Goodbye porkie pies

Until today, I was a lifetime member of the National Secular Society. Not any more.
Yesterday, I was sent http://www.secularism.org.uk/news/2017/09/religious-segregation-under-one-roof-proposed-for-isle-of-man-school by a Manx born activist, now living in the UK, who was curious to know what I might be doing about it. The answer is cancelling my NSS membership.

In brief, the story is nonsense, as I told them months ago. They got on to it after being contacted by someone who was ill informed (and who had incidentally contacted me first). I looked into it, realised that the contact’s fears were groundless, but advised them who to talk to in order to get the truth and some reassurances. For reasons of their own, they chose to contact the NSS with their inaccuracies instead of resolving any real issue.

As a writer on both faith-based bigotry and religious privilege, as well as chairman of the local atheist group, I’ve been in regular contact with the NSS over the years – though the information flow is somewhat one-sided.

I inform them of things they might want to know about and ask for information on other matters. They rarely act on my information (so I cause it to be published outside the UK and months or even years later they catch up).When they do reply to my queries it seems they know far less about the topic than I already do. But more often, they don’t respond at all.

Still, we know each other – I even wrote the first review of their president’s autobiography, for an international atheist publication, which led to it being picked up elsewhere and getting good sales. So when the NSS contacted me about the St. Thomas’s story, and I gave them the facts (obtained direct and in off-the-record briefings from those at the coalface) I would reasonably expect them to hold fire.

Sadly, they chose to embroider half-truths and folk myths instead, as a way of tagging the Manx story onto a UK agenda which is also – largely – a deliberate misunderstanding, but does have the positive effect (for them) of stirring up other ill-informed folk who might possibly take out NSS membership.

Then again, this is the organisation which – until just a couple of years ago – employed as a campaigner the Islamophobic rabble-rouser Anne Marie Waters. Yes, the one who failed to gain the UKIP leadership yesterday. As a monitor of the far right for many years, I warned the NSS leadership privately about her real background and agenda a few years ago too. Again, they didn’t listen. Increased membership is key, it appears, even if it results in the (now suspended) chat facility for their weekly e-bulletins turning into something seemingly dominated by horrible Little Englanders – and worse.

Even sadder, this is the second time in under six months they’ve done this with a Manx story. The first time they did it was a belated response to a query I made to them last year about evangelical opportunism in Manx schools. By the time they did respond, I had already dealt with the matter, as I then informed them.

The NSS briefly used a largely inaccurate summary of the Manx case anyway, as a Trojan horse to publicise their potential campaign against unrelated UK phenomena. The Manx media touched on it, which caused the usual below-the-line muttering on local media websites from the usual bigots, but, in truth, there was no longer a story or an issue.

As it happens, the opportunist and bigot at the heart of it actually left the island last week, having had all sources of government revenue closed down to him. The details are too long and complicated to go into here, but let’s just say that if someone is determined enough to log evidence on inappropriate behaviour and abuse of religious privilege for years, then eventually there is so much of it that even the most myopic civil servant has to act.

Anyway, that’s all history now. In the time I was failing to get responses from the major UK atheist groups to queries on topics that now interest me, I started to get them from other sources – better informed, less opportunistic, not interested in turning molehills into mountains as a way to create a job for life. It has been a positive alternative to the mean-minded porkies perpetuated by career atheists, so for the future that is where I spend my limited free time.

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Lest we ….. oh, just forget it

Until the local paper ran a one page feature on it, I was totally unaware of yet another dire local “war remembrance” project. This one planted a sapling for every Manx recruit who died in World War One over a one acre site which – I suppose – will eventually become a small forest, dominated by a large, crude and inappropriate cross.

The cross carries the message “Lest we forget”, which is ironic. Most of the island didn’t even know the project was happening or what it entailed, and few will ever go there. Within a year or two, even the vets who might be interested will be dead, and then what?

It isn’t that we have forgotten about World War One – there are so many pointless, fact free, local heritage projects about it that we cannot. It is that anyone with the slightest real knowledge of the subject wants nothing to do with this maudlin drivel.

Inevitably, the project was opened with a prayer service, led by the island’s second most senior cleric to receive a public sector salary in return for providing no public service. He was accompanied by the Lieutenant Governor, the representative from local ex-services organisations who lobbied for the island to get a chance to play at weekend soldiers again and the politician who granted that wish – after lots of chances to drive a tank and other childish jollies laid on by the British Army.

Which is all a bit ironic. Because the reason so many Manxmen died needlessly in World War One is that they were sent there by the junta then ruling the island, whereby the Lieutenant Governor used the other Crown appointees of the time (the Bishop, the Vicar General and the Attorney General) to over-rule any opposition from elected politicians. Not that there was much of that, because even half of the politicians were too busy war profiteering.

For some odd reason, neither that, nor the 1917 poll tax strike by island landladies against rates set at levels based on full boarding houses (when there were neither guests nor male workers due to the war) have been mentioned in all these heritage stunts around WW1 themes. Which is even more ironic, as a book giving a contemporaneous account of such events, written by a man who was imprisoned for leading the strike, was republished by Manx Heritage just a few years ago and is freely available in the Manx Museum shop.

So what’s even more obscene than the tasteless cross (and the use of bogus history to excuse expensive 21st century soldier games) is that history we could all learn from was never mentioned, thanks to the very organisations we entrust to preserve our heritage and teach local history to new generations.

Ethical or not, they’re all bankers

So, where have I been then?

Oh, dealing with….stuff you wouldn’t want to know about. No, really, you don’t. But mostly just trying to put a few positive plans into action, a couple of which have started well, thank you.

But I’m not going to write about any of that. Sorry, another time perhaps.

No, I’m going to grumble about banks instead … and not even the “bad” ones. Because I’ve finally lost patience with so called ethical investment too.

The thing is, all my adult life – ever since I first had a bank account – I have chosen to bank with what used to be the only UK bank which promised not to deal with dictators, arms investors, cosmetic companies who torture bunnies and all that kind of malarkey. I have never – ever – put a penny into what we used to just think of as the big high street banks, and now know to be run by the kind of scrotes who couldn’t make it doing something more respectable. Drug dealing, illegal abortions or mugging pensioners for example.

Then a few months back, out of the blue, all of the Manx environmental groups, development charities and pressure groups which – on principle – also kept their accounts there were given notice that said caring, sharing bank was closing the accounts. In some cases this notice was less than a week. Given the background checks all banks now do on new customers before accepting accounts, plus the rank incompetence of many bank staff, this caused misery and absolute chaos.

Never mind. There is, as it happens, a newer ethical bank where many of us PC folks have savings accounts, and we knew it was about to launch current accounts. These were finally launched a month or two back, and we had notices saying they would be rolled out gradually to all interested customers.

So this week we finally got personalised messages …… saying that they would not be offering current accounts to any Manx customers.

The official explanation, as any Manx customer of a UK bank will know, is that the UK government now requires UK banks to “ring fence” normal banking from investment banking. But somehow that has turned into an excuse for UK banks to simply not accept Manx customers at all.

As the Manx Financial Services Authority have confirmed (after direct negotiations with their Brit counterpart) there is no legal reason to exclude accounts for individuals who actually live on the Isle of Man. The UK banks have just decided to do it anyway.

Well, except for a few very, very wealthy customers who, for tax reasons, maintain a Manx address which goes on their HMRC records, but do not actually live here. For those, account executives at some banks are making …well …. “special arrangements”. For a hefty fee of course. Some of which makes it into the annual bonuses of those who make them.

The real reason is quite clear. Senior staff at all of these banks have been found doing stuff they should not, such as running accounts for Colombian cartels, and are now under much closer scrutiny. In order to make it look like they are complying, they have to produce records of attempts to question an agreed percentage of customers and turn away some potential business. They simply choose to do this for certain types of customers. Innocent ones, who live in certain places, come from certain ethnic backgrounds… well, you probably get the picture.

Then, when the cartels, the gun runners, the developing world asset-strippers and vulture-funders put a big bit of business their way, it slips through without even a second glance. You kind of expect that hypocrisy and double dealing from the Big Four. No wonder the name of one of them is slang for self abuse. You know, sticky fingers?

But when the institutions we’d hoped would break the mould just meekly join in this blind postcodism without questioning either the facts or practice, what hope or reason is there for any of us to do the right thing?

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.

Never mind the government, here’s the refugee aid program

Those who know the “real” me are aware I supported a modest proposal to settle one Syrian refugee family a year to the Isle of Man over a period of five years. The proposal and figure was intended (using the same ratio of refugees to national population) to match David Cameron’s promise to rehouse some Syrian refugees around the UK. The families were to have come from a specific, well supervised and monitored, refugee camp, and would have been subject to exactly the same rigorous checks as those the UK government would take.

Well, the world knows what happened to the UK promise, and recently Manx people also discovered that our own government were even less interested – even though Manx civil society would have done all the work and government was simply asked not to get in the way. Because if you try to do anything to buck the trend for institutional xenophobia on the Isle of Man, you expect such knockbacks.

Oddly enough, our government either sees nothing wrong in (or turns a blind eye to) the way, say, the London property portfolios of Middle Eastern dictators are overseen on the Isle of Man. That, after all, is strictly business. Oh, and it also means, for instance, that Manx government ministers and their staff can travel (at public expense) to the Dubai offices of a frivolous Department for Economic Development PR scheme to attract Middle Eastern investments (without any awkward questions about human rights or industrial scale corruption).

So anyway, as you’d need a ouija board to start a conversation with most Manx politicians or civil servants (assuming they even have souls), those involved in the original proposal have moved on.

Now, there’s a great scheme called From Syria With Love (see http://fromsyriawithlove.com/ ), and one of their projects is http://fromsyriawithlove.com/from-syria-with-love-art-exhibition/ , a collection of paintings by Syrian children living in refugee camps in Lebanon. And it’s coming to the Isle of Man. You can see the whole thing in Noa Bakehouse, Douglas, where it will be for two weeks between 25th March and 8th April.

Baraa Essay Kouja, the founder of the charity , and himself a Syrian refugee, will also be here for four days. You can catch his public presentations on Saturday, 1st April at 2.30 PM and Sunday, 2nd April at 10.30 AM and 7.45 PM. Baraaa will also be visiting secondary schools on Monday 3rd and Tuesday 4th to give talks about the refugee camps, the Syrian crisis and the children behind the pictures.

Framed prints of exhibition pictures will be on sale for £15 and there is also the opportunity to order unframed prints for £10 which will be available to collect one week after the exhibition closes. 100% of the proceeds goes directly to small scale projects in the Lebanon camps and at displacement points on the Syrian border.

You know, it’s almost a shame we can’t get anybody that efficient, hard working or imaginative running Manx government enterprise schemes. Because by my back-of-the-envelope calculations that’s a success rate about 100% higher than the Dubai scheme, which has produced no genuine new Middle Eastern investment. Most of those shady deals have been quietly in place here for two decades or more already, which is why by now they’re so complex and opaque that they rarely show up on the radar.

Anyway, excuse my cynicism. All I really mean to say is, go, see the exhibition, engage with a few local people who actually want to be part of the human race for a change. Maybe you might even want to lend a hand to what they’re doing.

Schmuck down

Last Sunday I was at the local Holocaust Memorial Day service. This shouldn’t be a cause of merriment, except when it offers a chance to mock people with irrational prejudices and too much power. And especially when I suspect the joke was created by those who are too often their victims.

As a rule, I avoid sick-fests which pass for national remembrance ceremonies, especially faith-led ones. I despise bigots and freeloaders on any day of the year, so why would I waste time watching them pretend to show remorse for tragedies, while denying their role in causing them?

Holocaust Memorial Day, though, is slightly different. Firstly, it didn’t originate as a church service, secondly the organisers do all they can to prevent it just turning into one, and thirdly they are genuinely interested in stressing that such pointless hate still goes on.

They are handicapped by politicians who will not attend any national ceremony unless it is led by a priest, and also by the tendency of professional religionists to jump on any grief bandwagon. Despite this, some of the organisers have used the service to point fingers at hatred in all its forms, and have twice given me a chance to do the same.

So, in turn, I try to support them and, in being there, make the point that this is not just another empty prayer-fest and that the non-religious cannot be shut out. This year I wasn’t a speaker, so made myself useful by chauffeuring some people who were there to sing in a choir.

It is also quite funny watching the various churches jockey for a role in the day. One aspect is the competition to host it (as the government won’t make a public building available). This sees the different denominations take a turn but, according to their place in the religious pecking order, most still get barred from leading the service. Then there is the competition to do the various bible readings. By tradition, the Governor does one and the Chief Minister used to (but now gives a short, non-religious, address), which leaves one for another church leader from one of the minor denominations.

And this year it really couldn’t have been a less appropriate church leader, or a worse speaker. This one is “lead pastor” in an obnoxious evangelical cult with seriously dodgy links and, for the last two months, at the centre of media speculation after it emerged that his church aggressively pumped the congregation to buy him a luxury house. I suppose the choice was made before the story broke and, being so brass-necked, he probably refused to withdraw to preserve the dignity of the day. On the other hand, as his cult’s reputation has always been far from spotless, you have to wonder just how clueless his fellow faith leaders are if they proposed him in the first place.

Well, at least we had a chance to find out if he truly was the kind of charismatic who manages to part the gullible from their life savings. All I can say is, if this charmless windbag really did, there must be a substantial number of Manx people with double digit IQs and no link to the real world.

Originally from “Norn Eyeland”, he is just as loud as Ian Paisley, but slyly chose to avoid obvious comparisons by adopting a weird mid-Atlantic accent, like some pretentious 1970’s DJ. Inevitably he chose a passage from Leviticus which, equally inevitably, was totally irrelevant (seemingly only chosen because it mentions the children of Israel) and very, very long. Looking round the church, it was hilarious watching the assembled clergy cringe as he chuntered on and on, and on, shouting louder, and louder. When he finally stopped there must have been a full two minute pause before the next participant felt brave enough to continue.

It marks the first time such a solemn occasion left me desperately biting my hand to avoid laughing out loud. I almost suspect that an arrogant bigot and his supporters were set up as the punch-line in a very wry Jewish joke.

Whatever, but on the way home one of my passengers and I had to wait until I’d dropped off the god-fearing before pulling into a layby to shriek with laughter.

Oy, yoy yoy…what a schmuck!