It was 20 years ago today….

Exactly 20 years ago yesterday, my wife and I arrived here with little more than a couple of suitcases and the clothes we stood up in. We had never been happier.

A year and a half later and we were in our own home. No furniture or much else, but we had it, and achieved it without help from anyone. Certainly not from the “government initiatives” which give local panhandlers social and economic advantages over anyone who actually works for a living.

It’s been ….interesting!

I was returning almost a decade later to a place which had a certain charm – despite being a racist, sexist, homophobic backwater. The thing is, (unlike, say, the US) it doesn’t matter if Manx politicians have double digit IQs because nobody has enough power to do serious damage. Far from moving forward, in 1998 things seemed to have gone backwards, to my astonishment and delight.

My wife also quickly learnt to love Manx idiocies. Take, for example, the evangelicals who run “mercy missions” to East Europe or Africa, where their victims fall about laughing at Westerners who barely know how to flush a toilet, yet seriously expect to run schools and hospitals.

But then, if you grew up in a place run by goons like Ceaucescu, you would be amused rather than alarmed by a place where illiterate peasants still run things, but lack the guns or gulags to keep the literate in line. Even funnier, our mighty finance sector now depends on clients in post-Stalinist countries it once mocked for failing to adopt free market principles. Oh dear, how quaint.

So have things changed in 20 years?

Well, yes and no.

The island has had to adapt to the realities of 21st civilisation. So much so that we – briefly – even had an openly gay Chief Minister before yet another fat farmer inherited the job.

But we still have to get by in private sector workplaces dominated by small town bores. It’s just that these days they are as likely to be descended from white-flighters as home-grown dimwits. Yes, I know, there’s always the bloated public sector, but people tend to inherit those jobs rather than actually applying, being recommended or getting asked.

Which does bring me to the worrying emphasis on “Manx culture”. George Bernard Shaw famously said that you should try everything once except folk-dancing and incest. On the Isle of Man they are the same thing, though – luckily – you never get asked if you aren’t part of the family.

I suppose, as a respectable tax payer, I should be worried by the increase in state-sponsored sibling sex. Curiously perhaps, I am not. After all, if they only procreate with themselves they are no threat to anyone else. Logically, there also has to be a point where, like the Neanderthal, they just vanish.

It may just be that I’m over-optimistic. That, in turn, may be because a week or so ago I started re-reading the wickedly funny, massively offensive (at least to the intellectually lazy) Auberon Waugh, so have developed false optimism that unrelenting humour can overcome unrelenting puritanism and stupidity.

But, in brief, in 2018 I intend to laugh more, mock more and worry less. And if that annoys anyone, it will cause further amusement and mockery.

Advertisements

Twelve steps to insanity

The following are the original twelve steps of Unthinkers Unanimous, a fictional entity with more than a passing resemblance to faith-based “self-help” cults:

1. We admitted we were worried that reality and rational behaviour make our continued petty self-deceptions less possible.
2. Came to believe that individuals bossier but even more deluded than us could restore us to insanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of such prodnoses.
4. Made a superficial, poorly informed moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Based on such delusions, made a false confession to prodnoses, to ourselves, and to another mug of our supposed inadequacies.
6. Were entirely ready to have prodnoses multiply all these supposed defects of character.
7. Humbly asked prodnoses to remove our reason.
8. Made a long, entirely arbitrary, list of all persons we might have harmed, and vague promises to ourselves to somehow compensate them all.
9. Made random, unfocussed attempts to beg forgiveness from such supposed victims where easily possible, but never when to do so might put us out or actually be appropriate.
10. Continued to take personal inventory, but when genuinely and obviously wrong, despite our deluded method of determination, promptly dismissed it or blamed someone else.
11. Sought through talking uselessly to imaginary friends to further negate our conscious contact with the world as we secretly fear it really might be, wishing only for even less knowledge of it or ability to function usefully within it.
12. Having practically self-lobotomised as the result of these steps, we tried to spread the delusions to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

The Twelve Traditions accompany the Twelve Steps. The Traditions provide guidelines for group governance. They were developed in UU in order to help evade accountability in the areas of publicity, politics, religion and finances.

The Unthinkers Unanimous Twelve Traditions are:

1. Our common ignorance should come first; personal stupidity depends upon UU unity.
2. For our group purpose there are endless layers of displacement and authority — two-faced, manipulative con-artists all, however they may choose to mislead in the practice of our group conscience. Our leaders are to be regarded only as trusted servants; we fool ourselves they do not govern.
3. The only requirement for group membership is a desire to stop thinking.
4. Each group should only be autonomous when there is no chance of being conned by other groups or UU as a whole.
5. Each group has but one primary purpose — to spread its damage to the deluded who are still harmless.
6. An UU group should never endorse, finance, or lend the UU name to any related facility or outside enterprise; that’s the job of professional con-artists higher up the food chain.
7. Every UU group should aim for total subsidy from outside agencies, preferably governmental and nominally secular in order not to drain income from other faith-based scams.
8. Unthinkers Unanimous should remain forever unqualified, while seizing every weak excuse to employ faith-addled numpties as “special workers” at public expense.
9. UU, as such, should never be organised in an accountable way; but should create as many toothless boards or committees as possible to deflect attention from prying eyes.
10. Unthinkers Unanimous officially has no opinion on outside issues; this need not prevent the UU name being used by faith groups whenever useful to add false weight to spurious moral arguments or applications for public funding.
11. Our public relations policy is based on apparent attraction rather than promotion; always insist on personal anonymity when using press, radio, and TV to panhandle.
12. Asininity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place weak excuses before personal or communal responsibility.

Heaven knows they’re miserable now

The latest issue of a bi-monthly atheist magazine I write for arrived today; yet again my piece didn’t appear in it. True, the last time it was because a deadline was changed at the last minute and I missed it, but other omissions are a bit of a mystery. The copy was early, absolutely the right length, positive, and not contentious. In general then, no different to a system that has worked well for over a decade, and through two major overhauls of the magazine’s format.

I begin to see a pattern here. A few months ago I contacted both of the UK’s atheist associations to ask if they knew anything about an odd evangelical initiative posing as a “life skills” course that had just appeared in Manx high schools.

For three months nobody replied. Then, just as the issue had been aired and almost buried here, one contacted me for local input on a press release they planned to all UK media. I helped, they quoted me vaguely but didn’t use the relevant information I gave them, and tagged the whole Manx element onto a general whinge about another evangelical group and another “educational” Trojan horse.

Undeterred, I tried the full story on the editor of two international atheist publications who have used my reports on a number of Manx issues. Again, such reports have been a mixture of humour and positivity, chronicling times we’ve seen powerful religious figures do something unacceptable, raised it in public and with government, and won.

It’s all part of a continuing story about how, over a decade or so, a tiny atheist group has tackled such issues in our tiny country and, with some persistence, brought about social change. This happened not so much by screaming, shouting and name-calling but by hard fact and negotiation with people who are our neighbours and workmates, not anonymous bogeymen. Again, though I tried twice to make sure it had been received, the story was never used.

The cynic in me wonders if it’s because Manx atheists succeed, while our blowhard colleagues elsewhere do not. Far from the growing force that they’d like to think they are, to me atheists all around the British isles resemble the Labour Party, condemned forever to be in opposition and never in power. The Celtic ones in particular just cannot shake off that romantic loser self-image and plan for power or social change. Part of me wonders if they simply cannot handle success or responsibility.

Oh well, their loss. On the Isle of Man we have a brand of atheism that is responsible, socially engaged …. and works. If atheists elsewhere would rather act like a Morrissey fan club than hear about it why should I worry?

Not a prayer

One of the island’s most imbecilic evangelical outfits started a “Forty Days of Prayer” campaign on 29th January. It makes amusing reading, and I’m not just talking about the spelling mistakes or the garbled corporate speak drawn from some dire, downmarket self-help manual.

For example, on 27th February, punters are asked to “Pray for the work of HEAR (Humanity and Equality in Abortion Reform). Ask for the wisdom, strength and grace of Jesus for those who lead this important campaign. Ask God to guide us as a church in our corporate and personal responses to the forthcoming abortion bill.”

And on 2nd March, they should “Pray for the support groups which meet regularly in our premises – Stauros, Supper Club, 3S, Life pregnancy support. Ask that people will find God’s healing love through the people who minister to them.”

For those not in the know, Stauros started as a “get-out-of-jail-free” drug rehabilitation scam for Loyalist prisoners run by evangelicals and has spread to parts of the British isles where they were resettled. Think AA, run by even more manipulative figures with absolutely no training or relevant knowledge.

Life pregnancy support is a pro-life organisation, so badly run that it all but vanished in the UK and until a year or so ago was also almost extinct here. Their chief tactic is psychological abuse of any unfortunate woman who falls for their vaguely worded newspaper advert promising “support”.

I’m also intrigued that on 21st February they’re praying for “Aliens”. Having dismissed the idea that they want to save ET’s soul, I idly wondered if this might be some well meant intent to worry about the plight of refugees.

Sadly not. It appears that “Aliens” is their in-house term for kids from families who aren’t already cult members who might get drawn in via their unofficial youth club. The official one, I should explain, closed when educational department funding was withdrawn on police advice, after investigations revealed some pretty salubrious activity.

Given how often the cult in question uses emotive and fact-free appeals to panhandle public money, it is almost a relief to see them begging their Imaginary Invisible Friend for help instead. But even if I thought he did exist, if he really was omnipotent and all-seeing I cannot imagine why he would answer their prayers.

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.

Perfect Day

Yesterday was Tynwald day, our national day, and I spent it (rather oddly) at the heart of all that’s worst about the nation doing something productive and enjoyable. On a field immediately behind the outdoor ceremony itself, to be precise, along with the greens, the evangelicals and the evangelical greens. It was like some bizarre Channel 4 documentary about a WI outing to Glastonbury, with slightly less mud.

As I do every Tynwald Day, I was on the stall for the local Amnesty group raising awareness of something awful, and trying to do something about it. This year was slightly different, in that we’re working on campaigns to do with sexual and reproductive rights for young girls and women and – as the island’s lack of legal facilities for abortion leaves a lot to be desired – helping women to campaign over that too.

All this was happening in what’s known as the Global Village, which started as an area for overseas aid charities and others running similar projects and in five years has developed into something pleasant. The first year, despite the odd collection of groups, was all very friendly with world music and food being shared, people popping over to and helping out with each other’s stalls, and so on. Each year since has had a slightly different collection of groups and events, as the most blatant moneygrubbers head for the main field instead but new groups discover us and come to join in.

It all ended on a positive note, with a sort of conga headed by Bulgarian dancers winding around the performing stage, picking up folk ranging from Africans to Manx folk dancers, old, young, and everything in between – the nearest thing yet to a rainbow coalition of what this place could be with a little more effort and good feeling.

BUT…..as the global village has developed, an increasing number of evangelical parasites have joined in, and I have to say lower the tone of the whole event. The danger is that they give the false impression that Christian charity is at the heart of the whole idea, when nothing could be further from the truth.

In the spirit of inclusiveness, I try to offer the hand of friendship as they fester and conspire in corners, arrayed in their drab Saturday casuals, prominent pictorial displays of their fake philanthropy surrounded by collecting buckets, glowering out at anything different in the world like so many relatives from hell at a wedding.

BUT… this year one crossed the line. I noticed the Baptists at the next stall muttering with their pro-life friends in the morning, before anything really got going. As requested by the organisers, we’d toned down the abortion reform material to discreet leaflets, so there seemed nothing to worry or complain about.

Then a workmate passing by laughingly remarked that, while punting for his spare change, they’d urged his family to boycott us. I thought he was winding me up, and I laughed back.

Then, a while later, one passer by made a point of walking away from their stall and prominently dropping notes into our collecting tin. Again, I thought nothing of it.

Then later, they hailed an Amnesty-supporting clergyman, and as he walked over to greet them, I distinctly heard one tell him he should be working for them, not us. Again, I passed it off as the sort of banter women on adjoining stalls might trade at a church fundraiser, and still thought nothing of it.

But then, on the way home, my wife – who knows some of them from a church where she helps with a (badly run) soup kitchen – mentioned that they’d said the same thing to her – and that they meant it absolutely seriously.

What a bunch of sad sacks. And what an advertisement for all that the best on this island are trying to get away from.

But the funniest thing is that the global village also now has a rigidly enforced class (or is it caste) system. This year some local premier league “pressure groups” deigned to join us plebs for the first time. For some reason this was regarded as a coup – or even a step forward – though it’s hard to see why.

Some of them annoy the general public more than all us little projects put together. Perhaps because, with their close links to government and numerous members with enough time and obsessive zeal to churn out pages of free waffle for the papers, the public cannot help but know they exist.

It was noticeable too that they had their own chi-chi avenue, closer to the main field, from which real people were excluded. But the bigger problem would have been that any innocent passer-by wandering down to avoid the diesel fumes, mass folk dancing and military kitsch would take one look at this row of wibble merchants, turn straight around and rush off home instead of exploring further.

Or maybe it worked in reverse. The public may have been in such a rush to get past without being nagged into a coma that they found themselves, unexpectedly, in new and interesting territory instead.

Because we did attract a slightly better crowd than usual, though this was due to a combination of good weather and duller than usual mainstream attractions on the “proper” fair field. This year I was kept so busy that I didn’t leave the stall in seven hours – not even long enough to peek at other stalls in our little sink estate.

I’m not complaining though. I had a productive and useful day, engaged with a lot of people, and maybe even caused some to consider a new topic. I also came home with at least a week’s supply of heavily rum-laced chocolate cake from one Jamaican food vendor and fruit pies from a more traditional Manx stall, both donated by well-wishers.

All in all then, a great day, in spite of the efforts of the professionals.

Return to sender

I’m sick of Brexit and need to move on to happier things, so this will be my last comment on it. Honestly.

I spotted this (see http://www.economist.com/blogs/buttonwood/2016/06/britain-after-referendum ) on the Economist website. The picture of the UK return to 1970’s mayhem was uncannily similar to my own recent thoughts on the subject – in my case more reflections on a number of BBC 3 films about the background to punk than any “serious” political analysis.

I should also add that events in the Isle of Man, and the local reaction to Brexit, are linked. The thing is, from the late 1980’s onward we attracted UK white flighters thanks to an odd – and from government papers I saw in 1990 I believe deliberate – government policy which “coincidentally” put off people of colour (even skilled, financially solvent ones) while encouraging any paler face, however undesirable.

In addition, I also know that a number of undesirables were “resettled” here, mostly as the pay-off in secretive “supergrass” arrangements with the police or security services, but sometimes with help from extreme evangelical groups, who saw criminals recruited in prisons and put through nominal bible college courses as a cheap source of clergy for the movement they hoped to plant here in order to supplement dwindling state subsidy in Northern Ireland.

In both cases, they took advantage of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, which allows the perpetrators of all but a few crimes not to declare criminal convictions older than a decade on job applications.

Before all that, this was a sleepy place. While not too used to dealing with the obviously different, with the odd exception it managed it with the good manners and common decency you come to expect in quiet rural places where people just have to get by and get on.

Since then, it has got worse, to the extent that, while a resident of over 30 years myself, after Brexit my family feels less safe because of racism stirred up by recent UK “come-overs”. Their ignorance adds nothing to the island mix. They should be the ones considering moving away, not us.

There’s a larger island just across the Irish Sea which seems determined to revive the worst aspects of the early 1970’s. Maybe they would feel more at home there, claiming benefits or sitting around in the lobbies of crumbling, under-resourced NHS facilities waiting for an appointment.

We have suffered them far too long. Time that they, and not our productive immigrants, were encouraged to be a burden on the country that dumped them on us. Considering the UK government is fast retreating to the ugly, anti-democratic attitudes of those times, surely such bigots would feel right at home.