Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Manger danger

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

Sunday, 14 December 2014

No room at the inn?

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

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Not a prayer?

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

The art of cronyism

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

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Manx Kippers

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

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Now we are sick

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

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Toilet training

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

Alcohol Concern Concern

A couple of weeks ago I noticed this (see http://www.isleofman.com/News/details/67320/island-to-assess-anti-alcohol-pill ) and noted it as of possible interest, but thought no more of it on the day.
Then I saw Chris Snowdon picking up on another typically seriously misleading alarm story from a notorious bunch of prod-noses and ripping it to bits. In following the story around other libertarian websites other things became clear, and it came right back to the implication of the Manx original.
In brief....Alcohol Concern are a typical UK sock puppet (government-underwritten “independent pressure group”, usually on quasi-moral issues, used by government departments to create the chimera of public acceptance for cost-cutting policies which that department had always intended pushing through anyway). Fairly regularly they produce “reports” and “surveys” which are used, unchecked, by understaffed media organisations and create social or moral panics. Others who check them, and expose their inaccuracy and dishonesty, tend to produce analyses which are too detailed for tabloid news, and even when the media is forced to print retractions or corrections these are usually confined to minor news pages, and so long after the panic has been sparked that the public have swallowed the myth.
In this case, Alcohol Concern produced a “survey” which appeared to show 9.6 million alcohol-related hospital admissions annually, thus tapping into public concern about overworked hospitals (actually the fault of government policies) without creating public pressure for the government to sort out the mess they created.
Snowdon began by comparing the figures to those of the Office of National Statistics. These, along with the Census, are the gold standard for any serious social research. He noticed firstly that the “survey” figures were not just a little larger, but larger by a factor of 10 or more, and secondly that tucked away in the small print was an admission that they were based on computer model estimates.
To quote a useful section of his response directly:
“You would only bother coming up with estimates from a computer model if the real figures were not available. But here's the thing. The ONS has detailed hospital admission data for exactly the same areas that Alcohol Concern make guesstimates for. And what a difference there is between the ONS's figures and Alcohol Concern's estimates.
In Barnsley in 2012/13, for example, the ONS says there were 900 alcohol-related hospital admissions (600 were partly attributed to alcohol, 300 were wholly attributed to alcohol). Alcohol Concern says there were 46,992.
The difference between 900 and 46,992 is non-trivial to put it mildly.
To take another example from my neck of the woods, Alcohol Concern reckons there were 128,922 alcohol-related hospital admissions in West Sussex in 2012/13. The ONS says there were 14,210.
Alcohol Concern reckons there were 52,092 admissions in Brighton and Hove. The ONS says there were 4,640.
Alcohol Concern says there were 48,745 alcohol-related hospital admissions in Westminster. The ONS says there were 3,360.”
One respondent to Snowdon's original post thinks he sees how, short of making the whole thing up, the figures might have been manipulated.
“The simple truth is that the 9.6 million figure is the combination of Hospital Admissions and A&E Attendances and Outpatient Attendances. It's the equivalent of adding apples, paper clips and spiders together and claiming that the total is a measure of fruit!
In your West Sussex example, Chris, they actually counted 14,159 hospital admissions in the total of 128,922, so not far off the ONS figure (and as likely to be accurate as ONS). This number was dwarfed, though, by 73,672 A&E attendances and 42,090 outpatient attendances!
Having worked with NHS statistics for my whole working life, I can assure you - and Alcohol Concern - that no-one in the NHS would ever dare to add inpatient and outpatient (A&E is outpatient too) statistics together. Once would be a terrible mistake, to repeat it would be a sacking offence. To place such stated numbers in the public domain - e.g. on a “nifty” interactive web-site - is tantamount to fraud; plain and simple.”
But on following the story around other websites which bothered to probe, I found something even more interesting. The pertinent details are these:
From the Alcohol Concern website (http://www.alcoholconcern.org.uk/media-centre/news/total-nhs-alcohol-related-admissions-in-england-nears-10-million ) :
"The Alcohol Harm Map, produced by Alcohol Concern in partnership with the pharmaceutical company Lundbeck Ltd. The purpose of the map is to reveal the real harm and cost of alcohol at a local level, so that local authorities and local health providers can ensure that alcohol prevention and treatment services are available to those with drinking problems..."
From Lundbeck's website http://www.lundbeck.com/uk/our-products/our-products , one of their UK products is called Selincro (generic name nalmefene).
And from the website of NICE http://www.nice.org.uk/advice/esnm29 , the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (the government agency which recommends which products should be used by the NHS):
"NICE has been asked to appraise nalmefene for reducing alcohol consumption in people with alcohol dependence in a single technology appraisal. The expected date of publication of the appraisal is November 2014."
The UK government turning a blind eye to a moral panic started by one highly questionable quasi-governmental agency in order to expedite the (no doubt over-priced) sale of a dubious pharmaceutical product which a more rigorous quasi-governmental agency cannot be bullied into licencing fast enough?
Well, well.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Tantrums in Toytown

I don't know who comes out looking sillier in this story(see http://www.iomtoday.co.im/news/isle-of-man-news/historians-told-you-re-not-welcome-1-6901578 ), the busload of visiting style nazis who were told to sling their hook, or the locals who also thought they should have had an automatic right to go rubbernecking around somebody else's house. Wonder what they have in common, other than beige anoraks, tartan Thermos flasks full of weak tea, no real friends or social life.... and a tendency to trap normal people in corners and bore the backside off them in order to compensate for all that?
Gordon Bennett, you sad sacks. If it mattered to any of you that much, you could have bought the house when it was on offer. As you didn't, at least have the decency to shut up and butt out.
Be honest, it is not as if Baillie Scott built houses any sane person would give up a morning to mooch around anyway, never mind buy the dumps. OK, in some perverse Disney Gothic sort of a way they might be very pretty (if you were tripping your tits off and near blind from years of self-abuse), but they must be a bugger to light and heat. These are houses for cartoons, not people, and only a self-despising masochist with deep pockets, no taste and a sick sense of humour would buy one. When I pass several of the monstrosities daily I always wonder if Hansel and Gretel have escaped yet, or how bad the mould is in the gingerbread walls.
I also have news for anyone who thinks this incident somehow damaged the island's reputation or caused the English to think us a bit uncouth. Another unfortunate sighting of a twee Baillie Scott building caused the first outburst of laughter in a day, back in the mid-1980's, which gave some English upper-middle class professionals funny stories they have been dining out on ever since.
It happened when a notorious financial scandal hit court, and caused the world's press to wonder if anyone in the Manx offshore racket of that era - either as “service providers” or legislators - was even capable of dressing themselves in the morning without professional help. Which, to be honest, they were not.
The trial took place in the old Castletown court, and at 8.30 AM a mini-bus full of the thousand pound an hour QCs hired to fight the case delivered them there. I have it from both the bus driver and the native guide hired to escort them that as they sighted Castletown Police Station one wit drawled “I say, do you think Will Hay still works there?”
The bus rocked with laughter, and neither the legal hacks nor the UK press hacks in the bus following stopped sniggering from that moment until the farcical trial finished. As a result the island's reputation as a finance centre was destroyed completely for at least another fifteen years.
Some will maintain this was because the industry was then run by chumps, drunks and con-artists.
 Me? I blame Baillie Scott, his Noddy-on-bad-acid imagination and whatever cretin actually employed him to design a building meant to instil respect and lock up hardened criminals.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Lazarus - raised and reburied with the living

For reasons some readers might know about, but which I won't go into here, I was otherwise engaged last weekend so could not share this (see http://www.iomtoday.co.im/news/isle-of-man-news/town-sermon-not-appropriate-1-6886645 ), which has had me giggling like a stoned loon for days.
My immediate reaction was that when only the living dead attend such drab, parochial bun-fights, then if people really did walk out the reverend doctor may have performed the best example of a miracle since his ultimate role model supposedly brought back Lazarus. Sadly, having raised the dead, he not only reburies them but their vaguely conscious pew-mates.
Honestly! A cleric gets an open goal – a chance to preach to the only right wing throwbacks in town likely to share his warped view of humanity – misses by a mile and even turns the bigots against him. As I understand it, he was recruited (using savings made by not replacing retiring professional clergy) as a missioner priest charged with getting younger, intellectually minded locals into churches. From his record thus far, his employers may be wondering if he ever intends to start work.
More seriously, I know socially committed clergy and Manx Christians and in my experience they never get the genuine support of “management” or even their fellow punters (though the same are always ready to take the credit or opportunity of public funds). For all I know (though thus far he has shown absolutely no evidence) Dr Gomes may well be, outside his “special project”, a dutiful and conscientious priest to his flock. But if so I cannot see believe he still accepts the kind of social myths he reportedly endorses – myths disproved ad nauseum over the last 60 years.
As a salaried priest, this man has an opportunity denied to most of us to support families and individuals struggling just to get by against a wall of prejudice. A wall which gets bigger every time a Manx government minister opens his mouth in public and vomits more effluent. I respectfully suggest it is time he started doing this, not aligning himself with the kind of tabloid-reading excuseniks whose prejudice is at the root of most poverty and social problems on this island.
In addition to his Christian and professional duty to do this, he has an intellectual duty to speak truth to power. As the learned man he is, Dr Gomes should not be reducing all morality to that sub-section of ethics any genuine academic knows as religious morality. If preaching to those without the benefit of formal education in morality and ethics, surely he has a duty to be more precise rather than play to simplistic stereotypes favoured by professional tub-thumpers of no integrity.
And finally, if 21st century families do not choose the church, that is generally because, having made a reasonable effort to understand the arguments, they no longer believe in an omnipotent deity, or because even if they do they find the church itself wanting. In either case, that is not a failure of parenting or the community but a failure of the church, so it is for the church and its servants to do better.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Read up, wise up and join in

Next Sunday afternoon I will be at the Isle of Man Freethinkers AGM. This year I have a more than usual interest in proceedings (more on that after the event).
Sadly, though, it means that I will not get over my Britphobia long enough to experience this amazing conference (see https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/marieme-h%C3%A9lielucas-maryam-namazie/promoting-global-secular-alternative-in-isis-era and the full conference agenda at http://www.secularconference.com/agenda/ ). Still, I can at least urge anyone in the UK who hasn't yet booked to get along to what is - without a shadow of a doubt - the most important meeting of secular minds in the British Isles this year; in fact, given the timeliness of the subject matter and quality of the speakers, possibly this decade.
Maryam Namazie, Houzan Mahmoud, Taslim Nasrin , Gita Saghal and numerous other speakers are people who shatter the myth that secularism is somehow a white or 'Western' project. I am proud to say I have corresponded and worked with a few of them in recent years, and if I have learnt anything about global secularism in the last decade it was directly due to them. While straight, white, male and old “celebrity atheists” are the ones inevitably appearing on TV or pushing flabby abstractions in opportunist pot-boilers passed off as “serious books”, these are the folk at the coalface, squaring up to the mad mullahs and getting chased out of their homelands (or, if born nearer here, their ethnic ghettos) by pitchfork-wielding mobs. As if that was not bad enough, once in supposedly more liberal places they are blacklisted (I know, joke in poor taste, but absolutely correct here) by the kind of pathetic, white and privileged guilt-trippers who make many ”progressive left” organisations a nonsense (check Gita Saghal's experience with Amnesty International as a typical example).
In between the UKIP-lite shite about non-whites being peddled by some “celebrity atheists” and the Stalinist groupies who think it is somehow cooler to hug self-hating to the point of suicidal, religious apologistic bombers than properly deal with the complexities of neo-colonialism, trying to do the right thing without resorting to magic and Imaginary Invisible Friends has never been a tougher gig – and more necessary.
As Maryam concludes: “It is not racist to defend equality or secularism. In fact, it is racist to deny people the same rights and freedoms because they are deemed “different”. Also, secularism is not a western concept but a universal one. It is a demand of people everywhere. Nor is it “progressive” to support Islamism vis-à-vis imperialism. Islamism is our far right. Any progressive person or group must oppose all forms of fascism including the religious right. And they must support and show solidarity with those who have survived and are resisting. This is a fight we need more people to join.”
So read up, wise up, and join in.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Of honours and bombers

An old habit from my full time journo days has just paid off again. Before recycling I routinely check through old local papers and magazines for stories and tip-offs I might have missed. Today I found another to make me laugh, and to offer much more insight into the honours system.
Now, this piece of sycophantic claptrap (see http://www.iomtoday.co.im/news/isle-of-man-news/long-goodbye-for-governor-1-1740566 ) really should have been the last time the nastiest RAF flyboy since Bomber Harris got a mention in a Manx newspaper.
Sadly, not so. Because on 12th August we learnt in the Manx press that he was “surprised” to receive a knighthood.
Not half as surprised as me.
For the benefit of those who take no interest in war crimes against civilians, Macfadyen was the RAF chief of staff during the first Gulf War, i.e. the one that stopped when the survivors amongst Hussein's untrained conscripts from the foreign labour force left a wealthy neighbouring country we do loads of business with and his full time army emerged from their British built nuclear bunkers to gas the Kurds.
The latter, apparently, was none of our business. It was also none of our business that the much famed and filmed carpet bombing of Iraq hit almost no military targets but did kill around 350,000 civilians. By contrast, I would hazard a guess that some reconstruction contracts also fell the way of UK businesses via a long chain of offshore middle parties - in the UAE for example.
So another thing that does not surprise me is that, when Macfadyen's part in both this and the early Al -Yamamah arms deals became too awkward for the RAF and he was offered the governorship of the Isle of Man instead, he notoriously admitted to having to look the place up on a map. Frankly, given his poor map-reading skills I'm more surprised he found it.
By the way, if you know little about Al-Yamamah this (see http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=9008 ) may help put things in context.
By chance, years ago, I was putting on an event in a Manx venue when Mrs M showed up with some American ladies. With a little sly probing I was able to find that El Guv was deep in hospitality with old US war chums, so the memsahibs had been sent out to see quaint local sights while the boys got down to business.
And it was nasty business too. Because with a little more sly probing I found that old US warhorses were regular guests at Dunbombin and interestingly, like him, their retirement interests revolved rather a lot around arms companies consultancies.
This was a period in UK business history when the OECD and FATF were causing a clean-up of the offshore finance industry, and organisations like Campaign Against the Arms Trade were taking so much interest in a civil service unit attached to the UK Department of International Development that it had to close down. The unit, in a nutshell, had for years employed around 100 civil servants to advise and assist the UK arms trade in efficient use of offshore entities in order to avoid public scrutiny, not to mention hassle with end user certificates (which by international treaty are required to prevent arms sales by “respectable” countries to the uglier type of dictatorship, such as the ones Lockheed and BAE might find very profitable).
This use of the governor's quarters (politically a bit of a grey area because not strictly under control of either Tynwald or Whitehall) for quiet chats about arms deals via cosy third country offshoots of major arms companies was, I feel sure, continued by Mcfadyen's successor and may not have tailed off until we got a civilian governor (though again one with extensive business experience of Africa).
Also note that (1) at least one former employee at the shadowy DID outfit went on to work in the Isle of Man public sector and that (2) a scheme which on paper helps Manx finance sector “experts” to help small nations develop more honest international trading practices and stamp out corruption (and was sold as such to FATF to help us clean up our own reputation) is substantially a creation of the Said Business School in Oxford and was originally based at the Isle of Man Business School.
That's the Said Business School started with a £23 Million donation from Saudi-Syrian businessman Wafic Said at around the time Blair & Co were shutting down a government enquiry into Al-Yamamah and the Isle of Man Business School which went belly-up because....... well, many wonder if the faculty and management knew much about basic business or accounting practices.
My wife sometime wonders why I laugh so much when I read Manx newspapers.

The real public health menaces

I had the, um …... interesting(?) experience of meeting some people who either already are or shortly will be indirectly employed to tackle the island's so-called substance abuse problems last week.
Inevitably, I was not impressed, and rather than yet again hear fact-free drivel that's been printed uncut in the local media for years fell to musing what might be done to tackle one of the island's real social problems.
You know, some days I really worry about the Manx addiction to inventing social panics, linked to the ease with which intellectually challenged middle class deadwood can feed off a social network close to government which will find things for them to do. Frankly, I'd rather they stayed home and did something less socially damaging ..... drink a bottle of supermarket own brand sherry daily, read what Sunday supplement critics pass off as literature, weave baskets, make pots....anything really but engage with the real world and drag others down to their level.
Now this (see http://www.clivebates.com/?p=2391 ) is the kind of thing they should be reading, and to stay well ahead of their publically subsidised games you should too. Take a quick look and have most of your misconceptions about “public health” blown away ...... just like that.
And as Chris Snowden commented (see http://velvetgloveironfist.blogspot.com/2014/09/the-conceit-of-public-health.html for more):
“Clive is too polite to mention one of the other reasons why 'public health' people are "surprised to find there are people who get up and do something, and do it for nothing", which is that they would never consider doing anything without being paid for it, preferably by the government. A grass roots, volunteer-run 'public health' group is an oxymoron.”
Over here, it is even worse. I suspect most morons would be offended to be associated with the kind of woo-woo merchants and research-free tactics all too common in Manx health scams.
And for another succint analysis of the way this stuff works, you really have to see http://velvetgloveironfist.blogspot.com/2014/09/soda-sock-puppets.html
Local Government running an astroturf campaign to promote their own no-brainers and money-drainers to taxpayers? You just could not make this stuff up! Thank goodness that kind of stuff never happens on the Isle of Man...
..oh hang on a minute......

Sunday, 21 September 2014


“Management” found a new game at her workplace on Friday – taunting exiled Scots who, if they had a chance, would have voted No anyway.
As she so aptly put it, “I hear Mel Gibson's making a modern sequel to Braveheart . It's going to be called Slaveheart.”
Ouch! But couldn't you just predict that, once finally given a chance, all those Presbyterian dullards would opt for an English Nanny over free choice and responsibility?
A fear of freedom perhaps? I blame John Knox myself. Once you've internalised the doctrine of Predetermination, maybe you can never think and act for yourself.
If you do have enough self-respect to get involved in a major contemporary political issue, get down to the Manx Legion Club in Douglas tomorrow night (Monday 22nd) for this (see http://positiveactiongroup.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=518:pag-public-meeting-disability-and-equality&catid=34:pag-meet ).
Gareth and Paul are two of my favourite Manx human rights activists. Since coming here just a year or two ago, Gareth has galvanised the whole local debate over disability and moved it on decades. As in the UK until the 1990's, it used to be dominated locally by patronising faith-led “charities” who would do anything to help the disabled except get off their backs and stop using them as an excuse for lifetime subsidised employment. Gareth, by comparison, has a practical grounding in the Disability Rights Movement, the kind of militant crips who, if you lay in a bath of baked beans to buy them a wheelchair, would quite rightly smack you in the mouth instead of thanking you.
Paul has been slogging away for as long as I can remember on equality issues. He was key to the abolition of the vacuous Section 38 (the Isle of Man's equivalent of UK section 28, which prevented schoolteachers assuring kids that there is nothing abnormal about homosexuality or gay relationships) and to various moves to abolish institutionalised Manx homophobia in the 21st century. More quietly, he was the sole advocate prepared to help two Muslim guys refused bail because they could and would not attend daily prayer meetings at the island's bail hostel, run by a Christian charity. The case was also important because the Manx government's answer to the first local request for asylum was going to be to quietly ship them back to the UK and pretend the applicants had never been here, thus ensuring a legal judgement would not be made and a legal precedent could not be set.
But while Paul and Gareth will raise valuable issues, this Equality Bill is a much bigger deal and we all need to be thinking about how it might affect us.
For example, luckily I was married in a civilised country, and if my daughter ever gets round to being married or entering a civil partnership I will want the same for her. As long as a superstitious cross-dresser, calling on his imaginary invisible friend as witness, is deemed to be a fit person to pronounce her legally married but a responsible and rational adult is not that ceremony is unlikely to take place on the Isle of Man. I will advise her to go to Scotland or the Irish Republic instead.
Similarly, we all have to pop our clogs sometime, and I would rather my friends do not suffer the indignity of seeing me off in a room dominated by the amanita muscarita-inspired ramblings of ancient Middle Eastern goat herders, thank you very much. Some will say that as I will be dead at the time it does not matter, but, honestly..... Yuk! I would not EVEN be seen dead in a drab dump where the furnishings are that tacky, P-U-L-L-E-E-A-S-E!!!!
Maybe we should all get serious...or maybe not. When even some of my loved ones' jokes bear more serious analysis than what passes for the serious contemplations of the average Manx politician it may only be necessary to be awake, laughing and active to make a difference.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Oh, OK then....

OK, in the last week alone several people have asked if I've given up on blogging. Of necessity, I did have to stop for a while to attend to other things, which took longer than I expected. But numerous times in the last month or two I started looking at a local topic, then prevaricated so long that posting would be irrelevant. Anyway, I gave my word I would be back online within the week and I've stalled long enough, so here goes......
Assisted Dying then, as it is back in the news (see http://www.iomtoday.co.im/news/health/looking-at-the-issue-of-assisted-suicide-1-6846326), though I wish people would pay enough attention to get the terms right. Ten years ago, as is public knowledge, I helped Patrick Kneen and, after his death, his widow to run the Manx Death With Dignity campaign. It started as a personal favour for friends who nobody else wanted to go out on a limb for. As I said to Patrick at the time, I was actually fed up with talk about older people dying well and wanted a bit more talk about younger folk living well. But oddly enough, despite the grim subject matter, it was mostly fun and a year or so of life lived as fully as it can be when you have the courage to - though in the process I also learnt just how devious, dishonest and plain nasty powerful local people with no interest in human rights or democracy can be if nobody smacks them down.
So, as something of a reluctant expert, I think it necessary to explain why the terminology matters, especially when exponents of emotional fascism use it to misdirect us (though all fascism works by excluding logic and provoking a pure emotional response).
First, discard anyone who still uses the term Euthanasia as they are either lying or too idle to keep up. The term euthanasia originates in the ancient Greek concept of mercy killing, which was inevitably involuntary in a society where “democracy” discounted 90% of potential voters and politicians as it did not consider them adult - or even human. Modern advocates of Assisted Dying first used it in the naïve belief that anyone joining the debate would be educated enough to know and intellectually honest enough to discuss it in those terms.
Dumb mistake, sadly, when arguing with pathological liars with an economic interest in perpetuating the dark ages, though in fairness not helped when the Nazis made euthanasia as oxymoronic a term in the 1940's as, say, military intelligence or social security in the early 21st century.
Involuntary Euthanasia happens quietly anyway. If that alarms you, fund the health service properly, abandon semi-privatised end-of -life care run by greedy faith-heads at public expense and change the focus of management from economic bead-counting to deciding (1) what the objectives are of optimum socialised medical care and (2) the reasonable expectations of those who use and pay for it, then deliver it. Simples.
Assisted Suicide is helping someone who would like to commit suicide but is physically incapable of doing so to overcome those physical barriers to kill themselves - for example by self-administering pills or an injection. It is not the same as the broader term Assisted Dying, which recognises that the potential suicide is not able to self-administer and so someone else will have to administer the medication. Too often we unconsciously assume this has to be a doctor, but this is a lazy assumption, and I suspect that many friends of physically incapable suicides who quietly help illegally may not be medical professionals but will be intelligent and well informed enough to know what they are doing. By the way, for a broader discussion of the unconscious but strictly speaking illogical privileging of state-determined medical 'professionalism” try Ivan Illich's excellent 1970's classic “Medical Nemesis”.
All clear? Can we move on?
I just wish the discussion as outlined in the press could. Inevitably, if you get an overdue discussion going then the politicians sideline it for a decade new people come to it without the benefit of prior knowledge. Fair enough, but there is no excuse for the current Bishop not to have studied the joint response to a Tynwald committee on a possible Bill drafted by a previous Archdeacon and approved by his predecessor and three other faith leaders (but without daring to consult their flocks).
All this talk of slippery slopes and failure to acknowledge that, in every objective survey, around 80% of the population of any country (across all ethnic and faith subcultures) want legal Assisted Dying makes it look as if he is disinterested. Manx DWD also did a strictly confidential survey of local doctors (somewhat hindered as the GMC list of Manx doctors was so old around a quarter had moved on or died) which showed cautious acceptance of the case for tightly controlled legalisation in very specific cases.
I also know from that survey alone that, in a community of around 80,000 people, it is perfectly possible to find one or two doctors prepared to help if subject to a strict medical and legal process. To put things in perspective, this would be about the same as the number of Manx NHS surgeons legally permitted and expected by their contracts to carry out an abortion in tightly defined circumstances but who, oddly, always seem to be “unavailable” when such circumstances arise. Incidentally, a bogus survey passed off as representative of local medical opinion was also presented to the Tynwald committee, but it bears no serious analysis. According to some who were “consulted”, it was done by a senior Hospice figure, face to face only and in a somewhat disorganised fashion, and they had the distinct impression that “wrong” answers would lead to a very short medical career on the island and bad references for work elsewhere.
Finally, while I have little time myself to get seriously involved in a new campaign, I wish it well. In particular I applaud one Manx politician who is willing to make an informed stab at long overdue change and stop playing to the idiocracy in order to get re-elected.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Closure by cake

You might have seen my obituary for an old friend in the Examiner a couple of weeks back (see http://www.iomtoday.co.im/news/isle-of-man-news/bernard-caine-a-man-of-principle-1-6664211 ). No, I have no gig there, I just sent it in because it was starting to look like Bernard's life would not be celebrated the way it should be.
But last Monday I was squeezed on a pew at the very back of a Peel Cathedral packed with both his friends and the island's self-selecting elite for his funeral. Maybe the latter really wanted to pay respect to a genuine Manx giant, or maybe I shamed them into taking a couple of hours out of their pointless lives. Either way, they were there - which mattered to his family and many genuine friends and might have tickled Bernard if only he could have seen it.
I rarely go to funerals. Mostly of necessity, as I have to work, but also because I find the religious variant in particular unsatisfying. When the religious are so keen to stress that death is not the end, just the terminus where the faithful get their tickets stamped for Heaven, you might think they would make more effort with the send off.
For all the pomp and loving use of the Manx language and culture to whose revival Bernard devoted his life, this one just made me glad I am neither a Christian nor a pillar of the community. I am sure it was a moving experience and satisfactory farewell for others there. But to use that awful pseudo-therapeutic vernacular, I did not get closure and could not move on.
It took yesterday and a family day out in Peel to do that. This allowed me to retrace a routine Bernard and I had throughout our shared time on the local papers and magazines – walking out of the office and 100 yards or so up the street to a modest home bakery for cakes, fresh air and mischief.
At 12 noon daily you could have set your clocks by the pair of us ambling amicably up Market Street, trading banter with the bakery staff, then back down to 14 Douglas Street, stopping to look in every window or swapping skeet with everyone Bernard knew, which was pretty much the entire town.
So I did that one last time; some buns from the bakery, then a detour into a charity shop where, any Saturday after we stopped working together and Bernard retired, I could inevitably find him around noon on a chair in the basement perusing the books. Finally, popping my head into a few of the emporiums which officially sell antiquities, Manx historical tomes, local trivia …...or just junk, but unofficially are little more than an excuse for ageing Govags to gossip. In over 25 years I doubt if either Bernard or I spent more than £5 in total in such retail disasters, though I have to admit they did provide a steady stream of leads on obscure local historical topics.
So that was my day. Sunshine, home made food, charity shop finds and sore feet. Less than £10 spent in total but memories recalled of time with Bernard which are beyond price.
A happy era reminisced on, summed up, and finally laid to rest.
Now I really am  ready to move on.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Two hours of Nutty-slacking

Well, Monday night was fun. I spent it at this (see http://www.iomtoday.co.im/news/health/relaxing-cannabis-law-could-benefit-isle-of-man-claim-1-6589370 ) and, as I said elsewhere, enjoyed the rare pleasure of seeing a genuinely knowledgeable person speaking in a Manx public building. As far as I can recall, that has only happened three times in all my years on the island.
Media reports of the event are a little sketchy, because reporters on a topic which, eventually, was all about personal freedom and enjoyment and not “serious” moral issues were only ever going to get space to pick one sound-bite and play it up. Personal reports will vary enormously, and considering that even within a row of me were folk ranging from sixties burn-outs and semi-pro tree-huggers to conservative clergy and hardcore UKIP groupies that is no surprise.
So, for the record, if you have already seen David Nutt on, say, that live Channel Four Ecstasy experiment last year or read his book then there was nothing new. He ran through his routine in a manner calculated not to frighten elderly ladies, hung together with a jokey slide-show, and finished by politely answering questions from mostly middle-aged, middle brow types who had, quite reasonably and with admirable public spirit, turned up to find out what they could about illegal drugs from someone who ought to be able to tell them. The questions from the public were fair enough, and he answered them objectively and in comprehensive detail.
Actually, I did clarify a couple of my own local suspicions from these questions.
Firstly, that the only real drug threat on Manx sink estates is the latest generation of prescription drugs (the ones which were supposed to replace benzodiazepines, AKA “mother's little helpers”).
Secondly, that those who set up and have benefited from the Chief Minister's Task Farce on Drugs and Alcohol still pan-handle for cash and tell whoppers without shame. These whoppers would be immediately discredited the moment our Public Health professionals have the courage to publish - in full- all the surveys they have conducted at public expense into drug and alcohol “abuse” exactly as they were published in peer-reviewed journals, including the methodology and the true parameters and numbers of the survey groups. They never will, because even the two examples I was able to obtain from university libraries via friendly academics clearly show that neither the experiments nor the findings bear much resemblance to the 500 word press summaries (and, sadly, even they went unread by the local media once a couple of shock stats had been quoted, wrongly and out of context).
The more serious question posed by Nutt on the night was if the island could and should profit from the problem caused back in 1971 by a UK government which, in ensuring cannabis must never be legally available, simultaneously ensured that university research could never explore any medicinal benefits because to possess it was a common crime and even to cultivate it under licence was prohibitively expensive. Since the 1980's research in other countries has begun to open up some amazing possibilities (just check the excellent and extensive Wikipedia entry on cannabinoids to get a sense of these). Meanwhile UK scientists, once world leaders, are now reduced to reading other people's research and begging knee-jerk politicos to look beyond the next focus group and ballot box. With just a little of the horse sense that saw us develop the TT and the finance sector, we could develop a niche pharmaceutical industry to fill the gap when both of those vanish – as they must within a decade or two at most.
But the only real question is do you trust mature adults to take decisions over their own lives, and then be responsible for the results? Just that.
If so (and as a libertarian my obvious answer is ”Yes”) all that remains is how you organise things (legally, socially, economically..) so that the mature and responsible are free to get on with it, those who refuse to take responsibility will find it too much hassle and those who cannot (the young and otherwise vulnerable) are not going to be capable or exploitable. The question itself should be no different when it comes to other adult pleasures, such as cigarettes and alcohol.
Nutt half addresses it with the comparative risks of rock-climbing, horse-riding etc. and the way that pleasures enjoyed by the relatively powerful never seem to get restricted while working people's cheap relaxants do, but then screws up by setting up alcohol and tobacco as alternative folk panics to dope. He starts off by correctly pointing out that alcohol is also a drug, but then it all goes rapidly downhill, and he ends up peddling a variation on “reefer madness” about currently legal (if increasingly socially proscribed) substances in order to advance his own special interest.
Those who follow the debate seriously (rather than with one hand on the bible or the bong) know about Nutt's shortcomings already. He causes defenders of drinkers or fag smokers in particular to grind teeth in despair as the “evidence” of his prattlings is taken up by dopey Guardianistas and neo-puritans alike. When he should be identifying and seeking common cause with all who oppose a prohibitionist industry which out-prudes the Victorians (and lacks even their genuine social concern for the dispossessed) he hands it half-truths to shoot down all opposing views (including his own expert opinion).
For a real attempt to put the wider picture in context, try Chris Snowdon's excellent little book The Art Of Suppression: Pleasure, Panic and Prohibition since 1800. Towards the end, in assessing current threats to liberty of the responsible adult, he comprehensively covers the wrong done by government and tabloids to David Nutt, but also Nutt's unfortunate habit of shooting himself and potential allies in the foot. If you cannot find time to read the book, at least check out some of the short and pertinent blogs on Snowdon's website (Velvet Glove, Iron Fist) and those of a few endangered fag smokers ( Dick Puddlecote is a prime example). If you cannot then begin to see the bigger picture, then maybe the liberties you are losing are just liberties you never deserved.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

David Nutt talk - be there or stay misinformed

A couple of weeks back I hit a particularly rich and interesting research seam for another project. For that reason alone I cannot blog much until I find time to read through and start processing it.
Still, I can at least point anyone who hasn't yet heard towards the David Nutt lecture at the Manx Museum on Monday 28th April. It's a co-production between Isle of Man Freethinkers and the Positive Action Group: no tickets or seat-booking and free entry/contribute what you can towards costs, so best be there at 7 PM for a safe seat. You can find more at http://positiveactiongroup.org/index.html.
And before anyone asks, no, though I have banged on about such topics regularly, I am not an organiser. If I had any influence on the decision to set up such an event, it is quite marginal, stemming from a proposal I floated to some of the older Freethinkers a few years back.
Following the death of my good friend Patrick Kneen, the Manx assisted death campaigner, and once a misguided attempt to prosecute his widow had gone away, I thought it would be a shame to lose the Manx public's new willingness to explore controversial topics in an open and civilised way. The Kneens' brave campaign opened the floodgates on an island where I had almost given up hope of seeing social change or even temporary relief from Theo-fascist twaddle. For once, local religious bigots and control freaks were caught on the back foot (despite their considerable government influence), as was also shown later by the way one homophobic legal or governmental barrier after another fell quickly in just a few years.
I tentatively put it to Mrs Kneen that it would be nice to remember Pat by setting up an annual lecture in his name. The general idea would be to bring over a knowledgeable, high profile speaker on the kind of topic locals might quietly have strong feelings about but no means to start a debate and keep their jobs. She was very keen, but as she moved away to rebuild her life and died just a year or two later, the idea got no further. I did then put it to the Freethinkers that, as possibly the only local grouping interested in social change but unlikely to ever beg public money, we really ought to give it a go.
I can hardly wait for the rare experience of entering a Manx public sector building to hear someone with expert and highly specialised knowledge willing to engage with the general public. Someone who is neither looking for nor seeking to perpetuate a public handout (and even if he was, not willing to lie or suppress vital research or evidence in order to do so). This may explain why it took two groups of enthusiastic, public-minded folk rather than a QUANGO or civil service body to set the night up. It also explains why nobody with a serious interest in the topic should miss it, and why I doubt anyone involved in the Chief Minister's Task Farce on Drugs and Alcohol or their ludicrous policies will be there.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Necromancy considered as a subsidised performance art

See http://www.iomtoday.co.im/what-s-on/manx-entertainment-news/manx-passion-play-to-be-performed-around-isle-of-man-over-easter-1-6552955 for the latest episode in “Year of The C Word”.
Sorry to go on about it, but however cretinous this whole exercise is panning out to be there is a serious point. Culture is now a bit of a buzz word, especially amongst conservatives and bigots, but it still gets used as ignorantly as the time when some chinless Cambridge inbreed or other misused the word in front of an uppity grammar school boy called Raymond Williams back in.. oh, maybe the 1940's. This led Williams to look into the matter rather more seriously and he went on to found what later became Cultural Studies (along with some similarly uppity blacks, gays and girlies who kept redefining the term on finding it didn't seem to include them either). And that was all good, intelligent and positive stuff.
So different to today, when anyone who tries to take politics seriously is told that “nobody talks about class”, though the “nobody” who isn't talking about it is also a tiny subculture - but sadly one which just happens to run everything. More precisely, that “nobody” does not want to acknowledge that class divisions are getting worse and the local nobody cannot acknowledge that Manx society has an underclass that is trapped from the cradle to the grave as surely as the Welfare State project (now abandoned) was supposed to be a safety net against such problems.
And as for race..............
In the Isle of Man nobody in government (either the politicians or civil service mandarins) wants to talk about race, for fear of having to consider how racist the island still is. So maybe “culture” is little more than an excuse to continue racist prejudice now that a more open system of apartheid is no longer possible.
And eventually, who decides what “Manx culture” is anyway? Certainly not ordinary Manx residents, to whom this crap is about as relevant or recognisable as Moon rocks.
“Ours”? No, just “theirs” - and “they” are neither many nor approachable.
Which brings us to this shining example of Culture as something that is a bit icky-poo and badly needs spoon-feeding. This event has been subsidised to hell and back, so on that basis we can safely identify it as the art bore equivalent of a Nil By Mouth hospital patient.
Though, of course, in the worlds of art and culture attitudes are so Catholic. Everything that might otherwise get quietly knocked on the head seems to be a cause celebre for some vociferous Right To Lifer. Considering how dominated proceedings will be by acolytes of the Zombie Carpenter, turning up to watch this show will be like being trapped in an advocate's waiting room after a hospice death.
It sounds like the kind of gig most would pay to get out of, not into. Be grateful, then, that most if it takes place in the kind of god-forsaken bat sanctuaries most of us in these enlightened days will never even be seen dead in.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Manx democracy, a contradictatorship interned

If you owe your Manx political appointment to an unelected cabal in another country, shouldn't you have the common decency to butt out of the democratic process?
I only ask because of this pseudo-political slide back to the Middle Ages (see http://www.iomtoday.co.im/news/isle-of-man-news/time-limit-experiment-approved-1-6512103 ), which I could not point out here at the time because I was too busy elsewhere to go into it.
The key point is that:
“At the July sitting, statements and moving a report will be limited to 20 minutes while moving any other motion will be limited to 15 minutes.
Speaking to a motion or amendment will be restricted to 10 minutes while contributions at Question Time should be no longer than five minutes. Tynwald president Clare Christian will have discretion to allocate additional time on request.”
Media presentation and discussion of the matter nicely avoids the problem: which is that the real work in the movement of any parliamentary bill is done in the committees.
Membership of both those committees and the various government departments is not determined by merit, suitable professional or other background or other common-sensical principles. It is, in reality, determined by a vague and shadowy system of patronage.
If your face fits – with both senior political and civil service figures – you might just be allowed a place. If you are totally unsuitable (semi-literate, disinterested, too wrapped up in your day job to turn up except when needed to vote) you are even more likely to get in, because you won't be in the way when special interest groups want something that is definitely not in the general public's interest.
This leaves short spaces in the discussion of clauses (providing this hasn't already been delegated to a committee) and third and final reading of bills where any MHK (if fortunate enough to be forewarned and even luckier enough to catch the Speaker's eye) can jump up, ask questions or point out anomalies. That few minutes is the last precious remains of democracy in the Manx political process, and this nasty little move almost strangles it.
If I was in a mood to joke, it would be tempting to ask, could sermons be limited by law in the same way?
But far more importantly – who put the freeloading carbuncle up to it? Because it certainly was not his initiative, which suggests that somewhere in the murky depths of Legislative Council or the Council of Ministers a deal was done to nod through public funds the Church wants but should not be getting, in return for something that a loathsome floater in one of those bodies needs so that the Manx business community is not inconvenienced by democracy or common decency and that community, in return, finds a nice non-executive board place for a soon-to-retire politician or civil service executive.
Watch the Manx business pages after the next election, or the next round of civil service retirements, and you will find the answer. Those pages are just a joke, read by nobody outside the business community that provides acres of dull (and free) copy, so those that do feel so far above public scrutiny to bother hiding the connection.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

When two myths collide

Even without my cultural academic hat on, I would roll around the floor laughing at this nonsense (see http://www.iomtoday.co.im/news/isle-of-man-news/stormy-meeting-over-future-of-cregneash-church-1-6511315 ) in which two delusions, almost equidistant from contemporary society, go all handbags at dawn.
So, as Harry Enfield would say, which myth is more important, religion or heritage? Only one way to find out......F-I-I-G-G-H-H-T!!!!
Just to put off-island readers in the picture... this is not really a church, and Cregneash is not really a village; together they are more of a film or theatre set. Until somebody in government paid a visit to the Ulster Folk Museum, then saw the potential of the “living museum” concept in the Thatcher era, Cregneash was just a farm next to a semi-abandoned chapel, known only to Gaelic language pilgrims because Ned Maddrell (a Manx speaker whose chance introduction to an Irish language academic in the 1940's kicked off attempts to save Manx Gaelic) used to live nearby.
And ever since the beginning of the village's commodification for Manx touristic purposes there have always been historically inaccurate “improvements” to the church to make it look more “authentic”. In reality, like any other working church, it is a mish-mash of odd little bodge-ups according to liturgical and national fashions of times when money, labour or materials were available.
In the late 1980's, and again in the late 1990's, my job took me to every tiny chapel and church on the island. Most, however threadbare, at least have an air of being loved and used. Someone regularly running a duster over the pews and brasses, flowers changed, scattered hymn books and bibles indicating that acts of worship actually take place.
Cregneash chapel, by comparison to most, is more like a storeroom for a few religious props. When I last had to know, it held an evensong every couple of weeks but no Sunday morning communion, because the potential congregation refused to attend when tourists were milling round the museum proper (i.e. when it might just have drawn in visiting Christians eager for a rural religious experience).
The only time in recent decades either looked well was when they became a fictitious Irish village for the film Waking Ned. For which the church had subtle changes made so it seemed more like a rural Catholic church (which it has never been) and the village telephone box was painted green to look like a proper Irish one, and was not repainted for years – even at a time when the Baillie Scott design of it was being played up in a row over whether to keep it.
Why was it never repainted? I'm told because a nationalistic element within Manx Heritage at the time preferred it green so that it wouldn't look English, even though telephone boxes on the island throughout history have always been red, like the postboxes.
That tells you all you need to know about the difference between “history” and “heritage”, just as the single figure congregation's rows with “church management” reveal how wide the gap is between Manx Christianity as an inclusive act of faith and an exclusive means of cultural practice.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

We are not serious

Thanks to clicking, out of idle curiosity, on a chance link to a vaguely familiar name that came up in a computer search this week I had a vision of what might have been.
As I've mentioned once or twice, in a former life – over 30 years ago – I was involved in the world's unlikeliest clown troupe. In Belfast, at the height of “the troubles”. But in 1983, due to several devastating incidents which happened within weeks of each other, I just had to escape. It was meant to be temporary, but on the very morning I was supposed to take a plane back there to discuss a new project I had a severe panic attack of a kind I have never experienced before or since, and could not board the plane.
I later recovered the confidence to fly to visit a friend in the UK, during the year of the Miners Strike and Battle of the Beanfield, and saw a country I no longer recognised and no longer wanted to be a citizen of. To cut the story short, it was 1988 before I ventured off-island again, and then only to travel to Israel at the start of the Intifada, a two month adventure which (for reasons totally unconnected to the political situation in Israel) finally gave me the impetus to break back into a satisfying profession and life.
From the odd thing I saw on TV, I knew the Belfast projects were doing marvellous things, but never managed to get back into contact with old colleagues, even when in Belfast for a weekend of atheist subversion in 2005 and my hosts tried to help. So all these years I have wondered what happened, especially to my co-founder of the world's unlikeliest clown troupe.
Then, this week, that chance click on a vaguely familiar name revealed an astonishing story. My co-founder (then a startlingly individualistic 18 year old who, like me, left school unqualified at 16 having been told by teachers she would never amount to anything) carried on clowning, and other remarkable things. This should have been no surprise because, as I may have also mentioned, the whole point behind the clown troupe was that if you are in a hell-hole where conventional wisdom says you cannot do anything, you may as well go all out doing what you love, because even if you fail you will have had far more fun than conforming.
Then, in the late 1990's, she decided to take a B.A. in Archaeology, graduated with a first, went on to gain her Ph.D. in 2005 and to contribute to academic journals on a topic on which she is now almost Ireland's only authority. Remember again – written off as a no-hoper at school, living in a city where most of her generation were condemned to unemployment anyway according to the conventional wisdom. She's now, as far as I can gather, living happily in Galway, surrounded by other interesting and unique people and in every way defying the false logic of those who run these septic isles and think we should shut up and accept our place in their scheme of things.
It's odd enough running away to join a circus. Being one of only two people so individual they ran away from a circus is even rarer. Knowing the other one then, and knowing now that she went on to defy the odds (the norms?) for over 30 years, is an absolutely unique pleasure.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Some Manx jokes

I saw this today (see http://www.iomtoday.co.im/news/isle-of-man-news/should-isle-of-man-work-permit-holders-be-made-to-speak-english-1-6474791 )and cracked up laughing.
It's not just the idea of Peter Karran (nice guy, but not the most articulate man on the island – and probably even the least articulate in the House of Keys) saying anyone needs to learn English. It's not even the usual mongoloid mutters of support from semi-literates married to their cousins.
Story 1 – a lady, not from here, works as a voluntary literacy tutor on arriving on the island while waiting for job offers to come in. She applies for a government position teaching English as a Foreign Language and gets a written reply saying they want a native English speaker. It's so full of spelling and grammatical errors that for the next year she uses it to teach her Manx born pupils. This gets back to some local teachers, who mention that at least two Manx Education Ministers, even in their careers, have been blacklisted from presenting Speech Day prizes because they had such limited vocabulary that young kids would snigger.
Story 2 – me and same lady in Ramsey Co-op a few years back, chatting in Manx to the late Freddie Cowle – last of the original Manx language teachers and then very close to death. A local bigot behind starts grumbling to his wife on the lines of 'If you can't speak the language...' With a straight face, this lady asks Freddie (in fluent Manx) 'Do you think he knows there's a boat in the morning?'
Freddie doubles up with laughter. From his wife (a personal friend) I happen to know this was the last good laugh he had before he died soon after, because he was still laughing about it when he got home and she asked him what the big joke was.
Story 3 – Me and a carload of Hungarians passing through Randolph Quirk's birthplace, Cronk-y-Voddy. As we go along the straight, the whole carload, in true 'Wayne's World' style, are screaming 'We're not worthy, we're not worthy' at the tops of our voices while trying to bow in homage towards Lambsfell. Luckily there were no other cars around.
Actually, Story 3 is only for English language academics and my European readers in particular. Nobody under the age of 50 on the Isle of Man would understand the joke.
Which is what makes it twice as funny.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Licence to mug?

Following in the same spirit as the last post, Paul Stott, a Hackney libertarian I briefly corresponded with a few years back, suggests that where laws are being routinely broken then this is evidence of bad law, not bad behaviour.
He made this observation recently on his excellent blog (see http://paulstott.typepad.com/i_intend_to_escape_and_co/2014/02/scrap-the-licence-fee.html) and by example notes that: “If you fail to pay your subscription to Virgin or Sky, Richard Branson or Rupert Murdoch will cut you off. Fail to pay your subscription to the BBC, and you can be fined up to £1,000, and ultimately go to prison.”
And it gets worse, because 107 people have been jailed for non-payment in the last two years. In fact, this nonsense takes up an astonishing ONE IN TEN UK court cases, and is responsible for 12% of all court prosecutions.
As a recently closed petition to the Department for Culture, Media & Sport argues, the TV Licence Fee hits poorer people disproportionately, and makes all of us pay for 'free' services already funded by advertising. The petition (see http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/54120 ) suggests replacing TV licences with a voluntary subscription. The commercial element of the BBC could then be scrambled for non-subscribers, leaving public service content free to air.
As of yet, this has not spread to the island, but mostly because threats by the local agents were enough to make us pay up, and certainly not because any of our spineless politicos have pointed out that the whole mugging exercise is a disgrace or even that the money could be better spent locally instead of being meekly handed over to the Brits. A few half-hearted mutterings have been heard to the effect that Manx residents pay for UK services which anyone in the Irish Republic can also receive for free, also that when less and less people watch TV directly via traditional means the whole thing is a bit of a joke.
From my time in Northern Ireland, I remember that during the 'troubles' absolutely nobody in nationalist areas paid what they regarded as a tax imposed by an occupying government. I also remember that while the armoured cars were everywhere available for the job, not one TV was seized and not one person went to court. In the face of refusal to pay by some 40-50% of the population, a quasi-governmental broadcasting organisation simply stopped making an unreasonable demand.
So, will we sign up for an all-island boycott of the 'TV tax'? Will we lobby our political unrepresentatives to tell Westminster the deal is off? Or will we continue to put up with bad law from another country?
Hmm, thought so.

Smoking dumb

Well, as this idiot-fest demonstrates (see http://www.iomtoday.co.im/news/health/should-smoking-be-banned-in-cars-when-children-are-present-1-6460990 ), the island's politicians and public health wonks (or perhaps they now prefer 'wellness facilitators') are intent on following the UK in some bizarre dance of the headless chickens.
I'm not sure what amuses me more, that public 'consultants' get paid good salaries not to do elementary fact-checking, or that the great Manx public (or at least that underemployed cross-section of it which hangs out on ' local news' sites) can waste all day griping cluelessly but not once think to look up the 'study' in question. For example here (see http://anthonymasters.wordpress.com/2014/02/01/smoking-in-cars/ ).
But then, democracy and informed choice are alien concepts to the island, and an off-island owned press which is only here to serve their government and private sector advertisers - and which is also fast losing the hard copy circulation which props that up (see http://www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk/2014/news/abcs-all-the-figures-for-regional-weeklies/ ) - needs as many chuckleheads as possible clicking aimlessly as often as possible in order to justify their advertising rates, I suppose. It matters not that they read pure garbage, spout pure garbage and in every other way behave like the kind of no-hopers who have few future employment prospectives unless they can round up enough other losers to get elected.
Other than giving updates to off-island libertarians who - until a week or two ago - saw the island as a small oasis of sanity within the British Isles I doubt I will get animated enough to worry either.
In fact, it would probably be hypocritical for me to intervene anyway. I long ago accepted that the Manx democratic process is a lie, that Manx civil servants in reality only ever 'work' for those who make it worth their while and therefore that Manx laws or regulation which cannot be enforced never are.
Ho hum. Business as usual then.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Butt ugly

Yesterday, necessity brought us to the heart of the Manx third world, i.e. Strand Street, Douglas.
On principle, usually only two things cause me to venture to Douglas these days. One is paid work, the other is meetings related to what you might term good works. Those apart, I really see no reason to dwell in the heart of darkness any more. Almost everything colourful, unique or interesting has been closed or knocked down in a redevelopment blitzkreig that began in the late 1980's.
The latest excuse for the dead-eyed air of the place is a supposed move away from local shops (or even just real world retail outlets staffed by real people) and on to the internet, but this is a lie and the problem is much older.
It began 25 or so years ago, when urban planners decided the area needed regenerating to stop it looking like every other Northern seaside town at the peak of Thatcherism. Inevitably, the “solution” was also Thatcherite and involved winkling every small family business out of their property or tenancy, then replacing them with soul-less shopping centres whose “key tenants” would be major UK retailers, working on the theory that once these were in (rent free for years if necessary) smaller retailers and new local businesses would follow.
We now know how well that worked. With proper planning and a little research into the theory and practice of the socio-economic model they were using, the planners could have too. Or perhaps they always have known, and also know, like career Thatcherites, that the real beauty of free market urban redevelopment is that it is a job for life. The scam works, very simply, on the basis that most businesses simply fail while even the successful and well planned ones have a predetermined shelf life, but that regional governments must always be seen to understand and be managing such change, rather than being as frightened and confused by all the strange noises and flashing lights as their most ignorant ratepayers.
But, returning to yesterday.... all three of us had outstanding gift vouchers which could only be cashed in at Douglas-based major retailers, so we held our noses and dived in for an hour or two.
In the past, we usually take a break halfway through, grab a sandwich from one of the genuine local businesses and munch it on a bench in Regent Street before continuing. But yesterday we discovered, to our horror, that even the newish tramp-unfriendly Regent Street benches had been removed in favour of.....
I still shudder now at the brutalism of the replacement grey slabs of undulating concrete - nominally intended as seating. The latest monstrosities are of a kind seen only in 1930's fascist public art, regional British 1960's shopping centres and Manx millennialist kitsch. Off-island readers who need a reference point could try the current Jonathan Meades TV series in which, in his usual straight-faced style, he deconstructs such horrors and all the screwed up venal, totalitarian scheming which caused them while, nominally, reclaiming them as “good architecture”.
The sheer ugliness (disguised as “function over form”) and impracticality of the new seating area had me idly wondering if T. Dan Smith has distant relatives (or at least admirers) amongst the Manx “redevelopment” fraternity. I also wonder if Douglas Degeneracy Parsnips have shares in Amazon. If not, why else are they so set on making Douglas town centre – 25 years ago a decent if unadventurous example of a typical Northern seaside main drag – so ugly that nobody but the blind can bear to be in it in broad daylight, or while not so legless that they never notice or care what it looks, smells and sounds like?
Answers on a seaside postcard to...well, frankly anybody but me. I neither care nor want to know about a centre of excrement I need not even pass close by unless somebody pays me to do so.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Smoke, mirrors and dog-whistles

Now this (see http://www.isleofman.com/News/details/61583/smoking-ban-in-cars ) is one debate in the Wedding Cake madhouse I might actually follow next week.
It will be a litmus test, firstly of who in the House actually bothers to research health issues and secondly whether the Liberal Vannin project is finally dead in the water – or should at least have the decency to drop the world 'liberal' from their name.
If your only references to this smoking in cars issue are the BBC and some of what are laughingly described as 'serious' newspapers you won't have a clue. So try reading Chris Snowdon at http://velvetgloveironfist.blogspot.com/ and Dick Puddlecote at http://dickpuddlecote.blogspot.com/ to get the real back story.
Also, you need to know that when the BMA first peddled this atrocious bit of 'research' to the press and TV three years ago the BBC had to take down the original piece within hours and every newspaper which used it printed a retraction in the next issue. This was because the BMA spokesman 'forgot' to mention that the research was a computer model (not a physical experiment) based on a stationary vehicle with the engine and air conditioning off and all the windows closed. In other words, a hypothetical situation which was not physically possible in the real world.
Despite those numerous, often badly placed, retractions after the original story, the only 'results' from the 'experiment' that have since been quoted by the BMA , various state-funded 'public health' bodies and tub-thumping populist MPs are the sensational (and physically impossible) ones. While I am a lifelong non-smoker I think it important to point this out.
For one thing because the demonisation of any subculture without objective proof of harm or wrongdoing is simply not on.
For another because it is a worrying sign that a self-interested pressure group is persuading politicians to introduce measures which weaken the family and interfere with the ability of responsible parents to raise children in a decent, life-affirming way (not to mention giving police and other government agencies increasing power to barge into people's houses on the off-chance of catching them doing something that Stepford stiffs don't like).
A pressure group of Stepforders, by the way, which is often dishonest, increasingly even worse educated than their predecessors, but who gain jobs for life and fat final salary pensions when their complaints are taken at face value.
Having once briefly been at the same workplace as Zac Hall, back when he was earning money for flying lessons, I have serious doubts about him. He was a bit of an automaton even then, and nothing in his political 'career' has caused me to think he has loosened up since.
The tests will be (1) if Hall wants the statement in order to see fair, open and informed debate or if this is just another dog-whistle issue he thinks will get him elected again and (2) if his fellow MHKs (and especially Liberal Vannin) will cluck like headless chickens until the state grants itself yet more powers to kick in doors and pester grown adults doing things they have (unlike Manx politicians)made informed choices to do, responsibly and without bothering anyone else.
If the answers are 'No' and 'Yes' respectively then the only honourable thing for Liberal Vannin to do is disband or rename, and the only sensible thing the public can do is to happily and relentlessly disobey and mock such a cretinous piece of legislation until the police find something more useful to do.