The Plastic Hippo

April 30, 2012

Quasi mondo

Filed under: Education,Health,Law,Media,Politics — theplastichippo @ 11:34 pm

For those of us of a certain age, perhaps the happiest memory of far off school days is witnessing a falling out between the number one bully and the number two bully as they knocked lumps out of each other in the playground. The resultant disappointment of a spoil sport teacher separating them is now assuaged by the goings on at the Royal Courts of Justice.

As the net closes on those responsible for wrong doing at News International, only the most bone headed Flashman would be stupid enough not to realise that when fighting to maintain his position, the gloves would soon be off for Murdoch and the knives would be out for Cameron. The dirty digger takes no prisoners and we can be sure that the 163 pages of emails implicating government conspiracy in the BSkyB take over and released when the boy child was feeling the heat at Leveson, are just a tiny proportion of the dirt the digger can dish.

The Right Honourable Member for South West Surrey, former head boy of Charterhouse, Secretary of State for Culture and possibly the most accurate Spoonerism ever uttered might now be regretting his offer to hold the coats of the battling tyrants. Jeremy Hunt, in quasi-judicial mode, is deaf to the bells tolling his imminent plunge from the parapet of the Palace of Westminster. It would seem unfair to suggest that this inept, biased, incompetent, complete and utter bastard would sacrifice his “special” advisor Adam Smith to the wolves in order to save his own very thin skin. It might seem unfair, but it is, sadly, true.

Describing Hunt as that shifty looking bloke on the government front bench with flames billowing out of his trousers would not, at the moment, be terribly helpful. That portrayal could apply to the entire coalition of villains currently filling voluminous trouser pockets with cash as they systematically dismantle the state. Given that collusion between politicians and corporate vested interests is a tradition as old as even the oldest profession, Cameron`s assertion to the house that he can see no evidence of at least three breeches of the ministerial code rings hollow. Under the disgraceful passage of the Welfare Reform Bill into law, Cameron`s bogus deafness and blindness needs to be investigated by the unqualified, incompetent and profit led firm ATOS, currently removing benefits from the sick, the disabled and the terminally ill.

In a desperate attempt to buy time to burn the evidence, a Prime Minister who promised open, transparent, accountable and open government has now been caught with his pants down and it will not be long before foresters are summoned to the commons to chop off the legs of ministers to create fire breaks to prevent the wild fire of lies spreading from trouser to trouser. Leveson, it seems, will provide all the answers.

The tactic of handing the embarrassing, little inconvenience of Jeremy Hunt`s improper and possibly illegal activities to Mr Justice Leveson is really rather clever. The remit and mandate of the Leveson Inquiry is to investigate the probity, legality and ethical standards of the media. Finding any evidence of morality, particularly in the case of the Murdoch family and their minions, is understandably taking a very long time and when my noble lord finally publishes his findings, the blood bath of local elections will be long forgotten and we will all be enjoying 60 glorious years and an egg and spoon race in a locked down London sponsored by McDonalds.

Cameron is an expert on remits and mandates having failed to win an election and succeeded in destroying a nation. In is not within the duty of Leveson to rule on the impropriety of ministers, that is the role of the Cabinet Secretary and the Prime Minister himself, so Hunt seems likely to take his place at the opening ceremony celebrating junk food, corporate greed, cheats and liars. The delicious irony of the Leveson inquiry, commissioned by David Cameron, is the fact that the noble Lord will present his findings to none other than the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport who, at the time of writing, remains employed and is currently yet to help the Metropolitan Police with their inquiries.

Hunt and Cameron have stated that all records of communication between government and News International that might or might not exist and might or might not have been accidentally lost or erased, will be made available to Leveson. If that is the case and if the inquiry at the Royal Courts of Justice is now the only instrument of government scrutiny, will Michael Gove submit his private email traffic between his department and the corporate sharks making a bundle out of his disastrous academy programme? Will the repulsive Andrew Lansley publish his contacts and beneficial remuneration with private health care companies and the odious Richard Branson and the equally evil Serco regarding profiteering from the NHS sell off? Once it starts to flow, that is a tide that even Hameron and Cnut cannot stop.

All this is very unlikely, but, as Quasimodo might have observed: “The bells, the bells. Will these dreadful alarm bells ever stop ringing?”

April 23, 2012

Paying the bill

Filed under: Birmingham,Law,Rights,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 9:12 pm

If television police dramas are to be believed, a radio call saying “officer down” results in the massed ranks of the constabulary`s finest rushing to respond to their stricken comrade. The reality, of course, is very different.

Given the substantial reduction of front-line, warranted officers and the accelerated privatisation of the police force, the rozzer in difficulties might have to wait for a bit, possibly 24 hours if we can believe anything the Home Secretary invents. If only she was called April rather than Theresa. What hope then, when the airwaves crackle with the message “member of the public down”? The answer is…very little hope at all.

Here in peaceful, crime-free Walsall, consider the fate of one local man undertaking the daily commute to and from the leafy paradise that is forever Aldridge to a distant southern suburb known as Birmingham. On his way home, he is creamed by a car and left with horrific and life-changing injuries. On a main route, at a main junction and at rush hour, West Midlands Police did not bother to attend. You can read what happened here.

Astonishingly, rather than the usual wrong place wrong time scenario to explain away incidents the police cannot be bothered to investigate, it seems that the victim was the cause of the RTA. He was at fault because he was riding a bicycle on the Queen`s Highway.

The great strength of the British police service is that men and women who serve it remain ordinary citizens subject to the same legislation and statutes that govern all of us. Without going over old ground, it is fair to say that the relationship between the police and the public in Britain is unique and really rather special. All of that, though, is obviously changing.

It is commendable that WM Police continue to engage with social media and we should remain grateful to police dogs, helicopters, Chief and Assistant Chief Constables as well as front-line bobbies on the beat who use twitter to remind us to avoid burglary by locking our doors and windows, to inhale and exhale to ward off unconsciousness and to emphasise the wonderful service they provide in fighting crime. No mention of avoiding response, ignoring potentially dangerous incidents or of the still ingrained incompetence and disturbing prejudice of a minority of active, serving officers.

It is, of course, easy to dismiss the shocking treatment of a single downed cyclists as a one off, wrong place wrong time, slipped through the safety net aberration that will never be repeated. But other evidence, all be it, apocryphal, is beginning to emerge that suggests that there are serious problems with the police service.

A couple of months ago, a neighbour came to ask for some advice. Walking home one Sunday evening, her teenage son had been approached by a middle aged man who produce a long bladed knife. There was no actual threat of violence but the older man was described as exhibiting slightly odd behaviour and was known as a local “character” who suffered from drink, drug and mental health problems. As the encounter took place next to a children`s playground, the concerned mother rang the newly introduce 101 police number for non emergency incidents.

The call was not answered and eventually cut out. She tried again and then again and after about 30 minutes managed to speak to somebody. She gave details of the incident, including the time, the exact location, a description and even a possible name and address of the man with the knife. At the end of this, the voice said: “Hang on, I`ll put you through to Walsall Police”.

After a long time on hold, she spoke to Walsall Police and told the tale again. A voice said: “Hang on, I`ll put you through to someone”. After another long time on hold, she told the tale for a third time. Another voice said: “Why have you come through to us? We are CID, we investigate scenes of crime. I`ll get someone to call you back”. The call was returned about 90 minutes later and she reported the incident again. She was disappointed with the outcome. It seemed that there were no officers available to respond but that the incident would be logged and someone would “get back to her”. They never did. It would seem that her son was in the wrong place at the wrong time and as he was a teenager, he was probably wearing a hoodie. He was actually returning from church.

More recently, nipping out to the local shop for some milk and a newspaper, an encounter with another friend and neighbour gave further cause for concern. He had obviously been in the wars and when asked about his black eye, cuts and abrasions, he merely shrugged. Outside the shop, in glorious spring morning sunshine, his story was slowly teased out.

There had been some commotion in his street during the previous night with parked cars being damaged by some bad people. Woken in the wee small hours and fearing for the safety of his car, he ventured out and, in the dark, stumbled into a uniformed police officer. The encounter led to his injuries and what a certain, senior local tweeting copper might describe as a “pavement rash”, a condition unusually common in certain types of suspect. The suggestion that he was the victim of assault was met with a resigned shrug from the respected, long standing good neighbour. “After 40 years,” he said, “you get used to it. There`s no point in fighting back and making a fuss makes it worse”. In attempting to protect his property, he was clearly in the wrong place at the wrong time. More seriously, he was in possession of the wrong ethnicity.

Before the boys in blue howl libel and defamation and demand details to launch yet another wide-ranging internal inquiry, it is worth pointing out that the people involved in these incidents do not wish to pursue complaints. One because they have no confidence that anything will change and the other because they believe that any challenge will result in unwanted and unjustified intimidation and harassment. The good work being done by the police is being undermined by an erosion of trust and no amount of cute police dogs and tweets about doughnuts is going to change that. The Met do not have a monopoly on corruption, incompetence and institutional racism.

Our stricken cyclist, as he battles through the painful journey to what we hope will be recovery, did make a fuss and got precisely nowhere. The admirable Brownhills Bob came riding tall in the saddle to give his take on this shameful episode.

When the good guys start complaining, the constabulary have more to worry about than cuts, elected commissioners and where the next chocolate bar is coming from. Evening all.

April 21, 2012

A hard Bahrain`s gonna fall

Filed under: Politics,Sport,World — theplastichippo @ 11:32 am

There is much to admire in Formula One motor racing. The skill and courage of the drivers and the ingenuity of designers, technicians and mechanics make for a thrilling spectacle. But be it a sport or an industry, F1 is definitely above politics.

The running of the Bahrain F1 Grand Prix is scheduled to take place as a crowd of up to a hundred thousand locals take to the streets to protest against the rule of a wealthy minority empowered by an accident of birth and maintained by the brutal use of force. The ruling royal family ordered the use of stun grenades and tear gas against their fellow Bahrainis as the F1 road show rolled into town.

With the eyes of the world on the oil rich island state, the action of the ruling elite should be viewed as moderate. Previously, the Al Khalifa family were happy to fire live rounds into protesters and then torture and imprison doctors and nurses who defied their rule by treating the wounded. But remember, F1 is a sport and is therefore above politics.

In such circumstances, it might seem reasonable to cancel the motor race, not least due to concerns over the safety of the drivers, the crews, the journalists and the leggy beauties flown in specially to form a guard of honour for the victorious gladiators. We can, of course, ignore concerns for the safety of the people of Bahrain struggling to remove an oppressive dictatorship because that is an internal matter and nothing to do with sport. We can also ignore the plight of human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaia, unjustly sentenced to life imprisonment by a military tribunal and close to death after a 70 day hunger strike. What is important is the tyre, fuel and pit stop strategy of McLaren-Mercedes, Red Bull Renault and Ferrari.

The British Prime Minister says that any decision to cancel the race can only be taken by the sport`s governing body which, in this case, is the rather strange shape of a certain Bernie Ecclestone. Cameron is happy to continue selling King Hamad small arms, heavy weaponry and other ordinance designed to quell civil unrest because it is good for Britain`s balance of payments. As for Bernie, who managed to get around legislation banning tobacco advertising by bunging some dosh to Gordon Brown`s Labour government, people being tortured and shot is “nothing to do with me”.

Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa stepped up to the microphone with a confused looking Bernie at his side and said that a cancellation of the race would “just empower extremists” and claimed that the very presence of Jason Button and Lewis Hamilton would be a “force for good”. This would suggest that handsome millionaires racing expensive machines around a track will encourage democracy and freedom in a subjugated state. If that is the case, David Cameron should consider opening go-kart tracks in the inner cities of Britain in an attempt to avoid his inevitable collapse. Deranged greens and local residents will, of course, be judged as armed gangs of terrorists thereby justifying the deployment of heavy armour to protect the neighbourhood Tesco store.

Petrol head motoring journalists are howling with indignation at the thought of cancelling the procession of 200mph advertising hoardings. F1, after all, is a sport and has nothing to do with politics and has everything to do with money. They argue that the bleeding heart liberal cyclists so keen on defending human rights did not object to the Chinese Grand Prix so that makes Bahrain okay.

They also argue that the loss of sponsors exposure and the outrageous denial of broadcast rights will impact the global economy and the personal fortune of Bernie Ecclestone and the Al Khalifa family. In desperation, some of these wannabe boy racer journalists compensating for something missing in the trouser department are suggesting that the race must take place because if the cameras go away, the ruling family of Bahrain will instigate a blood bath by way of vengeance for lost income. F1 is a sport and so is above politics.

Motor racing is undoubtedly very exciting. The harmony between man and machine at the limits of durability, performance and stress tolerances make for compelling viewing. As the sportsmen duel to be first to open the champagne in a part of the world that does not allow women to drive because some men claim that it said so in a book written 1400 years ago, we can only marvel at the bravery of the drivers as they race for the line.

If we are honest, we watch F1 because we want to see cars crashing and secretly hope for an almighty pile up at turn one. We become annoyed at the safety car and hope for torrential downpours to sort out the men from the boys. We want the man with the front jack in the pit lane to be taken out by the shin with the front wing. We would love to see a wheel fall off after a pneumatic nut gun failed and we would enjoy witnessing the fuel guy getting his hose stuck. Powered by testosterone, F1 is a little bit like government. Authority can be legally elected, assumed or just taken.

In Bahrain, or in Britain, or in so many other places, we can hardly wait to see the crash.

April 17, 2012

Every picture tells a story

Filed under: Education,History,Politics — theplastichippo @ 9:34 am

The rumour that a portrait of Michael Gove is to be prominently displayed in every Academy and Free School needs to be taken with an industrial strength pinch of salt. Such a preposterous idea could not possibly be true, could it?

The Secretary of State for Education has had to endure an extraordinary amount of name calling, not least from this humble blog. His dogged determination to impose his single, some would say narrow, minded vision for the future of education has resulted in outpourings of bile and invective usually reserved for paraplegics expecting the state to pay for a wheelchair, benefit cheats and swimmers who disrupt boat races. Perhaps it is time to show a little sympathy for Michael Gove.

Much has been made of his physical appearance. He might, admittedly, not be the thinking woman`s idea of George Clooney or Johnny Depp, but to challenge the credibility of the custodian of our children`s education because he looks a bit odd is as insidious as branding terminal cancer patients as scroungers and parents who question education policy as Trotskyites. A better way to understand current education policy is to understand the minister himself. It might be worth examining what made Michael the man he is today.

Born in the summer of love a few weeks after the release of Sgt. Pepper, some nastier observers have commented that Gove has a face that only a mother could love. Sadly for Michael, this was not the case. Given up for adoption at birth, the plot of his life is worthy of Dickens. At four months old he was taken in by a fish gutter and his kindly wife and by 1972 was attending a state primary school in the rougher end of Aberdeen. Margaret Thatcher was then Education Secretary and achieving notoriety by taking milk away from children as an inept government led by Edward Heath was ruining the economy and lying to the electorate. One can only imagine the isolation felt by studious little Michael and the taunts and bullying he suffered at the hands of vicious, inner city urchins in the cold, granite school halls of a cold, granite city.

His parents scrimped and saved and managed to afford to send him to the best private secondary school in Aberdeen, Robert Gordon`s College. The “Auld Hoose”, as RGC is known, is proud of its illustrious sporting alumni including Scottish Rugby internationals and Olympian athletes. Rugger, hockey and all things physical were, and are, important at Michael`s old alma mater. Having escaped from working class oiks, the poor boy must have found himself the butt of crude jokes and cruel humiliation in the showers from toffs, cads and bounders after a cross country run. It is little wonder that he now despises schools.

Seeking refuge in Virgil, Homer and Aristotle, young Michael plotted his revenge against the bullies and in 1985 entered Lady Margaret Hall, an Oxford college formerly the exclusive preserve of women. Earlier that year, Oxford dons had refused to grant an honorary doctorate to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher because of their concerns over education policy and funding. Michael Gove went on to become President of the Oxford Union.

Gove graduated in the summer of 1988 and without any qualification in teaching, pedagogy or educational psychology, embarked on a career in journalism, eventually becoming assistant editor of the Times and rather close to a certain Rupert Murdoch. With delicious serendipity, that summer saw Kenneth`s Baker`s Education Reform Act pass into law. Considered to be the most sweeping “reform” of education since the 1944 Butler Act, the Conservative legislation introduced the National Curriculum which was sold as a guarantor of an equitable education for every child in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland, including the granite city of Aberdeen, continues to set its own curriculum.

In order to ensure an equitable education for every child in the nation, apart from the wee bairns north of the border, Key Stages and attendant testing for progress were imposed to verify equality and school league tables would allow parents to judge the performance of schools. The erroneous assumption, both then and now, is that children respond to learning at the same rate, with the same level of cognition and with the same level of language acquisition. They do not and, of all people, the current Secretary of State refuses to acknowledge this basic tenant of child development. Poor Michael.

Back in the 80`s, the government took a look round the crumbling school estate and it did not like what it saw. With all but derelict Victorian primaries and asbestos riddled 60`s comprehensives, the only thing the department saw was the repair bill. In a move of tactical genius, the Baker Act introduced Local Management of School or LMS, still referred to as “Hell of a Mess” in staff rooms across the nation. This wheeze devolved funding capital directly to head teachers. The message from government was clear: “It`s your money, you fix the roof. It`s not our problem anymore.”

The 1988 Act also gave us City Technology Colleges where the great unwashed were to be trained to use a hammer and then find work that suited their station. These seats of learning were later embraced by New Labour and rebranded as Academies and, at first, did quite well in improving standards and examination results. They did so well, in fact, that the current government is still using years old statistics to justify present day failing Academies. However, the headlong rush to privatise education continues unabated and is rapidly descending into chaos. Poor Michael.

Returning to the 1988 Education Reform Act, the jewel in the crown of the legislation was the creation of Grant Maintained Schools. The idea was to liberate schools from tyrannical local authority control and allow individuals to select pupils, control their own budgets funded directly from central government and basically do whatever they bloody well liked. It was a disaster of Titanic proportion. The scheme failed due to inept leadership, financial mismanagement and, in some cases, corrupt criminality. Now the GMS idea is back with knobs on in the form of Free Schools. Poor Michael.

Over the recent Easter weekend, overpaid, lazy, militant Marxist teachers spent a tiny fraction of their generous holiday entitlement to attend two union conferences. The media quite rightly reported that these anarchists are planning industrial action that will damage and possibly kill children. What went largely unreported is that the teaching unions intend to ignore an imposed reading test on six year olds which will condemn schools, parents and children as failures unless they understand the meaning of quantitative easing, the moral necessity of taxing the poor to reward the rich and the fact that Michael Gove is nothing short of a living god.

Similarly, teaching unions intend to simply ignore Ofsted which, under Gove and his rather sinister pal Sir Michael Wilshaw, has become a crude instrument to enforce crackpot government policy and has lost any credibility that it may once have possessed. Understandably, the Secretary of State sees no reason to take any notice of a gang of indolent, inept Trots. Michael doesn`t like teachers.

Nearly £340million has been spent on the Academies and Free Schools programme with more than 130 department officials pandering to Michael`s vanity project. Out of the 79 Free Schools due to open in September, 35 do not yet have a location or a building. All of the free 79 have yet to set out curriculum, admission criteria or any meaningful system of governance or accountability.

In those terrible childhood years of rejection, isolation, humiliation and incessant bullying, little Michael must have dreamed of this vengeful moment. Forget the research that indicates that victims of bullying become a bully given half a chance. Little Michael has caught a spider and is engrossed in pulling its legs off one by one.

Having written an introduction to a reprint of the King James Bible, Michael seems to have misinterpreted the story of Dorian Gray. In some Aberdonian attic, there is a portrait of Michael looking tall, noble, athletic, popular and even handsome. This is the picture that might be copied and hung in the halls of schools that have submitted to his will.

However, the flesh and blood Michael that walks the earth is presenting symptoms of quaint Victorian megalomania. He has suffered enough, and rather than unleashing our contempt, derision and invective towards this innocent victim currently destroying education, we should instead offer sympathy and support. As a civilised society, the very least we can give him is the very best of post traumatic stress counselling.

We can only hope that the portrait remains locked in the attic.

April 12, 2012

Ars longa, vita brevis

Filed under: Walsall — theplastichippo @ 8:53 pm

Crime in Walsall, it would seem, is decreasing. Great news for the townsfolk of this fair borough, not so good for the aesthetes of the far off city of Durham.

According to the local peelers, vehicle crime is down 20 per cent compared to last month and residential break-ins are down 27 per cent. Sadly, the figures for violent crime, ASB, metal theft, public order offences and drug related criminality have not yet been mentioned which suggests that the news regarding that sort of wrongdoing might not be so positive.

This might suggest that the felonious Walsall underworld falls into two distinct groups. There are the knuckle dragging, tattooed, shaven headed simians too stupid to realise that taking an angle grinder to a live power cable might spoil your day and hitting an old lady over the head for her pension money is the only way to put Special Brew and skunk on the table.

Then there are more cognitive higher apes who have managed to evolve the use of an opposable thumb. These gibbons can hot wire cars, pick a lock, falsify documents, illegally claim benefits, buy property and allow it to burn down and, to the shock and horror of Gideon Osborne, not pay any tax. The differences between these two sub-species are clearly defined. One group head-butt each other in what passes for communication, the other group drive BMWs.

As with all delineation between similar but divergent genus, there is a blurring of boundaries where criminal classes interact. In a perverted Venn diagram of symbiosis, the gibbons need the bonobo and the bonobo need the gibbons. An excellent example of this cross species collaboration occurred recently in the unlikely setting of the Oriental Museum at Durham University. It seems that some of Walsall`s finest targeted a green jade bowl and a Dehua porcelain sculpture from the Chinese Qing Dynasty worth about a couple of million quid. We should be proud that bonobos and gibbons from Walsall, Willenhall and Bloxwich should possess such artistic appreciation that it enabled them to identify objects of great beauty and then steal them.

It should be made clear that the Malcolm MacDonald Gallery at Durham is not named in honour of the Newcastle United centre forward who scored a hat-trick against Liverpool on his debut and thumped five passed Cyprus wearing an England shirt. Instead, the gallery commemorates another Malcolm, the son of Ramsey MacDonald, the first ever Labour Prime Minister. The main hobby of Malcolm the elder was looting beautiful artefacts from the Far East which then ended up on display in the North East.

Quite how some low life from Walsall ended up nicking stuff from a city that is the final resting place of Saint Cuthbert and the venerable Saint Bede is anybody’s guess but they certainly found what they were looking for. Although it is tempting to imagine a heist in the tradition of gentlemen thieves such as Raffles or the Pink Panther, it is impossible not to visualise the apes head-butting their way through a brick wall whilst singing sotto voce: “Durrum…durrum…durrum durrum dad dum…darrum dad dum…Badada dum”.

There is something not quite right about this peculiar theft. Regardless of Walsall council claiming that the New Art Gallery attracts a million visitors an hour with queues stretching back as far as Darlaston, the criminal fraternity in the borough are not known as collectors of fine, ancient china, preferring instead to collect drain covers, attack dogs and tattoos. One casualty of the Durham break-in might be the rather optimistic proposal to host the Turner Prize at the New Art Gallery. Once described as Ceausescu`s Romania with fast food outlets, the Turner judges might now consider Walsall to be a viper`s nest of art thieves and we are unlikely to witness Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst and Gilbert & George enjoying a pint in Wetherspoons.

The two artefacts lifted by Walsall`s hole in the wall gang have yet to be recovered and are probably in the procession of a private collector with enough wealth to commission robbery to order as opposed to the irritation of EBay. Curiously, the alleged perpetrators who were arrested and bailed have also disappeared. Durham Police might like to have a shufty around Walsall market for a Degas or Picasso and might also consider checking out the New Art Gallery for ne`er do wells eyeing up the Garman Ryan collection.

The aphorism art is long, life is short is attributed to Hippocrates. The full translation from Greek via Latin reads:
“Life is short, and Art long, opportunity fleeting, experience perilous, and decision difficult.”

Burglary and car theft may have decreased in Walsall because there is not a lot left worth stealing. Felons tired of the meagre profit gained from stripping lead from churches and ripping off memorials to those who fell in war might be tempted to pursue a more lucrative exploration of the world of fine art. Life`s too short to pass up a fleeting opportunity no matter how perilous the experience.

Concerned Walsall residents should take the advice from West Midlands Police:
“Do not encourage theft. Keep your Cezanne and Jackson Pollocks well away from view and always lock your doors and windows at night. Mind how you go and don`t have nightmares.”

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