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?

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.

Loki is risen, and Bugs Bunny died for you

Hmm, apparently it’s Easter Day. I know this because when the light of my life turned on the TV this morning to see if anyone got bombed overnight a bloke dressed up like a daffodil was spouting latin at a large crowd of ageing conservatives.

If all these Christian leaders are going to give the public a message, then maybe I should do the same. Oh look, just ….. try to be happy, make others happy if you get a chance and don’t cause more damage to the world or bring people down more than your employer absolutely insists you do…and that’s about it really.

The whole thing’s a bit silly, but best not to get pedantic. If I remember correctly, it goes something like this…..

Today we give each other chocolate eggs because Bugs Bunny got executed for crimes he didn’t commit as some sort of obscure, interplanetary political pay-off arranged by his all-powerful Dad, which means that we are all now innocent – again mostly of crimes that we didn’t commit anyway.

All this happened two thousand years ago last Friday, and ever since we eat fish and not red meat on Fridays. I never quite grasped the logic behind that either, but given the strong links between religion and masochism maybe it was because Mary Magdalene got slapped with a wet fish by a Roman centurion at the crucifixion…..something like that anyway.

Oh do grow up, that’s no wilder a theory than anything you’ll find in the New Testament accounts.

And if there was ever a reason why Brits eat lamb at Easter they definitely forgot to tell me that at school, even back in those distant days when (the Christian) God and the Empire were central to the curriculum.

If I am musing upon such oddities, that may be because almost the last discussion with some younger workmates before downing tools on Thursday afternoon was on the meaning of Easter, from why Good Friday is a public holiday to where bunnies and chocolate come into the whole equation.

Nobody understands the bunnies and chocolate, but many say they were baptised, christened and confirmed and, while not weekly churchgoers, would have to go to church today with their families. Despite this, their knowledge of the Christian basics was – frankly – not just negligible but generally non-existent. To a mild-mannered if mischievous atheist this is all highly amusing.

And moving swiftly from the religious to the national aspects of Easter……

As the tramline quite literally runs down my street, today has also been marked at half-hourly intervals by rumbling, rattling and tooting trains – presumably full of happy punters, though I really cannot be sure as I was still in bed most of the time. What I can be sure of is that having studied the extensive selection of Easter entertainments being offered by state Klingons (and subsidised by my taxes) I am giving all of them a miss. Put this down as you will to an intense dislike of plastic nationalism, or just a general dislike of over-priced, over-subsidised heritage kitsch. It is also because I simply have better things to do – or just a chance to do as little as possible.

So, finally, the meaning of Easter for me is that I am not at work and even freer than usual to enjoy myself, including poking fun at powerful purveyors of nonsense. If I was celebrating the rebirth of any deity today, it would have to be Loki or some other manifestation of the Trickster.

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.

Serfing the net

At the risk of being branded a Luddite, I find it astonishing that many people can have a grasp of IT gadgets but absolutely no practical, political, geographical, scientific or historical knowledge of the real world – or any ability to think beyond how to achieve short term personal gain. It almost seems like the greater the deficiency in the latter, the more time they spend on their cell phones. Which, when you think about it, goes against all the popular arguments for adopting internitwittery.

For example, when my better half asked a teacher why kids never learn the names of capital cities or major planets any more, she was told “Oh, they can look all that up on the internet”. Except that they don’t and, even if they did, it doesn’t become useful information retained at the back of their minds to be pulled out, say, while writing a GCSE essay during an exam.

I also see this at work when, for example, we need to get a document legalised by a foreign government. The young teccies will put an organisation name or town from a document into Google, then give up when no handy contact details show up and pass the problem to the office dinosaur.

They cannot relate the name or town to a country, or understand the political situation in that country and know there might be this restriction or that practice. They barely understand that countries have embassies in other countries, or that certain countries do not deal openly with certain other countries (e.g. Israel and Iran) and so blacklist individuals or business organisations who do.

I first started noticing the phenomena during the mid-1990’s, when few of my uni or professional friends had mobile phones but every unemployable seemed to be jabbering away non-stop on the buses I took between the many agency gigs I held down while waiting for a proper job to appear.

When I went to Central Europe to work, it was even more noticeable that gypsies and street people all had cell phones. Meanwhile the university which employed me had no direct phone line to the department, and was only just getting to grips with e-mail or the internet (at a time when such wizardry was still dominated by academic networks).

I dubbed such folk techno-peasants and thought that, with time, they would be sidelined as the true potential of the technology was realised. Now I seriously wonder if that potential was being realised all the time, and that it was to drag us all back to the middle ages.

What seems to be happening is almost the reverse of the invention of print, when the Bible stopped being chained to the lectern in the cathedral, there to be read and interpreted only by the all powerful priest to illiterate serfs. Now the new technology itself, instead of freeing us to communicate while bypassing the powerful, seems only to chain the users themselves to the lectern.

Most of the vast potential content is not read, understood or debated. The memes spread only folk myths or outright lies. Without enough understanding to map their way to better information the serfs get more and more scared of a big, bad world and retreat to smaller and smaller villages, populated mainly by frightened idiots. In addition, the way in which everyone’s surfing record is tracked, then used to direct only less and less challenging content to phones and PCs, makes such techno-peasants ever more malleable by tyrants and robber barons.

The answer, I think, is not to abandon the grid but to use it warily, and in a better informed way. Paradoxically, as even major book-chains narrow their range of books, we are more likely to find such information in charity shops and old school public libraries.

Switch off your cell phone. Leave your laptop or tablet at home. Just pick up any book – the older and dustier the better. Read it, think about it, make written notes and queries. Follow them up. Read some more, note some more, question some more.

And only then go back online and start making some informed enquiries.

Jonestown-on-Sea

What happens when people with the mentality of Moonies and the morality of drug dealers set up an international partnership?

If any sociologist would like to find out, an interesting case study has been quietly coming together in the last year at the heart of the island’s equivalent of a Deep South bible belt. I am sure that within the next year something awful must happen, if anyone could hold their nose long enough to be a participant observer.

The thing is that for some years now the south of the island has been plagued by an evangelical church whose happy-clappy trading name could have been coined by an AA attendee after the morning’s drugs kicked in, but which is better known as Living Hell.

The plague started when a few Ulster evangelicals fled their home turf, not so much to escape sectarianism as to peddle a subtler version here. The fishing village where they based themselves used to be a pleasant enough place, but as the cult gained power it went downhill rapidly, fast becoming the kind of dive where getting pregnant and dropping out of school is upward mobility, and selling skunk or skag the nearest thing to steady employment.

We really cannot say if the arrival of the church and the descent of the community into something resembling an Alabama trailer park are related misfortunes. We can, however, note that (a) such cults thrive wherever they can prey on the ignorant and vulnerable and (b) several devotees hold the kind of public and third sector posts or committee memberships which are supposed to deal with social problems but instead tend to perpetuate them, thus keeping those failing to tackle them in steady employment.

Like every other Northern Irish hatemonger, Living Hell also had shady American friends, and for some years enjoyed a useful (and untaxed) second income running the Manx franchise for various US evangelical bogus charities. Unfortunately for the church, one side-effect of increasing attempts by US authorities to crack down on tax-avoiders (amongst whom evangelical entrepreneurs figure prominently) is that financial transactions between the US and Isle of Man are now closely monitored. So endeth the free invites to prayer breakfasts at the White House.

So I should not have been so surprised when last week inane comments made (he thought only to a tame audience) by a numbskull ‘star guest’ at an upcoming Living Hell faith convention reached me too. I was intrigued enough to check out the speaker, and this revealed something both surprising and funny. It appears Living Hell have traded in their US sponsors for a stake in a Jim Jones-lite Afrikaaner cult.

As the only specimen of homo sapiens on this planet as dumb and loutish as the Ulster Unionist is the Boer, any collaboration between these two sub-species of humanity has to be a disaster. I should know, having had to work with both in recent years. They are vile creatures, possibly the best (semi-)walking argument against Biblical literalism I can think of. If any god really made these saps in his image, he should be laughed out of existence.

The countdown to this impending doomsday should be one to monitor with interest, and tongue firmly in cheek.