Monthly Archives: January 2008

“I’ve Had Enough of Your Big Words!”

Senator Frank Walker when speaking to me on the phone to say he was getting me sacked.

I nearly wrote another Anatomy of a Spin article today – having received a press release extolling one of the dumbest and most cynical States decisions (and I know, that’s a high quantum) I have ever seen.

But I will leave my response to this for another day. Frankly, I almost need to go and have a lie-down in a darkened room; it’s a deeply taxing experience just trying to grasp the transparent ineptitude of abolishing prescription charges for the rich when health spends of real benefit could have been the target of the money instead.

Oh well – I guess every cloud has a silver lining – at least I can go see my doctor and get some free valium now.

Tom Lehrer is quoted as having said that political satire became obsolete the moment the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Henry Kissinger – a man who met most civilised people’s description of a mass-murdering war-criminal.

And likewise – such is the degree of self-parody engaged in by the States of Jersey, I could as well just copy it’s press releases here – interspersed with a few choice quotes from the Jersey Hansard for the purposes of comparison and contrast, obviously.

But – today I thought I would drift away from Jersey politics for a while and muse upon a criticism which is often made of me.

I have a confession to make – I love using big, complex words. I’m accused of making my speeches unintelligible by using phrases which we just don’t often come across on a day-to-day basis. But I do this not because I’m some kind of learned intellectual, I’m not. I left school at the age of 15 with no qualifications whatsoever and having learnt only two – admittedly very useful – skills; namely how to block a right hook and how to open beer bottles with my teeth. (Yep, “education” courtesy of the States of Jersey.)

I guess I am what would be described as an autodidact. My grasp of things – my understanding of the world – such as it is – has been gleaned largely through my own curiosity. And for some reason, I find the English language fascinating – perhaps it’s something to do with being a not very good aspiring poet. Since I was a kid I found the cadences, rhythms, flows and percussiveness of words attractive.

Words accumulate in my head, perhaps actually because of my lack of education. I so often come across words which I freely admit to not having the first idea as to their meaning, that I always go and look them up in the dictionary. Once the meaning of a particularly attractive word is rolling around upstairs, in all its textuality, it’s like having a new gadget – you just have to use it.

I’ll give you a few examples. Just the other day I came across the word “periphrasis”. I vaguely knew that the prefix ‘peri’ meant ‘about’ or ‘around’ – or something like that. But periphrasis? Not a clue. So, off to the dictionary I went, where I discover it means talking around a subject – circumlocution if you will – instead of addressing the real issue head-on. Now this phrase is fixed in my mind – and just burning to be used; perhaps next time I’m enduring a particularly tedious speech in the Jersey parliament. “I would be grateful if the member would abandon his periphrasis” perhaps?

Another example: – “polysyndetic” – which I discovered recently. It means a type of prose which has sentences of extended length through the extensive use of conjunctions to separate clauses.

I’ve been accused of being pretentious for using obscure language in this way. But, actually, I find it entertaining – funny even. For example, some months ago during a debate in the Jersey parliament I used a phrase which left most people in blank incomprehension. And this isn’t a criticism – it would have gone completely over my head a week earlier.

When reading the Guardian (and don’t tell anyone that, OK? The Jersey oligarchy will have me rounded up as a dangerous subversive if it gets out that I’m a Guardian reader) I came across the phrase “casus belli”, which, I didn’t really understand, though I had read it previously. It’s a Latin phrase meaning the “case (or incident) for war”. Upon my nerdish trawlings through Wikipedia, I discovered the ancient Greek equivalent – which is “proschema” or, even better, “proschemata”, which is the plural.

Mmm – ‘proschemata’ – it’s irresistible, isn’t it? So – when an unlikely political alliance in the States assembly was pressing a particular campaign, I just couldn’t resist using the phrase ‘inchoate proschemata’ to describe the various factions’ contributions to the case for ‘battle’. (‘inchoate’: recently started, elementary, not fully formed).

One can while away the hours of Beckettitian tragicomic bleakness by translating good, everyday, English phrases into “posh”.

For example, that time-honoured and proud phrase deeply embedded in British culture “come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough”, has been translated as “proceed to make an attempt should you consider yourself sufficiently resilient.”

And what this example illustrates is that things can be translated in both directions. When some expensively educated clown who is about to charge you £400 an hour to talk at you about the ‘locus standi’ of the person actioning you, your ‘mens rea’ and whether you face an “interlocutory” decision – you can say “look, mate, their beef just isn’t my problem, as I didn’t have a guilty mind so they can take a hike as far as getting the beak to put a temporary restraint on me goes.” This is the other reason I take care to understand words. Words – especially ‘clever’ or ‘expert’ words are very often used to render into obscurity that which is, in fact, pretty simple. Politicians, lawyers, stock-brokers, computer salesmen – all use, respectively, an obscure ‘trade’ language, which has the effect of making people feel ignorant, foolish, stupid and lost. This is quite deliberate. Once you are in this position – you need their ‘expert’ “services” to guide you out of the wild wood. You are under their power.

But when you equip yourself to cut through the ‘excreta’ – you take the power back; suddenly, you have a little more control over events in your own life. This is why I would recommend everyone to discover their inner nerd. The occasional flick through a dictionary may just help you to rip away the façade of one of the ‘new priesthoods’ of “experts”.

And big and complex words often dress-up the most outrageous rubbish; stuff that could have been produced by one of those internet sites which parody “management-speak”, for example.

A brilliant exposé of such garbage was carried out by the American physicist Alan Sokal. Increasingly angry at the misappropriation of natural science language by philosophers, he decided to write a “philosophical” paper and submit it to a respected peer-review philosophy journal called Social Text.

His ‘paper’ was accepted for publication at the first attempt. It was, of course, utter rubbish; a mishmash of genuine quotations from the literature of philosophy and science – liberally spiced and spliced with surreal ramblings of his own. The title he gave the paper, really, says it all: “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.”

The publication of the paper was, of course, hideously embarrassing to the philosophy ‘establishment’, especially the trendy Parisian ‘Left Bank’ group – who aren’t noted for their sense of humour at the best of times.

So next time someone talks to you of “extrapolating your asset cache towards the trajectory of your future modus operandi” – you will know what to say to them. As this is a family blog I won’t offer any examples – but, hey, you get the idea.

This Post’s Book:

Intellectual Impostures, by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont.

This Post’s Joke:

The First Law of Philosophy: For every philosopher, there exists an equal and opposite philosopher.

The Second Law of Philosophy: They’re both wrong.

Anatomy of a spin: #2

An Occasional Column devoted to examining the opinion management industry in Jersey.

Teamwork! – “it’s the real thing”.

Today we will take a brief look at the smear – the insult – as mode of spin-doctoring.

In yesterday’s post I wrote briefly about the acts of corporate stupidity engaged in by the States of Jersey and the Council of Ministers, and just how easy it is to spot Groupthink in action.

It is not uncommon for those involved in a Groupthink episode – or those who stand to benefit from the various decision ‘crash and burns’ which follow – to want to actively maintain the Groupthink paradigm. It’s comforting – it’s mutually reassuring for a group of individuals who are basically weak and frightened people – it makes them feel part of “The Team” – and enables them to avoid facing up to the fact that they have little control over, or understanding of the near chaos which forms their responsibilities.

Maintaining Groupthink has another advantage too. It has a binding effect in the group’s ability to confer approval or disapproval upon individuals – its ability to marginalise and ostracise anyone who breaks or threatens “group cohesion” by questioning its precepts and orthodoxies – anyone who suggests that – actually – these grandiose notions of the group might – err – well, be wrong, you know.

A time-honoured and remarkably prescient examination of Groupthink is to be found in the fairy story The Emperor’s New Clothes.

Now, you know this isn’t aimed at anyone specific, OK?

But imagine a leader, possessed of immense arrogance, vanity and wealth – a person very much used to being surrounded by fawning sycophants – ambitious social climbers and those who wish to touch the hem of power; a leader who – beneath the plausible and polished exterior – is actually a weak, vacuous and ignorant little man.

In the story – such is the degree of sycophancy, of grovelling, the fear of upsetting the emperor by telling the truth, the burning need of those he confers power upon to keep his approbation – that no one rescues him from the vanity & stupidity which sees him marching around naked – but convinced he is wearing the very finest clothes ever made.

Of course – it’s an “out-grouper” – a little boy – who shatters the “group cohesion” – the Groupthink – by shouting out that the glorious leader is naked.

But what were all those courtiers, those family members, those advisors who wrought this folly engaging in?

IT WAS TEAMWORK, STUPID!

That little boy?

“Dear oh dear. No good; not a “Team Player””.

There is a stock collection of insults and denigrations which can be selected and used in a political environment. The running down of people, the slurs behind their back, gossip, the attacks upon them in debate or through the media – all are key instruments in the spin doctor’s toolbox.

To give an example, in the “New Labour” government of the UK – Groupthink led them to commit the worst British foreign policy disaster since the Somme. It was quite obvious to anyone but a complete cretin that the invasion of Iraq was going to be a catastrophe – hell – even the States of Jersey voted to send a message of protest against the invasion to Blair & Co. That should tell you all you need to know concerning just how off-the-wall the whole Iraq misadventure was.

During the build-up to the war crime, Alistair Campbell – Blair’s Spin-Doctor-in-Chief – and the rest of the New Labour “in-groupers” were very fond of briefing against anyone who opposed them with the dismissive insult that they were not “serious people”. That they were somehow ignorant, lightweight, self-indulgent, individuals who could be safely disregarded as irrelevant – because “they’re not serious people”.

Only “serious people” understood “serious” issues – such as the supposed need to go to war. People who failed to agree – well, they just weren’t “serious people”.

Such is the tragi-comic foundation for apocalyptic bloodshed, generations of hatred and massed-murder.

In the more mundane world of Jersey politics, the commonly uses stock insult is that “he isn’t a team-player”.

Anyone who fails to join in with, and bind themselves to the “consensus-trance”, the unquestioning and irrational cult devotion needed to manifest Groupthink – just isn’t a “team player”.

This would-be insult is trawled around the political-journo environment – and accepted in best Groupthink fashion. “Deputy X or Constable Y? – well they’re just not “team players””. And this is invariably greeted with much ‘sagacious’ nodding of heads and another round of gin & tonics and funny handshakes.

So – do you think “Team Work” – Groupthink – has served Jersey well over the years?

Sorry – have to go now. Big Fat Sydney the cat is marching over my key-board. Come on Syd – your just not being a “Team Player”.

Stuart Syvret

This post’s Book:

Social Psychology, 3rd Ed, by Michael Hogg and Graham Vaughan

This post’s Joke:

Q: What’s the definition of “team work”?

A: Never having to take all the blame yourself.

“Black is white – black is white – black is white!”

A motto of the States of Jersey: if you say something often enough – you can turn fiction into fact.

One of the really remarkable cultural features of the States of Jersey is just how frequently notions which are obviously incorrect, profoundly wrong or just plain dishonest become accepted – often unquestioningly – as fact.

I’m not even sure mere stupidity and ignorance can account for this phenomena. Often, there seems to be a need – a want – to believe things which, with a moment’s critical thought, can be seen to be nonsense.

It is fantasising wish-fulfilment on a grand scale when we observe the States assembly – the Jersey parliament – dealing with some subjects. “X or Y just must be so – well, because we really really want it to be.”

Admittedly the States of Jersey suffers from such phenomena to an extreme extent – for reasons I will touch upon later. But similar decision-making habits amongst groups have been carefully analysed over the years, and written about extensively in the social psychology literature. In particular, a characteristic know as “Groupthink” has been well documented.

Originally described by William H. Whyte, and built upon by writers such as Irving Janis and Paul t’Hart, Groupthink describes how groups of otherwise intelligent and well-educated individuals so often come to make the most catastrophically bad decisions. Groupthink deserves a blog-post all of its own, so I won’t dwell on the details today, but briefly.

We see Groupthink manifested when we examine a group in action – for our purposes such as the States assembly – or the Council of Ministers. Not all groups, or similar forms of collective decision–making, will exhibit Groupthink.

There are safeguards against Groupthink which can be employed – and some groups have natural ‘cultural’ safeguards – such as an expectation of critical thought, an absence of unquestioning deference to group leaders and social ‘norms’, individual group members taking personal responsibility to make sure they are accurately informed, an absence of fear of the “in-group” and its leader, and an environment in which challenging established ‘norms’ does not result in near-instant ostracisation.

Now – a question to my enthusiastic reader: which of the above-described cultural safeguards against Groupthink do you imagine are common in the States of Jersey?

Congratulations! You have just “won” the obligation of seeing 20% of your income tax being spent to dig thousands of tonnes of toxic incinerator ash out of St. Helier’s (Jersey’s capital) Waterfront land reclamation sites.

Yep – right first time. – Socially, culturally, politically – the States of Jersey exhibits no noticeable manifestation of the above-listed safeguards against Groupthink.

This is why – by way of example – 500,000 tonnes of toxic municipal incinerator ash was blithely dumped into sea-porous land reclamation sites. No matter that a brief examination of the first book on toxicology which came to hand would have demonstrated the ash to be a toxic-cocktail of PCBs’ dioxins, furans and a variety of toxic heavy-metals such as mercury, cadmium, arsenic, lead, zinc etc.

I – and a few other people – spent many years attempting to persuade the States assembly to stop this dangerous and polluting – and criminally illegal – practice. Even to the extent of taking literature on toxicology and photographs of public exposure to the ash to official meetings.

But – being “out-groupers”, holding a minority view which seriously conflicted with the interests of the group leadership, and thus being in conflict with the majority “in-groupers” – our efforts were dismissed – often literally with that smug, self-satisfied laughter which comes so easily to an unchallengeable “in-group”.

Indeed – there are still some members of the States who were around in the 1990s – who I clearly remember falling into this category.

But – a detailed analysis of the whole toxic ash dumping saga can wait until another post. I’m not sure what the ‘half-life’, if that’s the right phrase, of cadmium is – but I’m sure it’s a very long time. Enough to cause X amount of liver cancers if ingested and inhaled to a sufficient degree. So sorting it out will be a very long-term project.

Jersey is a small, closed, inward-looking society; highly conservative and thus given to unquestioning deference to “authority”. It has no critically independent media whatsoever – and even lacks a tradition of political parties, so politicians get elected as “independents”.

Combine such a tame, “polite” and deferential political environment – with the traps of Groupthink – and we see clearly the lethal combination of factors which has led this small island to make so many disastrous public policy errors.

Just consider one example of recent political controversy in Jersey – only the small matter of people having a right to a fair trial if accused of a criminal offence.

For reasons which I won’t go into now – the Jersey system of administering justice for minor offences was – clearly – not compatible with the island’s international obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. It obviously failed to meet the test of impartiality and fairness which any civilised jurisdiction should meet without demure.

It had been this way for decades – with the probable effect that many hundreds – perhaps thousands – of people had been denied a fair trial over that long time-span.

One Jersey politician, Deputy Bob Hill, fought tenaciously to get this flaw in Jersey’s administration of justice recognised and corrected. He recently succeeded – after a tremendously difficult political battle which must have been hard for him personally.

The Jersey Establishment were – with profound reluctance – finally forced into accepting the facts. After years of resistance.

So how did the “in-groupers” deal with these events? Deputy Hill was ostracised, betrayed by his own Scrutiny Panel which he Chaired, slapped-down by the States assembly and generally subjected to the entirely predictable mocking, irritated sarcasm and whispered condemnations that “in-groupers” customarily display in such circumstances.

But he was right – clearly so. Black was black – not white.

So if you are a Jersey resident, and you imagine that your future is secure in the hands of the States of Jersey – bear this example in mind.

Our glorious leaders – political, and Crown appointees (not that there is a great deal of difference) – flatly refused – for years – in the 21st century – to accept the rudimentary precepts of a fair trial. Something so basic as to have been enshrined in respectable jurisprudence for centuries.

And, moreover, the person who campaigned for modernisation is regarded – for his troubles – as some kind of irritating “enemy within”.

So – the moral of this story? Don’t expect Groupthink in the States assembly to end anytime soon. Even environments in which the challenging of orthodoxy is an accepted part of social discourse still fall prey to it. Witness the barking-mad, un-winnable and illegal war on Iraq, for example.

In a place like Jersey – by the time people shake off the “consensus trance” and begin critical thought – it will probably be too late.

If it isn’t already.

Stuart Syvret

This Posts Book:

Groupthink in Government: A Study of Small Groups and Policy Failure, by Paul t’Hart.

This posts Joke:

A psychologist was walking along a Hawaiian beach when he kicked a bottle poking up through the sand. Opening it, he was astonished to see a cloud of smoke and a genie smiling at him.

“For your kindness,” the genie said, “I will grant you one wish!” The psychologist thought for a moment and replied, “I have always wanted a road from Hawaii to California.”

The genie grimaced, thought for a few minutes and said, “Look, I’m sorry, but I can’t do that! Think of all the pilings needed to hold up the highway and how long they’d have to be to reach the seabed. Think of all the concrete. That’s too much to ask.”

“OK,” the psychologist said, not wanting to be unreasonable. “I’m a psychologist. Make me understand my patients. What makes them laugh and cry, why are they temperamental, why are they so difficult to get along with, what do they really want? I want you to teach me to understand what makes them tick!”

The genie paused, and then sighed, “Did you want two lanes or four?”

Anatomy of a Spin: #1

An occasional column devoted to examining the opinion management industry in Jersey.

In my last post I explained that I would be producing occasional analysis of spin in action in the political environment of Jersey, and to begin with a nice, easy example, I will recount the Jersey Evening Post handling of a non-story concerning me.

Some people have advised me that blog posting should be short. I’m sure there is a lot of truth in that – but what is missing from political discourse in Jersey? Any meaningful detailed examination of issues. So, I’m afraid some of what I write on this blog site will be lengthy – not all of it, hopefully – but I feel there is a ‘market niche’ to be filed.

Before getting onto the JEP behaviour, some background information is necessary to understand events.

Jersey residents will be very aware that I have spent the last 12 months fighting to expose a dangerous and deficient so-called child “welfare & protection” apparatus in Jersey.

During this episode I had cause to become dissatisfied with the ‘performance’ of the Jersey Data Protection Commissioner. The grounds for my concerns were as follows:

1: A repeated and sustained refusal to answer rudimentary questions put to her by me concerning the proper interpretation of the DP law.

2: This equating to a denial to a data controller of proper and reasonable assistance in interpreting the law and obligations caused by it.

3: Dragging on the process of “investigating” a complaint against me (This being another whole issue which I will address in detail at a later date.)

4: Refusing to explain the accepted grounds for “legitimate” disclosure of data under certain circumstances.

5: Refusing to confirm or deny the veracity of opinions I had gathered from about 7 other data control officers across the United Kingdom – all of which concluded that Data Protection Law did have a generally recognised “legitimate disclosure” defence.

6: After this process – which given her flat refusal to co-operate with me was only ever going to have one outcome – finding against me – without so much as speaking to me – for as much as 1 minute. At least in “The Trial” Kafka’s character is spoken to.

7: Withholding her so-called “finding” from me until it was ready for distribution to the media.

8: Releasing her finding to the media in a way which dovetailed perfectly with the spin against me by the Jersey Establishment.

9: Refusing to respond to legitimate enquiries concerning her previous involvement with Senator Wendy Kinnard – a conflicted politician as Home Affairs Minister and one third of the “Corporate Parent”.

10: Rejecting at least two separate complaints under the law – the explanations for which findings were the diametric opposite of her grounds for upholding complaints against me and a whistle-blower.

11: The first of these two complaints was from me concerning the leaking of personal e-mails from me to Alan Watts at Channel Television. These were leaked by Karen Rankine to her husband – would-be spin-doctor to the Jersey oligarchy and ‘money-for-old-rope’ – Glenn Rankine. He then leaked it onto Senator Frank Walker: I reproduce his section here:

—–Original Message—–
From: Glenn Rankine [mailto:glenn.rankine@mulberry.je]
Sent: 05 February 2007 10:26
To: Frank Walker
Subject: FW: The Letter
Importance: High
**************************************************************************************
This e-mail has been received directly from the Internet: you should
exercise a degree of caution since there can be no guarantee that the
source or content of the message is authentic.

If you receive inappropriate e-mail from an external source it is your
responsibility to notify Computer Services Helpdesk (telephone 440440).

The Full States e-mail Usage Policy can be found here:
http://intranet1/aware/internet_email_issues.htm
**************************************************************************************

Frank…

I send you this in complete confidence so you get an insight to what Stuart’s up to behind the scenes… Hope it helps.

G

Glenn was never very bright – but fair play – notwithstanding his obvious limitations he has succeed in conning the powerful in Jersey that he is some kind of spin Meister. They say fools and their money are easily separated.

12: The second of these rejected complaints was of far greater importance. During the controversial engineering of my dismissal as Health & Social Services Minister, the other third of the “Corporate Parent”, Senator Mike Vibert, released to all States members and the media four photographs of the cells at the old Jersey secure unit for children. These are cells in which – for many years – already vulnerable and messed-up children had been routinely held in solitary confinement; for 24 hours on arrival – or days if the child was “non-compliant” – or, in the case of one child victim, two months. That’s two months in solitary confinement – for a child.

This illegal and abusive treatment of children was one of the main features of the controversy; whistle-blowers, victims and I were on the war-path about this – thus the senior civil servants responsible, with the enthusiastic collusion of Establishment politicians, naturally – set about getting rid of me.

The photographs issued by Senator Mike Vibert were calculatedly misleading. The concerns we had been expressing focused on how it had been possible to treat children in this way for years previously – and with what had been the wretched condition of the cells. They had been painted about two years ago with colourful murals on the walls, and what used to be a “gymnasium-style crash-mat” (eye-witness testimony) on the floor as the only bedding, had been replaced with wooden platform beds. So whilst the cells were still an utter disgrace – an attempt was made to spin their appearance into something good by using a few colour photos of the bright murals.

And it is here that the Data Protection breach arose. These photos were widely distributed by e-mail – and our old friend the Jersey Evening Post even printed one in full-colour on its front page.

However – in a profoundly serious breach of confidentiality, clearly visible in the photo were the names of four previous child inmates who had signed the mural which they had painted.

The gravity of this breach cannot be over-stated. It breaches the rights of a minor to privacy; it reveals to the world the fact that they had been inmates at a secure child offender institution – and it breaches the legal constraint upon publishing the identities of minors involved with the criminal justice system.

Breaches just don’t get much more serious.

The response of the Data Protection Commissioner to a complaint made to her by a highly professional social worker? “No breach”.

Funny that – isn’t it. You know – how every single complaint made by the Jersey Oligarchy gets upheld – and truly shocking complaints made by anti-establishment individuals always get dismissed?

No, not really – especially when you know that, to a large extent, the DP Office was being ventriloquised by Jersey Attorney General, William Bailhache, who was advising the Data Protection Commissioner throughout. This is a man so nakedly politicised and deeply conflicted in the general controversy of child protection that we shouldn’t be in the least surprised.

Now – that was the background information. So here is the “Anatomy of the Spin”.

Whilst dissatisfied with the standards of the Jersey Data Protection Office for all the reasons described above – and having told her so. I let the matter rest and moved onto work of far higher priority – like attempting to save vulnerable kids from Jersey’s child “protection” system.

Then – rather curiously – I received a letter from the Jersey parliament’s “Privileges & Procedures Committee” “inviting” me to submit any formal complaints I had against the Data Protection Office. I didn’t rise to the bait – so they issued another such letter to me a few weeks later. This time they assured me that it was not an investigation against me – it was going to be a serious examination by them of any complaints against the DP Office.

I rejected this entreaty as well; this time writing to them and saying that whilst I was not happy at the lack of impartiality demonstrated by the DP Office – I had not – and would not – make any formal complaint. To do so would have been an utter waste of my time; for, as I said to them “I would have more chance of employing Osama Bin Ladin to run a brewery than there be any possibility of a complaint being upheld from an anti-establishment person against one of the components of the Jersey Establishment apparatus.

That, I thought, was the end of the matter. But – enter stage-right the Jersey Evening Post.

I was called – out-of-the-blue – by Ben Queree, reporter at the JEP – who clearly new a great deal about the issues – having been briefed by someone from the establishment. He then proceeded to ask me about my “complaints” against the Data Protection Office – and even used a crude journalistic trick of suggesting words or phrases – trying to put them in my mouth – which, if repeated back to the journalist, then become the hook for the story. He asked me about my “complaints” of “corruption” – his word – not mine – against the DP Office.

Being an old hand at this stuff I recognised immediately what was going down.

The Jersey Establishment have always wanted to do all they could to attack me. This has become especially so as their corporate stupidity has finally caught them up and engulfed them in the child protection controversy. Such is the catastrophic nature of their position – so badly did they get things wrong – so mind-bogglingly stupid were people like Philip Ozouf and Frank Walker in siding with manifestly defective civil servants who had failed to protect children – that the Jersey Establishment may – finally – have inflicted terminal harm upon itself.

And this is an election year in Jersey. These are frightened and desperate people.

So – diversionary spin is needed – ideally, diversionary spin against their enemies – “best form of defence being attack” and all that kind of stuff.

Hence the attempts by – first the Privileges & Procedures Committee – then, when that failed, the Jersey Evening Post – to set me up so when my phantom “complaints” were inevitably rejected – they could deliver a few more “Stuart Syvret is a Bastard” headlines. “Former Health Minister accuses DP Office of Corruption”; “Senator makes yet more “unfounded” attacks on staff”; “Syvret wrong again”; “Chief Minister Defends staff Against Slurs” – etc – etc – etc.

All accompanied, no doubt, by several more fruit loop leading article comments in which my culpability for everything from global warming to the stock-market crash would be expounded again.

But the JEP – not to let the facts get in the way of a ‘story’ pressed on regardless – and recently published the article which claimed I had “withdrawn” two “Complaints” I had made against the DP Office.

I did e-mail Ben Queree – twice – and ask him why he had written this fiction? Why had he and the JEP, essentially, lied to their readers?

Curiously – he hasn’t replied yet.

To serve as a final illustration of just how twisted and, frankly, stupid, our local “elites” are – consider: how was I able to recognise – instantly – and I mean within seconds – of receiving the first letter from PPC, that it was all an exercise in political entrapment? That the exercise had precisely zero purpose other than to generate spurious grounds for another media assault upon me?

Simple: The Data Protection Office is an independent law enforcement agency – it possesses a quasi-judicial function. It sits outside the executive and the legislature. Therefore – even if they actually wanted to – PPC had precisely zero – zip, nada, zilch – authority, power or locus standi to involve itself in some kind of complaint enquiry against the Data Protection Office.

Thus – what PPC was purporting to wish to do was simply not possible for an agency of the legilsature.

But, of course, what they and they’re friends at the JEP actually wanted to do was simply strike another blow for the Jersey Establishment against anyone who becomes too much of an inconvenience.

So – here is an “Anatomy of a Spin”. Not one of great importance – but a useful illustration of how opinion management and event manipulation works in Jersey.

Forgive the length of this post;

I’ll keep the next one shorter.

Stuart Syvret.

Book of the Post:

Selling Politics: We Have Ways of Making You Think, by Laurence Rees

Joke of the Post:

A linguistics professor was lecturing his English class one day. “In English,” he said, “a double negative forms a positive. In some languages, though, such as Russian, a double negative is still a negative. However, there is no language wherein a double positive can form a negative.”

A voice from the back of the room piped up, “Yeah, right.”

Forthcoming attractions!

It’s been a few days now since I began to blog. To those who have found my writings too ethereal and removed from day-to-day existence in the Microcosm – otherwise known as Jersey – thank you for taking an interest in this stuff, and thanks for your patience.

In the coming weeks I will be writing about some specific political issues in Jersey.

So watch this space!

I think people will find it pretty interesting to be able to read a politician’s views – directly delivered and free from the various “filters” imposed by the traditional media.

For example – I have given some dynamite stories to the media in Jersey over the years – only for the story to vanish without trace – or, at best, gain some heavily mediated and constrained reportage. Well, in the coming weeks I will be conducting an experiment. I will be breaking some news items on this blog.

Straight – from me to you – free of the mediation of the traditional “news” outlets.

In addition to giving you news – I am going to produce an occasional column which I will call “Anatomy of a Spin”. Each of these postings will take an unfolding news story in Jersey – and analyse the accompanying spin; the influences on the story, the power behind its structure and delivery, the agenda of those involved – and in particular – the agenda of the local Jersey media – which can be readily demonstrated with a little analysis.

I will begin with some fairly simple and low-key issues. For example, if you are resident in Jersey, you may have read a few weeks back a story in the Jersey Evening Post which “reported” that I had “withdrawn two complaints I had made concerning the Jersey Data Protection Office”.

What was particularly fascinating about this story was that – I had not, in fact, made as much as one formal complaint concerning the Date Protection Office – let alone two. There were, therefore, no “complaints” to “withdraw”.

This is a small and comparatively unimportant issue – but it does serve so well as an example of the public being lied to and conned by the Jersey media – and, in this particular case, just how startling is the co-operative intermeshing between the Political Establishment and its media.

I will explain in detail tomorrow – so make sure you don’t miss it.

As to the blog generally – I’m still taking those first faltering steps – but improving slowly. I have added a “comments” element to the blog – so don’t say I’m not fair. John Averty – power behind the throne at the JEP – and his editor poodle Chris Bright – can even post some of their famously deranged & fulminating “editorial” comments if they like – though, naturally, as an independent media – this blog “will not be dictated to as to its content.”

So thanks for reading – and watch this space!

Senator Stuart Syvret.

Book of the Post: PR! A Social History of Spin, by Stuart Ewen.

(Incidentally – this book is so important I plan to write a review here at some point.)

Joke of the Post: Q: Why do Marxists like fruit infusions?

A: Because all proper tea is theft.

Back to the Days of Capital Project Overspends

My posts may seem too long or esoteric for easy digestion. So here is some topical Jersey political correspondence.

I won’t put a Joke of the Post in this entry because – the story is the joke – well, at least if you share the sense of humor of Samuel Beckett.

From: Stuart Syvret
Sent: 25 January 2008 09:36
To: Alan Breckon; James Perchard; All Senators; All Constables; All Deputies
Subject: RE: Media problems !

Alan & Jim

Back in the 1990s this kind of thing was called “A Capital Project Overspend”. The total of such cock-ups cost taxpayers £49 million.

So, we’re going back to such days. OK – the spin is far cleverer today. Do not let people recognise it as a catastrophic mess – don’t describe it as an over-spend. Instead, just say it’s a “Project Improvement”.

The plain fact is that there can be absolutely zero excuse for this – no matter which way you cut it. Perhaps it wasn’t realised that these specifications were needed? In which case hopeless incompetence. Or perhaps it was known all along that the cost was going to be far higher – but to head off opposition, the lower figure was used – and once we were inextricably committed to the project, the rest of the cost could be sprung upon us?

Let’s face it – the Airport has “form” in this respect. In the 1990s – it was known perfectly well to senior management that the costs of re-developments and necessary improvements were going to be horrifyingly large. So they just didn’t tell anyone. A bit like now, really. For example, it was only after repeated questioning and delving into matters that it became clear the airport control tower was in a profoundly unsafe location as it cut into the 1 in 7 clearance slope either side of the runway. Why weren’t the States told about that at the very outset? Why did we spend vast sums building things like new departure halls – necessary, perhaps – but before something so fundamental as putting the control tower in a safe location?.

Alan & Philip like to imagine themselves as hard men of financial rigour. I wonder if they would have been quite so happy to blow £5 million quid they hadn’t planned to spend if it was their money?

It is difficult to escape the impression that the tax payers we represent are being treated with contempt.

As I said – no matter which way you cut this – its a disastrous financial error – of somewhat greater proportions than giving too much to the Battle of Flowers for soft porn “celebrities”.

The irony is that we all know if an anti-establishment member had been responsible for this – people like Alan & Philip would be baying for their blood.

£5 million! – a whole £5 million – which we hadn’t budgeted for!

It is difficult to see that the Minister and his Assistant Minster have any choice other than to initiate the relevant disciplinary processes. Whichever extremely expensive, so-called “expert” within the senior management of the airport was responsible for this must be sacked.

Stuart Syvret

——————————————————————————–
From: Alan Breckon
Sent: 25 January 2008 08:44
To: James Perchard; All Senators; All Constables; All Deputies
Subject: RE: Media problems !

Jim this is called “Ministerial Government”

The “Westminster Protocol” is that Ministers make statements to Parliament / Members FIRST before media

In Jersey this does NOT apply – it was probably on a “B Agenda” following a Corporate Management Board decision

This is progress – apparently without transparency or access to information (Freedom of Information) no doubt the details could be “commercially sensitive”

I heard a story on Radio Jersey this morning about some deal for Ferries for the next umpteen years – the public will not be amused – then don’t we know what’s best for them anyway – or some do

Have to close now have just seen a pig fly past the window

Regards Alan

—–Original Message—–
From: James Perchard
Sent: 25 January 2008 07:58
To: All Senators; All Constables; All Deputies
Subject: Media problems !

Dear Colleagues,

I note that the Jersey Evening Post and Radio Jersey claim that Economic Development now estimates the total cost of the runway capital project at almost £20 million. They go on to say that the assistant minister in charge of the Airport, Deputy Alan Maclean, has signed off a formal decision to ask for the extra £5 million, saying “that the extra money was needed to upgrade the formal runway classification from 3c to 4c and that if the runway was not upgraded there was a chance that more would have to be spent on it before the end of its 15-year lifespan.” and that “airport opening and closing times restricted the hours in which work can be undertaken further putting up costs ” !

I am getting terribly worried about the Jersey media as it appears that they now feel able to fabricate such tales. This crazy story is obviously completely untrue as we the elected members of the States only recently approved the £13,540,000 (in the 2008 States Plan) necessary for the capital cost of the Runway Construction and AGL system.. The story has obviously has been fabricated, as we the elected members of the SoJ have not been informed of any requests for extra funding to cover for what would be a gross and shocking underestimate in the costs of delivering this project.

This media story simply must have been fabricated, as we have not given an explanation as to why the upgrading of the formal runway classification should, at this late stage be promoted and that the desirability of the 4c classification was not originally anticipated and budgeted for.

We have not given an explanation as to why the necessity for night time working on the runway has suddenly come as a surprise to the Minister and his team.

No this conjured up media story must be fictional. I suggest we ignore it, unless or until we the members of the States of Jersey hear of any such proposals through the formal and normal channels.

Best

Jim P

Growing Problems

‘Ah ha’, I hear people saying; ‘those predictions of economic doom didn’t pan out. The markets are recovering; it was just a correction – and we’re out of the woods now.’

Right?

Wrong, I’m afraid.

The problem with predicting economic events is that – well, they’re hard to predict. In general terms, if you were able to predict accurately the day-to-day – or week-to-week – or decade-to-decade fluctuations in the market, you too would be one of the well-upholstered “masters of the universe” to borrow Tom Wolfe’s phrase. A person who always won when you gambled – or at least like the clowns who got us into this mess, if you lost, you could just turn to the government to bale you out – courtesy of the tax-payer.

But the real world is somewhat messier than this. ‘OK’, you say, ‘so we can’t make accurate detailed predictions – but look, these market squalls come around every couple of decades or so. Some people get hosed, for sure – but the FTSE & the DOW always go up in the long-run. Someone’s loss is another man’s opportunity.’

So we generalise: the orthodox view is that economic growth can go on for ever – or the unorthodox view that, at some point, it will end.

So which view is correct?

I am predicting – no, I’m stating – that economic growth must have an end.

In making this claim, am I cheating? Am I just relying upon chance? Is it the case that if given an infinite amount of time, the law of averages dictates that predictions of economic doom would be right eventually?

No. We can state with absolute certainty that growth will have an end – and probably a good deal sooner than we care to imagine.

Don’t believe me?

Let’s take a look at the maths.

And to make it relevant, let’s use an economic sum in today’s news. It’s reported that China “enjoyed” economic growth of a staggering 11.4% last year.

For purposes of illustration, let us assume this figure was repeated annually.

Under these circumstances, how long would it take the size of the Chinese economy to double? And think about that – the entire Chinese economy – doubled. How many more coal-fired power stations and boom-town hi-rise blocks would that be?

Let’s set aside the growth rate in China of 11.4% for the moment, and just look at the basic calculating technique.

It is possible to produce a ready estimate of doubling periods using what is known as the Rule of 70, or the Rule of 72, or the Rule of 76. The best choice of numerator will be determined by the size of percentage growth.

For our purposes, let’s use the Rule of 72, and take an annual percentage growth rate and divide 72 as the numerator into the growth rate sum. For example, say you’re looking at 4% P/A growth. Take 72 and divide it by 4; this gives you an answer of 18. What does this figure mean?

The 18 represents the number of years that it would take your economy to double in size.

So at this 4% steady growth rate, the total size of your economy has to double every 18 years. Can this go on indefinitely? No. Consider an index figure of, say, 20, to represent the starting size of your economy. It doubles – then it’s 40. It doubles again – then it’s 80. It doubles again – then it’s 160.

Thus we see that the quantum of each most recent doubling period is greater than the total of all of the quantum’s which preceded it – combined.

No closed system (like the planet) can sustain such exponential growth indefinitely.

Another interesting thing is the speed at which the boundaries – the limiting factors – of the system are hit. Ecologists use this analogy: imagine you have a large lily pond. It has 1 water lily in it. Overnight, that doubles to 2. Overnight again, that doubles to 4. Again – it doubles to 8. This exponential growth continues until the pond is full after 30 days.

Question: – When was the pond half-full?

Answer: – it was half-full on the 29th day.

Day 29 – and you still have fully one half of your resource, in this case surface area, remaining unused.

And just one day later? That half of your starting resource is also all used up.

So let’s run that Chinese growth rate of 11.4% through our ready-reckoner.

Take 72, divide by 11.4. This gives 6.3157895. I think we can call it 6.32.

So that’s a time period of 6.32 years until the economy has doubled in size if it grows at the, admittedly, extraordinary rate of 11.4%. OK, so such a high growth-rate is an extreme example – but even at this speed, China has still not yet caught up with Western “standards” of “consumption”.

Even setting aside the annihilation of the planet’s biological ‘carrying-capacity’ upon which we all depend (Yep, even Merrill Lynch execs and central bank chairmen) can we even imagine the mineral and energy requirements of such growth?

Well, actually we don’t need to ‘imagine’ it – we just do the maths.

For those possessed of sufficient hubris to imagine that we humans are such a resourceful and brainy bunch that we will techno-fix our way out of such physical constraints, I would strongly recommend the book ‘Collapse’ by Pulitzer-Prize wining science author, Jared Diamond.

The rest of us – if we’re honest – can see that a planet’s worth of SUVs and plasma televisions, holiday flights and luxury homes for all the billions of people in the world just isn’t happening. And as we in the West have had our snouts in the trough for so long, we need to mend our ways. Nothing so condescendingly colonialist as “setting an example” – rather, just facing the truth about the patterns of our society – and maybe recognising that, actually, “consumption” as a mode of living is actually killing us, not making us happy and breaking down the fabric of our society.

Stuart Syvret

This post’s book: The Growth Illusion, by Richard Douthwaite.

This post’s joke: The functions are sitting in a bar, chatting (how fast they go to zero at infinity etc.). Suddenly, one cries “Beware! Derivation is coming!” All immediately hide themselves under the tables, only the exponential sits calmly on the chair.

The derivation comes in, sees a function and says “Hey, you don’t fear me?”
“No, I’m e to x”, says the exponential self-confidently.
“Well” replies the derivation “but who says I differentiate along x?”

(No, I didn’t understand it, either)

Laughing Boy in the Third – 50-1 – or Your Money Back!

So – just how long did what commentators are already calling the “Bernanke Bounce” last?

Just about long enough to enable a few more suits to bale out and open their parachutes.

Ben Bernanke is the Chairman of the US Federal Reserve – which yesterday announced a startling .75% cut in interest rates.

This was nothing less than naked & feverish panic. I’m sure if you got a close look at him or any of his minions, you would have seen sweat trickling down their faces and their hands trembling in fear. I expect the triple Martinis will be washing down a few valium in Washington tonight.

Bernanke and his advisers are not stupid. They will have known what a colossal gamble the cut was. They will have thought “what if this doesn’t work?” And it didn’t.

Instead of acting as some kind of magical “health pack” of the kind gamers might pick up in a first person shooter to cure them of the 57 Uzi wounds ‘they’ just received, what they got when they came around the corner was the slavering space-alien boss. And guess who just used their last remaining piece of ammunition? Game Over.

I said in my first post that the world occupied by economists did not necessarily bear much relationship to what you & I might regard as reality. The irrationality of the scene was reinforced by the sight of Bernanke heaping compound woes upon the markets in a manner which was little more than an even more extravagant signal of despair than the sight of ‘Dubya’, announcing a huge cash injection last Friday.

I mean – like things aren’t bad enough already? And you wheel out a man who possesses the cognitive functions of a cane toad with a Jack Daniels hangover – who happens to occupy the most powerful job on Earth. And this spectacle was supposed to be reassuring?

Bernanke and the rest of the Washington policy wonks may as well have run naked up and down Pennsylvania Avenue screaming “Don’t panic! Don’t panic”.

Others have described Friday’s cash bale-out as “Social Security for the rich” – a very apt description.

It’s another illustration of just how far removed from reality the so-called “Iron Law of the Market” is. These people gambled – they took the “risks” that supposedly justify their $100 million bonuses – they brought their allegedly great skills to the table – and they blew it. They lost. And they lost not through some cruel trick of fate – but because they were gripped by a kind of collective stupidity; a misguided belief in some kind of miraculous bootstrapping pyramid scheme which could just go on and on.

Now ask your self – if you or I cocked-up this badly in our jobs, what would happen?
Look at it another way. If you or I went down to the bookies and put our salary on Laughing Boy at 50-1 in the 3.10 at Kemptown – and it fell over – the full, inescapable “market” consequences of our actions would fall upon us.

Now imagine our hedge fund manager, banker or stockbroker who did the same. In the strange, parallel universe occupied by these people, they would just go down to the bookies and ask for their stake back.

And the bookies would hand it back to them – and for good measure, recover their losses off of taxpayers.

Neat, no?

I’ve never gambled before, but hell, if this is how it works, next time I’m passing a betting shop, I’ll nip in and offer them this kind of arrangement.

Stuart Syvret.

Book of the Post:

The Party’s Over, by Richard Heinberg.

Joke of the Post:

Two economists find themselves locked in a dark dungeon. The hours pass, yet no guard comes with food. One says to the other, ‘don’t worry – when we get hungry enough our demand will generate the product.’

Feed Back

I have had some feedback on the blog, for which I’m grateful. I’m afraid readers will have to bear with me whilst I get to grips with the weird and wonderful world of formatting these posts.

I did think I had left paragraph breaks in my last post, as I’m trying to do in this one, but with limited success.

I have (just about) succeeded in installing a site visit counter at the foot of the blog. I guess I will have missed a number of visits so far, but my rather mundane profile section appears to have had about 65 hits.

When I have time I will attempt to add a ‘comments’ element to the blog – which I’m sure will provide some fascinating feedback. Perhaps now that I have my own little ivory tower, I could adopt some of the approach of the Jersey Evening Post – the island’s only “newspaper”? This would involve using editorial “discretion” to ensure the comments published were weighted in my favour – by about 9 to 1 – a la the JEP letters page.

But I mustn’t get into an analysis of the political economy of the Jersey media just yet. That is a topic which will bear repeated close attention in the coming months.

Senator Stuart Syvret

Today’s Book:

Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies, by Noam Chomsky.

Today’s Joke:
Q: What’s the problem with Journalist jokes?A: Journalist’s don’t think they’re funny, and no one else thinks they’re jokes.