Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Thank God I'm just eccentric

A Barry Stevens letter questioning the local Interfaith Group’s open mindedness in this week’s Examiner (see http://www.iomtoday.co.im/your-letters/Isle-of-Man-Examiner-June.5410522.jp) raises an interesting point. Barry’s wrong about the Interfaith Group (I’ve stood in when the humanist rep was away so I know there’s a Spiritualist Church rep) but on the right track.
It was Churches Together in Mann which refused to accept Spiritualists. In fact, it was in finding that out in 1998 that I established they didn’t want to talk to other faiths locally either, because as far as the main churches were concerned they didn’t exist!
The Spiritualists made a formal application to join the interchurch body, which my sources suggest was greeted with panic. The official line was that the Spiritualists might want to somehow tap into CTIM ‘respectability’ and government influence, as well as resources such as contact lists for possible financial gain.
But there was another reason, which was that mainstream Manx churches were about to jointly remarket themselves to new age interests, for example by offering what were vaguely labelled ‘services of healing’. Rather like spiritualism or clairvoyance doesn’t ‘promise’ results in return for hard cash, advertising for the ‘laying on of hands’ was padded with small print or legalese about continuing to take the usual medicine.
The next step was that local journalists ( me included) were offered ‘background material’ and off–record briefings for stories which our sources were sure needed telling to avoid simple souls dabbling in the occult or losing their bingo money. In my case, the material dried up when I asked if the churches would provide an on-record spokesman to explain how their ‘responsible’ laying on of hands differed from (presumably irresponsible) table-spinners who bring messages via Big Chief Hokum from your dearly departed granny.
They wouldn’t, and when I then asked couldn’t all this be avoided if CTIM would just ‘upgrade’, as in the UK, to some sort of interfaith outfit to deal with each other and the government I was told that wasn’t necessary because “there are no other faiths on the island”.
Funnily enough, it was during the instantly forgettable high profile millennium madness a year or so later that the other faiths who didn't exist got tired of waiting and set the body up themselves. Something like 100 invitations to join in were also sent and continue to be extended to various Christian groups, all unanswered. Maybe they don't exist either.
Meanwhile, the Interfaith group has never turned down prospective members. However baffling the beliefs, the explanation has been met with a collective “Oh, OK then… next item”. The only dubious organisation I know of left of their own accord when it saw the group was just an amicable gathering of folk trying to find middle ground, not a source of government grants, influence and/or secretive dealings.
Us minority types leave that kind of thing to real people of faith. Like the unelected Christian politicians who can always square things with sympathisers in the Dept of Home Affairs or Social Services when possible fraud or child abuse enquiries arise.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Preying on the sick

Interesting piece yesterday over at The Freethinker website about godbothering doctors ‘defending’ the right to pray over (or is that prey on) patients.
Knowing from recent experience how little time most doctors (or health workers in general) have for such twaddle I was puzzled by both this and a Telegraph article on the same theme until discovering an earlier BBC report (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/8116497.stm) which makes it clear it is the Christian Medical Fellowship, not the medical profession as a whole, dragging us back to the era of prayers and leeches (or priests, as they prefer to be called).
Having seen how this mob hijack conferences of overworked doctors and manage to pass ludicrous ‘motions’ (yes, aware of the pun, but the CMF will always be crap without moral fibre to me) things become clearer.
By the way, from the BBC report I also suspect Dr Birtwhistle may well be a ‘cancer specialist’ in the hospice movement, which revolves around faith, aromatherapy and plastic smiles rather than rational medicine. If you have a rational bone in your body, never EVER allow yourself to be cajoled into dying in one of their hellholes.
In contrast, my experience of hospital doctors is of overworked folk stacking up the hours to keep surgery lists down. When they find a little time to organise outside that it's to lobby government to keep essential public services going, not inessential publically subsidised prayers. In turn this makes me wonder - I'm well aware many CMF members are retired or private sector doctors out of touch with NHS realities, so are the rest just underemployed skivers who need to be cleared out of the public sector?
In my recent troubles I could no longer be bothered arguing with godbothering health workers who offered to pray for me. I just said 'Well, if it makes you feel better...'.
The point is, some folk say it quite innocently and just mean they're thinking of you, which isn't worth winding them up about. The more calculated ones know such 'prayers' are totally for their own benefit, not yours, so I let such professional victims know I realise that without giving them a chance to nail themselves to their silly crosses and whine.
But it doesn't suprise me that, knowing they can't produce solid facts and figures, godbotherers are stirring up pseudo-issues to protect public subsidy of their underemployed clerical chums instead.
But if there ever is talk about making the hospital chaplain part of the 'care plan' I suspect some interesting figures will be revealed. Presumably, to do it properly, they'd have to make 'chaplain's notes' which would become part of the patient's ward records, time, length and content of each visit recorded, and all this would be on the public record in, say, a negligency hearing.
This would make it immediately obvious that they spend little or no time with even the folk they're asked to visit, and that much of a chaplain's work is just consoling grieving relatives and facilitating early release of any body they expect to bury. Undertakers don't get paid to do this, and I'd argue that it's no more than a parish priest's usual job, so why not go the whole hog, stop paying for 'professional' hospital chaplains and tell the churches to sort out their own support services for sick members, like the rest of us already have to do.
Of course, on the Isle of Man this is already the case and the NHS provide a hospital chapel but not funding of chaplains, and that example stands up to scrutiny as ‘good practice’ for elsewhere.
As I’ve mentioned here before, I sit on a hospital committee representing 'other faiths and none' along with three full time clergy who are the 'official' (though unpaid) hospital chaplains. In two years my attendance (unpaid in my work lunch hour, any extra hours away from the desk to be made up in unpaid overtime) equals the three of theirs combined - I've only missed one meeting.
So I suspect we will never get this twaddle from Manx clergy and they will never try it as a local campaign. They do little though perfectly effectively in their way for those who request their help. They also know that, if it came to a survey, most hospital staff would reveal they suffer an imposition by outdated cultural custom rather than appreciate any professional input to the patient 'care package'.
As I witnessed last week, it is also not unusual for a vulnerable regular member of a church congregation to lie in hospital near death and unvisited, because nobody thought to ask where he is when his pew was empty for a month. So much for the closeness of Manx churches and the current ‘third sector’ arguments for more public funding of ‘faith based community work’.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

A Call To Wierdness

Well, I’m back, and I write these words sitting at my keyboard with a chest more full of holes than a tea strainer. Today I am truly holier than thou, so grovel, sinners!
Last Monday morning I had my gall bladder removed. Being a wimp I was all ready to lie about on a hospital ward for a few days, but they kicked me out within one to make room for worthier cases.
Amazing things gallstones, by the way. The surgeon presented mine back to me in a specimen jar. It looks like I’ve eaten someone’s gravel drive.
So, after a few days watching the e-mails mount but truly not knowing or caring what in the world’s going on any more it seemed time to re-engage with this madness.
I needed to break myself in with something cheerful but stupid, so I went to Jeremy Clarkson’s Sunday column at http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/jeremy_clarkson/article6590133.ece and that was just what I needed. As well as agreeing with his central point about the relative merits of hippies and Catholic clergy this article usefully reminded me of other things.
Back in 1992 two fellow Manx reprobates brought off a spectacular practical joke at the Stonehenge Solstice. In those days both police and army presence was stronger at Stonehenge, officially due to English Heritage’s need to guard the stones against ‘vandalism’, but many a stoned cynic thought because a damn great party of broken down vehicles got in the way of massive military exercises, such as playing with Cruise missiles.
My fellow deviants dressed up specially for the solstice, but not in druid costume. Sadly, they never got it filmed, but somewhere on an old police VCR even now I’d guess a few coppers are creasing themselves watching Wiltshire’s fattest chasing a pantomime cow round and round the stones like a demented Benny Hill sketch, overseen by several billion quid’s worth of spy-in-the-sky military hardware.
Yes folks, it can be done. This world may be run by all-powerful lunatics, but with a fair sprinkling of humour and imagination ordinary folk can hit back. As the late and great Dr Hunter S. Thompson used to say: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”
Thinking this through, the tragedy is us Manx oddballs get this stuff together off-island, but when we come home we get serious. A couple of years back I was so shocked by the claims of Liberal Vannin ( a Manx political party named after liberals but so clueless they took advice from a UKIP reject) to be the biggest party here that I proposed a branch of the Monster Raving Loony Party. The idea was sign up more members than Liberal Vannin, so that internationally the island would be on the map because self-confessed lunatics outnumbered people with serious political ambition.
It would have been possible, but once I contacted the OMRLP I lost interest. I knew them in the days when Bradford’s Wild Willi Beckett ( roller skating nun, psychosurgeon and all round anarchist muckraker) made enough waves to actually get Yorkshire candidates elected… and even do serious work on issues like homelessness. Sadly, the current OMRLP are more like a Rotary night out than a lunatic fringe.
But then I saw my wife creased double with laughter at a Hungarian news website. Hungary needs laughter, having just allowed fascist throwbacks to get the balance of power due to lack of support for dishonest conventional politicians (sound familiar?). So all power to the Two Tailed Dog Party, who recently organised a ‘political demonstration for nothing’, where any party line was absent and the ensuing clash of slogans on placards had to be seen to be believed.
I can’t find a site where you can get an English language translation of those events, but you can find an English version of some of their antics at http://mkkp.hu/indexangol.html. You can also follow the links to these and other inspiring folk via ‘joke political parties’ at Wikipedia.
Read, laugh, and then go and do thou likewise unto the huddled masses.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

No faith? No hope, no charity

I was disturbed to read on the Manx government website yesterday that the Isle of Man is soon to host a British Irish Council officers group which is supposed to be ‘exploring the role of the ‘Third Sector’ in promoting social inclusion.’ Amongst the local examples the visitors are apparently going to hear about or visit are homelessness and befriending schemes.
According to Andrew Swithinbank, one of two Social Services clowns revealed in a Tynwald question last year to be on £100K + salaries:
"This is not just an opportunity for us to blow the Manx trumpet although we have a great deal to be proud of in how Government and the Third Sector are working together in the interests of vulnerable people. Rather it is an opportunity for mutual learning. We want to share with our colleagues from other jurisdictions the problems we have faced and the solutions we have found and the challenges ahead so that we can all learn how to build even better and stronger partnerships with the voluntary and community sector."
Well Andrew, it will take less than two minutes to explain we’ve failed miserably. Then what do you do for the rest of the conference?
You can read the pathetic bleatings of this overpaid underachiever and other chumps at http://www.gov.im/lib/news/dhss/officialsfromsix.xml, and I defy Manx readers to get past the first paragraph without laughing or swearing profusely.Seriously, if current Manx examples are being held up as ‘best practice’ for planned public sector cutbacks in the UK and surrounding islands that is pretty terrifying.
The simple truth is, in the last few years Manx public services (often third rate to start with) have been hacked away to the extent they no longer exist in any practical sense. All this has happened under the pretence of ‘partnerships’ with churches and other parasitical bodies which might have otherwise quietly died by the end of the 20th century through public disinterest.
Instead of just paying professionals to look after our disadvantaged competently, the government just slipped a few quid to the same faith-biased amateurs who caused the bigotry and general ignorance which held us back so many years in the first place. So now, unless you’re what some biblebashing dimwit (armed with digital technology but Dickensian attitudes) considers ‘the deserving poor’ you get no help. Under cretinous initiatives such as ‘befriending schemes’ run by evangelical throwbacks in our smaller communities pensioners who don’t attend church are now left to die alone and un-noticed.
For example a nonagenarian friend caring for a wife with Alzheimers moved to the UK earlier this year. It was the only way, given the handover of the relevant public services to village ignoramuses from the local chapel, he could be sure she would even get minimal care, such as the odd home help popping in.
Off-island readers – watch out for this nonsense. If such policies are ever adopted in your communities then at some future point the recently revealed Irish church-led abuse scandals are going to look like a model of social good practice compared to the total breakdown of public services you are about to experience.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Uganda and happy clappy fascism - the saga continues

I’ve blogged on here before about the effects of Christian ‘charity’ on Africa and Eastern Europe. I’ve accepted I may have to revisit the subject often until the Manx government, and in particular the Education Department, stops encouraging locals to underwrite racist, homophobic nonsense that starts wars, destroys lives, and enables Western churches to steal from the poor.
Southern Poverty Law Center is an honourable Martin Luther King era Alabama outfit that keeps an eye on all manner of bigots. They have an interesting piece on Scott Lively, the bonkers US evangelical setting up shop in Uganda along with equally weird characters. Even conservative US Christians are now warning against Lively, author of a ludicrous book, The Pink Swastika, which claims the Third Reich was a gay cult.
To their credit, they’re increasingly concerned too at the role US Christian charities are playing in a witch-hunting of Ugandan gays which eerily resembles the build-up of German anti-semitism in the 1930’s. See http://www.splcenter.org/blog/2009/06/17/anti-gay-conspiracy-theories-debunked-by-christian-professor/ for more, and be sure to follow up the links to Boxturtlebulletin.com.
That people on the Isle of Man still give money to evangelical ‘charities’ who stir up such hatred disgusts me. The cluelessness of Manx Christian charities always amuses friends and relatives in countries where they consolidate the island’s reputation as a third world backwater and major exporter of village idiocy. Our role in Uganda, though, is in a whole other league, and far more deadly.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Quacks, prayers and naff art? No thanks!

An invitation on the government website (see http://www.gov.im/lib/news/dhss/rewardingrecogni.xml)
to find out more about hospital volunteering is making me quite ill. Really!
I have nothing particular against hospital volunteers. I’ve never met anyone they’ve helped myself - the ones who sit near the Nobles Hospital entrance to act as hospital guides, for example, never know where anything or anyone is.
But I’m sure they do good for somebody.
The thing is, if you skim through the press release straight to the end (where they list the speakers and advertise the inevitable church service) this is nothing but a list of the wrongheaded organisations and ideas that make any hospital visit a nightmare.
For instance, have you SEEN the bland junk they pass off as public art in hospitals?
Even Manx artists, most of whom couldn’t flog their tat in an Oxfam closedown sale, see the Healing Arts Programme as a conspiracy against taste and decency. Anyway, as Quentin Crisp always said when asked what had he got against art, ‘What have you got against bare walls?’
And don’t get me started on the cancer industry, as typified by the Macmillan goons.
After the DHSS included a chapel in the new hospital without bothering to ask anyone if it was needed (or what form a religious room should take if it could be shown it was), and as the Christians wouldn’t share their ghetto with anyone else, there was a campaign for a neutral place where anyone could go for a spot of peace and quiet instead. A store room near the entrance then had a sign reading ‘quiet room’ sellotaped to the door for about a month. That was the full extent of the information campaign, or attempts to meet needs of those of other religions, such as the predominantly Muslim medical staff.
Then a ‘management consultant’ coincidentally involved with twonks who ‘treat’ cancer with plastic smiles and aromatherapy intervened. The store room immediately had shedloads of public cash wasted turning it into a Macmillan Care ‘Information centre’ (read ‘begging bowl with carpets').
Yup. Volunteer to make me a nice cuppa when I’m twiddling my thumbs on a hospital ward in the near future and I’ll thank you for your kindness. But if I only have one life (which I do) I’ll be quite happy if I can lead it totally free of bad art, religion and interference from clueless pseudo-professional parasites such as cancer charities.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

U2 can be a superstitious irrelevance

Recent reports of a commiseration of the first year’s disservice to the island by an unelected spook merchant (see for example http://www.iomtoday.co.im/news/Celebration-to-mark-the-Bishop39s.5357903.jp) could be a chance for us to snigger at Sentamu’s Apprentice yet again. Frankly, what’s the point when it’s like shooting fish in a barrel? Our politicians are too apathetic to stop the aforementioned spook merchant squatting in Legislative Council, and nobody literate or under 70 on the island seems to vote any more, so Paterson retains his privileges courtesy of a coalition of crooks, crusties and canting cretins.
Instead I’ll take aim at a bigger fish – the Archtwit of Cant.
I read in the Torygruff that:
'Christian services that feature DJs, songs of the Irish band U2 and prayers for the chief executives of Google and Wal-Mart are being promoted by the Church of England.'
Read the full report and weep with laughter at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/religion/5523904/Church-of-England-attempts-to-broaden-appeal-with-songs-by-U2-and-prayers-for-Google.html .
The Fresh Expressions initiative is apparently ‘spawning churches for surfers as well as commissioning priests to work in night clubs and skateboard parks.’
No, I think what they mean is churches sniff new public money being thrown away on fresh excuses for ‘community work’ spawned by panic stories in right wing rags.
But the book sounds hilarious.
For example:
‘A psalm is recited in "beat poetry" style to the accompaniment of African Djembe drums, and prayers are said "for the corporate world, for influential CEOs who oversee billion-dollar industries".’
This would be the same CEOs and industries the Archtwit keeps berating for a culture of greed – or was it just not answering begging letters from superstitious halfwits who want their subsidised, untaxed and pointless employment underwritten a while longer?
And also we are told that:
‘The prayers continue: "We pray for John Chambers of Cisco Systems, Bill Gates of Microsoft, Dr Eric Schmidt of Google Inc, H Lee Scott Jr of Wal-Mart Stores and others who have already made commitments to justice." ‘
The only commitment to justice a union-bashing, sweatshop-employing Walmart executive could make, in my humble view, would be to commit suicide. But that’s probably against his evangelical beliefs, so it’s not going to happen, is it?
I’m also amused to hear that amongst the ‘alternative services’ in a book co-edited by the Rt Rev Steven Croft, the new Bishop of Sheffield, are so-called ‘U2charists’. These are services in which the congregation gets the holy gutrot and biccies while singing U2 songs instead of traditional hymns.
If that doesn’t clear a church of young folk in seconds I’m not sure what will.
I also have a feeling all this ‘down wiv da kids’ stuff doesn’t go down well with all the Archtwit’s employees either.
For example, the Reverend David Houlding, prebendary at St Paul's Cathedral (where, incidentally, the predecessor to the current Bish of Sod 'n Man now skulks for a living) remarks:
"All this is tosh. It's just a passing fad, irrelevant, shallow and pointless…."
"There's no depth to it and it's embarrassing because it'll make people think that we're eccentric and silly."

No, David, we already knew that. This just proves you are.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Freedom of speech - it's not just for 'proper' writers

There’s a story over on Mediawatchwatch that, when you think about it, suggests a slapdash, partial approach to freedom of speech amongst UK liberals.
In brief, Andy Thackwray, a prisoner in Hull, writes a column called ‘Angry Andy’ for Inside Time, a newspaper by and for prisoners. In his latest he hypothesises that swine flu was the result of a failed plot by Osama Bin Laden to “eradicate every pig in Christendom”. The article also has a cartoon of a bearded, sneezing and turbanned pig.
If you want, you can find the whole thing at http://jailhouselawyersblog.blogspot.com/2009/06/muslim-prisoners-are-revolting.html, a blog run by an ex-prisoner who flagged the whole thing up to the world.
OK, not going to challenge Jonathan Swift for the heavyweight satirist world championship, but a bit of light relief if you’re banged up on a cold, dark night.
Except that next John Roberts, Operations Director and Company Secretary at Inside Time, is contacted by ‘Diversity at Wormwood Scrubs’ (whatever that is) who think the article and cartoon “might be offensive to Muslims”. So, all 50,000 copies of the magazine get withdrawn and reprinted without Angry Andy’s piece and accompanying cartoon (which I’m not sure was by him anyway). This is costing the charity behind Inside Time £15-20,000.
The Jailhouselawyer also reports that Andy has been charged with a Disciplinary Offence, put in the Segregation Unit, and will be transferred out of HMP Hull. For those not familiar with prison affairs, this is a highly unusual punishment, usually reserved for hardcore political prisoners. Try Googling the name ‘John Bowden’ for an example of both the kind of individual and circumstances under which it has been used recently.
Now at this point, if this was a writer in South America or an Arabic country then PEN, Index on Censorship and others would be going ballistic, probably even Amnesty or Human Rights Watch.
When an Oxbridge inbreed like Martin Amis spouts clueless shite about Muslims in a broadsheet does the print run get stopped? Ditto the admittedly more reasoned writing of Salman Rushdie and his supporters once the Satanic Verses saga kicked off.
Is the quality of Angry Andy’s writing any worse than the rhetoric of Geert Wilders, or the cartoon than the infamous Danish ‘turban bomb’? Or is it that we don’t think there’s a principle at stake if the censored writer is ‘only’ a common English convict?
I would argue that, if anything, assuming that no Muslim prisoner will see the joke and all will riot as one in protest is itself racist and offensive. And I can think of at least two Muslim women stand-up comedians in the UK doing stuff at least as ‘offensive’ about their fellow Muslims, not to mention chavs, evangelical Christians and Guardianistas.
I would argue that treating some working class white guy in a UK jail in a way the police and courts would not dare treat an Oxbridge professor who expresses the same view, but in more flowery language in a literary mag, is bang out of order.
I would argue that the principle of freedom of speech has to be defended robustly in this country or not at all. You don’t pick and choose the nice guys and the eloquent cases. You defend the Rushdies, but also right wing pricks like Geert Wilders and the Danish cartoonists…..and lags like Andy Thackwray, serving time for I know not what and I am not about to ask.
Because it makes no difference, and because if decent folk don’t speak up for the Thackwrays of this world as we would for ‘proper writers’ scum like the BNP will pretend to.

Diplomacy with a baseball bat

From something I've just seen posted by Article 19, it looks like religious knuckledraggers use exactly the same tactics against their critics at UN level as they do in small towns and backwaters throughout the world.
In an open letter to the United Nations Human Rights Council published today, thirty-five human rights organisations from every region of the world warned that recent “extraordinary attacks” by states on United Nations human rights experts at the Human Rights Council are “severely eroding the Council’s legitimacy and credibility.”
A global group of 35 NGOs, including Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, as well as regional and national NGOs like the Asian Forum for Human Rights (Forum Asia) and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, state delegations at the Council are carrying out “what appears to be a coordinated effort to intimidate” human rights experts, “individually and collectively.”
They say attacks at the ongoing 11th session of the Council “have focused in particular on the current Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression and on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. These Rapporteurs were subjected to threats of disciplinary action because they offered their expert analysis and recommendations on important human rights issues that they brought to the attention of this Council.”
The group of NGOs contend that these “political attacks” are “fundamentally an attack on and threat to the Council itself,” and go on to “appeal, in the strongest terms” for states at the HRC to refrain from undermining the independence of UN human rights experts, and “ensure that the long term integrity and credibility of the Human Rights Council itself are not sacrificed to political expedience.”
Cut out the polite phrasing, and I think what they’re really saying is that countries with a record of strong, religiously based persecution of their own people want all the advantages of 21st century international co-operation, but not the responsibility.
In particular they are so upset at every responsible attempt to bring their thicko thuggishness to world attention that they want such attempts to stop.
Not having evolved to a level where they can discuss alleged grievances calmly with all parties and work out amicable solutions, they’re now trying to beat their UN critics over the head with baseball bats.
You can find a full version of the letter with a complete list of all NGO signatories at: http://www.article19.org/pdfs/letters/hrc-open-letter-on-mandate-holders.pdf%20

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

It is better to die (laughing) on your feet than to live on your knees

I blogged before about reactions to a proposed small Manx mosque, and in particular the lack of moral fibre from ‘people of faith’ and some possible reasons (see Lies, more lies and moral cowardice ).
As I said, I never expect Manx biblebashers to show solidarity with folk of another faith, so their silence confirmed all we already know about their bigotry, moral cowardice and grasping attitude to everything.
Risk taking a moral stand and ruin the chance of more public funds? Not likely!
But at least, finally, the letter representing local minority faith views about a proposed mosque got printed (see http://www.iomtoday.co.im/your-letters/Isle-of-Man-Examiner-June.5343489.jp). Sadly, that was a disappointment too.
What does it tell you when a letter, supposedly representing the views of numerous faith groups, appears without a single named signatory? To be credible, it could and should have been signed by people representing all the traditions involved in the group.
If they can’t speak ‘officially’ for their groups, they could have signed as individuals, and any local would recognise the faiths of at least some. I know, from my own experience dealing with them, that some of the groups involved are as riddled with racist white flighters as any other section of the community, but this was pathetic.
It’s a bit like the reaction of mainstream political parties to the BNP. ‘Deny them the oxygen of publicity’ and ‘Don’t share a platform with racists’ are the official line. Just stay silent, don’t talk about the issues and it will all go away.
No it pigging won’t!
If we’re ever to drive racist rats out of their holes and work out the balance between ‘respect’ for others (however crazed their beliefs) and abolishing the religious privilege which diminishes the quality of all our lives we need a stand-up public row every time an issue like this arises.
We won’t find the answer to social issues in the Bible, the Koran, Das Kapital, Mein Kampf – or even The Selfish Gene. We have to be prepared for the fact that we don’t get any answers at all except those we work out between ourselves in proper, adult, public debate.
On the Isle of Man all the political or social debate I’ve experienced for years is sub-kindergarten foot-stamping and ‘I’m taking my ball home’ nonsense, so ending that could, on particular days, either cause us to despair of humanity or die laughing. But if anyone else is as bored as me of geriatric racist retirees and superstitious halfwits running this place they’re welcome to join in.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Keep Sunday Special - not Christian

There’s a fascinating rumour to the effect that the backlog of TT races is down to Christians who think the island stops and starts when they feel like it.
The first races should have begun last Saturday, but were postponed due to slightly damp weather in the morning. Plan B was to run a couple on Mad Sunday – so named because it’s traditionally when visitors have their own flat-out spin around the course with key sections kept one way by helpful coppers.
This is where the rumour starts. It’s known one favourite is in a team which won’t race on Sundays ‘on religious grounds’. So did they, along with local biblebashers who have form for complaining that punters at churches on the course are inconvenienced by speeding bikers, strike a deal with organisers who, frankly, seem to have lost all interest in our only internationally known attraction?
Whatever the truth, the effect is that the backlog is so bad that racing has been going on all day today to catch up on the schedule. In turn that’s caused a traffic logjam since mid-afternoon which isn’t expected to clear until maybe 10 PM. The island workforce (yes, we exist) were asked to either go home early or travel by public transport.
What public transport? On the Isle of Man we have an inadequate bus service and antique trams and trains run (very slowly and unsteadily) for tourists only at prices that average over £1 a mile at peak times.
If we get through today it will be due to the generally good nature of thousands of visiting bikers, plus local commuting drivers. Without widespread good will, you could be stuck at any one of the island’s junctions if no-one lets you in. The colour of traffic lights is irrelelevant too. You just follow the vehicle in front in a 5 MPH crawl, stopping every 10 metres as folk ahead wait for a space at road ends or turn-offs.
That we do cope, and folk do help each other through this, has nothing to do with religious morality. If anything, it demonstrates what a lie that is, and one we should bury fast.
So, while biblebashing professional racers see not racing on the very day when most semi-pro bike-racing happens as some new sort of ‘Christian witness’, can we trust them to behave responsibly the rest of the week?
I suspect not. I am reliably informed that one, having had a minor prang late last week, decided to take his bike out on an open public road to test it out after minor repairs. This godbotherer was clocked at 120 by one of those flashing speed warning thingies placed close to a built up area to warn you to slow down.
That’s 120, less than 100 metres from a 30 MPH sign, probably close to a school. Not on the closed TT circuit but on an ordinary road where any car pulling out of a side-road, any pedestrian wandering across to a house or the pub on the other side of the road, would stand no chance.
That deluded spookchaser may well believe the Lord is with him, but even his imaginary friend couldn’t stop a race bike that quickly.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Bell epoch

Don’t know about you, but I automatically assume the US is a place where courts too often defend odd and anti-social religious behaviour. So, it was nice to read a story yesterday about a US court prepared to put a church leader in his place.
It seems a Bishop in Phoenix, Arizona got a suspended 10 day jail sentence for allowing the cathedral bells to be rung every hour on the hour between 8 AM and 8 PM. He’s also been told to restrict chimes in future to no more than 60 decibels for two minutes on Sundays and specific religious holidays.
I found the story on the Metro ‘weird news’ page at http://www.metro.co.uk/weird/article.html?Bishop_sentenced_over_noisy_bells&in_article_id=679851&in_page_id=2, which is itself weird, because if anything this was an example of rational legal action which I only wish we could emulate over here.
We had a mini version of this row in Peel a decade ago. A couple of recently retired doctors, both keen bellringers, moved there and led a millennium campaign to get a new set of bells and a bellringing team for the cathedral. Nice enough folk in a charming, slightly eccentric way, as I found when I was sent to interview them.
The trouble started when they got their volunteers into serious training. Especially when, instead of just going through the motions, they had full scale early evening weekday bellringing practices.
Like the church authorities, they probably assumed the townspeople were at least passive Christians and would like a ‘traditional’ English pastime being introduced. Some didn’t, and one near neighbour to the cathedral wrote anonymously to Peel Commissioners (town council) to complain.
This got a mention at the monthly Commissioners meeting, and blown out of proportion. I know the complainant wrote politely enough in the hope something could be sorted out. In public the Commissioners were afraid of upsetting the religious lobby, and church leaders got quite uppity, trotting out a Daily Mail ‘Christian country’ line and refusing to acknowledge the unholy racket might be a public nuisance if you lived in the next street and just wanted to watch Corrie or have a nap.
To their credit, the campanologists were more sympathetic, and found a scheme whereby the cathedral bell ropes were wired up to a computer program. Switched one way on Sundays, pulling the rope rang the bell, switched another for practices the bell ringer pulled just as hard but instead of the real bell it triggered a computer simulation of the sound, complete with effective delay. So the bell ringers got the full experience but the neighbours didn’t get deafened.
The funny thing, which I doubt any church leader realised, is that all the computer stuff was installed by some very laid back pagan ‘teccies. In fact, I vaguely recall the atmosphere up in the bell tower was so….. relaxed that I forgot to load my camera and damn near broke my neck falling down ladders and steps on the way back from the interview.
I offer all this as a way of proving that, if folk are neighbourly instead of getting uptight about religion and rights, these things can be sorted out quietly and amicably. Or in the case of me and the pagans who led by example, so positively blissfully (ma-a-an) you go round with a silly grin for the rest of the day.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Back-cracking, bible-bashing study options

News on the government website about the Isle of Man Higher Education Conference, which takes place on Thursday 18th and Friday 19th June at Ballakermeen High School, had me sniggering.
It’s one of those university fair things, where UK higher education institutions take stalls to persuade our kids to go to their colleges.
The line-up this year includes prestigious institutions such as the Anglo European College of Chiropractic in Bournemouth.
Why am I giggling at that? Read http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2009/may/13/simon-singh-british-chiropractic-association and you might find out.
I was also amused to read that ‘Other bodies attending include the Church of England, representing theological colleges and Christian gap year opportunities’. See http://www.gov.im/lib/news/education/recordnumberofor.xml if you don't believe me.
Oh good, the finance sector is falling apart because nobody local can manage basic maths ( so we have to import accountants from East Europe or the African and Indian subcontinent) but the Education Department still helps our kids to study theology.
Who thought that one through?
Probably the same halfwit who disbanded the elected Board of Education but still requires a local clergyman to sit, unelected and unwanted by most parents, on the board of governors of every island school.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Lies, more lies and moral cowardice

Since the row broke out a few weeks back because local Muslims want to meet in a ‘proper’ building instead of someone’s garage I've followed developments in the local press with interest.
It didn’t surprise me when the only Manx BNP member willing to identify himself joined in, or that my good mate Jim Hawkins made an honest and articulate case in opposition to a mosque – though I don’t share his opinion or fears.
It doesn’t surprise me that another letter was written by someone to timid to give his proper name or any of his address, yet claimed to speak for ‘others’. And I found it absolutely hilarious when, in a desperate attempt to boost numbers, there was even a letter (presumably dictated at a seance) from an objector who has been dead for years!
On a more serious note I was intrigued that no-one took up the gauntlet thrown down by veteran journalist Val Cottle, who asked, ‘Where is the moral leadership from the Lord Bishop, or other church or humanist groups, where is the rejection of such racist views from other politicians?’
Good question, Val. Wonder why nobody has answered it yet?
I knew some minority faiths had got together and penned a letter to the papers, then let the moment pass without agreeing the final wording. That’s a shame.
Churches Together in Mann? Forget it! What can you expect from a body where two ‘faith leaders’ both ring to check the other won’t be there before turning up to meetings where a maximum of four elderly blokes decide major statements on public morality representing ‘thousands’…. without daring to consult them?
And you can’t expect moral leadership anyway from a political squatter foisted on us by another country’s spook merchants, though this is usually the cue for a senior Anglican to try potting us secular types for small minded bigots, so the silence of Sentamu’s Apprentice was also curious.
Well, read http://www.iomtoday.co.im/news/Unholy-row-erupts-over-St.5321571.jp, and in particular the two additional pages, and all becomes clear. The Anglicans were about to sting the public for cash, so couldn’t have that spoiled by a public debate over religious buildings, privilege and the role religion plays, if any, in 21st century life.
On the strength of page 1, where it’s explained they’re ripping some pews out of the local cathedral to make a more flexible space, it seems fair enough. Yeah…. whatever. Do what you want with your playhouse, just don’t ask me to pay for it.
But then Canon Godfrey says, 'These maintenance costs can only be justified if the building is made to work for its living.'That means making it available to more than just the Anglican worshipping community’.
It’s when you get to page 2 and they refer to concerts, exhibitions and school visits before going down the rosy heritage and public facility path you realise this means a drain on the public purse, not just begging from local companies with a crap public image. When you think it through you realise there will be bids for cash from the heritage, conservation and education public pots, and that's just for starters.
In fact, given that at the last budget we were told no government departments are being allowed new projects, it looks like the future ‘public consultation’ referred to on the Cathedral changes is a sham exercise to rubber stamp plans already privately made between the churches, education and heritage bodies. No wonder the government is closing down public scrutiny of or participation in Manx heritage and public education (see http://www.gov.im/lib/news/registries/educationcouncil.xml and http://www.gov.im/lib/news/cso/reviewoftheconst.xml).
Ah well, bent business as usual with the Manx government and churches then. No wonder they dare not comment on real religious affairs for fear of us laughing.