Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Catholic change or no change

I meant to draw attention earlier to an interesting story I noticed last weekend. The Daily Telegraph, always a reliable way to take the pulse of UK religious right cretinism, reports that the current Bishop of Leeds is being lined up to replace Cormac Murphy O’Connor as UK Catholicism’s fuhrer.
Judging from the Telegruff article at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/religion/5067037/Bishop-of-Leeds-favourite-to-become-next-Archbishop-of-Westminster.html you can see why.
Funnily enough, I’ve come across Roche before, when he was closing more than just churches in Leeds.
One of his duties as the Leeds Bishop is to sit on the management committee at my old college. Even in my day priests interfered with student life at what was, to be fair, nominally a Catholic college. Then it was a refusal to allow condom machines in the lavatories, or guarantees of firsts and jobs after graduation to media students who helped with church PR as part of a ‘religious communication’ final year course.
But human rights campaigners might remember a couple of years ago when Amnesty International’s UK branch debated their stance on abortion. There was an attempt by religious groups to force a change from principled neutrality to outright opposition on spurious ‘childrens rights’ grounds.
To read the rabid right religious press you wouldn’t know that Amnesty held to their neutral stance after long debate at the annual national conference to which all local groups sent representatives. Catholic bishops and the evangelical lunatic right in particular lied through their teeth (nothing new there then). They tried to make out Amnesty was in the grip of militant feminism and atheism and supported abortion.
The worst casualties were student Amnesty groups in Catholic schools and teacher training colleges. An ex-course mate and fellow Amnesty member from those days, now teaching, tells me Roche used his position to close youth groups in Leeds schools and the student group in my old college.
This was nothing short of sick. School Amnesty groups are a rare and excellent way to teach teenagers to run campaign groups, including negotiating with adults over tricky issues. And the student group at my college not only let students in on the ground floor of an important NGO, it was the start of a career in such groups for some.
So, watch out for Roche if he does take over from the notorious hider of kiddy-fiddling priests himself, Murphy O’Connor. Looks like unprincipled business as usual.
While we’re on the subject of O’Connor, it has been mooted that he be offered a place in the Lords as a sort of honorary Lord Spiritual – something to do with Gormless Brown buttering up Benny the Boy Nazi for his UK invasion at vast public expense.
If, like me, you think ‘No Way’, there’s a Downing Street petition against it at http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/nocormacpeerage . Sign up now and stop at least one more superstitious bigot getting power without a public mandate.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Through a glass darkly

Yesterday I mentioned my irritation at the lazy reporting of the ESPAD project into teen drinking throughout Europe, and in particular the Manx results. See http://www.iomtoday.co.im/news/Manx-teenagers-among-the-worst.5117461.jp and http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2009/mar/27/teenage-drinking-alcohol-binge for examples.
I also mentioned that when originally planning to cover this I was going to make reference to work I’d done in February 2008, only to discover it is one of a number of items removed from what used to be a useful website. I did that work after being the only ‘concerned citizen’ interested enough to take a day off work and sit amongst public sector professionals and amateurs from local charities and evangelical ‘community projects’ with their begging bowls for a conference at Nobles hosted by the Alcohol Advisory Service.
It would be too long and too boring to repeat the whole exercise now. The key point is that all the information released to the press as ‘new’ last week was available at that conference and even on the Manx government website (see http://www.gov.im/lib/docs/dha/ceo/DandA/espad2007initialresultsfeb08rep.pdf and also http://www.espad.org/sa/node.asp?node=664 for a version of the earlier 2003 report which the Manx government still has not made public. An expanded academic survey of the 2003 results, ( 'Powell J., Plant M., Steriu, A. and Miller P. (2006): "Alcohol, tobacco and illicit drug use among teenagers in the Isle of Man (ESPAD 2003)". Journal of Substance Use, February; 10(2):1-9.' ), can also be downloaded on Google Scholar for around £10 for anyone interested enough to look.
From there you can go on to
http://www.espad.org/documents/Espad/ESPAD_reports/2007/The_2007_ESPAD_Report-FULL.pdf to find the full recent ESPAD report. The national tables are close to the end, and on fuller reading do not reflect the moral panic created by Manx parties intent on dismantling the last of the professional public sector facilities available to people with alcohol-related problems and replacing them with a bargain basement private sector alternative run, quite frankly, by rank amateurs. The most shameful thing is this will happen with DHSS connivance.
In short, you can’t believe some of the guff you read in the press, and reporters really ought to know by now that when a Manx organisation with an obvious political or financial interest hands you a ready-written story it will not be the full picture. Even the professional academics at that conference, such as Professors Martin and Moira Plant from the Centre for Public Health Research at the University of the West of England, were scrupulously honest about the fact that their research was not fully objective, a certain format having been demanded in return for it being underwritten by major drinks manufacturers. The point also being that these ‘benevolent parties’ want to stop supermarkets offering their product at low prices and return to the monopoly and excessive mark-ups they used to be able to demand from pubs and restaurants.

From Third World to Romania, with ignorance

Watching the third and final part of the excellent BBC 2 series The Lost World of Communism last night, something occurred to me which really puts some Manx ‘Overseas Aid’ into perspective.
One of the topics in a reasonably (but not well) researched programme about Romania was Ceacescu’s appalling attitude to abortion, which was not only illegal but carried severe prison sentences for women who obtained them. Even fervent Romanian nationalists interviewed agreed this was wrong. Thus one of the earliest reforms was to liberalise the laws, and make legal the actions of doctors who had discreetly carried them out for years at great personal risk as a matter of conscience.
Compare this to the Isle of Man, where there has still never been a legal abortion even though the law now allows them. Only last year a Nobles consultant legally sanctioned to offer them said he has never had to perform one, which is frankly unbelievable in a community of 80,000.
From the experience of friends I also know that when routine tests are carried out for higher risk pregnant women close to the end of first trimester it is common that the results are ‘lost’ somewhere between here and Liverpool, and specialists are ‘unavailable’ for advice. Thus access to abortion is denied by bureaucratic sleight of hand.
Meanwhile evangelical charities run by people who have tried to keep this island in the dark ages have the gall to ask for funds to ‘help’ Romanians.
No wonder Romanians I speak to, quite rightly, regard us as a pathetic third world exporter of superstitious village idiots, creepily similar to the pair they shot in December 1989.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Happy Birthday PTT Blog

I thought today I was going to have to lay into the old toot about binge drinking that’s been polluting the Manx and UK press in recent days (e.g. http://www.iomtoday.co.im/news/Manx-teenagers-among-the-worst.5117461.jp and http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2009/mar/27/teenage-drinking-alcohol-binge) .
It annoyed me that people who actually get paid to research and find news are too bone idle to do anything except lift press releases about government and drinks industry sponsored pseudo-research word for word.
It annoyed me even more when, as part of my planned demolition, I was going to refer you to something I did for another website over a year back which would have handily pulled the rug from under this crap. Then I discovered that (possibly in the interests of beigeness, boredom and governmental bum-kissing) they’d pulled it and all similar balanced or properly researched items from the site.
Hmm – who’s been promised a nice seat on a QUANGO then?
So, I wasn’t a happy bunny.
Well, folks, this is your lucky day, and that bit of literary semtex can wait for another one. I just discovered something way more positive.
So, I’m sitting here with a bottle of champers instead, and if this entry meanders off into the valley of purple prose it’s because I’m getting stuck into it.
The Pink Triangle Trust blog is one today,and I’m celebrating. It’s on the sidebar, so go take a look.
Don’t let heterosexuality stop you either. This isn’t just some gay blog; not even just some gay humanist blog. This is one of the best things to happen in the British humanist/secularist/freethought community in ages.
Just at the point when (perhaps with the honourable exception of the Freethinker blog and Mediawatchwatch website) UK humanism was descending into some sort of mealymouthed, middle of the road secular Methodism, along comes the PTT blog like a freethought firework display. I caught it by chance on the first day and have been back every day since.
It’s even one of the reasons I took the leap and started blogging myself. And I have to say in passing it helped the PTT guys were supportive of me too.
Look at the links – shedloads of new sources of inspiration for truly independent thinkers. Look at the contributors – I’ve only met two in person but all seem like friends who have cheered me up on bad days and egged me on to further ripostes against the beige puritans.
Right, half a bottle down – got to get this up on the blog before I start babbling.
Many happy returns Andy, Dean, Diesel, Balaam, Roy, George and everyone else who contributed to the joy of the project.
Slainte, and have one or two for me wherever you’re celebrating today!

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Chief Minister, international joke

I had to laugh at the story on the Manx Radio website about our Glorious Leader becoming an honorary Romanian citizen ( see http://www.manxradio.com/newsread.aspx?id=34272) .
Firstly, the town isn’t just Oradea to older locals but Nagyvarad to the ethnic Hungarians who used to make up half the population. The Hungarian name vanished from official record only when Ceacescu started bussing in Romanian nationals from the south in the 1970s to destroy a culture which openly laughed at him. This also explains why the Sulyok Istv├ín Reform College was founded in the spring of 1990 by ethnic Hungarian Calvinists to stop bright kids crossing the border to get a university education they were denied in their ‘home country’.
But the prejudice goes way further back. In 1900 Nagyvarad/Oradea was a bustling multicultural city, including Eastern Europe’s most economically active Jewish community. That changed for ever in 1944 when 24,000 local Jews were deported to concentration camps – there are now less than 200, only one synagogue and anti-semitism is on the rise again.
Then in 1956 there was the murder of Imre Nagy, the Hungarian premier, after Russians smuggled him across the border to the least friendly Soviet satellite. But that didn’t happen – officially, just as the concentration camp they took him to near Oradea/Nagyvarad never existed and never held dissidents from the 1950’s through to the late 1980’s, because everyone loved Ceacescu and there weren’t any dissidents.
Actually, it’s a good job the camp still isn’t there, otherwise the US would have leased it from the Romanians after 9/11 and used it to torture Muslims who they certainly never rounded up against all international law in countries which, unlike the US, sign up to UN conventions forbidding that sort of thing.
In the early 1990’s the city was the scene of some of the ugliest pogroms in Transylvania against ethnic Hungarians and things haven’t got much better, despite a nominally more diverse local political system. They certainly haven’t improved since Romanian government has lurched towards hardcore nationalism in recent years, leading to the only openly Fascist MEPs.
A further problem has been the infestation of US Baptist missionaries piggybacking on ‘aid agencies’ which demand the poor sign up to church membership to get the ‘aid’. It will be no surprise to cynics that this happened just as the EU and other international redevelopment grants arrived, or that as a result the city now has the biggest Baptist church in Eastern Europe and even a Baptist University whose courses, my spies tell me, are a bit of a joke.
Of course, the interest from the Isle of Man has nothing to do either with puppets of US evangelical groups and their strong influence on our Overseas Misery policies.
Nothing at all. That would be even more unlikely than the CIA torturing British citizens, wouldn’t it?

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Burn resources and stop honour killings

It's no secret that I am contemptuous of the increasingly evangelical tone of environmentalists.
This is fundamentalism by the back door. No problem with proper scientific evidence and debates, but nagging, finger-pointing, tokenistic crap like this Friday's big switch-off doesn't impress me.
I'd be far more impressed with an approach that recognises the ability of science and human ingenuity to get us out of this alleged mess instead of cheap Frankenstein comparisons and, in general, frankly anti-scientific, anti-human twaddle that rants, eyes glazed, about a future Dies Irae like Fred Phelps on crack.
So never mind self-righteously and pointlessly switching your lights off this Friday: do something useful instead.
Unreported World (Channel 4, 7.30 PM) will carry a vital report on Honour Killings in Turkey - reportedly 200 this year already and rising. It gets worse too. Seems the outside chance of getting prosecuted for murdering your own daughters and sisters has Turkish fundies so worried they're 'persuading' their kin to commit suicide instead.
Scum!!
You should watch this programme. You could even read up on it in advance by following the link in the sidebar here to the International Campaign Against Honour Killings website.
I don't care how many lightbulbs you then burn actually doing the right thing for another human being instead of wittering about recycling nappies either. Because I live in a human-centred world, and I'd rather burn out than be 120 in any world run by evangelical halfwits, whatever green label they hide their misogynism behind.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

No bus pass, no chance

I've just been reading through the Council of Ministers monthly meeting minutes of recent months and found a particularly hilarious gem.
Now I’ve always held that individuals decades past their sell-by date are kept on government ‘advisory bodies’ in favour of the clued up: that way civil servants can rubberstamp predecided policies, however dumb.
But can you believe that the government’s representative on one international body was actually, at the time of appointment a few years ago, known to all in that specialist community to have been diagnosed with Altzheimers? Admittedly, this is a ‘specialist community’ so parochial as to be positively incestuous, but staggeringly the person involved has only been replaced in recent months, by which time the illness was in the final and most tragic stage.
I first moved beyond just suspecting such phenomena twenty years ago, when the chair of a very august and powerful Manx body told me his greatest fear was that one day they’d fail to get a quorum on an important issue because most government appointees had popped their clogs before it was put to the vote. He also told me it was not unknown to take silence as a vote for the status quo on prickly issues, even if the silence was only interrupted by snores.
Then again, a few years back I was also at the AGM of a local charity which is the sole government consultant on ‘their’ special interest. The fossil chairing talked about recruiting ‘new blood’ to the committee. As a forty-something with an extremely informed interest in the client group my ears pricked up, until it became clear that they considered anyone under 65 as too immature, and would only act on introductions from clergy. I’m not ageist, and all for retired people putting their life experience to good use, but the client group here was severely deprived people in their twenties!
The lesson seems clear. Before volunteering for any of those government liason committees you see in statutory local newspaper advertisements, get a note from your doctor. If he can’t confirm you’re close to dementia, and if you can’t back that up with another note from a clergyman confirming your illiteracy and total disengagement from anything resembling modern life, you will waste a perfectly good postage stamp.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Another day, another Christian attack on Africans

I’ve blogged here before about the damage done to East Europe and the developing world because the island lacks a proper charity register and doesn’t want to think about Overseas Aid as anything except an extension of the execrable 'Freedom to Fester'.
It sickened me to see a further example in the press recently, when there was a proud announcement of more ‘charitable activity’ in Romania. Sadly yet again Manx people collaborated with neo-fascists, in this case actually managing to work with politicians from an organisation descended from the old Iron Guard, i.e. the Romanian arm of World War Two German nazism. I hope it was unknowing collaboration, but where there are links to US evangelicals, I’ve now given up believing any Manx faith group is entirely innocent.
Links between Manx ‘charities’ and US evangelicals is another gripe of mine, and an excellent US organisation (Political Research Associates) which tracks the US right has more on the kind of ‘family values’ Christian groups to which much Manx aid to Uganda is (again, I’m trying hard to hope they’re just deluded halfwits) 'innocently' linked.
Earlier this month a three day conference of Christian fundie bampots called the Family Life Network actually tried to get Ugandan politicians interested in hunting down and imprisoning Ugandan gays and lesbians. One of the key speakers was Scott Lively, co-founder of Watchmen on the Walls (listed as a hate group by Southern Poverty Law Centre, the leading US authority on neo-nazism and similar phenomena).
Lively is, frankly, a certifiable lunatic. In The Pink Swastika he quite seriously said “the Nazi Party was entirely controlled by militaristic male homosexuals throughout its short history.”
In short, he is barking. He is also politically well connected and, like most fundies, seems to see Africa and ‘charitable activity’ as a way to line his pockets for decades to come.
You can read more at http://www.publiceye.org/christian_right/exporting.html, and for a very different view of Christian ‘charity’ in Africa to the one you’ll see in the Examiner I highly recommend http://gayuganda.blogspot.com/2009/02/anti-gay-ex-gay-conference-in-uganda.html and the work of a Nigerian humanist I am proud to call a friend, Leo Igwe, a good example of which can be found at http://www.mukto-mona.com/Articles/Leo_Igwe/new_enlightenment.htm

Thursday, 19 March 2009

We're not the only 'tax haven' held back by flat-earthers

Maybe before the UK piles blindly into this ‘tax haven’ they could sort out another one that’s a real human rights shithole, i.e. the Cayman Islands.
Over here a few gorillas like Houghton still hold us back, but over there…..!
During general elections on May 20th Cayman voters are being asked to approve a new draft constitution (heavily influenced by religious throwbacks) which will send the place back to the dark ages.
In the Organization of American States (OAS), all member governments adopted a resolution in 2008 expressing concern over acts of violence and human rights violations committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. All Caribbean states surrounding the Cayman Islands are signatories to the OAS resolution, but it seems a few superstitious flat-earthers with the ear of government is all it takes to ensure the Caymans won’t.
Hmm, that sounds familiar. Thankfully the worst offenders over here are too busy staving off Alzheimers these days to do much damage.
Equality Cayman, a nongovernmental organization in the Cayman Islands, has strongly criticized section 16 in the draft constitution, stating that it offers inadequate protections against prejudice and inequality, and Human Rights Watch have written to the Cayman’s Governor, Stuart Jack, and UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband stressing that urgent action is needed.
In a recent press release HRW say:
The draft constitution is being revised by the Cayman Islands government and will eliminate a free-standing guarantee of equality before the law and limit anti-discrimination protections only to rights expressly included in the constitution. This means that large and critically important areas of daily life would not be covered, including access to jobs, housing, and medical treatment. Reportedly, the government succumbed to pressure from religious groups, and the action was apparently intended to deny protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.
HRW has urged the British and Cayman governments to ensure that protections in the new constitution apply not only to discrimination by the state, but also to discrimination by private entities – i.e. faith organisations who base their morality on bronze age values because they haven’t evolved yet.
Let’s watch this one closely, because if the Brits don’t sort out the Cayman spookchasers ours will jump on the bandwagon.
It already irritates me that when ‘faith-based’ knuckledraggers use opt-outs based on UK laws that don’t even exist here to deny employment or services the Attorney General’s office hasn’t spoken up. Similarly, even the world’s most taste-deficient transexual shouldn’t need ANYTHING as sad as a Manx church wedding, but they should have the choice.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Divine Comedy

Amongst my e-mails this weekend was one from an old friend who moved to England in January.
Nothing remarkable about that, you might say, except that Denys is 91. At a time of life when most would settle for a quiet snooze he's not only started a fresh chapter of life in another country, but is on his PC scouring the 'net for new developments and expressing his views on the same.
He's also still producing blasphemous odes, and sent me his latest to share with the Freethinkers at next month's meeting.
I couldn't wait that long, so here it is.....

The Consoler

One puzzling aspect of divinity
Is what’s this third bit of the Trinity?
When should we expect to meet
This thing they call the Paraclete

In paintings, there it is above
The scene, depicted as a dove.
What sort of daft religion
Stoops to worshiping a pigeon?

This comforter - I’d like to meet;
I wonder what he likes to eat.
Do you think the Holy Ghost
Eats wafers – and then swigs the Host?

Denys Drower.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Traa Dy Liooar

You’ve probably been wondering where I’ve been for two weeks.
The short answer is – mostly lying flat on my back with a drip in my arm, staring at a hospital ceiling while blissed out on Pethidine. I got rushed into Nobles early morning 3rd March, was allowed home last Saturday night and rushed back in to Ramsey Cottage this Tuesday after a relapse.
Lacking Jade Goody’s pathological self-belief that the public must know every time she cracks carcinogenic wind I don’t think you need to know about my medical maladies in detail. Suffice to say that anyone who thinks previous opinions on my blog could verge on the bilious need fear no more. Within a couple of months (hopefully) my body’s bile storage facility is due to be removed – surgically. This is the new, gentler, me......
sorry, just watching a pink elephant float past... hello flowers, hello fluffy bunnies.....
I got home again yesterday and am now looking bemused at two weeks worth of e-mails. With luck I may even remember which button is which on my devil’s typewriter long enough to reply to some and/or get this up on the blog.
That’s the trouble with industrial strength painkillers mixed with an enforced stay in hospital. They take you to a place where you can contemplate your role in the grand scheme of things, sans all the distractions of work, family and so on: but by the time you’ve floated back to earth you can’t even remember where you put your pen and notebook, never mind the marvellous insights.
How did Julian of Norwich cope with such practical problems? I think we should know.
Anyways ….what have I learnt worth blogging about?
Well, I learnt that the godbothering stranglehold over local healthcare is a myth – possibly with the exception of the Hospice (but then terminal illness at a place frequented by the privileged means possible legacies, while generally illness is more common amongst folk of slender means). After stating I wasn’t religious on both hospital entry forms I wasn’t pestered.
I saw one chaplain floating about in Nobles and he shot past, eyes averted. Quite funny really. I sit on a committee with all the Nobles chaplains who can be bothered to attend (e.g. evangelicals never attend meetings unless money is involved) so know them well and thought he could at least wave to a colleague in distress. Then again, I think rationally and my world is human-centred: he peddles superstition and to him humanity is just so many sheep to be fleeced to strict deadlines.
RCH's Anglican chaplain was more civilised. He knows me of old, and that I’m a raving atheist, but still found time while visiting a parishioner for a few words in passing about our respective families and ailments (poor bloke's iller than me). Just a decent cleric dispensing goodwill with no agenda and no kickbacks, which is as it should be.
I also got valuable lessons in patience and positivity from a friendly fossil in Nobles with problems which dwarf mine. As fast as he gets out of hospital, his wife goes in, and vice versa. With both, the heart, lungs, eyes and waterworks (just to name a few) are shot. This could make you very bitter or depressed - as could, for example, the jobsworth nurse who point blank refused him a bottle at 1 AM because he wasn’t on her ‘list’. Instead Malcolm cracked jokes non-stop while offering calm advice on practical problems of a painful, personal and physical nature to the bloke in the next bed. This sometimes had mixed results, as it’s hard to laugh with a full catheter.
Non-Manx readers won’t know the Manx Gaelic expression ‘traa dy liooar’ ( ‘time enough’ or ‘wait until tomorrow’), sort of a Manx version of ‘manyana’. It’s usually used as a way to indicate things aren’t urgent, or a stick with which anal tax-exiles, ‘come overs’ (new residents) and ‘when-I’s’ (ex-colonials who start every sentence with ‘When I was in….’) who tend to run the finance sector and better paid public sector monopolies beat laid back natives.
Malcolm had a better take on ’traa dy liooar’. For us hospital virgins it mattered that everything (treatment, healing…) happened within the day, so we could be home the next; if it wasn’t then we got depressed. He’d counsel us to stop worrying, think clearly, sort things yourself and if necessary without waiting for medical advice, but mostly to give it time and let things work themselves out.
So I’m doing that. The result might be less fullblooded assaults on people who (my extended examination of hospital ceilings lead me to think) are really too ridiculous locally to get angry about. It won’t mean (ever!) I stop rooting out their shortcomings and contradictory twaddle, though it might be a while before I’m up to speed on the background research.
I’m back, and laughing until it hurts.
Ouch! Where’s me Pethidine?