Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Manger danger

There are days when you worry about the state of the Manx NHS. And then there are other days when you really worry about it - especially when it caves in to pitchfork-waving simpletons stirred up by priests.
Which isn't to say that all clergy contact with the health service is negative. For example, when the bishop spouts guff like this (see http://www.isleofman.com/News/details/68929/bishop-bemoans-political-correctness ) I know at once that he doesn’t talk to his own hospital chaplain, who probably put the display up in the empty chapel as usual because he actually knows and respects the beliefs of hospital staff. In my dealings with the last generation of hospital chaplains on a committee, I also knew them as three tolerant, kindly lads with definite party lines but prepared to understand and work with others to the common good.
But the island's hospitals have always been a little, well.... rustic compared to UK equivalents, and it did take years of effort just to get things relatively scientific. Even five years ago I knew of a superstitious senior hospital official who never took a major decision without consulting her priest. Thankfully, he was slightly more worldly than she was, and I gather talked her out of a few schemes straight out of Lourdes.
Sadly, those wise old heads are now retired, and their replacements are either under orders from area management to concentrate on rich invalids or just from Christianity's lunatic fringe anyway. In addition to one replacement (the one who stirred up the nativity scandal) being a sectarian fright, representatives of the island's freak sects (formerly kept at bay by hospital staff) now freely roam the corridors looking for victims.
All of which makes this (see http://www.isleofman.com/News/details/68928/it-s-humbug-health-chiefs-dispel-nativity-decoration-rumour ) somewhat inevitable.
What next? Homoeopathy, “services of spiritual healing” .....leeches ....... exorcisms?
Laugh if you like, but two of the above are already on tap at the island's semi-privatised hospice (a centre of spiritual excrement, sadly, ever since its unfortunate conception), so not quite the plot for a black comedy starring, say, Mark Gatiss that it ought to be.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

No room at the inn?

About a month ago, I was made aware of an apparent case of religious prejudice against people trying to help the homeless. I was reminded of it again when I saw http://www.iomtoday.co.im/news/isle-of-man-news/church-to-host-christmas-day-meal-event-1-6990614 . Then, last night, I was finally introduced to the victims of this odd incident of discrimination.
Briefly, some well meaning hippy types had managed to find a way to regularly obtain surplus vegetables from farmers and small-holders. Their plan was to cook this up and have a regular free lunch for the homeless.
First they approached the owner of an alternative cafe about running the project. He, reasonably enough, pointed out that he couldn't really offer free food to some of his regular punters and not others without confusion or arguments.
Next they approached the wardens of a church with a large hall. The wardens were totally disinterested in the whole project until the hippies offered to pay, and even then not until they offered to pay the full commercial rate expected of, say, a mid-sized business hiring the gaff for a few hours.
That was bad enough. What the hippies tell me happened next was even worse.
They suddenly got a phone-call in which one of the church wardens said that the Parish Church Council had seen fit to hold an emergency meeting. At the meeting, as far as I can tell, the PCC not only voted to refuse permission for the lunch, but to bar anyone involved from hiring the hall in future.
And here is the sick joke.....
The church hall concerned is run on the proceeds of one of the earliest ever Manx charities. The will of the Victorian benefactor provided for a school house and soup kitchen. Under the terms of this will, the property was demised to the vicar and wardens of the adjoining church “and their successors in office to be held on trust for such good and pious uses as they from time to time may determine with full power to dispose of the property and apply the proceeds to like uses.”
I should also say this is not the first story I have heard about the church involved barring use of the building for genuine community initatives, even when the organisers offer the full going commercial hire price. By comparison, pseudo-charities and snooty little cultural soirees run by well-heeled townspeople seem to find no such obstacles. Neither( it has been suggested) do some of them even pay a token hire fee.
Another funny thing. I passed by the church recently and couldn't help noticing the Baby Jesus was missing from the Nativity display.
Maybe the wardens decided there was no room for him either.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Not a prayer?

I had a bit of a giggle recently at http://www.isleofman.com/News/details/68672/ramsey-company-answered-our-prayers-says-beach-buddies.
Well firstly, I doubt if anyone had to pray about it, given that the company directors and most of the Beach Buddies go to the same church.
Secondly, those most involved were present at a local course given a few years back by CARE - a nasty little gang of bigots posing as an educational foundation with rather more influence at Westminster than is healthy.
They owe this influence to their practice of providing interns to members of the Christian Conservative Fellowship free of charge. One such intern was the daughter of the Manx government minister who invited CARE over to run the course, and who used their dubious “research” himself a few times while trying to push his department's policy through Tynwald (thus contributing to the public's general impression of him as a flat-earther who needs to read a lot more).
The topic of the course was how to give your business a Christian ethos. In a nutshell, it sold ways to avoid tax and present your business as a religious charity, without either the cost or the inconvenience of registering as a charity and thus having to produce audited accounts.
Nice tax strategy if you can get away with it. And as long as such companies have a friend who works in the offices of the temporary Attorney General I suspect few checks will be made or awkward questions asked.

The art of cronyism

The real world has prevented me posting for a while, but I had to point out the latest tat Ramsey Commissioners have dumped on us under the ongoing town degeneration scheme (see http://www.iomtoday.co.im/news/isle-of-man-news/rnli-saluted-by-commissioners-with-sculpture-1-6995364 ).
Believe me, however bad you think it looks in the picture, the reality is far worse. No wonder it was unveiled in the dark. Until this gargoyle rocked up, a disability scooter or pram could just about get up a section of pavement the regeneration scheme had finally (and I suspect accidentally) fixed. Now it's back to normal. Another nice one, Nigel and his co- numpties.
And what is it about the conception and delivery of “public art” that local government and the Manx Culture Mafia find so hard to think about? Everything, apparently.
Why else could it be that every time some public sector apparatchik hatches half an excuse to commission a statue we get a giant size replica of one of those toys you used to get free in Cornflakes packets?
Since the Millennium, Ramsey has now suffered the Nazi Tyre outside the Shoprite toilets, the Two Crusties moved from the Town Hall to the “community area” outside the soon-to-be closed Ramsey Post Office (the only public fixture in the redeveloped area any member of the public genuinely wants) ...... and now this.
Look, the return to the figurative (rather than abstract) in 21st century public sculpture is supposed to engage the public. When Damien Hirst creates ghastly giant size versions of awful toys it is meant ironically. When Anthony Gormley, (perhaps more effectively) created the Angel of the North or his sea watchers on the beach it caused people to look twice or gasp, and then rethink the way they see that landscape. Whoever commissions such pieces at least assumes ordinary members of the public without art history degrees are intelligent enough to do that.
By comparison, the rash of god-awful cod-fascist crap inflicted on the Manx public over the last 20 years and excused as statuary or urban redevelopment really needs …......
Well, let's just ask where are Gustav Metzger and Jean Tinguely now that we really need them?
Some will say that if I feel this strongly I should do something more than moan; possibly stand for the IOM Arts Council or something. Well, I would, only the call for next year's members was only made yesterday (Friday), the applications have to be in by next Friday, and the new Council starts operating in January.
Think about this. Applications to be in three and a half days before all government departments take the phone off the hook, have a glass of bubbly on the taxpayers and shut up shop until January 5th, from about which date the new Arts Council has to be up and running?
Does anyone else spot the obvious problem?
And does anyone else have just the teensy-weensiest suspicion of a private club pre-deciding next year's members?

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Manx Kippers

Well, as promised, I and a few pillars of the community were outside the Gaiety on November 11th distributing anti-racist leaflets to blue rinse bigot groupies.
It was an eye opener. A real losers convention of cheapskates, petty tax avoiders and vinegar-titted, niggling nobodies in general desperately looking for approval from someone only slightly less inconsequential then their sorry selves. It was as if the entire Manx daytime TV and UK Gold audience had simultaneously taken out a pay-day loan to watch the kind of shyster who sold it to them.
These were people too unimaginative to even crave decent heroes. What a shower!
More seriously, about two thirds were pensioners, who took our leaflets politely enough as we wished them a good evening but invited them to read another side to the fairy stories they were about to hear. Others were classic white flighters of the kind a Manx government policy document of 1990 (with major contributions by a former PR officer for the apartheid era Sun City resort in South Africa) indicates our then leaders decided to attract to this island.
The dead wood of the current House of Keys were also there, though significantly no female, Jewish or other politicians with non white or European partners. The Chief Minister had apparently been invited to meet and introduce Farage, but passed that dubious honour to an MLC whose prejudices are so well known that hanging out in public with a Euro-fascist could not lower his reputation further. Presumably, as the public can neither elect nor dismiss this Klingon he and his chums could enjoy yet another night of free drinks without worry.
Odder still was the presence of Manx Labour politicians and various characters who like to pass themselves off as trade unionists. The official line is that they were there to observe the enemy, but why pay him to do so?
It might also be pertinent to know that they were asked to join us leafleting. One professional trade unionist gave the kind of rambling response which explains why he loses every battle with government over public service pay and conditions. The other, like the MLP's elected members, never even replied.
Another myth peddled is that the proceeds of the event do not go back to Farage or his party, and that they went to charity. Not credible.
Firstly, the only known charitable donation on the night was passing buckets round the audience for the British Legion, an empty flag-waving gesture which cost the organisers nothing.
Secondly, a Manx registered family trust can ( if professionally constructed) also be a registered charity - though not necessarily registered on the Isle of Man. The whole concept was actually dreamt up by a well known figure in the dark 1980's days of the Manx offshore industry.
A common wheeze is to register the charity in another jurisdiction where nobody would look ( e.g. Monaco or Gibraltar) but bind the trust itself by Manx law. Also, under current law only the trustees would know the name of any underlying company or where it is registered, and would only be obliged to reveal anything in the chain of structures if a police force or government agency had credible evidence of criminal activity. Given that such agencies rarely even know of the existence of such entities unless a criminal offers them up in a plea bargain this simply does not happen.
Thirdly, the lunchtime before the show, Farage supporters gave a reception for a carefully selected few at The Claremont which nobody seems to want to mention. To get some idea why this might be, take a look at http://awaitingawesternrenaissance.blogspot.com/2008/10/foreign-owners-channel-cash-to-tories.html and remember who owns the Claremont, and also http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/comment/citydiary/10106554/Dashwood-Bangers-and-cash-for-Nigel-Farages-Brussels-blow-out.html .
You may also find http://www.directorstalk.com/nigel-farage-jim-mellon-paul-kavanagh-and-merryn-somerset-webb-at-master-investor-2013/ , http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/oct/02/ukip-donor-belize-mining-southern-africa and http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/oct/04/ukip-donor-arron-banks-shows-tax-cheque-sent-hmrc helps to give some idea how these things work and why middle ranking businessmen with massively leveraged businesses might want to bother.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Now we are sick

How many pathetic white flighters are there on the island, and how much would they pay to listen to a drunk they cannot even vote for?
The answers are 700, and £17.50. What sad lives some people must lead to hand over a day's worth of benefits.
Don't get it?
OK I'll try again.
Apparently Nigel Farage (the most notorious racist comedian since Bernard Manning did everyone a favour and died) is speaking at The Gaiety on November 11th.
I'm not sure which joke is sicker, the date or the fact that the organisers can boast 700 tickets have been sold at £17.50. What, exactly, does a racist throwback who scrounges EU funds have to say to an island which can neither vote for his moronic party in the UK nor send one of his fellow parasites to Brussels, because we play no part in that assembly either? And what half-wit at the Department of Fun missed the significance of the date?
Anyways, when the half-cut one and his fans do show up so will some genuine Manx people. We will leave these no-hopers to bore each other to death inside, but leaflets from Hope not Hate will be distributed outside from about 6.30 PM. So if you don't spend much time in post offices, but secretly always wanted to know what a long queue of losers look like when not collecting benefits, come on down and join the fun.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Toilet training

This story (see http://www.iomtoday.co.im/news/isle-of-man-news/campaigners-urge-us-to-twin-our-toilets-1-6912826 ) breaks my heart.
I have known the One World Centre, its staff and committee since its inception (which I was actually involved in) and they are well meaning, honest and open people. When the OWC held a tenth anniversary concert celebrating the island's hidden cultural diversity a couple of weeks back I went out of my way to get family and friends to go. At that concert the toilet-twinning idea was launched, and we left seriously intending to sign up and join in.
Then we found out who the money actually goes to, so we cannot. For the record, Cord is the trading name of Christian Outreach (England & Wales registered charity number 1070684), so actually both partnership charities here are faith -based.
Tearfund demands that both volunteers and paid workers sign a mission statement binding them to a somewhat fundamentalist interpretation of Christianity as a condition of employment. A highly respected gay Christian who runs one of the UK's most prestigious faith-based campaign groups sent me a copy some years ago. He and other liberal Christians say that, in practice, the statement weeds out dissenters as it would not be possible for any honest person practising the ideals of the UN Convention on Human Rights to sign.
Cord, while on paper run by Christians who think their faith requires them to first help the dispossessed (rather than judge or convert them) is linked by a common trustee to SaltMalawi Trust (E&W charity number 1139160) which.......well, frankly, is not. If you are at all concerned at the way Western evangelicals have stoked up folk myths about witchcraft and homosexuality in order to profit from the homegrown African money church movement you might want to give that direct debit a miss.
Returning to the OWC itself - I even briefly joined the committee at one point, in a bid to meet predominantly faith-based people halfway in efforts to move past the awful “I'm all right Jack” little islander mentality which prevails here. Too many crises of conscience caused me to resign within a month or two, and at the time I felt like a minority of one within another minority which was not much larger.
I know that, in practice, the decent Christians within the OWC fight an uphill battle against the apathy and racism of many local worshippers. From conversations with others in recent months alone I also now know the real irony: this is that is there is actually a much larger group who think like me outside the tiny OWC circle of church influence.
We share the human, rather than faith-based, aspects of the OWC vision. We think it would be counter-productive to start another version (especially when the basic idea and links with government are in place) but there is no way any of us, in good conscience, can support initiatives which do not differentiate between, say, the principled stance of Christian Aid (who sign up to UNHRC standards of employment and aid distribution) and Samaritan's Purse/Operation Christmas Child (who can fly someone in Franklin Graham's Lear jet to a disaster for a photo, then back again as soon as the world press leave, and have been known to demand Catholic or Muslim refugees convert before handing over facilities SP were actually distributing as part of a US AID program).
What is the answer?
Sadly, I cannot see long term change or an increase in public support until it is made clear that the OWC are NOT primarily there to channel overseas aid from the Manx government to international aid agencies, but an attempt to engage with Manx people and affect change from the grass roots up. Given the wide public mistrust of both the Manx government and quite justifiable mistrust of aid agencies with £100K executives I cannot see how they can succeed while the public links them to attempts to increase overseas aid, and as long as they are  wrongly associated with major aid agency tubthumpers I fear the OWC are fast losing even the limited goodwill of the young and liberal.
For example, at my daughter's school she reports pupils cannot tell the difference between OWC visitors and compulsory sermons from the Scripture Union. The kids seem to regard both as “god-bothering nutters” to be slept through until the teacher can be bothered to turn up and proper lessons start.
They are, I hasten to say, wrong, because OWC staff scrupulously avoid professing any personal faith they may have in schools. The problem is, as the very few promoters of “good causes” either sanctioned or choosing to go into schools tend to be preachy, the audience no longer waits until they start talking to switch off. And if, say, they are there as part of some option intended to get kids thinking about the wider world only churchy kids tick that option box, so they never discover the difference. Self-fulfilling prophecies and all that.
Perhaps a short term compromise, and acceptable start, would be to require both partners of OWC projects and Manx government overseas aid recipients to commit to working practices that respect UNHRC standards and UK/Manx law on human rights. At present far too many can slip through the net by pleading religious belief, or are simply not scrutinised or challenged.
Churches may reasonably expect worshippers to voluntarily believe the apparently irrational or supernatural as a membership condition. They cannot expect public funds to theoretically provide goods and services to the dispossessed if a condition of that “aid” is the “right” to promote or endorse hatred. When they do that, all Manx people become a party to the ignorance, the house-burnings, the violence, the second class treatment of women, torture of children and other such crimes against humanity. That is not what foreign aid is meant to do.