War on pap

This may sound harsh, but I’m sick of the media reports and popular chat about the Manchester bombing, and twice as irritated by the displays of flowers and heart-shaped balloons.

All those upbeat stories and vapid promises that the community will come together and won’t let this beat them? It won’t, and there was no community in the first place. That’s why people WHO LIVE THERE did it.

If you want community spirit, look at any city in Syria, where an incident like this is business as usual – on a quiet day. Look at all the other sectarian bomb attacks on rival Muslim communities or Christians throughout the Middle East in the last week.

Oh but of course, you can’t. Because the UK media has been so obsessed with Manchester it hasn’t found time to report them. And could it also be that the most recent unreported attacks would reflect badly on UK or US links to those perpetrating them?

But it wasn’t until I noticed that a TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s brilliant The Handmaid’s Tale starts tonight that I really thought this through and recognised something else. The terrorists have failed, not because Brits are strong enough to get over such attacks, but because they don’t even value the victims.

The thing is, this was an attack on contemporary Western culture, i.e. pop culture. Now pop culture (much to the annoyance of indie and “serious” rock fans) may well revolve around 13 year old girls, but it doesn’t actually like them. It just values them as consumers – or more precisely their ability to demand product from their parents.

That whole “princess” thing about daughters is a myth. As I keep discovering when talking to other parents, boys are valued, but for most lower middle class families girls are at best domestic workhorses to help around the house while they grow up, then married off ASAP.

And what is this strange 21st century obsession in such families for girls to learn to dance or sing? Witness the endless stream of girls from loser families who can sing a bit on talent shows. Even through the TV screen you can almost smell the desperation. If the audition doesn’t go well it’s back to the lottery and scratch cards.

Can you – seriously – imagine such families pouring all their resources into a girl who wanted to be, say, a scientist? Come to think of it, can you even imagine a bookshelf in the house?

And that attitude doesn’t just run through sink estates. It has long ceased to surprise me how, even in the wealthiest families, the choice of a daughter’s university is determined by the opportunities to socialise and marry into the right family, and not the chance of gaining top class tuition and rising quicker in a chosen profession.

Which is why I think the terrorists got it all wrong. They were trying a form of psychological warfare which in Muslim culture goes back all the way to Hassan i-Sabbah and the Assassins….. but they miscalculated.

Hassan i-Sabbah’s strategy enabled a small force to prevail over a much stronger one by striking unexpectedly and in a devastating way which so shocked the enemy that it lost heart. The point was to prove that you were not only invincible, but prepared to do nightmarish things to win. It was a way of keeping your own casualties to the minimum, and not even necessarily inflicting any on the enemy while absolutely terrifying them in the process.

For example, one fabled Assassin tactic (which often followed months quietly working your way into the enemy camp) was to leave a dagger dipped in poison on the pillow of the enemy commander or prince. The next day you sent him a note telling him to surrender.

For more contemporary examples, consider the films before the second Gulf War of Iraqi guards in bizarre training rituals that involved things like eating dogs. To Western observers this was plain weird, but for Muslims who regard dogs as haram to see fellow Muslims crazed enough to do this it would have been alarming.

There is also the Boko Haram capture of Nigerian schoolgirls for conversion and sale as sex slaves. It worked by striking right at the heart of everything the “enemy” held dear. These were girls with dreams of growing up and becoming teachers or doctors. Girls loved and supported in those dreams not just by their families but whole communities.

But it won’t work here because (sigh) while Brits pretend to indulge and put little girls on pedestals they do not actually like them very much. Especially when they stop being cute and try to act like adults.

No, if ISIS were really serious, and better informed, they’d have bombed Crufts. Or maybe they should find a way to hack all those fluffy kitten clips on You-Tube.

Or maybe not. Mistreat a dog in the UK and there’ll be a petition to bring back the death penalty. Child abuse? Mainstream Britain doesn’t even acknowledge it, unless it can be pinned on someone who is neither white nor Christian.

Any day now, any way now, I shall be released

As of yesterday, six years and 256 days of servitude remain before I can rejoin the real world. Or at least, what is left of what I remember as the real world. When Ian Brady died earlier this week, I couldn’t help thinking that most child murderers get lighter sentences.

And what did I do to deserve this? What heinous crime caused me to be tied to a PC for 35 hours a week, surrounded by room temperature intellect drones, all wittering on incessantly about home lives almost as tedious as those in the soaps and reality TV they watch?

Well, it is true that until I was 40 I scrupulously avoided office work – or indeed being around chain-store suited drudges with newish cars, mortgages and the like. It is also true that I mocked such tomfoolery, and was sometimes paid to do so.

This was not from malice or vindictiveness. I simply found such dullards hilarious, and had no interest in joining them. Shortly before the year 2000 my luck ran out, and I had to. And that was that; the start of a sentence with hard labour which I try to bear with fortitude and good humour.

In my defence, when a libertine I had no interest in making life miserable for anyone, often going out of my way to spread some joy around – as I still try to do. Such a refusal to take life seriously seems to be a contributing factor in the sentencing. To be fair, even though I keep a straight face at work and do all I am asked to, it must be pretty obvious to the massed ranks of middle managers that I do not take them, the job, or indeed the entire financial services industry seriously.

But there is a vital difference between my deadpan humour and the forced hilarity of the workplace.

I do not impose my humour on anyone. I do not shout alleged jokes across the office, or shriek like a banshee in response to some Ronsealed harpie who does. I certainly never impose my seniority in order to compel laughter at thinly disguised bullying of more vulnerable workmates.

All this I do not do, I suppose, because I am a sixties child. I still remember people who went to university, not to study accountancy, but as the first step towards blowing away grey conformism and making the world more interesting. So, way back in the early 1980’s there was nothing about the new and brutal Tory culture then emerging to like, and I never did. Then in the 1990’s, when the dominant culture became so nuanced that it was – supposedly – possible to like Indie CDs at nights and raves at the weekend but turn up early at some awful office complex each Monday, I still was not fooled.

And so it goes. Still pained by successive generations of forty year old teenagers (it works both ways round: think about it) with no real ambition except to own a newer, bigger, uglier car and house.

Waynes and Sharons give way to Ryans and Chantelles. A newer generation Ford assembled in Europe and not the UK, clothes from designer C-listers made by even younger kids in even remoter countries, identikit houses assembled by Polish and Bulgarian (rather than Irish) temporary labour.

A curse on all of this. And a sentence which – for me at least – ends now in six years and 255 days.

I feel better already. Until Monday, when at least it will only be six years 253 days.

The Education Department is unwell

Hmm, happening again, isn’t it? My failure to achieve a blog a week, I mean.

It is hardly for lack of material. To be honest, it was more because I wanted to think about anything except http://www.iomtoday.co.im/article.cfm?id=33383, having been involved since the first complaint to a politician. Eventually, I am unable to tear myself away or to cure my compulsion to go and punch a wall in sheer frustration at the idiocy of our Education Department.

I get particularly angry at the ministerial statement that; “Scripture Union delivers Lovelife but with no religion in it”. Even for those Christians who can believe in transubstantiation this would be a bit of a stretch.

I refer any interested readers to the main Scripture Union website in the UK, which has boasted for several years that switching from visiting schools to offer specifically religious services (such as leading worship at assemblies) to pitching to provide secular educational curriculum items has led to increased opportunities to evangelise in schools.

In the time I have had personal reasons to worry about such matters, SUMT(Scripture Union Ministries Trust) has been employed by the Manx Education Department to deliver three such programs. In addition to Lovelife, these were a joint living history experience with Manx Heritage to recreate the lives of mediaeval monks at Rushen Abbey and a transition program for children moving up from junior to high schools.

No objective observer of any of the three who has spoken to me considered them as even barely adequate. The transition program, in particular, has been a disaster, the full scale of which will only be known to the Samaritans, Childline, a few dedicated teachers and youth workers and the island’s mental health services (if the last named can be said to exist either).

It is also irritating that this increased evangelising is at taxpayer expense and not, as before, voluntary activity ultimately paid for by Christians who happen to believe it desirable.

It is even more irritating that SUMT are providing tuition in topics of which they have no more specialist knowledge than any passing member of the public. Indeed, a major part of the problem which such education was supposed to address in the first place is the blinkered views of evangelical Christians.

What part of this is the Education Department having trouble with? Can I suggest they set it as an English comprehension test in schools, in which case hundreds of local kids could help them to the right answer?

We may have moved on from a situation where, in 1999, the island demonstrably provided the worst RE tuition in the British Isles to one where children have a reasonable chance of learning something of major world religions. But this mostly happened because non-Christians were finally able to play some part in RE and curriculum planning – despite an education act which is hardly more fit for purpose now than it was when superficial changes to RE provision were introduced.

While we still have a ludicrous situation where the chair of the Education Department’s REAC (Religious Education Advisory Council) is appointed by a church in another country rather than the Manx government, and children are legally required to attend the odd act of communal Christian worship which is of no relevance to almost all, even I would be prepared to admit some improvement.

The most useful one might have been that evangelicals who used to regard it as their right to enter schools freely and harangue children have found it harder to do so. Sad, then, that at a stroke all the advances of the last 15 years have been reversed.

But then the Minister quoted is no MENSA hopeful. He actually entered government after failing as a postman, and his first act upon being given a government post in another department was to try and close the island’s two main post offices, sell them off to developers and, in the process, put former colleagues close to retirement out of a job and rob them of their government pensions.

Oddly enough, the previous Education Minister was also a failed postie, and now I think of it I cannot recall any Manx Education Minister with a university degree.

But back to the main story….

In the business world, people who do not deliver a service do not get paid. In the case of the Education Department parents pay upfront for a service that is not delivered, then the Education Department compounds the error by paying outside agents who also do not deliver.

It seems we now have to deal with this by teaching our children to be patient and polite when trapped in a classroom with people whose understanding of the world is so obviously limited. In this case, as the only benefit seems to be to the alleged teacher (who for all I know might get some therapeutic value) I would have thought there is a reasonable case for the pupils being paid to sit through them, rather than the current arrangement, which certainly brings no benefit to any pupil, and may well do further harm to the troubled ones.

But two questions still remain.

(1) When is the Education Department going to provide the sex education classes which have become vital because of the pig-ignorance of the type of swivel-eyed loon now being employed to teach them?

(2) If they are not, when are they planning to refund parents for a service not delivered?

Charity ends at work

Ah well, a bank holiday instead of a day at work on Monday. Thank goodness for that.

Because it is so bad at The Unpleasantness that most days I never know whether to take instruction from one of our perpetually multiplying “line managers” or check if their nappies are full. The saying “Too many chiefs and not enough Indians” hardly covers it. Everyone around me seems to be (mis)managing like their lives depend upon it.

The most worrying thing is that somebody else’s might. Though as nobody is encouraged (or even allowed) to be aware of a world beyond the spread-sheet they currently check we will never know about that. They probably think Myopia is one of the lesser known offshore tax havens.

But I shouldn’t be so disparaging of these lovely folk. Why, only yesterday they proudly announced their latest corporate charity scheme.

In a nutshell, this is that people should walk or run about more, monitor themselves and ask others to sponsor them for doing so, and the most prolific over-exercisers (rather than fund-raisers) will get prizes. For an office overrun by sharp-elbowed, cretinously competitive sports nazis, turning the need to appear charitable into a competition was seen as the perfect solution.

It got even sillier when one of the jocks suggested that, in order to get the miles up, the company should hire an exercise bike so that the numpties can pedal in their lunch hour. This will cost in the region of £100 per week, plus there is the logistic problem of what every other lycra-clad lummock does for the hour once the first has nabbed the bike.

Neither was it explained how a finite number of people in a workforce can each sponsor the other or (more importantly) how anybody knows that the exercisers aren’t just lying. Be honest, if your profession is accountancy – and specifically hiding income from tax authorities – would you ever be capable of NOT lying, or of accepting any figure a workmate quoted you as true?

Anyway, in due time we can be sure that a number of smug faces will be photographed holding one of those massive cheques with a figure plucked out of thin air written on it. That happy picture will then appear in the local press, discreetly distanced from the advertisement for our services, thus negating the idea that offshore finance ruins lives.

Corpse-kicking for Jesus

A Scottish friend drew my attention to a recent letter in the Oban Times by one Donald Morrison, who comes across as a major league retard, even by the notoriously low standards of Scottish Calvinism.

Morrison took the hump because someone had the audacity to organise a humanist funeral in Inverness, so spent about a page ranting in the local press about it. He claimed people who attended thought it the worst funeral they’d been to. He presents as a compulsive fabulist, so I assume he’s lying about that, and is using any weak excuse to (effectively) attack a dead person, their family and friends at a sad time.

Even for a god-bothering small town throwback this fool is offensive. He spends whole paragraphs whingeing because his god, sin, heaven and hell weren’t mentioned once, neither was his favoured collection of fairy tales, and nobody prayed. Shock horror.

He then rants on for another couple of paragraphs because the funeral celebrated the deceased’s life instead of dwelling on death and salivating about it. Finally he attributes a fictitious book to Nietzsche before saying that a popular joke (”God is dead: Nietzsche/ Nietzsche is dead: God”) appeared as graffiti days after Nietzsche died, when any fool knows it was little more than an icebreaker used by teachers in the 1960s to introduce fourth formers to some basic philosophy.

In a town where everyone must have known about the funeral, one feels for the friends and relatives of the deceased this boor insulted. The island suffers from thoughtless, fundamentalist cretins, but even they would not stoop to this.

Idiots like Morrison should stick to things they actually know about – like molesting sheep. I’m the last one for censorship, and generally love it when such religiots put their wellies in their mouths and give us all a good laugh. But in my days as a journo for small local papers even I would have thought twice before allowing them to denigrate the recently dead.

Retail in need of therapy

This (see http://www.isleofman.com/News/details/82530/a-boards-not-permitted-in-borough-of-douglas-after-june-30-2017 ) was slipped out quietly by one of the government’s lesser known agencies this week, so will have gone un-noticed, as was the intention. Sorry and all that, but it did NOT slip under my scam detector.

It all sounds so reasonable doesn’t it? Who, after all, could object if blind people say A boards are a hazard?

Except that I doubt if they have. More witless prodnosery would be par for the course with the current generation of government sock puppets, but in this particular case I doubt it.

Activists I speak to have been pointing out issues which prevent disabled people getting out and about in Douglas for decades. The alleged “redevelopment” of Strand Street and surrounding areas should have been the golden opportunity to address such issues, but neither Douglas Council nor Douglas Degeneration Partnership have ever acknowledged receipt of the suggestions or invited them around to see what might be done.

Not once.

So, we can take it for granted there is something else going on.

The thing is, the areas where A boards are found in Strand Street have been the sites of some contention between the remaining small traders and developers for years. Right before the current Marks & Spencer site replaced a block of small shops which were compulsorily purchased and demolished, in fact.

And those A boards advertise little businesses which are tucked away in alleyways and have no front on Strand Street. DDP and the council have been trying to winkle them out for years. Petty harassments over keeping passageways clear, fire or health and safety checks, attempts to hike up rents or rates…. it goes on and on.

There is an obvious motive. If DDP could just clear them out some large corporate might be interested in the site. Except, of course, that because UK shop-based retail is falling apart fast before Amazon and other online buying that is increasingly unlikely.

Sure, Sports Direct, the notorious slave traders, did take over the Strand Street Centre from the insurance company who fronted for the last alleged owners. But if past Manx form is any guide, they won’t be paying rates for a decade anyway. And on the UK Companies Registry their UK branches are registered as “non-trading”, which means they are only taxable somewhere offshore, and my guess is that is not here.

So, finally, the future of Manx retail is in the hands of people who are doing their best to put Manx retailers out of business, in order to hand the areas where they used to serve some useful community purpose over to retailers from elsewhere, who are so busy trying to save their big UK shops they can’t take up the offer anyway.

Going for a song

This little item (see http://www.isleofman.com/News/details/82375/new-york-bound-choir-perfoming-this-weekend ) has been the source of some amusement to me and mine in recent weeks. If I was related to Martin Luther King Junior I might also be very embarrassed – even if the rumours that his family aggressively chase a financial percentage in any scheme involving his name did turn out to have substance.

For various reasons I knew of this sad enterprise (for it is little more than a financial enterprise) some time ago, and can safely say that media reports are a little light on the fuller facts. In brief, this isn’t so much an invitation to take part in a world premiere as a bizarre pyramid crowd-funding scheme, and both Jenkins and Manx socialites have form for this kind of thing.

It goes something like this…..

In the traditional arts model, a composer is commissioned to write a work, and in order to maximise impact obviously wants the best venue and performers for the premiere – which can require a lot of upfront funding if that work is ambitious, involves a lot of performers and only works well in a large venue. More recently, it would be quite normal for the composer or performers to get some sort of TV, DVD and CD deal to lay off those costs. But the management behind Jenkins – whose product sells well in the amateur and semi-pro choir world – found a way to take that even further.

Jenkins has built a reputation for producing safe, middle of the road, vaguely religious waffle to order for public authorities, the Beeb and Arts Council. It’s cheesy enough for any small town mayor to sit through – no controversial themes, no postmodern wierdness, just do-goody topics like World Peace with extensive plagiarisation of the words of religious “thinkers”. It has the added attraction that even a beginner can pick up the tunes in about 5 minutes, so the sheet music sales and performing royalties flowing back from small town choirs are humungous.

Then the Jenkins marketing machine had another wizard wheeze. What if, instead of paying professional singers for the world premiere, you “invite” amateur choirs to do it, then charge them an arm and a leg to perform? You can even take it further than that – having milked one lot for the world or national premieres, why not tender for places on the CD recording too?

So somebody at the IOMCS answered the web call for choirs, and oddly enough somebody in New York wrote back to say that a choir from a place known worldwide only for a tax-avoidance industry had made the shortlist.

Crikey, that must have been a surprise. Almost as surprising as the comparative absence of choristers from poorer countries with top quality amateur classical musical groups like, say, Bulgaria.

Having – of necessity – endured numerous performances by the IOMCS and other local choirs over the years, I would have to say bluntly that if the selection for the NY gig was purely on musical ability they would not have a prayer. Because Manx musical groups prefer to overcome technical shortcomings by sheer numbers and volume, rather than diligent practice.

Ten people singing slightly out of time and tune is obviously and painfully wrong. With 140 wrong, but in roughly identical ways at the same places, the audience will tend to think it’s right – especially if they are not too familiar with the music. On that basis Manx national ensembles are falsely judged “better” than smaller groups, and being both “national” and expensive to join attract socialites of minimal ability (who do nothing to drag standards up but do ensure sufficient funding).

What the local reports also neglect to mention is that (1) the real cost for each participant is around £1500, of which about a third is paid direct to the Carnegie organisers and (2) the performers are not allowed to view either rehearsals or performance of any other item on the concert programme.

But presumably the offer also pulls in more than the choirs, because relatives will pay to go and watch it too. Which is where the next sting comes in, because friends and relatives have to pay for their own concert tickets (prices start about $500) and if they want to come along to the post-gig reception with the singers (who have already paid for that as part of the package) that would be about another $500 – possibly far more depending on what Noo Yawk glitterati are prepared to pay to swan about with the likes of the Luther Kings.

So, to sum up, you go to New York at the height of winter, get herded into two long rehearsals, kicked out again and told not to come back before the night. If at any stage in this a connecting airport is closed, New York is snowed in for a week, etc., you are on your own. Nightmare if you actually have to work for a living and a family to worry about. Minor inconvenience in return for some swanky pics when you have money, time on your hands, and nothing better to do.

But something about it this also reminds me of a scam a senior Manx cleric used to run to pay for his (frequent) foreign holidays. In essence, he struck up a deal with a local travel agent to run tours to the Holy Land, or some traditional UK or European pilgrimage site. For every 10 places on the package holiday the cleric flogged, he got one free. So, 20 and he and the Mrs got a free holiday.

Being connected to charitable and government bodies, he soon branched out, to the extent he was taking maybe half a dozen free foreign holidays a year. Oddly enough, his church and various statutory bodies he chaired managed perfectly well without him, which says something else about the way such organisations work on the Isle of Man.

I hear that invitations to perform, at first restricted only to the richest members of IOMCS, are now being thrown about ever more desperately to a wider circle of less and less musically able (or even interested) punters. It is quite possible that the eventual Manx contingent will entirely consist of tone-deaf wealthy retirees.

It is even more amusing to speculate if (on the same basis as their own concerts) their duff notes will be drowned out by more able singers from elsewhere, or if this is a global phenomenon. In which case I hope at least the sound engineer at the Carnegie recording this for posterity will be a professional and get union rates for the job. If he’s as mercenary as the Jenkins machine he could even make a small fortune on the side flogging unedited versions of the master-tape.