settle for something similar to gerrymandered boundaries, maybe one extra for a bank clerk, two for an officer, three for lawyer or accountant and none for a teacher because they are often left-wingers? I fear the latter would be the reality.

If it could be done honestly, it could be a way of improving Jersey politics, by playing on the vanity of the current establishment, to lead them to empower those who they think would support them but don't. Moreover, it would accord with the local cultural expectation, that politics should be for the middle classes. Although I would not back it myself, except as the other choice to a truly awful option, it is at least a different approach to stopping Jersey democracy from being considered an oxymoron, so I offer it as food for thought.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

A Trinity For Unity?

With a year to Jersey's next election, the politically interested are once again turning their mind to the island's remarkable lack of formal political parties.

Eight years ago, the 2005 election saw a surge of interest in party politics. The Centre Party, who were actually staunchly right-wing, but just not of the Establishment, soon vanished, while the Jersey Democratic Alliance nearly settled into becoming a permanent institution, taking several years to fade away after an unsustainably vigorous start. The Establishment politicians, for their part, did not see the need to set up a formal party to promote their own side, but they made it clear that there was a considerable amount of teamwork between those who intended to be working together when elected or re-elected.

Several more years of drifting in the same direction have kept those who are content with it from wanting to be any more politically active than they were. However, those, who are are discontented with various aspects of Jersey's current government, are beginning to feel the lack of formal vehicles to express their grievances and, one day, possibly implement solutions.

To topple, or even constrain, the established clique of ethically challenged cynics will require all who are not positively with them to unite against them. Saying that much is facile, but the first challenge is in how to unite them in a manner that is both flexible enough to accommodate internal dissensions without schism, and strong enough to maintain a cohesive direction. The Jersey Democratic Alliance was initially founded with the intention to be a very broad group, hence the name of Alliance. However, the centre-right element soon found themselves uncomfortable with the dominance of more left-wing thinkers, by both work rate and intellectual power, and baled out. The centre-left element bled away more slowly over the next five years, and, since the left-wing remainder became, in effect, the Jersey Labour Party, it has done nothing, if it even continues to exist at all. If practical lessons can be learned and applied from the JDA experience, though, then it was not all in vain.

To form a party, there has to be a nucleus of people agreed on a series of policies that they either desire, or at least assent to for the sake of their colleagues' desires, and motivated to pursue them. They can then recruit the uncommittedly sympathetic as rank-and-file members, and market the policies to the relatively apolitical general public as something worth voting for, come election time. Now, it seems to me that there are more than one tenable set of policies that could be pursued, according to taste and conscience. Therefore, there should be different nuclei of supporters around the different visions. The consequence of that, in turn, is a multi-party system.

A multi-party system, though, does not in itself unite the opposition, so much as formalise its divisions. Thus, to actually achieve anything, the parties must form coalitions to implement the overlaps on their policy lists, which will probably be quite substantial. Many things that should be either done or undone remain good or bad in capitalist, social democratic and socialist societies alike, and the parties can agree to do that much together. In a simple two-party system, cross-party agreements do not happen as often as they should, as tactical gaming tends to displace political integrity, but, with four-plus parties, dirty players can just get frozen out and marginalised.

If Jersey is to succeed in achieving the degree of political health most comparable jurisdictions enjoy, we need more than a party. We need a diversity of parties, and we need formal inter-party structures in turn. I envisage something like this as the way forward:

Four to six smallish parties, perhaps representing left, centre-left, centre-right and right on the traditional socio-economic continuum, and maybe green and libertarian taking other priorities, would make the basis. Most people, who would be activists at all, could find something for them amongst that selection.

Pairs or trios of parties with substantially overlapping aims would then have coalition agreements to work together on these shared aims and co-operate electorally. Certainly there is scope and even need for such a coalition between a leftist party and any centre-left and green party that may also form, and other parties will probably want to make similar connections.

All parties would benefit from also having an association of Jersey political parties, strictly concerned with the general promotion and support of party politics, and neutral as to what its constituent parties' politics may be. This could be used to both make general recruitment drives to encourage the public to work for their political beliefs, whatever they may be, and as a lobby group, to discourage The States from further measures to restrict the formation and growth of political parties.

The detailed picture of what emerges would have to depend on how many people actually care enough about what policies. There is a threshold of 20 signatories required under Jersey Law to found a party in the first place, and, given our firmly entrenched tradition of political apathy, some of the parties that could have been might not find them.

Anyway, I see the way to mount an effective challenge to the Establishment clique as not a simple unity of opposition, but a trinity of such left-wingers as there are in Jersey in one party, non-socialist liberals like myself in another, and a formal joint project of the two parties to organise a coalition in pursuit of the two parties shared objectives.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Rebranding Anarchy

Once upon a time, when the world was much emptier of people than it is now, the few humans that did live in it formed little tribal groups. To this day, on the very margins of Earth's habitable space, a minute fraction of humanity still live in the old way, even if their traditional opportunism means saying Yes to Industrial Man's steel knives and machine-woven cotton clothes. In some places, the tribes are firmly egalitarian, to the point of lynching megalomaniacs, while others adopt an authoritarian order, so it is no longer possible to be sure what the natural order of human nature might have been: Perhaps just to do things differently from the next tribe for the sake of difference. A nomad's life in a wilderness needs no government, however, little though governments laying claim to the nomads' wildernesses may like it.

The apparent freedom of the tribal nomad may appeal to a contemporary urban wage-slave. Nevertheless, those who once lived, or still live, the life tend to find a great deal of constraint on their freedom in practice. They may contentedly accept the strict, inflexibly rule-bound social codes of tribal life as the way things ought to be, but the shadow darkening the edges of all their lives is that of food insecurity. Failure to find or catch enough to eat means immediate misery and immanent extinction, so all their lives must revolve around sourcing the next meal.

Planting crops was a massive game-changer. Suddenly, by taking possession of the land and tending it, a sufficiency and even surplus of food freed at least some of the people, some of the time, for the myriad of other activities that make civilised life so much more satisfying for those who live it. However, to make it worth the farmers' while to feed the rest, they needed reciprocal benefits, at least indirectly, such as protection and craftsman-made goods. It was more practical and reliable to actively organise this new social order than to gamble on spontaneous emergence. And so, hierarchical government evolved to fill the niche.

For thousands of years, the existence of governments has served most of their people well most of the time. Of course, there are countless examples of corrupt or incompetent governments visiting disaster upon their unfortunate citizens, instead. That may be so, but, on reflection, it is plain that the problems are with the corruption and incompetence, not the intrinsic existence of government.

Anyone who fancies themself a realist would endorse the old proverb, that you can't please all of the people all of the time. Thus, some are discontented, and some of them in turn come to believe the remedy to their grievances would be to abolish any government. Therefore, the extreme position for any rebel, egalitarian or other shade of left-winger has always been anarchy. Anarchy may sound attractive, no state to boss you around and tax your money, but pragmatists don't usually fancy the consequences of the power vacuum, unless they themselves feel equipped to become one of the robber barons filling it.

While civilisation is dependent on government, there is a very broad range of tenable opinions as to how much governments should do to deliver civilisation's benefits to their citizens. There is also an equally broad range of opinions on what the reciprocal relationship of the citizen towards the state should be. Moreover, amongst those who are much bigger on feeling than thinking, the same person's opinions on the two may not even be compatible.

Those of us, who have had the benefit of growing up in a secure and prosperous civilised country, develop a sense of entitlement to the liberties civilisation and wealth make possible. A tribal goatherd will usually accept his destiny as the way his life was always going to be, and the only thing it could be, while anyone in a position to be reading this will have their brain washed with the idea that they could have been anything they wanted to be, and, if it didn't happen, they couldn't have tried hard enough. This individualistic and self-directed view of life naturally impinges on how we feel about our reciprocal duties towards the state that nurtures us. So, often the self-made take the background for their own struggle to succeed for granted, and overlook the importance of the physical and social infrastructure that enabled them to achieve.

A worse consequence of denying the contribution of humanity in general to one's own successes, is that it leads one to correspondingly overestimate the contribution the unsuccessful make to their own misfortune. Instead of the able seeing a duty to help arrange the world so that the less able have opportunities to contribute to the satisfaction of themselves and others, the relatively successful sometimes fall into an attitude that their good fortune proves they must deserve it, and so the unfortunate must deserve to be unfortunate, too. Sure enough, some indeed do get the lives they deserve, but I would challenge the generality of the rule.

However, if you have made the error of not reckoning the common goods you built our life on, and judge others' efforts purely by what they get to show for them, you can convince yourself that not only do you never need any help, but anyone who does, cannot deserve to get it, and least of all at your expense. This then provides a moral framework to call for a descent into anarchy, so that the clever and the strong may be relieved of the duty to support the stupid and the weak as their fellow humans. This brand of anarchism is rather unattractive to people of integrity, when spelled out, so, it has become fashionable to pass it off as libertarianism, instead.

Really, libertarianism is as much a triage to spare government or society the trouble of unnecessary intervention, as it is an assertion of the right of an individual to be as free in how they choose to live, as can be accommodated by the reciprocal freedom of others. However, once you distort the morality with the idea that needing help forfeits the right to it, it simply becomes a shallow rebranding of an exceptionally vicious and degenerate variety of anarchism, for a generation raised to distrust the old tag.

Let us lay this nonsense to rest. Humankind's heritage and destiny has been and will always be to be a social animal. An occasional castaway may have to go feral, and, more commonly and dangerously, some go feral in the midst of human society, from flaws in the brain denying them the crucial part of human nature that links the individual into their group. But in the main, all of our busy life is just expansion and refinement of life in a troop of monkeys. Doing your fair share, one way or another, does not make you a victim of a confidence trick; it is not only your moral duty, but your biological purpose. It is how we function, as a species. The confidence trick is the one that tells you to abjure your humanity and go your own way with no more than a parting sneer for those you owed. The “Libertarian” anarchists pitch their corrupting manipulations shrewdly, but look through the emotive style to the harsh, inhuman, even sub-simian substance, and reject it. It would make a lesser human of you, should you swallow the bait.

Friday, 20 September 2013

I don't Like iOS7

When Apple's newest update,
By name of ios5
Came out, it was quite marvelous, 
The Apple comp'ny thrived.

And later came the next one.
 - ios6.1 
Another great achievement,
Complicated, but still fun.

But then alas, a failure,
The seventh i.o.s
It's really rather crappy,
An awful little pest.

The apps are flat,
No borders.
A part of the home screen.
It's really rather simple,
And looks too flat and clean.

I'd write complaints to apple,
But i don't like to be mean
But i must say, it's not their best
Too sci-fi and pristine.

I'm really quite offended 
By this patronising fail.
It makes me want to unupdate,
Lie on the floor and wail.

It's much more fit for babies,
Than 9-10 years plus.
I fear, dear Apple - for you
That there'll be a massive fuss.

All will be complaining,
Of these weird facilities. 
I really think that better
Could be made by chimpanzees!

Okay, i'll stop complaining.
Yes, i don't like this update
But Apple, in a pre-warning,
Make the next one really great!!!

by Libby Rotherham

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Option A, In Depth

for longer than I can personally remember, Jersey has been beset by a widespread concern that the machinery of government does not function quite so well for us as we could expect, from the examples of how it functions elsewhere. Thus, we have had, in recent years, the Clothier fiasco and now the Bailhache Commission, looking to make much-needed improvements.

A decade ago, the public's leading grumble was inefficiency: All those members putting their 2d-worth into everything, slowing down the pace and sometimes even forcing the cancellation of rash schemes. However, we weren't careful enough in what we wished for. Now we have Ministerial government and the Troy Rule, concentrating power at the expense of diminishing control, and leaving a majority of Members on the back-benches, constitutionally barred from the work they actually sought to do. Meanwhile, they continue to be derided for perceived inefficiency.

The focus of concern has moved on, though, to the question of how we end up with the politicians we do, anyway. And so, we have had the Bailhache Commission. They have given us four options, none altogether satisfactory, and passed the buck back to the voting public for the next stage, although the final decision will not be ours.

The Commission have, inexplicably, demanded that any reform of electoral process be yoked to an arbitrary reduction in the size of the House. This is hugely problematical: Already, Ministers and Assistant Ministers are unable to oversee their Departments with anything like the thoroughness of the traditional Committees that they replaced. Reducing the number of Members, with a pro-rata decrease in Assistant Ministers, will only aggravate that problem. A 42 member States will soon find themselves torn between three problems. The Executive can keep power at the expense of control, as all the decisions pile up on a reduced number of desks, or they can abandon the Troy Rule, and its theoretical check on executive excess, to bring enough politicians back into government to keep the workload down, at risk of idealogical dilution, or they can urgently add a seat or even two per constituency, to make a 48 or 54 member House that can sustain a 25 or 28 member executive within the Troy Rule.

All that should not really have been part of the question, but as it has been wrongly made so, we must take it into account.

I deliberately wrote that we have been offered four options, despite there being only three on the ballot paper. There is a fair groundswell of support for “Option D”, the implicit fourth choice of abstention, whether passively by boycotting the poll, or actively by spoiling the paper. In favour of this choice, it does send the message that none of the others met people's hopes. On the other hand, it is open to being spun as a sign of indifference, and, if it is the dominant response, the States are likely to regard it as carte blanche  to please themselves.

Worse still is Option C, to positively endorse remaining with the system that is failing us. No doubt it would be a relief to sitting States Members to know that their seats will still be there, should they want re-election, but it would completely fail to deal with the inequalities of votes and mandates that discredit the States in the eyes of so many electors.

Yet even Option C looks good in comparison with Option B. The new constituencies can be considered when I look at Option A, but the glaring feature of Option B is the increased emphasis on the role of Constables in the States. I know of no other place in the world where free places in parliament are automatically given to local municipal mayors, as Constables would be described elsewhere. If we had the best government on Earth, then we would have a case for taking pride in this being part of our winning recipe. However, the starting point for the whole reform issue is that our government is conspicuously failing to measure up to its peers at present. So, what might we be doing wrong here? One of the most obvious things is clogging up a quarter of the places in the legislature with people with a primary duty to another level of administration, to the detriment of their work for both. The claimed justification that they are there specifically to represent those other levels is misguided, to say the least. Nowhere else does it, and nowhere else has a problem with local government arising from not doing it. I do not believe that there is something uniquely feeble about Jersey's parishes, that would make them wither, were they to gain their Constables' undivided attention. Option B would aggravate the problem, by reducing only the number of Members without split commitments.

A further drawback of the Constables' continuing membership of the States is, that the community standing and knowledge of the municipal administration that go to make a good Constable do not necessarily go together with the outlook on larger issues that a voter might wish for in his States representative. For example, in the UK, with its clear and unmuddled separation of tiers, it is not uncommon for the Liberal Democrats to be a town's party of choice for the local council, despite sending another party's candidate to Westminster.

Finally, my reverse tour up the ballot paper stops at Option A. As I noted above, the reduction of numbers to 42 is a mistake that will be regretted, should we choose to go down this road. However, the six-constituencies for all members elected on similar mandates is a massive improvement. I liked having 12 Senators I could vote for, but their numbers are being cut anyway, so the possibility of voting on over a quarter of the places in the States has already been lost to us. The big multi-member constituencies maintain a large fraction of the choice, though, and would improve matters by removing “rotten boroughs” that send Members, be they Deputies or Constables, to the House on so few votes that their credibility forever suffers scornful comparison with those there by the choice of thousands. These are the issues the Electoral Reform Commission was established to address, and Option A is, by and large, a remedy.

Despite the unwise cut in numbers, option A is the only one to bring us up to the expectations of a modern Western democracy, and we need to send the message to the States by going out and voting for it. We shall just have to hope then, that the States then implement the voters' choice, but exercise some discretion about the reductions, which they well might, considering the cliché about turkeys and Christmas that perennially haunts the subject.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Option A, in a nutshell

Despite the superficial fairness, the even-handed offering of retention of Constables or both Constables and Senators as alternatives could be interpreted by voters as implying that they, too, would be equally acceptable outcomes.

There are strong grounds for endorsing Option A, the six multi-Deputy constituencies without Constables. Only the first option delivers a House in which all Members are specifically elected to do the job by a comparable electorate and all voters have a fair and equal say in choosing their Members.

The second option provides only 30 Members unencumbered by the running of a parish, while the part-timers would hold equal power from fewer, and in some cases far fewer, votes; one of principal flaws of the status quo that the reform should be addressing.

Even choosing to stay with the present unsatisfactory system after all would be better than Option B, although it would be a sad waste of an opportunity to both make a real improvement and close the subject for the long term.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Full version of Blue Coupe/Stray review

Review of Opera House Gig 2/2/13 written for JEP, but published by them in an abridged form. Therefore, here is the full version for anyone who agrees Stray earned their share of the writeup:
,br /> Last Saturday, The Opera House played host to not just one, but two exceptionally fine hard rock bands. Although, sadly, the venue was half-empty, the sparse audience were delighted with their evening's entertainment.

First on were the current incarnation of 1970s heavy metal pioneers Stray. Original guitarist Del Bromham has added the front man's skills of fine tenor vocals and engaging Cockney banter over his long career, and served up his rhythmically precise and melodically fluent playing with great panache, while the younger drummer and newly-recruited bass player provided appropriately powerful accompaniment. They played both recent material and old songs from the original line-up's heyday. They are not in decline. Perhaps the strongest song of their whole set was one of the newer ones, a dark lament on the execution of shell-shocked soldiers in World War I.

By the interval, many of the audience felt they had already had their money's worth. However, more was to come. Blue Coupe swaggered on stage with the confidence befitting their backgrounds as international stars with Blue Oyster Cult and Alice Cooper, and launched into a rousing version of the latter's ”I'm Eighteen”. Blue Coupe are a slightly different recipe to their support act, in that they are more about the songs than the way they play them, but these veterans still bring their repertoire alive with the raw energy of a high-school band. The vitality of the Bouchard brothers and the charisma of bassist Dennis Dunaway guaranteed sparkling performances of many of the highlights of their respective back catalogues; BOC's thunderous “Godzilla”, haunting “Astronomy” and roof-raising “Don't Fear the Reaper”, Alice's storming “Under My Wheels” and climactic “School's Out” and many more beside.

Having brought a sizeable fraction of the audience to their feet, by the end of the main set, the band needed little pleading to return for a lengthy encore of bluesier songs, such as “Roadhouse Blues” and “Spoonful” featuring Jersey's own harmonica star Giles Robson as a guest.

All in all, it was a fine evening's music for a modest ticket price, and the many rock fans who left so many seats unbought can now give themselves a good kicking.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Tune Back Into the Rhythm of Life

I have been brought up with an awareness of, and interest in nutrition. However, the more one tries to learn, the more contradictions and paradoxes one gets faced with.

The most fundamental starting point is that not eating enough kills in weeks, and not drinking enough in days. We all have an instinctive sense of this, that keeps us alive, but that instinct can sometimes also lead us astray.

In fact, for the large fraction of the Western World that is enjoying an abundance of food in our time, the threat to health comes more from surfeit than lack. Although we mostly avoid the harm that comes from simple insufficiency of food, many people, including a lot who should know better, eat imbalanced diets that skimp on some key nutrients while overloading their metabolisms with more than they can cope with of others, and ever more of us eat imbalanced diets on such an epic scale that we break our health in the long term. The consequences of excess kill about 200 times more slowly than those of famine, but kill they do, and millions of years of potential life are going unlived as a result.

Given that we all know eating is good, and it is not transparently inconsequent logic to deduce that eating more must therefore be better, why it does not turn out that way in real life is a mystery to laymen and a challenge to scientists. The crudest measure of overeating is obesity. Being a simple thing to grasp, much money can be made from encouraging the insecure to fret about this, and there is an undeniable correlation between obesity and ill-health. However, scientific research shows that it is not a simple causal relationship: The minority of fat people, who keep their muscles fit beneath the blubber, have the same mortality rate as the lean and fit, and rather better than the merely weedy, according to the epidemiologists. Other studies have made it plain that where the fat lies is more of an indicator of problems than how much there is of it. Be it cause or, more likely, co-consequence, substantial abdominal fat goes hand-in-hand with the excessive levels of various chemicals in the blood that wreak the real damage, unseen and unfelt; whereas subcutaneous fat is a far greater menace to vanity than to health.

Chemicals in the blood, wreaking unseen and unfelt damage. There, I think, I have reached the crux of the matter; how we harm ourselves with our food without triggering any protective instincts. Only in our time have medical scientists worked out the significance of some of the many ingredients to be found in our blood, and they are still unrolling the story – below I shall come to explain how this article was sparked by learning of some current research. Everything every cell in the body needs to consume or dispose of must get into the bloodstream, but there are lower and upper limits to what is useful and harmful.

Sugars are one of the best known levels to need controlling. Without energy to live by, we are not viable organisms, but overfeeding individual cells can have dire consequences for the body as a whole. Perhaps one of the best-known of our hormones, insulin, regulates blood sugar, as one of the most important of its multiple functions, but constantly sending vast quantities of sugars from our guts to our blood can overwhelm the insulin process with at least two dire potential consequences: syndrome X, where persistently elevated insulin levels create resistance to all its metabolic effects throughout the body, with similar results to premature aging, and type 2 diabetes, where the body's ability to produce enough insulin simply burns out, with much the same effect as syndrome X and more besides, including life-threatening harm to circulation and brain function amongst other symptoms.

Cholesterol levels are another that most people know are a risk area. I myself am under doctor's advice to restrict saturated fat intake, after a couple of poor results for Low-Density Cholesterol level tests. Letting LD cholesterol get out of hand leads to the surplus precipitating out in blood vessels, until a stroke or heart attack cuts you off in your prime. An even more dismal prospect than eating less cheese and sausage!

Much more recently than the discovery of insulin, scientists have begun to investigate the role of a related hormone to insulin itself, to which they have given the distinctly uncatchy name of insulin-like growth factor 1, or IGF-1 for short. The root of this article is in a BBC2 Horizon programme, which included some coverage of research into the causes and effects of varying IGF-1 levels. It seems that adult humans metabolise digested proteins over a two day cycle, with a corresponding rise and fall in IGF-1 levels, and differing responses to rising and falling levels. In particular, according to the research featured in the programme, falling IGF-1 levels are the cue for the body's healing and immunity processes. Another question that the same programme gave some attention to was the very controversial idea of Caloric Restriction as a healthy approach to eating.

For some years I have been aware that some study has been done on comparing laboratory animals on varying degrees of restricted diet with others allowed to feed ad lib. These studies invariably achieve substantial longevity gains for the half-starved subjects. Curiously, though, humans who eat limited diets, from either poverty or spiritually motivated asceticism, do not often seem to live especially long lives. However, some of the best life expectancy statistics do come from places with a cultural tradition of eating nutritious but energy-poor staples, so there may be something in it. When reading of the latest research on Caloric Restriction, I always suspected that the likely mechanism was that reduced energy availability enforced more rest on the test creatures. However, the IGF-1 research, in which the low blood levels a day or more after a rich, high-protein high energy meal has been fully metabolised were linked to a boost in immune function and healing processes, while the high levels immediately after suppressed it, offers a realistic explanation for how animals kept permanently in the second phase could gain a benefit over those recklessly keeping themselves in the first phase.

A further mechanism I have read of even more recently, is controlled by another hormone, once again optimised by a two-day eating cycle.

The third strand to the BBC programme I was discussing, looked at some scientific research on a diet scheme called Intermittent Fasting. I must admit that I had not heard of this before. However, it struck me as one of the most important ideas I have ever encountered; a practical combination of the advice to eat well that I grew up with and all the advice to restrain and restrict my eating that I have been bombarded by ever since.

Intermittent Fasting does not seem to be as new idea to the world as it is to me personally, but it is still fairly cutting edge, with no clear mainstream. Even so, at least some of the variants are the work of serious medical scientists, rather than the “alternative” charlatans inevitably drawn to anything involving dieting. Perhaps the lack of a single plan for all to follow is part of the message; adaptation to personal requirements is better than rigid dogma.

The two front-running versions appear to be a strict alternate day regime, of eating all you have the appetite for one day, then eating a hardline calorie restrictor's 600cal the next, and a slightly more relaxed 5:2 regime of five days' eating freely, then two of CR. Since starting to draft this article, I have seen a piece in one of my wife's women's magazines by the nationally famous nutritionist Patrick Holford in which he tries to incorporate the recent interest in IF into his established Glycaemic Load based approach. Holford does not take on board the key points about cycles and low-protein days, though, which is at least a difference of opinion to the likes of Dr Mosley and Prof Longo, and probably simply missing the point of the new findings. Anyway, for what it is worth, Holford's take on it advises 800cal fast days with protein meals and maintaining even blood sugar by constant snacking. I am unconvinced, as it is uspposed to be about re-establishing the natural ebb and flow of levels, but he is the expert and I the layman,so take my doubts with a pinch of salt.(Remembering, of course, that too much salt is also a major health hazard!)

If there is no Official Version yet, though, those of us with the competence and confidence to take responsibility for our own nutrition can pick our own path. I have an active job in cold conditions and used to maintain a steady weight on about 25,000cal/wk, rather more than most of my few readers are likely to need. Thus, I have devised a personally tailored version of 1000cal and low-protein, i.e. no meat, cheese or cereal on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and all I can eat on the other days. After 20 weeks, I am a stone lighter. Moreover, I am as strong as I was, and seem to have only lost the internal body fat that made bending over a little uncomfortable in recent years, and, worse, correlates with medical problems like the aforesaid high cholesterol. Soon, I intend to go for a check-up and shall post results in a follow-up article, on how the critical blood measurements are looking now.

As well as yielding palpable physical benefit, Intermittent Fasting turns out to be psychologically much easier than literal dieting, in which the restrictions are made each and every day. On fast days, you start still satisfied from the preceding feast day, and by the end of the day, when you may be getting hungry, especially in the early weeks of the regime, you still have only to wait until morning for more feasting. Moreover, your body does acclimatise fairly rapidly. 20 weeks in, it is beginning to feel normal and natural not to eat heavily every day.

I would recommend adoption of Intermittent Fasting to most people, on the strength of what I have learned and my first-hand experimentation. However, this is about taking responsibility for optimising your own health. If you have any eating or metabolic related medical condition whatsoever, then get your doctor's expert advice on how quickly and intensively you can safely adopt IF. (If at all; it may be too late for you already, should Type 2 Diabetes have taken its grip on you.) I have done it unsupervised, as I was sure of my general good health and background knowledge , but I do not care to encourage others in different circumstances to take greater risks than there were for myself.