Sunday, 22 September 2013

No sense, no taste

We were at the Isle of Man Festival of Food and Drink yesterday. 
I have to say, it’s good to see the Manx government do something right. In this case, assemble some of the worst things about the island in one place, fence it off, and then make the public pay to go in. At £5 a pop that puts off all but the hardened masochists.
Seriously though, much of the food was, frankly, a bit naff, though as I had to drive the family home afterwards to shop for real food I never visited the beer tent. For no charge (if you really wanted to) you could find the same vendors at any local event with stalls, or for a quid or so towards fixing the church roof or providing wells to African kids find a better selection of homemade produce at any charity fayre.
Yes, seriously, I would rather pay a token amount to a church whose beliefs I don’t share than hand over yet more money to the government for them to try and interest us yet again in publicly subsidised local produce that few of us really like and many of us cannot afford. As someone who is, of necessity, on a healthy diet I also have to point out that even moderate regular amounts of most of the food on offer would, far from improving your health, kill you quicker than smoking,  most of the illegal substances government health workers tell us to avoid and any of the currently legal ones they would like to be illegal in future.
Funny old world, isn't it?
Another thing that worries me – why did Living Hell seem to get a free pass to abuse small kids under the pretence of providing a crèche? When organisations like the Children’s Centre are also getting heavy public subsidies why weren’t they there instead? 
Another case of parents who can (and must) do, non-parents who can’t (or just shouldn’t) get paid by government to preach? 

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Old joker, novel thinking

Barbara Smoker, the nonagenarian but still wickedly witty secularist, posted a beauty of a “thought” on the National Secular Society’s weekly Newsline a couple of weeks ago which I’m still giggling at. So much, in fact, that it would be mean not to share it.
“The pathological condition of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is the agreed diagnosis for those who feel they have to keep performing certain rituals in order to avoid some illogical misfortune.
But that definition likewise applies to people who belong to a particular religion and who assiduously practise its prescribed rituals.
Perhaps, therefore, we could use the term "religious OCD" as a telling synonym for fundamentalism.”
Maybe we should, Barbara. In fact, maybe I just will.

Lost in (cyber)space

As someone who has to use the thing daily, I take particular interest in the ‘improved’ new Manx government website.
Needless to say, ‘improved’ is not an accurate statement of affairs. Most of the pages professionals need to work with government have been moved around, not linked handily enough together to allow you to carry out necessary tasks smoothly or just taken down completely in some cases. Combined with a few major crashes of the office computer system which wiped out all our useful links it has been an …..interesting (!) experience for a week or two now just trying to get the basics done, get out, and go home.
But one vanishing link is worthy of comment here, and might even be indicative of a governmental rethink (though I doubt it).
There used to be a front page link to a page listing contacts for local religious groups – church postal and website addresses, phone numbers for clergy and that sort of thing. It also, more usefully, gave contacts for the obscurer Christian sects and non-Christian faiths. I say useful, firstly because it proved they exist (contrary to the ‘expert’ advice given to government less than a decade ago by a high-ranking Anglican) and more generally if, say, somebody Muslim or Jewish had been taken ill or died and you needed immediate advice on what to do next.
As far as I can gather, the page first appeared courtesy of the Tourist Department as a way to help tourists find the more obscure churches involved in the annual Flower Festival, and for religiously minded visitors to find a place of Sunday worship. This was in an era when links between Manx church and state were so strong that some worshippers were effectively getting a government salary to practice their faith. In recent years, that generation have retired and it  was also noticeable that the traditional churches took up less and less of the listings and new cults or non-Christian religions were becoming the majority.
I (luckily) knew the old government website so well that I was able to restore the new equivalents of all the vital professional links I use within a day, but after searching extensively I am 100% sure there is no longer any list of religious contacts. As I know for a fact it was the only source used by certain government departments to find a suitable cross-section of religious leaders to advise on ethical issues, it will be worth challenging future government pronouncements that they have consulted faith communities on their policies and met with no objections.
But did the page vanish (a) because churches close to government cannot cope with evidence of their minority status, even when only measured against other faiths (b) completely by accident and rank civil service incompetence or (c) because some government bean-counter worked out that nobody goes to church any more?
Now THAT might be worth knowing. Unlike most of the endless, consistently pointless and fact free ‘media communications’ from government.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Wherever two or more are gathered..........

As a former local journo, I may have the advantage of knowing how far - in measurable fact - the news values of contemporary pseudo-local newspapers owned by large media corporations drift from those taught on NCTJ courses. But any reasonably detached and objective person can giggle hysterically at the polyfilla used to fill all the cracks where the stories are supposed to go.
So it was that yesterday I was sniggering at some of the district news items with another atheist, particularly the prominent coverage of a horticultural show in a Ramsey church. 
“Why”, we cried out in collective disbelief,  “is it news that a church was full of vegetables?”
After further consideration we have the answer.
The key word there is ‘”full”. Be it vegetable, animal or mineral – in 2013 any more than two collected in a Ramsey church would be unusual enough to merit a picture.


For all the guff put out by the Department of Economic Development’s PR merchants, sometimes a genuine picture of Manx understanding of the business world emerges.
For example when you read at that ‘The environment, food and agriculture minister has blasted the store Tesco for only supporting Manx food, "when they can make money out of it".’
But isn’t the basic idea of a business to make money? If a business does not make a profit from goods supplied to carry out the business, how long can it stay in business?
Unlike the Manx government, Tesco cannot obtain their funds from money the public has no choice but to stump up. Also unlike the Manx government, Tesco cannot pay farmers not to grow stuff, or businesses to produce stuff that nobody wants or can afford.
So what next?
Well, I guess that will be the inevitable sneering and finger-pointing from middle-income public sector workers (with jobs for life, however inefficient  they are at doing them) at the unemployed and low paid who buy the food they can afford, rather than whatever Sunday supplement foodie airheads say is healthy or right-on this week.
Because, yes, there’s a serious point (and serious political decisions) to be made about sustainable food production, but it certainly is not made here, and Manx politicians who are busily blaming the dispossessed for failing to stand on their own feet (when those politicians were the ones who whipped away the rug in the first place) show no inclination towards solving real problems, rather than whipping up fantasy ones to complain about.
Those real problems are (1) how do we ensure that what is rapidly becoming a Manx underclass (too young or old to work or semi-unemployable if they are of reasonable working age) can be healthily fed in the long term (as opposed to eating pure stodge now) and (2) how do we ensure a locally produced food supply which will get us through in the unlikely but still possible case that all outside supplies fail? 
Neither are being seriously addressed, and even if the Manx government ever consider question 2 seriously I would take bets they dare not consider the more important first question.
Meanwhile (and until they are ready to do the same) maybe they could have the decency to stop knocking efficient businesses for doing what it says on the tin.