The Plastic Hippo

June 29, 2010

Danke vielmals, Deutschland

Filed under: Sport — theplastichippo @ 7:56 pm

As a proud but deflated footballing nation, England owes a huge debt of gratitude to our old rivals. An average German side took pity on us, limited their goal tally and thus spared us from the agony and embarrassment of having to watch any more England world cup games. Probably for ever judging by the 2010 campaign.

So bad was the England performance that goalkeeper David James was considered to be the greatest living Englishman in Bloemfontein on Sunday afternoon because he only let in four. At least he gave us some evidence that he was actually on the pitch. One shudders to think of the humiliation and carnage that would have ensued if we were unfortunate enough to face sides like Spain, Holland, Argentina or Brazil.

So now, the post mortem and excuses begin.

In a world where the phrase “Chancellor George Osborne” raises either a chuckle or a shriek and a chap called Nick Clegg can legitimately call himself Deputy Prime Minister, it should come as no surprise that nothing actually went wrong. The FA, now re branded as Club England to eradicate any irony coming from the terraces, say that Capello is under contract until the 2012 European Championships and will think about the future following a “disappointing” result. That is an estimated £12million given his currently rumoured salary. Even if he is dismissed, he will walk away with about that amount thanks to a last minute deal signed just before departure to the RSA.

The players, now safely reunited with their Lamborghini’s, bank accounts, agents and ex-girlband wives and mistresses, will now be able to concentrate on the next magazine photo shoot and advertising deal and will not concern themselves with the crushing real disappointment felt by young boys and girls who parted with their pocket money to buy the trading cards, flags, shirts and other merchandise that they saw as an investment in hope. It seems our world-class football representatives were “tired” following the domestic premier league season. Torres, Tevez, Robinho, Van Persie, Essien, Deco, Nani, Fabregas and others do not look tired and would probably turn out for Willenhall or Bloxwich during the proposed two week winter break because those guys seem to enjoy playing football.

Clearly the referee and his assistant made a shocking mistake and Lampard did score, but no amount of goal-line technology would have helped England to achieve a half-way decent performance unless FIFA installed machine gun nests aimed at jonny foreigner in the goalmouth. At least Sepp Blatter has apologised and will now consider introducing specialist cameras on the goal-line. One can only hope that the camera operators are spared the fate of the cameraman who got too close to the rather homo-erotic Argentine goal celebration against Mexico and was soundly lamped by the goal scorer. It is appropriate that the best word to describe German reaction to the absence of monitoring technology is schadenfreude, or should that read vorsprung durch technik. Germany has waited a long time since the second Geoff Hurst goal at Wembley in 1966.

The excuses wheeled out for the 2010 débâcle are as tired, old and lame as the failures who struggled down the aircraft steps loaded with Jo’burg duty-free. A few miles away, another aircraft landed near Wotton Bassett. This one came from Kandahar carrying coffins.

The best hope for English football rests with the heart-broken 12-year-olds who will hopefully swap their panini stickers for a football to kick against the backyard wall. The current crop of millionaires may get a final chance at the duty-free in Brazil in 2014 but without pride, passion and honour, the only thing they will hold aloft is a banana daiquiri. England have submitted a bid to stage the 2018 world cup finals and if successful, would automatically qualify as host nation. Now is time to invest in developing young talent and remove the emphasis on greed and financial gain. A healthy 12-year-old with a football is more inspiring than a fat 12-year-old with an X-Box.

Alternatively, as the coalition government caps levels of immigration leaving both the public sector and private industry bellowing about skills shortages, perhaps the exemption to footballers could be widened to include dual citizenship. Then we could pay people to win something for us. A new footballing seven samurai would look less mercenary than the current bunch of clots.

June 26, 2010

War…huh…good God y`all…

Filed under: History,Media,Sport — theplastichippo @ 1:36 pm

Fuelled with lager and armed with a vuvuzela, the hippo will be cheering England on in their world cup campaign until they loose and join France and Italy on the long journey back to Europe steerage class. Supporting a national football team has to be done but, as Dr Johnson observed, patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

It would be easy to support England if they were any good. Sadly, shoddy performances against the likes of Algeria, Slovenia and the USA indicate that the pampered millionaires are paper tigers and not the lions depicted on their shirts. World champions, defending a slender one goal lead, do not pass back to the keeper or hold the ball at the corner flag with 20 minutes to go. Our faith has to be blind and we will continue to swelter inside our cars unable to open the windows for fear of loosing our cross of St George flags.

The tabloid press have predictably got themselves into something of a tizzy and have confused a game of football with rampant jingoism. Hacks and sub-editors born long after the summer of 66 wax lyrical over Bobby Moore, Nobby Stiles and the Charlton brothers and now seem obsessed with the second world war. Television coverage has been equally bellicose. After Germany thrashed Australia 4-0 in their opening game, the ITV commentator declared: “Danger, the Germans are at it again” and the BBC have given us Brian Blessed screaming the once more unto the breach speech from Henry V which concluded with “Cry God for Fabio, England and St George”.

If England should progress beyond the last 16, headline writers have a treasure trove of history to plunder regarding conflict with the opposition. There is the British involvement in the Uruguayan Civil War between 1839 and 1851, the War of Jenkins` Ear against the Spanish, and the unforgetable tea party at Boston harbour. There is the fourth Anglo-Dutch War of 1780 and the first Carlist War of 1833 against the Portugese. Britain supported the French against Mexico in the Franco-Mexican War of 1861 and conquered Ghana in 1896. It might be best to leave our past encounters with Japan, Germany, Korea and Argentina unmentioned.

So who is left? Well, we have yet to engage Paraguay and Chile in armed conflict and Slovakia has only existed as an independent state for 17 years so it is too early for handbags in the penalty box. That leaves Brazil. On hearing that two Brazilian peace-keepers had been killed in Iraq, former US president George W Bush is alledged to have asked if a Brazilian was more or less than a gazillian. If our brave lads come up against the boys from Rio, expect this sort of stuff from the tabloids as well as references to the styling of pubic hair.

Once defeated, the drone of the vuvuzela will be drowned out by the drone of bitter journalists baying for the blood of Terry, Gerrard and Rooney and Capello will return to being an Italian. It is possible that some column inches will be given to the English cricket team who are doing rather well in the one-day series against the Austalians, but as armed forces day passes almost unnoticed, the national flag will no longer be flown on cars and we should ask ourselves what such blinkered nationalism is good for.

Absolutely nothing. Say it again.

June 21, 2010

A midsummer night`s dream

Filed under: Literature,Politics — theplastichippo @ 8:21 pm

For some people, midsummer’s day is a cause for celebration and claim that the solstice is part of the collective unconscious that links us to a far older time. Others, aware of the significance of a mid-point, see the longest day as the onset of approaching dark, cold winter and grumble that it will not be long until Christmas. Perhaps the human condition is such that pessimism is always present in joy.

Shakespeare knew a thing or two about the myths, fantasy and mysticism surrounding the solstice and in A Midsummer Night’s Dream lots of magical and downright strange things take place. The bard must have consumed a lot of cheese the night before he came up with the plot involving a fairy queen falling in love with a ham actor called Bottom who has the head of an ass and the use of love potions to persuade characters to marry against their will or judgement is a little far-fetched. Thankfully, the 2010 summer solstice is not accompanied by such frivolous invention; our worries are more serious.

The lad from Stratford would have to eat huge amounts of very ripe Stilton before coming up with the current plot. A coalition government introduces an emergency budget that will target the poorest and most vulnerable to pay for the greed and incompetence of bankers who continue to award themselves massive, unearned bonuses. The love potion used on Clegg makes him believe that the position of Deputy Prime Minister is in some way useful or relevant and that betraying a business in his own constituency is a good idea and that Trident isn’t so bad after all. But the would-be Lysander should remember that “the course of true love never did run smooth” and he may soon find himself alone in the enchanted forest.

At noon on the longest day, street lamps burned in Walsall and the cash-strapped council are advertising discounts to fat people who join leisure centres condemned to closure. With an obesity rate of 22% in 11-year-old children, the council closes an outdoor education activity centre; you can almost smell the Gorgonzola. But the good news from government is that council tax will be frozen ensuring that Walsall keeps its artificially high tax burden as local services wither and died.”Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

The Stinking Bishop is reserved for the Labour party who are likely to appoint a ham actor called Balls who, when in power, made a complete Jabulani of education. He shares the same background and the same waxy Kraft cheese slice complexion of the other party leaders and when they are seen together, resemble a group of sales reps from Dorking organising a golfing weekend.

Even the rude mechanicals have been at the cheese board. Sulking in the Royal Bafokeng Hotel in Rustenburg after heroically failing to score a goal against the mighty Algeria, our boys seem more worried about loosing personal sponsorship and advertising revenue than loosing a game. If they have a fear, it will be the threat of legal action from Poundland following a drop in sales of cheap, plastic flags and if they have a dream “it shall be called ‘Bottom’s Dream’, because it hath no bottom”.

At the end of A Midsummer Night`s Dream, the mischievous Puck lifts the magic spells and restores some semblance of order and then persuades the confused characters that they have experienced a dream. The sprite then addresses the audience:

“If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended:
That you have but slumbered here,
While these visions did appear;
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend.
If you pardon, we will mend.”

Puck will not be around in the morning and we may find that when we wake up, the nightmare we are having is about to come true.

June 18, 2010

Be prepared

Filed under: Uncategorized — theplastichippo @ 11:10 pm

Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the scouting movement, became a national hero following his exploits at the siege of Mafeking during the second Boer War. Tony Hayward, chief executive of British Petroleum, is unlikely to receive the Order of Merit for his exploits during the siege of Capitol Hill during the US Congressional Committee hearings into the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

One congressman signalled his intention to “slice and dice” the Birmingham University geology graduate and most of the press talked of the “grilling” of the unfortunate CEO. Grilled he was, basted liberally with gulf crude and served on a bed of Louisiana crawfish and shrimp marinaded in 200 million gallons of black gold. Hayward did himself no favours by refusing to answer questions regarding safety procedures on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and by settling into a siege mentality as to responsibility for the calamity. Irritation felt by the congressmen and women soon turned to anger and then to scorn and the admission by the big boss that he had never heard of the rig until after it blew up killing 11 people dropped him further into the gumbo.

Congress, the American press and the American public are baying for blood and Haywood is in the frame. Here at home the reaction has been, at best, more sanguine but, at worst, a re-run of the American War of independence. It seems that BP is a very important company in terms of the British economy and so Texan refinery explosions, leaking pipelines in Alaska and illegal price fixing in the propane market are all part of the pioneering enterprise of commerce and are beyond criticism. Indeed the usually demure Daily Telegraph recently sprang to the defence of BP and led with a lurid headline describing Obama`s boot on the throat of British pensioners; a reference to the serial polluter and uber carbon producer as being the investment of choice for discerning British pension funds.

BP are clearly guilty of massive contraventions of safety legislation in a very dangerous industry as well as complacency, incompetence and arrogance in its desire to put profit before safety, the environment and global public outrage. Even given the fact that Tony Haywood sold one third of his considerable BP shareholding at massive personal financial gain and a reduction in dividend to pension funds just one month before the flambé of Deepwater Horizon, it is possible to feel some sympathy for him.

Sitting in the bear pit of a congressional hearing more reminiscent of the Jerry Springer Show rather than the genteel surroundings of something like the Chilcot Inquiry, Haywood might be forgiven for asking: “why me?”. BP is 39% American owned and the rig was being operated by American companies including the infamous Halliburton, former vice-president Dick Cheney`s own personal pension fund, and flew a Marshall Islands flag of convenience. The irony of being shouted at by American politicians that owe their positions of power and, in some cases, comfortable livelihoods to the patronage of the massive oil industry lobby will not be lost on Tony Haywood.

The fire-storm and public floggings that BP must now endure might be justified, but the reason for the humiliation is because the black, sticky stuff is washing up on the bayous and not somewhere else. The Niger Delta is a long way from the Mississippi, but Nigeria suffers oil spills on the scale of Deepwater Horizon every single year. Thousands of the poorest people in the world die as a result of flash fires from leaking pipelines run on the surface through their villages and as a direct result of poisoning brought about by oil company pollution. The compensation and reparation demanded by the American government is not available to the dispossessed of Africa and elsewhere.

Haywood might also be wondering why Warren Anderson, former CEO of Union Carbide, has not been invited to sit on the naughty step. In 1984, an American owed chemical plant in Bhopal leaked poison gas and killed 15,000 people. Anderson knew his plants were unsafe but only authorised remedial work on plants within US borders, the Bhopal plant safety being seen as an expensive extravagance. The Indian government issued an arrest warrant but big, brave Anderson legged it back to the states and has been there ever since with his own government refusing extradition back to India to face the music. The day before Haywood sat in the hot seat, seven minor Union Carbide managers were finally convicted of causing death by negligence and sentenced to two years imprisonment and fined $2,000.

When the Exxon Valdez hit a reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska in 1989, the oil company quickly circulated a rumour that the master of the supertanker was blind drunk and that the environmental disaster was his fault, not theirs. However, the subsequent inquiry discovered that the ship did not have sufficient crew, the captain was sober but suffering from exhaustion and the Sonar system that would have identified the dangerous reef had not been working throughout the previous year as Exxon considered it too expensive to repair. Even now, Exxon continue to successfully block claims for compensation, helped by their friends in Congress, the Senate and the Supreme Court.

Closer to home, without even thinking about the reaction if an American company operating in the North Sea ruined the beautiful beaches of Northumberland, it is not only BP who allows greed to come before safety. British oil industry companies involved in the Buncefield explosion and fire in 2005, as well as Total and Texaco, have just been found guilty of negligence and face massive fines. It is considered a miracle that there were no deaths in the biggest explosion in Europe since World War Two which actually registered 2.4 on the Richter Scale. There are many who are happy to feed America’s addiction to oil and the addiction of oil companies to profitability. The US remains the biggest user and the biggest polluter and both addict and pushers have gone beyond just stealing to pay for the habit; they now resort to murder.

Henry Waxman, chair of the congressional committee inquiry into Deepwater Horizon needs to be very careful when dealing with major oil companies, they pack a powerful punch. When activists objected to the conduct of oil companies in Nigeria, Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other campaigners from the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People were executed by the state on trumped-up charges of incitement to murder. It was later revealed that Shell had threatened, bribed and invented witnesses to testify against the men who had dared to question the authority of the oil company. Let us hope that Congressman Waxman remembers history.

The other BP, Baden-Powell, was sent to South Africa in 1896 to quell a rebellion during the Second Matabele War when the locals objected to the British South Africa Company nicking their land for mineral deposits. BP saw the natives off after ordering the execution by firing squad of a Matabele chief who refused to co-operate.

BP then went Scouting for Boys.

June 13, 2010

Pickled Bird

Filed under: Politics,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 8:42 pm

“Tweedledum and Tweedledee
Agreed to have a battle!
For Tweedledum said Tweedledee
Had spoiled his nice new rattle.
Just then flew down a monstrous crow,
As black as a tar-barrel!
Which frightened both the heroes so,
They quite forgot their quarrel.”

As austerity descends upon us like a monstrous crow, our masters talk of tough decisions and changes to our way of life. There will be no winners but, like the results of unforced goalkeeping errors, some will loose more than others.

The hippo is indebted to a reader of this blog, “Observer”, who commented on a recent post reminding us of how the Walsall council leadership justified setting a service cutting budget whilst simultaneously increasing council tax. In those pre-coalition days, our smug cabinet members blamed everything on the sitting Labour government and Walsall`s finest refused to accept any responsibility for their own ineptitude and financial mismanagement. Game over, end of story, nothing to do with us.

The bovine bleating was led by our bellicose philosopher king Mike Bird who cited the parlous state of the global economy and a cut in funding from central government. No mention, though, of the causes of the financial calamity or the fact that Walsall still received more government funding than any other local authority in the region yet still sets the highest council tax. After the election which nobody won, the knives, axes and other blunter instruments are out again and it will be interesting to hear who Councillor Bird and his cronies attempt to blame this time.

At one of his first appearances at the dispatch box, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles announced a £3million cut in grant funding for Walsall. This further body blow to the populous came just a day after the cabinet axemen confirmed their long standing intent to close Willenhall Leisure Centre and Bryntysilio. No mention this time of the global economy or perfidious central government. Had the rotund, plain-speaking minister announced this from a Labour administration, our rotund, plain-speaking council leader would have been screaming blue, bloody murder. Instead, a shrug and a further sharpening of the axe.

Given the mess that the Conservatives and their silent Liberal Democrat partners have inherited, cuts in public spending are inevitable and we will all feel the consequences. But the “savings” being made by Walsall council and the additional rug-pulling by Pickles have cynically targeted those most in need and those with the smallest voice; the old, the young, the unemployed and people with disabilities. Their needs are secondary to the shareholder dividends required by Serco, Tesco and Tarmac in these recessionary times and a care home or four is obviously less of a priority than a £1million refurbishment of the Civic Centre.

With Tweedledee in charge of local government and Tweedledum running Walsall, a bleak future just got bleaker.

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