Tag Archives: guernsey press

Holocaust Memorial

Tuesday the 27th January will once again mark the Holocaust Memorial day here in Guernsey. The 27th of January was chosen as the day to mark the Holocaust internationally as this is the date the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, being the largest death camp in the Nazi holocaust machinery, was liberated by the soviet forces.

Here in Guernsey the Holocaust is remembered every year in a small service held at the white rock, but it is also commemorated in a larger service on the 10th anniversaries of the liberation of Auschwitz. Ten years ago the then Dean of Guernsey, the Very Reverend Cannon Paul Mellor, led an interfaith service held at St James. This year, the service will be held at the Town Church and will include the testimonies of those local people detained in various Nazi concentration camps throughout Europe. These narratives of the resistance fighters in Guernsey, deported to the Nazi camps, form part of the holocaust, as any person being deported from Guernsey, for whatever reason and to whichever destination, who died in this time can only be seen as victims of the Nazi regime.

A recent article in the Guernsey Evening Press that I contributed towards brought this event to the attention of many people, but had a mixed reception. Whilst I’ve been approached by many who were very pleased that I’ve raised the issue and that the event is happening, there is a minority who feel that I’ve unduly accused the Guernsey people who lived here through the occupation. I talked of how we in Guernsey deported the three jewish women, Therese Steiner, Auguste Spitz and Marianne Grunfeld, who were eventually murdered in Auschwitz. I also spoke of how we actively participated in the Holocaust.

Some have sought to portray these words as a condemnation of all Guernsey people, but of course that simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. We frequently refer to Guernsey as a wealthy island, but that doesn’t mean that every Tom, Len and Enid are rich. The holocaust encompasses both the acts of terror and the facilitating of them and by any measure, the actions of the authorities in passing the antisemitic orders and those of the police in handing over people for deportation can only, in my opinion, be viewed as complicit. This does not mean, as some have portrayed, that I claim the authorities here knew what fate awaited those being deported, I sincerely doubt that anyone on the island would have known of the death camps.

Others have questioned my motive in raising these painful memories. I honestly believe that the public narrative has become too narrow, that the story of the resistance fighters is little represented and that the black and white view of the occupation, which I hear on an increasingly frequent basis, is detrimental and betrays these variance narratives.

Having said all of the above, when I first saw the offence taken by some on social media, I responded to try and deal with the complaints. Having responded repeatedly over the past few days and today stood back, it is evident that twitter isn’t an appropriate space to be discussing these matters. Whilst I believe that I’ve responded with restraint, the response has given oxygen to views that wouldn’t have persisted had I remained silent. I’m committed to furthering the dialogue, study and discussion of the holocaust narrative and how it played out here, but I will no longer discuss the matter on twitter.

The front page of the Guernsey Press this morning had a horrific story of how a young girl had her van vandalised with the words “DIE FILTHY QUEER” painted onto the back and her dog attacked in the night with a hammer, to the point that the dog will need to have the eye removed. For those reading this blog outside Guernsey, I’d like to highlight that we don’t see this behaviour often. Violent crime is on the decline and hate crimes (though we don’t currently have legislation designating it as such) are very scarce. The community is rightly shocked. I had time to think about things since this morning and what follows is what I wrote on the internet page of our local newspaper www.thisisguernsey.com. I thought that what I wrote was worth repeating here.

I was shocked when I read this story today. As an openly gay man I’ve lived in Guernsey for about 18 years and have never come across openly aggressive homophobia, passive yes, but never this type.

During the election campaign I remember saying that it was time to bring our laws up to date so that they reflect the tolerant and progressive society Guernsey is. It’s very disheartening when something like this happens that is at variance with that statement.

When I expressed my shock on twitter this morning, someone asked what could be done and I answered honestly that I wasn’t sure and would like to reflect on it.

I’ve spoken to Deputy Le Tocq as the minister of the Home Department and was heartened to hear that our violent crimes are consistently down as a trend, except domestic abuse (and this is a very worrying trend on the island, but I’ve recently written a blog post here http://www.elisbebb.com/blog/domestic-abuse/ about this problem).

I’m also heartened by the public reaction. People are rightly shocked and appalled as to what happened here. Attitudes are changing and incidents like these are simply not tolerated by people. This is a good sign that something has been happening over the last few decades that improves our expectation of each other’s behaviour. I know of people, only about twenty years ago, who were physically attacked for being gay, but the reporting back then was ambiguous and the reaction muted.

I’d like to suggest that the reason so many people are shocked about this incident (and the other two that were on the first three pages of the press today) is because we abhor this behaviour and that it is now so infrequent, we are shocked at its occurrence. The reporting and visibility of these issues are also far more transparent than anything in the past.

Of course we can’t be complacent about these issues, we can’t be until we eradicate violence and bigotry and that’s a very long journey. Education is key to this endeavour, and I don’t mean just in the classrooms, I also mean in the Churches & Pubs, on the street and in the home, in community centres and in the shops, we all need to stand up and reject the idea that hate crimes and violence are an acceptable reaction. We should never allow intolerance of the “other” to become acceptable again in Guernsey.

This is a dreadful incident and the hate crime towards Jenny Harding and the violence towards Alice is inexcusable. Having had time to think further I do believe that we now need to bring forward hate crime legislation (something that we don’t have) and revisit our laws in relation to attacks on animals, something I know is in the process, but where and what priority has it been given? But feel that there may be some other form of reaction possible and I’m interested in discussing any ideas that people may have. I’d be particularly interested in talking to Jenny Harding should she wish to.

Finally, I’d like to say that the reaction here is part of the reason why I’m pleased to call Guernsey home. I chose to live here and I feel that the reasons for living here remain strong for as long as we, as a community, continue to condemn violence, abhor hate crimes and confront it in all its manifestations.

The joy of risk taking

Challenging the Health and Safety Orthodoxy

When Bradley Wiggins came to Guernsey I was asked, as one of the few deputies that cycle regularly, whether I’d be willing to be part of the deputies against the civil service cycle race. Given that it all seemed to be in good sport, the fact that I consider Sir Bradley to be an excellent rôle model for young people today and the opportunity to beat other deputies (even if it was on something other than debate), I decided to take part.

Sunday morning came and I pulled on a t-shirt, cycling shorts and my cycling shoes ready for the occasion. As I approached the front and heard the cheering crowds for the children’s race, saw proud parents beaming with joy as to their child’s participation, I considered what a good event this was, enthusing people of all ages about cycling and, thanks to the weather, the fact that rain isn’t a barrier to healthy traveling.

I registered for the race, pinned the number to my chest and quickly noticed how healthy, svelte and fit most of the civil servant participants looked in comparison to the deputies. I also noticed how a number of deputies that were meant to participate evidently preferred their bed on a wet Sunday morning to the joys of cycling.

As we moved onto the road, ready for the race, I was asked where my cycle helmet was, to which the response was

“I don’t wear a helmet”

The look of horror and disgust on people’s faces was surprising. I had evidently crossed a line that was not to be crossed and challenged the modern orthodoxy of elf ‘n safety. How dare I suggest cycling without a helmet. Being the person that I am I suggested that they made no difference to safety and weren’t effective. Evidently a mistake, not only was I considered misguided, I was also unwilling to repent for my defiance of the orthodoxy.

So let me put the record straight. I don’t disagree with those people that chose to wear cycle helmets, as with anything in life, I’m a great believer in personal choice. But I simply don’t believe that cycle helmets are beneficial. The evidence that we have available does raise some very real questions about the cost benefit of them, the long term disbenefits of their promotion and the fallacy that, as a society, we pay increased health costs for those that disregard orthodox health and safety.

Let’s start with the benefits of cycling. There is strong evidence to show that people who cycle regularly, even if they already undertake regular exercise, enjoy substantial health benefits (Froböse, 2004 and Cavill & Davis, 2007) . These benefits include

  • Boost of Immune System
  • Muscle Strengthening and Maintenance
  • Increased Bone Density
  • Reduced risk of Back Pain and Disc Problems
  • Balance & Equilibrium Maintenance
  • Heart & Cardiovascular Improvements
  • Body Fat Reduction

There are many other direct benefits, as well as the indirect environmental benefits of less people producing pollutants from driving, reduced noise pollution of traffic etc. All of these direct and indirect benefits are substantial in their cost saving to our health economy.

No one disagrees with these sentiments, but I do hear you ask “what has helmet wearing got to do with these benefits”. Well the answer is not obvious at first, but the evidence is clear. The more we do to demand helmet wearing either by direct legislation or simple encouragement, the less people cycle.

The most extreme example is Australia, where compulsory helmet laws have seen drops in usage. I’d like to refer specifically to Victoria where the number of children cycling has has seen a reduction of between 36% and 46% since making helmet wearing compulsory.
More telling is the cycle scheme that they have in Melbourne, where a city of 4 million people attracts fewer than 650 subscribers to the scheme. During four months the number of cycle rides were 20,700 journeys averaging around 300 per day.
Compare this with Dublin, where there is no compulsory helmet law, and a city of 1.7 million people attracts 47,000 subscribers. In the first twelve months the number of rides were 1.1 million with the average daily journeys being a staggering 5,000.

So why the difference. Admittedly, the cost of the Melbourne scheme is nearly four times the Dublin scheme, but despite this it remains competitive on cost to other forms of transport. As I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear, most analysts place the reason for the difference firmly at the feet of Victoria’s compulsory helmet laws.

“But we’re not facing a compulsory cycle helmet law” I hear you say. Well thank goodness no, but before we start relaxing, there is evidence that UK local authorities that undertook cycle helmet promotion saw a marked decrease in cycling. The table below gives a measure of the decline:

Focused campaign held 1994 – 1996 Change in helmet wearing Change in cycle counts
Yes (11 authorities) + 4.1% – 2.8%
No (18 authorities) + 0.8% + 4.9%
p < 0.001, sample approx 20,500 cyclists

Therefore the evidence is clear, increasing helmet promotion reduces cycling activity. And the cost benefit analysis is substantial, with the health benefit:cost ratio ranging from 13:1 to 415:1. Therefore any reduction in usage is likely to have a substantial cost increase for health.

Promoting cycle helmets gives people the impression that cycling is dangerous, but once again, the evidence doesn’t suggest that. Of all Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) in the US from 1997 to 2007, cycling was a tiny proportion.

Activity Average TBI fatalities/year % of total
All causes

53014

100%

Motorists

7955

15%

Pedestrians

1825

3.4%

Motorcyclists

1361

2.6%

Cyclists

325

0.6%

I know that it’s going to sound ridiculous, but are we honestly suggesting that people wear helmets in their cars or whilst walking?

A psychologist friend of mine suggested that, were I really interested in reducing the risk of cycling, I should buy a blonde wig, dress in female clothing and wobble as I cycle. This would have a far greater effect on motorist’s behaviour towards me than any helmet (which incidentally, tends to cause drivers to drive more recklessly around you than if you’re not wearing a helmet). The real risks are available in this interesting quiz.

Just before I finish on this subject, I don’t normally lend much in the way of credence to the reporting of the Guernsey Evening Press, but I note that there was a report today claiming that young children forced to wear a helmet to the skate park would rather skate elsewhere. Do we think that children would be safer skating on the street? Obviously not, we simply need to learn that when children fall, they will hurt themselves, this is part of learning to live with risk and what risk we’re willing to undertake.

Risk

This is my biggest fear. I remember being told that were we to apply the health and safety norms of today to the invention of the car, it would never have been allowed. The idea that we regularly jump into a moving vehicle with such an appalling safety record and demand multiple locations that sell highly flammable liquid is simply incompatible with today’s orthodoxy.

We’ve reached the point of stifling innovation, talking of risk as though it were a bad thing without recognising the benefits. This is not a mindset that will serve us well. We do not need a future generation of risk averse health and safety executives. What we need are a number of wealth creators who recognise risk and learn to evaluate and understand it, not try to eliminate it.

I’ll finish with an anecdote from my past. I used to work in the information security department of a bank, the policemen of the IT systems if you like. Too frequently the talk was of removing risk, when the only effective means of removing risk was to switch the computers off. On one occasion I could see a manager contemplating it, not realising that he was contemplating shutting down the bank.

Are we on the brink of trying to remove risk to the same extent, not realising the wider consequences of our actions?

It's not as difficult as you think.

Computers, Clouds, Data Centres, WAN and all that Jazz

Whatever your thoughts on computing and all that goes with it, it’s receiving close attention at this point in time, partly because of the Cadastre and SAP, but mainly because of FTP and the desire for more to be done by computers so that we run a more efficient government. So this is a post about what all these different bits are (Yes I know that some of you will know this already) and why you should be keeping your eyes peeled for all that jazz over the coming months.

By the way, I was asked a question about the cadastre computer failure recently by a reporter from the Guernsey Press and I noticed how difficult it is to explain all of this to non computer geeks, so here we go.

Lets start with the assumption that you know what a computer is (I take it that you’ve either got one or know how to use one if you’re reading this). A computer is fine, but when you have an office environment with lots of sensitive information (that for some reason we refer to as data), there’s two things that you need to do. Connect all the computers so they can talk to each other and store the data safely.

Computers have a nasty habit of dying on you just at the most inconvenient time (as though there were such a thing as a convenient time for this to happen), so we store the data on servers. Servers are basically a super computer designed to hold lots of data.

Given that servers are just computers, albeit super computers, they also have a habit of dying every now and then. This is why we backup our servers. Backup is a fairly simple process where all the data on one server is copied to another server or disk on a regular basis (usually overnight as it tends to slow down the servers).

Now at some point or other, someone thought that if you connected all the servers together life would be better, as the servers would all communicate with each other and we’d hate servers to have a silo mentality. When you have a lot of servers together it’s called a data centre, for what I would hope are rather obvious reasons. Running a data centre is pretty important work; all the servers will want a very stable electricity supply with no spikes or power outages; all the servers tend to produce a lot of heat, which is bad for servers, so the room will need to be kept at a certain cool temperature; as though that wasn’t enough each server needs attention with updates and fixes that are called patches.

At this point I don’t blame you for being tired of the jargon, those who work with IT love their jargon as much as any other trade, it tends to make them feel separate and more knowledgeable than others, but it’s just jargon. Bear with it.

I think that you’re beginning to see the trend here in IT. You start with one computer, then you connect a lot of them together, then you connect them to a server, then you connect a lot of servers together. Yes, the next logical step is to put lots of data centres together in the same room, and that is what happened, but because no one organisation would want to do that on their own, it’s large computer companies that do it and this is what we call the cloud.

What is the cloud and why do people talk about it so much? We’ve all come across cloud technology by now, how many of us use apple iTunes Match, where all of our music is stored in the cloud. Microsoft sky drive is a way of storing our documents in the cloud. it means that we can access our information from any computer as long as there’s an internet connection.

Now imagine that the Cadastre were to store their data in the cloud instead of a data centre in Sir Charles Frossard House, not a lot of difference I hear you say, well no not really, not for the user. But there is a big difference for the IT department.

Servers need all that maintenance, patches, steady electricity, cooling, upgrading; and all of this requires someone to work in the IT department doing it. But it’s not that interesting and maintenance isn’t a high priority when you have exciting new projects, like SAP, that take up a lot of your IT department’s time. And I can’t blame the IT department for focussing on SAP, this is a big project that needs a lot of work and attention and it will also give us large benefits. But then servers aren’t a fine French wine, they don’t improve with age and eventually something breaks.

Cloud technology allows us to forget about all of that maintenance dullness, it allows departments and companies to concentrate on the things that are important for them. This is where world IT is going now, so why are the States of Guernsey not going there.

Before you think that the States of Guernsey are just luddites in this respect, there are a couple of things to think about. When we have a data centre, we know exactly where it is, but does anyone know where your iTunes match data physically is? Where in the world is the server with your Microsoft Sky Drive? This is an important question because if important government information sits in another country, it’s not the best idea, as well as potentially being illegal. I know that Microsoft’s european data centres are in Dublin and Amsterdam, neither of which I’d like to have my tax information. Apple has it’s european cloud in Luxembourg and as pleasant as Luxembourg is, I’m not sure that I’d want all that information sitting inside the EU (they do have a habit of prying into information that isn’t theirs). EU government’s could also demand, through their courts, for these companies to disclose all the data that they store on their servers and I most certainly don’t want my electronic census data being disclosed in an uncontrolled way to some nosy parker EU government.

But we do have local cloud providers, Calligo, Itex and others (as the BBC would say, other providers are available) who have their cloud computers sitting in Guernsey and Jersey, and as such, are the logical option for us to start thinking about cloud computing.

Computing is getting more and more complicated, and as it does so, the basics still need to be done. Any company that’s still doing the basics really would have to ask themselves, by now, why? It’s time the States of Guernsey did the same.

My first suggestion would be to think about the exact issue that caused the loss of data at the Cadastre. Currently the States of Guernsey are backing up their servers onto tape. To say that this is a little old fashioned is a little like saying that betamax is on its way out. What we should be thinking about is backing up data to the cloud, but that’s not even on the radar yet, only to replace tape back up with more computers. Personally I think that this is a little like moving from betamax to VHS just as the world is moving into digital downloads.

Finally there’s WAN (Wide Area Network). This is easily explained as the electronic pipes that connect all the computers of the States of Guernsey together, from the King Edward Hospital to the Tourist Information Centre on the front. From St Sampson High School to Sir Charles Frossard House. The best way to think of this is that we rent the pipe from a telecom company (currently JT) to use it. But the bigger the pipe, the more you pay for it, therefore the pipe from the PEH to Sir Charles Frossard House (because of the number of people) will be bigger than the pipe from the cadastre office. But if the data sits in the cloud, we don’t need a big fat pipe between the offices, all we need is an internet connection, and we all know that Commerce and Employment are working hard at the moment to bring those costs down. Indeed Commerce and Employment are working hard to facilitate cloud service providers on the island, so why aren’t we, as the States of Guernsey, taking advantage of this work?

Civil Service Accountability

Some will know that I’ve recently written, and am leading, a requête titled “Clarification of the Responsibility and Accountability of the Civil Service to the Political Boards and Committees”. I’m rather sure that the first reaction of most people having read the title is “why should I care?”. If not, the reaction may well be “how dull”. So I’m writing a blog to say why it’s not dull and you should care (though I won’t pretend that it’s easy).

Lets start by looking at our current system of government known as consensus government. What does it mean? Well in essence, every department is a committee of five deputies that make the political decisions. This is different from executive government, such as they have in Jersey and the UK (and the Guernsey Press wishes we had here), where individuals are given responsibility for their department and form the executive (that then acts as a cabinet in the UK or council of ministers in Jersey).

Next I’ll talk about the Civil Service. Effectively it’s the body of people that carry out the will of the political establishment. No one would disagree with that statement in the UK, but here in Guernsey we frequently find that civil servants have much more power and ability to effect change. Why is that? Well it’s mainly because we don’t have political parties. When I’m elected I don’t have a political party that I’m a part of with a manifesto that I must deliver. I don’t have a majority of members who’ll always vote with me to deliver that manifesto, therefore civil servants in Guernsey bring forward ideas and policies for the politicians to consider in a way that would be unimaginable in the UK. This isn’t necessarily all bad, because I don’t have a party that I’m part of, I don’t have political think tanks that have considered the delivery and change of service, I don’t have policy formation within a party set up, therefore the civil service have filled this void. There are good examples of this and bad examples and I don’t disagree with the civil service doing this in many respects as the ideas need to be approved by the politicians to be progressed.

So given this happy arrangement, why do I think there’s a sufficient problem to raise a requête and face the horror of the Policy Council, Treasury and Resource Department and the Guernsey Press?

The problem is simple. In our system of Government, as a member of a department (HSSD in my case) I’m held responsible for the delivery of service within that department. How is it therefore that I have no say into the appointment of the most senior civil servant of that department, the Chief Officer? How is it that I’m not involved in determining how effective the Chief Officer has been in delivering what we, as the politicians, have deemed it necessary for him or her to deliver? I can ask for something to be done, for something to be stopped and something new to be offered, but the only person that can give the Chief Officer an appraisal is another civil servant. If I ask for something to be done and it isn’t, that means nothing as long as the civil service are happy with their own work. Is that your understanding of government?

When I was elected I expected to set the direction, make decisions and be held accountable for them. For better or worse, I’m the one that you can phone, email, tweet, talk to in person or (yes it does still happen) send a letter to, complaining or complimenting me on my action (more compliments would be welcomed by the way). My name and contact details are freely available in the front of the phone book, on the government website and a whole host of other places so that you, dear electorate, can give me a piece of your mind (and you frequently do).

But how can I be held fully accountable if I’m not fully in control?

I’m not asking for some silly system of patronage where I’d be appointing a friend, indeed, given that I’m only one of five in the committee of the department, I don’t see how such nepotism would be possible (believe me when I say that not all five members of the department agree with each other all the time). But I am asking for us to have an input.

Why would you trust me on this issue? Well strangely enough, just after I published, signed and delivered my requête the UK cabinet office published a report asking for exactly the same system that I propose. If they have an executive government, how much more appropriate is the same system for a consensus government.

Given all the above I’d also like to clarify a few things:

  • I’m not harking back to some golden era, this was never the practice before in Guernsey and it would be a bold move to undertake.
  • This is similar to what is already done in
    • France,
    • The United States of America,
    • New Zealand,
    • Austria
    • and a whole host of other countries.
  • This wouldn’t scupper existing initiatives as we’re all bound by the resolutions of the States of Deliberation.

Sorry to dispel the myths promulgated by the opinion column of the Guernsey Press.

Why should you care? Simply put, do you want a government by deputies or by civil servants? If it’s the latter, sleep easy; if it’s the former, lobby your deputy now the contact details are as above.

So how interesting was that? I suppose it’s as interesting as I can make it. Yes I suppose you can complain that deputies are once again concerned with themselves to some degree, but I’d also suggest that this is also a concern for you. If you voted, aren’t you expecting your deputies to be responsible? If you didn’t vote, don’t you expect your deputies to be responsible?

Let me finish by stating that I make no judgement on the quality of our civil service here in Guernsey, it is like any other company or body of workers, some are excellent, a lot are good, some are questionable in their ability. I’m not bringing a requête to attack them, simply clarify their responsibilities and reporting lines.

Whatever your opinion, leave your feedback below. I know that I’ll read it and take account of it. I’m not sure that the civil service would have to and I’m not sure that it’s their job, but I know that it is mine.

Why Blog?

So why Blog? Isn’t it enough that the political world of a small island is sufficiently covered by the excellent coverage of the BBC, Channel News and the omnipresent Guernsey Press? Virtually every day we have another news story concerning deputies that appears in the pages of the Guernsey Press or over the airwaves on BBC Radio Guernsey; add that to the endless rounds of government consultations, presentations, the monthly meeting of the State’s of Deliberation and we have as much political discourse as you’d need on an island of sixty thousand odd inhabitants (I know that the last number will be considered contentious by some of you due to a recent debate) isn’t it?

Well maybe not. I mean no disrespect to anyone when I say that I find the Guernsey Press is most extensive in its coverage but has its own agenda that it pushes; BBC Radio Guernsey are a little on the timid side not wanting to enter into a political discussion, hence the incredibly weak format of the Sunday Phone In where all political questions are passed over to the public; and Channel TV that only have a half hour slot every day to cover events on all of the islands (who cares what’s happening in Jersey?).

Given that I’m not known for being a timid wall flower (well I don’t think so anyway) and given that I get rather frustrated with people’s view of the political discussions I thought it time to start presenting my view in the round rather than the narrow view that’s so frequently presented in the conventional media. I frequently talk to people on Twitter (yes please follow me on @elisbebb) and discover that a subject that has raised passions hasn’t been well explained. We lack the PR machinery that is ever present in other jurisdictions (thank the Lord) that seek to give flesh on the bones of an argument.

There is also, I suppose, a selfish view that if I blog successfully I may not be subject to quite so many questions or (on a less frequent basis) attacks for my position. But then that may be considered altruistic rather than selfish.

Finally, yes I will consider writing a political blog on requests that I receive but no, I don’t guarantee that I will and no, I won’t necessarily agree with everyone.