Taking the biscuit

At the beginning of Marcel Proust’s very long book In Search of Lost Time the narrator bites into a biscuit, which evokes a memory of one long lost moment, which sets off a chain of others, which goes on for six volumes of some 700 pages each. It’s a book so obsessed with small detail that at one point the author devotes a page and a half just to turning over in bed.

I’m just getting over a Proustian moment. To be precise, one rude, short but otherwise quickly discarded reminder of something past on Saturday was followed soon after by me finally succumbing to a chest infection and spending two days in bed unable to even turn over.

If A had not been followed by B I might have briefly blogged on Saturday that a pompous village idiot had been a pompous village idiot and left it at that. But as I had to retire to bed before I could even get a chance to turn on my PC, and didn’t emerge again until this morning, the incident nagged until, eventually, in a Freudian insight worthy of Proust I realised that this PVI’s behaviour years ago is the core reason for my total contempt of Manx government and pillars of the community ever since.

But I’m rushing to finish – hardly the Proustian method.

To take things a step at a time ….. on Saturday I had just finished packing and paying for my shopping in a busy supermarket and, to help keep the queue moving, pushed my trolley over to an aisle to put my wallet away. Within seconds, a belligerent voice behind me was screaming “Excuse ME”. Turning to find out what the problem was, I saw a ghastly, red-faced creature wearing the T-shirt of one of the island’s most dishonest and grasping charities.

Now, anyone of even average intelligence would have seen that (a) I was standing there to put my wallet away rather than inconvenience other shoppers and (b) there was a good 20 feet between me and the till through which a blind man could have safely driven a bus to get out of the door, which was presumably what the creature wanted. The T-shirt alone signalled this was not someone of even average intelligence, the red face suggested some mental disturbance, and in addition I actually recognised it from the 1980’s, when for a while I was on the local youth and community centre management committee.

Two stories will suffice to outline the problem.

Firstly, on that committee we tried very hard to make the place into a genuine community centre. The problem was that by law the two local members of the Board of Education had to be on the committee, and in turn they insisted that a local teacher also sat on it. While the youth workers were as keen as the rest of us to get genuine community groups into the building the two Board of Education members regarded any group not firmly under the thumb of government as “political” and made sure the B of E refused them. The teacher and youth workers were powerless to resist. This was their employer, after all.

The two B of E members also had another strange obsession. If there was some momentous event at the club we inevitably had to invite government figures to witness it. When arranging such events, the B of E members were totally disinterested in any detail (or offering any practical assistance) apart from checking if enough alcohol had been ordered for the government guests. They insisted that without alcohol the government would not come, and it would not be a proper event.

This was not true. Both the town MHKs sat on the committee and agreed with us that alcohol was not an appropriate example for young people, but the B of E owned the building and insisted. So alcohol was procured, and the B of E and other bigwigs got drunk and went home without once interacting with kids, parents or the rest of the community.

I could go on and on with such examples (e.g. these were the people who, at every interview for a job under their control, had just two questions, “Are you married” and “What church do you attend”), but why bother?

From such examples of sheer, self-serving cretinism I learnt how Manx government departments actually work – i.e. against common sense, against the needs or wishes of the public and totally for the benefit of those who hold the power. And this was even in the days before the Board became a fully fledged Government Department and Board members were – at least nominally – elected. In practice public disinterest meant that the places were rarely (if ever) contested, and even if they were friends in government could be relied on to ensure “undesirable” candidates were eliminated.

The link to Saturday is that the rude PVI was one of the Board members, and that even after the Department got so autocratic it cancelled the largely sham elections and openly (though behind closed doors and without ever releasing the potential names) chose members to “represent the public interest” that PVI continued to damage young lives for well over a decade.

As I know from elsewhere, it is a practice now followed by other government departments. To my knowledge, only one vital government department doesn’t work that way. And, sadly, it isn’t even the one which deals with law and order, which is probably one of the worst. For example, the sham “choice” of members of the Board of Prison Visitors (the body charged in law with independently assessing prisons). Theoretically the choice is by the serving members after interview, in practice it is by the DHA, (which is riddled with evangelical nut-jobs and paranoid about the Human Rights Act), without interview, and sometimes appointing people who have not even applied.

Two days in bed dwelling on this? One of which was the first day of my holiday? I’d rather have had a biscuit. But at least I haven’t obsessed at true Proustian length either.

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?

A welcome refugee

So, what did you do this morning?

Me? I’m just back from Douglas, where I was speaking to a Syrian refugee.

No, you did not misread that. I was in Douglas, though it isn’t a work day, and I was speaking to a Syrian refugee, even though our infinitely wise government has decided the Isle of Man cannot take Syrian refugees. Can I also add that the refugee did not seem to be having a problem adjusting to Manx culture (though to be fair he is being hosted and helped by some of our most cultured citizenry)?

He was Baraa Essay Kouja, the founder of the charity From Syria With Love (see http://fromsyriawithlove.com/ ), which I blogged about a couple of weeks ago. The occasion was a private presentation by Baraa on the work of that charity, which is pretty inspirational – especially given that every official body you can imagine seems to want to hinder it.

Can you believe, for example, that FSWL had the greatest difficulty getting UK charitable status, and that every one of the UK high street banks has refused to give them a bank account, citing money-laundering risks as an excuse? Given the involvement of (oh, let’s take some random examples) HSBC, Barclays, Natwest and Lloyds in ensuring deals by the British arms industry are quietly routed through third countries before their deadly product reaches African and Middle Eastern dictator customers, (then to be used on unarmed civilians – in many cases in the same countries), or HSBC’s selfless work in propping up South American drug cartels then that is a bit of a bad joke.

Anyway, this morning was far more pleasant. Due to another appointment, I squeezed in at the back 10 minutes late and missed the introduction, but still caught most of Manx Gaelic choir Caarjyn Cooidjagh‘s performance (with the former – and last serious – Minister for Overseas Development singing inconspicuously in the back row). Baraa then made his presentation, with some video and photographic material, and we were then all free to look around the exhibition proper.

And that was also when I got a chance of a few words with Baraa. As a trained journalist and NUJ member in good faith, I know every malignant troll and throwback in the British Isles will write this off as “fake news” if I did not ask him, so, no, he is not receiving benefits, and, no, he didn’t actually plan to be in the UK or a refugee, and certainly doesn’t see it as a better, or more economically attractive, life. It’s just that as the Syrian government want to kill him for helping refugees in Lebanon it would be a little unwise for him to go home before the bombing stops, and Western governments have put some kind of muzzle on their psychopathic friend, the Syrian president.

Oh, and I still have my wallet too. All that is missing from it is the money used to buy several copies of a book with pictures by kids from four refugee camps. One copy is now in Ramsey Town Library (and the librarian was very pleased to get it), and a second copy will be in my daughter’s school library on Monday.

Speaking of my daughter – I am also the proud owner of a picture by a girl just one year younger than her, who lives in one of the camps and has ambitions to be a journalist (or at least I will be once the exhibition is over and the pictures taken down).

I cannot deny my daughter her dreams. How could I not help another girl with a dream, currently facing far more obstacles because her government would happily kill her (while ours is just too clueless or idle to ensure mine has adequate teachers, text books and other educational facilities)?

Manx education – a contradiction in terms

A couple of days ago, when two teachers took seriously my daughter’s concerns about a mouthy homophobe in her class, had a quiet word with the lad and caused him to apologise, I was almost ready to rethink my long-term opinion of the Manx education system. And as a parent, there are days when you worry about it. And then there are days, like today, when you more than worry. On those, you just go ballistic at the sheer cretinism of those running it.

Because today my daughter came home from school with the news that the town’s most notorious sexist, homophobic throwback is going to be giving sex education lessons. Apparently this will be OK because not only is he a clergyman, but also a prison chaplain. Though if we want to be quite accurate, he is neither of those things either.

He has no training in theology (no surprise as he can barely read or write), and only inherited the job of pastor at the town’s batshit-crazy Pentecostal outfit when his predecessor was finally put away for sex with underage girls.

Officially, he isn’t a prison chaplain either. His denomination is not one of the three with a right in law to appoint one, and has made no case to the prison service to do so. Instead, he slipped in on the back of another evangelical outfit’s “prison rehabilitation” scheme as an unofficial prison visitor. I say unofficial because there is a government scheme whereby about half a dozen prison visitors are appointed by a committee, and they haven’t interviewed or approved him either.

But it gets worse.

Firstly, this freak was one of the church elders who helped in the cover-up of his predecessor’s behaviour. Their actions included going round to the families of victims to tell them that if they ever testified in court not only would they be thrown out of the church, but unable to work on the island or live without harassment in any island community.

Secondly, when one of his star pupils got a girl pregnant and she wouldn’t marry him, the pastor went into her workplace (a local chip shop) to denounce her in front of the Friday night queue, and had to be thrown off the premises. Imagine that – a man of the cloth who has to be barred from a chip shop for anti-social behaviour.

Thirdly, when the Manx government held a public consultation on the advisability of allowing same sex marriage a couple of years back, his was one of the most virulent, repulsive responses – even amongst the collection of knuckle-dragging neanderthals who run a variety of breakaway cults attracting no more than two men and a dog , having been deemed too weird for any of the major denominations.

He is, in short, someone too dangerous and stupid ever to be allowed into the same room as children or vulnerable adults. Yet, because both the prison service and education department are riddled with incompetence and ignorance, not only is he allowed to do both, but getting paid from public funds.

If I thought the Education Minister could read and write I’d complain. But I can’t remember a literate one in almost three decades. So what would be the point?

Looking on the bright side, at least this piece of human effluent will serve one useful function. As they do whenever an evangelical is sent to the school, my daughter and her friends are going to have enough material to keep them in hysterics for weeks.

Though I still wish the head teacher – or whoever chooses such chumps – had enough common sense to find at least one rational adult who might actually be capable of educating, informing or inspiring young people for a change.

Sometimes the good guys still win

A picture of a stunningly beautiful girl at a university graduation popped up in my Facebook feed yesterday, which caused me to think about a number of things, and also to celebrate the fact that at least one of my old friends never lost his ideals and, yet, has won against all the odds.

The girl was the daughter of a university class mate of mine, Clive, and the picture was posted by the proud parents. Though some of our background was different, we had a few things in common – especially an interest in practical political action rather than abstract theory, talked often, and graduated on the same day.

Clive is black, grew up in a Jehovah’s Witness family and escaped it to study. At the same time he joined the Socialist Workers Party, and most of the time he wasn’t in class he was at SWP or anti-racist meetings, selling papers, or picketing alongside the workforces of many a public or private sector scumbag employer.

Like a few others I knew at the time, he brought that hands-on experience to the classroom and argued every middle class student (and a few lecturers) to a standstill in seminars. Though we disagreed about the SWP as the favoured “vehicle for change” we did share a contempt for the way such privileged kiddies drifted into college, would drift on into safe careers and would never, ever, know what it is to struggle for what you want or need – or even have to think about it in many cases. Clive was almost equally contemptuous of his fellow black students who eschewed politics in favour of safe careers in government underwritten and controlled “community projects”.

After graduation, we never saw each other again and, if I’m honest, until we encountered each other on Facebook a couple of years back thanks to a mutual friend I was too wrapped up in my own struggles against dark forces to wonder what happened to him. I knew he married an SWP “comrade” during his graduation year and they both went into some sort of public sector work, but that was about it.

From what I now know, Clive and his wife stayed with the SWP and will have been involved at grassroots level with every bitter fight to protect the NHS, education and the rest of what we used to call the Welfare State. Because of such political activism, both will have been unofficially blacklisted for even public sector management jobs, and on principle will never even have applied for jobs with the kind of private/third sector parasites who have taken over traditional public sector work. Thus, they never got on the property ladder and still live in a council house, and their children went to schools in less affluent areas. But, as yesterday’s photo shows, those kids have known since birth how much good education and health matter and not to waste them.

That photograph is a little reminder that decent people do still exist, do fight back against power and privilege, and do raise decent kids who will go on to do the same. From the moral and intellectual vacuum in which, of necessity, I have to earn my living for a few more years such examples matter.

Hate t(w)o laugh, but….

People assume that because I am publically associated with moral issues and campaigns for social change I must be a do-gooder. Sadly, no. The truth is I am not sure why I make the effort when so few of my age or younger do.

Certainly not from any “commitment” to humanity. I can think of a few humans locally who should be committed – preferably for life to some sort of institution with padded cells – but that is a different matter, and they never concern me enough to try and get them put away.

Possibly out of sheer amusement. Anything which winds up a puritan is fine by me, and if there is a drink or some buns in it, all the better.

What happens, though, when professional Christians seriously want to do the right thing, yet apparently remain clueless of their church’s own teachings and actions?

All of which takes me back to the topic of my last post – the irony of the cathedral organising a vigil for victims of the Orlando massacre.

Not being a “person of faith” I have not the foggiest how their funny little minds somehow reconcile the many outright contradictions of their church teachings.

Now, if I worked for the organisation which campaigned for people of my sexual orientation in African countries to be executed (then condemned as “un-Christian” the presidents of those countries for blocking such legislation) I would think twice about organising an event to mourn the victims of some freelance religious nut who couldn’t wait for a government to do the job. But despite me pointing out the overwhelming evidence of Manx Christian homophobia in the response to a 2014 government consultation on equal marriage, it appears a junior employee of Anglicanism PLC still doesn’t get it.

At which point I walk away from the discussion, crying with laughter. If this is the quality of C of E junior management, I may as well stand back and watch the institution self-destruct. I am not even trying to cause trouble here.

Though earlier I also forgot to mention a further joke on a similar theme at http://www.manx.net/isle-of-man-news/79523/steam-packet-assists-with-delivery-of-sculpture-for-knockaloe-gardens.

Here we see further attempts to sell the cathedral as some sort of human rights education project. Given the firm’s policies on human rights elsewhere, it seems to me the last place on the island kids should be taken to be warned about the dangers of genocide. Or am I just biased? After all, unlike most of the Manx public, I actually research and worry about such things.

The story is made funnier if I reveal that the current chairman of Culture Vannin is the former publicity officer for IOMSPC. On retiring, he went into politics, quickly proved so inept that the electorate rejected him and was promptly kicked upstairs with the island’s bishop and other unwanted obstacles to Manx civilisation and democracy. He is one of two Members of Legislative Council (excluding the bishop) whose Christian unconsciousness demands they oppose all legislative attempts to end prejudice or religious privilege.

Incidentally, if or when that “education project” takes off I wonder if there will be anything there on Bishop Wilson’s treatment of Quakers and other religious dissenters in the 18th century. Doubt it somehow. Look up Bishop Thomas Wilson, and you will soon see why.

Genocide, like everything else, starts at home, folks.

Classroom comedy capers

A brochure for the local Further Education college dropped through my door last week, and I am still laughing.

As it happens, I approve of FE colleges, and I certainly approve of those people, born with few advantages, who are unable to get away to university or walk straight into a job with good prospects at 18 and who use them to slowly but surely pull themselves up in the world. I also like those whose daily existence is necessarily dull as ditch-water, but who still set out to widen their understanding of the world. When I was younger, I was surrounded by people who worked by day or night in coal mines and steel works, but who still read widely, painted, played, sung or acted in amateur groups. In addition, institutions like the WEA were still going strong, and in turn led to a wider take-up of night-classes in stuff we now hardly know about.

Somewhere around Thatcherism the idea of a liberal arts education went out of fashion, and educational establishments were supposed to rebrand their courses as entertainment products … or something. In the Isle of Man, as I remember, this happened around 1990. The result was that the only people doing any night-classes (outside of folk with day-jobs doing shorthand or accounts because finance sector employers hate day-release) were bored middle class and middle aged types, or wealthier retirees. To be honest, divorcees and others with ailing (or non-existent) sex lives also found them a great place to scout for partners.

The inevitable result (when mixed with the island’s propensity for attracting cash-strapped eccentrics as new residents) was that the course tutors, students and subjects got ever wierder as anyone vaguely employable, shaggable or just capable of getting through the day without strong medication and professional help did other things.

One other development was that a generation of folk who, previous to that, enjoyed a sheltered (and financially subsidised) existence within church groups were put on to a great scam by fellow-worshippers then still employed at the college. The scam went like this….

Having problems attracting believers to your prayer group? Faced with a heating bill for your big draughty church if you even run a prayer group?

Why not reinvent your prayer group as a night class, use your mates in the Education Department to get it on the college prospectus, then clean up? Providing you enrol enough punters (easy job, just tell them non-attenders will go to hell) you get an upfront fee as a tutor, and as long as you hit the minimum weekly number the money keeps rolling in.

And if they don’t turn up? Just fiddle your class registration sheet. With nobody but the college caretaker and canteen lady working after 5 PM, who will ever know?

This might explain how, for years, one church minister ran an introduction to theology class at public expense, not only collecting the fees he used to get from his congregation when he ran it at home (plus saving on heating, tea and coffee), but also money from the Education Department and a bogus CV entry as a college lecturer… which in turn proved useful when he fled the island and set up shop in another country without an extradition treaty.

This might also explain how a bogus ‘drug and alcohol counselling’ outfit run by one of the UK’s most notoriously homophobic religious pressure groups can still afford a Manx worker.

Previously, the group relied on a steady stream of income as ‘drug counsellors’ thanks to their closeness to the evangelical founders of the Chief Minister’s Task Force on Alcohol and Drugs. After some disastrous ‘workshops’ where they were openly mocked by teenagers, they started running them for ‘concerned parents’ instead, still with government subsidy.

Then their friend in government was moved to another department. Then the Task Force itself fell apart after one too many screw-ups caused their findings in a Europe-wide survey into teenage drug habits to suggest that the island had more teenage cokeheads than, say, the entire South-East of England. Then even the most gullible concerned parents started wondering why, exactly, they were paying money for swivel-eyed loons to tell them that if their kids were gay or having sex before marriage they would burn in hell.

So now, with no other options on the table, they have teamed up with others rendered unemployable by the collapse of a drug strategy that was always too dumb to work and the last chancers from that project (currently funded by an informal sin tax on the online betting industry, which will soon be lost because, frankly, that industry no longer needs to play nice). Together, this bumbling collection of amateurs and spook-fanciers will rerun the sessions previously offered to gullible parents, this time as two one-night sessions on spotting substance abuse in kids.

As all their ‘facts’ are based on common drug myths from the 1970’s and they generally run out of material in about 10 minutes it would almost be worth paying to watch them.

Oh, we already have.