Saturday, 23 June 2012

Of government and its sock puppets

People still ask why I take a dim view of charities and the ‘Third Sector’, especially on the Isle of Man. I would have thought that by now it was obvious - especially if you ever had the painful experience of sitting in a room while those behind the worst examples try to beg money, or excuse derailing the democratic process and delaying the introduction of open, transparent government to the Isle of Man (I know, open, transparent, democracy….or even government….pigs might fly first).
Luckily the excellent Chris Snowdon of Velvet Glove Iron Fist (see right) has just produced a paper for the Institute of Economic Affairs which pretty much sums up the problem. The paper is called Sock Puppets: How the government lobbies itself and why (Chris Snowdon, IEA Discussion Paper No. 39) – probably the funniest, but most accurate, title for a serious survey on a growing social problem you will see in a long time.
The paper begins: “In the last fifteen years, state funding of charities in Britain has increased significantly while restrictions on political lobbying by charities have been relaxed. 27,000 charities are now dependent on the government for more than 75 per cent of their income and the ‘voluntary sector’ receives more money from the state than it receives in voluntary donations.”
Staggering stuff (unless, perchance, you have taken note of all the local examples of such chicanery I have banged on about, and are already worried about it). 
While, as more of a left libertarian, I do not share all the ‘areas of concern’ identified by the IEA and other free market ‘think tanks’ (and would add a problem they don’t identify – links between religious groups and the state and their effect when, for example, the ‘charity’ economic framework is abused by religious bigots for their own nasty theo-fascist ends), I do share their concern about the principles. I certainly share their conclusion, that instead of government-run pseudo-charities “….it would be better to restore the independence of the voluntary sector, safeguard taxpayers’ money and rebalance civil society in favour of grass-roots activism.”
 There’s a brief summary of the paper at, or if you prefer to just go straight to the paper itself you can find it at .
In the comments after the IEA summary, I was particularly taken by Phil Taylor, who says: “Could I suggest a rule of thirds? The Charity Commission should insist on the use of some designation such as "Government sponsored body" for any organization that accepts more than one third of its income from government sources of all kinds but still wishes to be treated as a charity. Once a body exceeds two thirds of its income from government sources it should cease to be a charity and should formally become an agency of the relevant department. It could then be monitored by the NAO and use a web address, etc. Then we would all know what we are dealing with. To re-iterate: - You could call yourself a charity as long as less than one third of your income came from the state. - Above one third you could still be regulated as a charity but you would not be allowed to use the word charity when describing yourself and would have to use a designation such as “Government sponsored body”. - Above two thirds just call yourself what you are – a part of the government.”
Now, consider the devastating (for them) but liberating (for the rest of us) effect on the Manx pseudo-charity racket if Tynwald looked at that idea.
Oh, of course, they can’t. That would involve identifying which black holes they’ve been throwing public money down, explaining why they thought it was a good idea, and then taking back responsibility for the public services we thought we were paying them to provide.

Having a Stay Away Day

I see the itinerary for Tynwald Day has been released (see Oh, how……whatever!   
For a few years now, the only reason I look in on Tynwald Fair is morbid fascination. The colonial clown show itself – never watched it, never want to. How sad would you have to be to bother? And incidentally, if the Play People are now the clowns, then why are all those baggy-trousered buffoons with the red noses, top hats and other silly clothing still there?
But I do like to check out the ragbag collection of evangelical nutters, paramilitary throwbacks and botulism-friendly food merchants who gather on what is - nominally at least - a showcase of local charitable and community organisations, roped off safely behind the area reserved for visiting dictators to mingle with Manx civil servants and politicians hoping for a free foreign holiday. I just need to see if things really ARE that naff and getting worse – which they invariably are!
Not this year though.
One practical reason is that, after several years of either not having a stall or piggybacking on the stalls of ‘government-approved’ charities, the group I often work with will just be down the road instead, part of the free (in every sense) party being hosted at the One World Centre for local activist groups with international links.
The thing is that Tynwald Fair reinforces ideas of’ consensus’ and ‘democracy’ which simply do not exist, and why help perpetuate this sham? Behind the scenes, for almost a decade now, there are any number of subtle ways in which the government decides who does and who does not get a place on the ‘charity field’ and under what terms, just as the ‘right’ of any Manx citizen to present a petition also does not exist, because a government committee decides if any applicant is suitable and edits the wording.
There is a constant battle between an autocratic government trying to curtail free discussion and genuine community activists trying ever more imaginative ways to sidestep that. And this year I cannot be bothered to play this game, or even turn up just to poke fun at the witless and the government-sanctioned wowsers.
I would rather just talk openly with people – anyone who stops by - and not be part of a fraud which pretends economic, corporate and political interests cannot dictate (even if often by accident and apathy rather than design) how a ‘national ceremony’ runs. I do not share this vacuous interpretation of ‘national interest’, the slightly sinister idea of a ‘Manx national culture’ or the conflation of petty, pathetic völkisch twaddle with ‘Manxness’ and Manx citizenship. I am not, in short, an investor, willing or otherwise, in ‘IOM PLC’, and while even a token shareholder revolt at the AGM might be nice, it is not going to happen. Too many other shareholders are either too apathetic to look at how the company gets run, or not about to squeak in case the fat cats stop throwing them the odd Manx kipper. 

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Whinge if you're glad to be sad

I suppose I have to make some comment on what is passed off as a ‘response’ to a UK government consultation about gay marriage by the island’s Anglican area manager (see ). But, really, is there any point?
Oh well, then….
Firstly, the Bishop of Sodor & Mann has never had a right to sit in the House of Lords, but is the only bishop in the British Isles who, of right, sits in the upper assembly of another government. It is therefore a little puzzling - and more than a little rude - that he feels able to submit an opinion to the Westminster government when he is not governed by that country's laws, but is an unelected member of another country's government (and an unpopular and unwanted one at that).
Secondly, prior to his appointment as Bishop of Sodor and Mann, Paterson was personal chaplain to John Sentamu. He was chosen as the Manx bishop at a private meeting, attended only by three tame Manx politicians and three senior clergy, which was chaired by John Sentamu. Unlike the standard process for selecting a bishop - whereby Lambeth puts up two candidates and the selection committee chooses - his was the only name considered. Draw your own conclusions as to his ability to either act or express a theological opinion independently of his former 'line manager' (who, of course, was over here on a week long visit last month).
Third point, if you want to know what he actually said to his fast diminishing flock, go to .
Fourth point, he didn’t even come up with this guff. The ‘suggestion’ of introducing vows into civil partnerships to avoid having to introduce gay marriages is lifted wholesale from the Christian Institute. The rubbish about maintaining a distinction between ‘civil’ and ‘religious’ marriage is another direct lift, this time a CARE argument made when the Scottish marriage act changed a few years back.
Bottom line – both Christian fundies and the leadership of the larger churches (but not their general membership) are bricking it because when gay marriage is introduced in the UK (and it will be) the position of churches becomes even weaker – even if by some miracle they manage to bluster a way out of having to let those religions, Christian denominations and clergy who want to offer legally binding ceremonies to gays do so.
Think about it. What is the point of the churches being allowed to carry out ANY legal ceremony of commitment if they cannot - or will not - conduct them for most people, or even recognise that the vast majority of people’s chosen legally binding ceremony is the real deal?
They will, quite rightly, become even more of a laughing stock in the eyes of the general public than they already are, and there will inevitably be pressure on the UK government to finally remove the ridiculous privilege which allows them to pretend they are fit to rubber stamp any adult relationship as ‘legit’.
So can I just leave it at that?
Because a little while ago I vowed never again to knowingly add to the sum of misery in the world, and even having to acknowledge the dishwater dull ‘judgements’ outlined at the links above by this terribly sad man is depressing to anyone with more than half a braincell. Religion, politics and commerce are all sources of misery by the bucketful, and frankly, I cannot bear to consider them ‘seriously’ unless I have a VERY large bucket close to hand.
And incidentally, I know the 21st century gay community goes to great pains to stress they are now just as drab, and lead just as dismal and pointless lives, as everyone else. But I still think any gay couple who want to get married in a church should be reported to the Taste Police. Because some things are just so tacky they cannot even be passed off as camp.

Friday, 15 June 2012

When the lunatics hit our streets, should our streets hit back?

The story which so amused me in my last post continues to tickle my ribs.
In fact, last week’s announcement of a new godbothering initiative (where police turn a blind eye as ‘Street Angels’ pester evening revellers) was even briefly a topic for discussion in my social circle. Unlike an online discussion which revealed just how ‘streetwise’ Johnston Press readers are not (see ), ours was a purely intellectual exercise and focused on weightier issues.
These days even the desperate shun what is still laughingly referred to as Douglas nightlife, but there is an important principle at stake here. What have things come to when you cannot ease the tensions of the working week with a quiet pint in a half-empty tavern, then take an even quieter stroll down the seafront without being harangued by some garishly hued bible-wielding thug?
Where are the police when our privacy and right to blissfully stagger about in the fresh night air are at stake?
If they really are condoning midnight muggings by tooled up Methodists and Presbyterians then just who are the gendarmerie serving? Judging from this announcement it certainly isn’t the hardworking taxpayer.
And if the island is going to the dogs - all moral values abandoned, the government and police force firmly in the pocket of unscrupulous, workshy ruffians, confidence tricksters and tax-dodgers - then is it time for we decent few to take action?
For example, often we see the bewildered coming out of churches and wonder if we should offer a word of comfort –just assure them there IS a better way, because they look so lost and miserable. The dazed and terrified looks in their innocent eyes as they stagger into the sunlight, desperately clutching empty wallets, can be heartbreaking. True, their strange predilection for pastel polyester clothing, flowery prints and startling headgear is also quite worrying, but that is a lesser problem.
Our aim would be to support those who may be fearful of the criminals and disturbed, to comfort victims and separate them from those who, through their egotism, hypocrisy or just plain wrongheadedness, are putting others at risk. And if that sounds familiar it is because, rather than going to all the trouble of calling a public meeting, forming a steering committee and working out aims and objectives, it was faster to lift them direct from the Street Angels’ own press release, then correct it.
Some would ask, “But isn’t that offensive, isn’t it intrusive on the rights and sensibilities of our fellow citizens – even if they are mentally challenged?”
Dear reader, in an age when witless, super-annuated prodnoses, armed only with junk science, get public subsidy to preach about our alleged overindulgence in any small pleasure, from alcohol to fairy cakes, such sensibilities are already under full frontal assault. So, please, no more hand wringing.
In fact, the only serious question to be settled here was what colour high-visibility jacket would one wear? We briefly considered how long the Street Angels must have spent on this before they decided on yellow.
We concluded it was an easy choice, even for them. Given how difficult it is to get the Ulster ex-pats who run local Batwit concessions into the same room as a Catholic, lime green tabards are a definite no. In turn, Day-Glo orange would be rejected if even a token Catholic presence was needed to gloss over any worries about sectarianism which might occur to the odd DHA employee (and they would be very odd, possibly even secretly nursing a three figure IQ and soon to be redundant, if it occurred to them). Pink, of course, would be right out, for reasons revealed loudly and often by leading exponents of open-minded Christianity ranging from Ian Paisley to John Sentamu to Cardinal O’Brien.
Pink it is then.
(Bangs gavel)
Now, moving swiftly on to possible corporate sponsors………

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Aggressive beggar alert

I see from this (see ) that, as Douglas streets have been so safe late at night for years, the police have had to draft in troublemakers so that they can pick up enough overtime.
Think about this for a few seconds – if the police are willing to allow muddle-headed if sincere septuagenerarians to pester drunks, then the midnight streets of Douglas must be quieter than a Trappist monastery.
This nonsense has been tried before, mostly, it must be noted, in redneck backwaters of the UK where both incest and membership of the Christian Police Association is high (not that those three factors are always found together, of course – just alarmingly often). There, surveys of the relative figures for street-based violence before and after the introduction of such crackpot schemes inevitably show more disturbances and hospital visits AFTER the bible bashing started.
The funniest thing is that in some small towns there simply were no disturbances until the godbotherers started annoying people making their way home amicably enough from pubs and clubs. Perhaps the key here is that people in conservative communities might head for the pub to escape miserable puritans they have to put up with during the day, for example at work. If so, the last thing they want looming up at them after a couple of pints is that prod nosed supervisor who has been on their case all week about wearing an ‘inappropriate’ tie to the office.
This plan hasn’t appeared out of the blue, by the way. I was aware of a Broadway Baptist klingon trying to set up a ‘street pastor’ scheme five years ago, and since then, so disgruntled insiders say, there have been several approaches to the police from both Living Hell and the Batshits.
The irony is that one of their previous attempts at ‘street ministry’ so annoyed the public that it led to senior police officers being asked if the English crime of ‘aggressive begging’ (used in the UK to keep panhandling junkies way from tourists) was on the books over here. As families with small kids walking down the Prom being harangued by evangelical loons said, if threatening small kids and pensioners with hell fire isn’t demanding money with menaces, then what is?
Old hippies may also be sniggering at that acronym ‘DTCP’, which sounds very similar to ‘PCP’ – a nasty street drug in the 1970’s always associated with nutters jumping through windows, and better known as ‘Angel Dust’.
On a more serious note – who are the ‘other agencies’ so keen for the police to OK this nonsense? Not, by an odd coincidence, a certain ‘police advisory committee’ whose very membership is tightly controlled by three evangelical business figures (so convenient when you want to close down a small town for a bit of godbothering theatricality and police are needed to guide punters to the only available parking which is – oh, another coincidence – at your shopping centre)?
Thought so.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

A horrible history project

My wife and I have spent the last week or so trying to decide how we could prevent our child spending an entire school day with dangerous and deluded people. In the end, we took the most direct route, telling the head teacher we flat out refuse her permission to go – regardless of the consequences. After a few attempts at guilt-tripping us, or trying to persuade our daughter that she would be lonely without her mates, the school has reluctantly accepted they must, for once, do what they are legally required to do instead of including my girl in what my wife bluntly pointed out to them is an illegal exercise in brainwashing small children.
The problems began when my daughter brought home a note explaining the class was going on an outing to Rushen Abbey called Lifepaths. The thin excuse is that it is one of those ‘living history’ things where the kids would find out how the monks lived. Even if this is the time of year when Manx teachers traditionally stick the kids in front of a DVD then slip off to catch up on the paperwork, and even if it had been run by Manx Heritage - whose actual historical knowledge (as opposed to romantic suppositions) about Rushen Abbey could be scribbled on an A4 sheet with room to spare - it would still be a nice day out.
But the reality is far worse. The day is run by Scripture Union Ministries Trust, and while a decade or more ago SUMT were a harmless bunch of godbotherers trying to interest school kids in a good natured enough way, in recent years the local branch is run by evangelical hardliners whose track record is less than inspiring.
In 1999 SUMT volunteers were amongst those helping ‘persuade’ victims of a notorious pastor who could not keep away from underage girls that they really should not appear in court. A few years later, they were amongst suspects when the phone number of a service offering advice to teenage Manx gays was passed to a US evangelical TV network, who on their website suggested people bombard the local numbers for such advice lines around the UK with prank calls to put them out of action.
These events were a while ago, and while those involved then could well have moved on or grown up, the powers of SUMT over the young have increased since the latest Anglican bishop, far from distancing himself from the local evangelical lunatic fringe, seems to have embraced them while shunning those of his own flock with a middle of the road and responsible attitude to religious education. From his own postings to the faithful it seems that key ‘youth pastoring’ jobs have passed to evangelicals from other churches rather than Anglicans, and in his mandatory role as Chair of the Education Department’s Religious Education Advisory Committee he is openly using SUMT to spearhead campaigns to evangelize children wherever possible - and on the thinnest of excuses - during the school day.
More recently another SUMT associate was reported after the parents of a teenage schoolgirl found unsolicited texts on her cell phone. To the best of my knowledge, despite this and other complaints about inappropriate behaviour, he is still judged fit to ‘mentor’ teenagers at an island high school. Earlier this year, another SUMT project – where in theory volunteers go into schools to read Bible stories to kids who may never have heard them – acted as something of a Trojan horse for the distribution of creationist tracts. And so this worrying saga continues.
The funny thing is, we actually have less problem than most parents with responsible religious believers being around our child. For example both she and we got on well with the former local vicar round the corner, a witty, and multi-talented - if camp as a row of tents - character who suddenly went to minister to folk in South America instead. From rainswept Ramsey and a glum congregation of small town conservatives (where, incidentally, we recently discovered both the Chief Education Advisor and his wife, a local head teacher, sat on his parish church council) to one of the sunnier, more progressive, countries of South America, and shortly after a ‘rationalization’ of the diocese which. quite coincidentally we can be sure, lays off full time career clergy in favour of rabid right ‘hobby vicars’ who play no role in the community other than to discourage progress, liberal thinking or democracy…. 
Why on earth would he leave such a dream post?
Meanwhile, the Light Of Our Life and her classmates might be better off watching back-to-back Horrible Histories on CBBC instead of trudging around a muddy field being ‘supervised’ by adults who cannot even attain her reading age. Rather than be fed false history by rabid rednecks, it looks like she, at least, will spend the day with a younger class instead.  I feel sorry for her, but there seems to be no alternative. Yet again, the Manx education system dismally fails a child actually interested in learning, and actually supported by parents who take an interest in her education.
I cannot pretend to be surprised. These days the only time the Manx education system surprises me is if it gets remotely close to fulfilling its basic function and my daughter learns something. Most days all she learns is that it seems possible to be as thick as two short planks yet earn well and be unsackable in the Manx public sector. You just need to prominently wear a cross around your neck.