Sunday, 26 October 2014

Toilet training

This story (see ) 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 ) 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 ( ) :
"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 , one of their UK products is called Selincro (generic name nalmefene).
And from the website of NICE , 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 ), 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 ), 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 and the full conference agenda at ). 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-√†-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.