The Plastic Hippo

January 30, 2012


Filed under: Fiction,Media,Politics,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 10:58 am

Once upon a time, storytelling was the only way of conveying history, common morality, cultural identity, education and political thought to our offspring. Then this new fangled cave painting and the dangerous ability to write stuff down came along and made things more complicated.

In an age of 24 hour television and eight-year-olds with the pod that begins with “i” (did you see what I did there children?), media savvy rug rats might be ambivalent to the launch of National Storytelling Week. But parents wishing to expose their little darlings to myth, fable, legend and allegory need not fear. We always have politicians to make things up to keep the feeble minded amused.

Sadly, the stories that our elected representatives tell us are almost invariably untrue and are based on the premise that the audience is less than 48 month old. The assumption is that the electorate believe what they are told and can still be easily terrified by the bogey man. The intensity of falsehood, half-truth and lies being broadcast by the current crop of storytellers is worthy of the Epimenides paradox. The great ancient Greek storyteller famously stated that “all Cretans are liars”. Unfortunately, Epimenides was a Cretan so his statement must mean that all Cretans always tell the truth. But Epimenides is a Cretan and a liar so…are you sitting comfortably?

So how did our politicians garner the skills required to tell such huge porkie pies? The indispensable Sue Marsh on the wonderful Diary of a Benefit Scrounger blog, gives us something of a clue.

Floella Benjamin might not have been elected, but as a member of the House of Lords, she plays an important part in law making and it seems odd that a mother and champion of Barnardos and NCH Action for Children should decide to stay away from a vote to preserve National Insurance contributions for severely disabled children. Perhaps Baroness Benjamin of Beckenham is more at home in the company of Hamble, Jemima and Little Ted rather than her fellow Liberal Democrat peers who defied the party whip.

It could well be that Playschool was not the only children’s television programme offering training in storytelling duplicity. Five-year-olds subjected to the first series of Balamory are now engaged with GCSE’s. What’s the story, university? They couldn’t afford to go.

You may wonder what Danny Alexander did before becoming a cabinet minister. Lacking the remotest scoobie doo regarding economics, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury continues to invent excuses for increased government borrowing, negative growth and a debt that has increased to £1trillion. Now then, children. That’s a big number. Does anybody know how big a trillion is? Here is Danny in a former life.

It’s not the first time Danny the Inventor has worked with David Cameron. Danny and Dave told stories to pre-school children as long ago as 2002. Dave is currently playing Simple Simon in Panto in Davos before embarking on a tour of Trumpton, Camberwick Green, Chigley and Greendale.

Having been forced to endure patronising rubbish on television, the under fives head off for school with the idea that all adults are stupid. The little darlings are, of course, quite wrong. Puppets can be stupid too. Here is the Secretary of State for Education forcing Academy status on an unsuspecting bear.

If that is not enough to frighten children witless, Eric Pickles will have them cowering behind the sofa in sheer terror. Dave’s trophy northerner turned up in Dr Who before the scripts disappeared up the black hole of unfathomability as the producers ran out of ideas.

Meanwhile, on NHS Cloud Base, leader of Spectrum Andrew Lansley has gone completely bonkers. The wheels are coming off his wacky race to sell off the NHS to his chums and although Captain Scarlet might be indestructible, Gideon Osborne, who plays him, is not.

It’s not as if the other lot are any better at telling stories. Since grumpy Gordon, the big engine, was scrapped, the Island of Sodor has never been the same. Ed Miliband can hardly function since Grommit broke up the double act citing artistic differences and Ed Balls is about as relevant as Noggin the Nog.

Locally, Walsall once had its own magic roundabout. The roundabout was so magical that it let traffic come and go with relative ease. The storytellers in the Big House on Lichfield Street tell us that digging it up to make a canal when it rains has boosted regeneration and that the town is booming.

The storytellers tell fantastical tales of openness and accountability. As we wait for live streaming of council meetings, here is a preview of what goes on inside the council house.

And everyone lived happily ever after. Sleep well.


January 27, 2012

Economic cleansing

Filed under: History,Literature,Politics,Rights,Society — theplastichippo @ 1:34 pm

When The Grapes of Wrath was published in 1939, John Steinbeck’s masterpiece detailing the plight of the poor was immediately banned. The bigoted and the ignorant, faced with some uncomfortable truth, organised themselves and ceremonially burned the book. Thank goodness those days are long gone.

Even before the coalition government’s wretched Welfare Reform Bill was presented to the House of Lords for scrutiny, heavy weight cabinet ministers trolled into TV and radio studios and blustered that whatever the other place decided, their vindictive bill would carry on regardless when it returned to the Commons. The legitimacy of the House of Lords is, of course, questionable, but when a political party that does not have a majority in the Commons dismisses the last mechanism of accountability, a little bit of democracy dies.

The coalition government has suffered a series of defeats in the Lords but has managed to abolish the social fund, a safety net for those about to starve to death, the denial of support for children with severe disabilities and the eviction of poor people from their homes who do not seem to understand their place in the social order. Millionaire cabinet ministers call this “caring conservatism” as they tuck into a lunch, at tax payers expense, that costs more than a family of four on state benefits receive in a week.

The third and final reading of the bill in the Lords takes place on the last day of January. The coalition government have scheduled that the bill will return to the Commons on the first day of February to be passed into law regardless. Not content with ignoring the Lords and positively tumescent that an opinion poll conducted by the right wing press shows that support for bashing benefit scroungers is a vote winner, our government will save peanuts by continuing to order the chateaubriand, caviare, foie gras and Bollinger. Disability Living Allowance fraud, according to the government’s own figures, is 0.5 per cent. That has resulted in 199 disabled people being taunted as scrounging criminals because of a single fraudster who knows how to play the system. It’s a bit like saying that all multi-national companies and banks avoid paying taxes because a single company is taken out to lunch by Her Majesties Revenue and Customs. Stephen Hester enjoys a lot a lunches.

When an opinion poll empowers a government to harm its people, in sharp contrast to “reforms” to the NHS which everyone but cabinet ministers oppose, you might suspect that a nation is becoming out of control.

The propaganda war has been won and retired Archbishops, hacks who think disability is imagined and every bigoted and ignorant idiot who thinks that needy people are inferior are having a field day in peddling their hatred. For good measure, the Tory coalition announced 40 new Tory peers to avoid any embarrassment in the Lords in future. Another little bit of democracy has died.

Even as the government suffered defeat in the Lords, David Cameron gave a speech telling the European Court of Human Rights to stop “interfering” with his plan to take away the freedoms of his own citizens. Robust legislation protecting health and safety, the rights of trade unions and the duty of care for people with terminal illness will be chucked on the bonfire of bigoted and ignorant dogma. A little bit of democracy has died.

The coalition government are rushing through the imposition of elected mayors and police commissioners. In May, some of our major cities will undertake a referendum to ask if they want a single dictator to rule them and in November another single dictator to govern policing. The current system of local government and police accountability might be flawed, but who wants Ant and Dec running a community? A little bit of democracy has died.

The government, who were not fully elected, once blamed Gordon Brown for the deficit and all the ills of the world. Now they blame disabled people, the poor, Europe, warm weather, cold weather, aliens, bloggers and the man in the moon for the fact that the economy is shrinking and the deficit has actually increased in the nearly two years they have been in power. It seems the only option now is to print more money. Does that sound familiar? Those fortunate enough to be employed will need wheelbarrows to carry their increasingly worthless wages home and are being encouraged to despise the nearest, defenceless available target and focus their rage against the scroungers and the “feckless”, to quote George Carey.

Implicit in all of this are the Liberal Democrats who, for Andy Worhol`s brief 15 minutes of fame, are prepared to whore themselves under Cameron’s whip. Having made a total Rod Liddle of Proportional Representation, it is worth reminding Clegg, Cable and the utterly ridiculous Danny Alexander that Quisling met his fate by firing squad and Marshall Petain died in prison aged 95.

In 1939, when bigoted and ignorant Americans were burning The Grapes of Wrath, far away in Germany, other bigoted and ignorant people were burning something quite different. An awful lot of democracy and people died.

January 23, 2012

In cyberspace, everyone can hear you scream

Filed under: Media,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 4:04 pm

If you want to know the size of the one that got away, do not ask a fisherman. If you want to know what happened to a copper fish in Walsall Wood, do not ask the Express and Star and if you want to develop creative arts and digital media in Walsall, the last thing you should do is ask a Walsall blogger.

Once again our local rag, the Express and Star, has shamelessly plundered the work of the sage of the northern wastes, the redoubtable Brownhills Bob. Bob broke the story of a wonderful addition to a publicly funded artwork on Thursday. The E&S ran the story on Saturday and not content with leaving the source of the scoop uncredited, again either distorted or ignored the facts of a rather inconsequential column filler.

The rather amusing jolly jape was described as theft and vandalism and a quick phone call to to “rent-a-gob” Mike Bird produced a pitiful attempt at humour that once again brought the borough into disrepute. Tory councillors up for re-election in May must wince with toe-curling embarrassment every time the glorious leader opens his mouth.

Interestingly, Friday brought a thought-provoking blog post from councillor Ian Shires, leader of Walsall Liberal Democrats and chair of the council’s Regeneration Scrutiny and Performance Panel. He asked how growth in creative arts and the digital sector can be stimulated. The good and the great were summoned to give evidence to the scrutiny panel including Wolverhampton University, Walsall College, Forest Arts Centre, the New Art Gallery, the council’s creative development team, the Vine Trust, the Church at Junction 10, the heads of libraries and arts and the Custard Factory. All agreed that there is huge potential within Walsall for the development of creative arts and digital media.

But where were the local and somewhat expert practitioners in social media? Perhaps they are to be served up as a golden beef wellington boot covered in custard at a later meeting. The council’s own web presence is, to be honest, really rather poor. The home page is barely navigable and the Twitter output is both banal and patronising and is regularly outdone by people producing blog posts and tweets in real time and with a greater degree of accuracy than the releases from the press office spoon feeding good news stories to the Express and Star.

Nothing moves in Walsall without it turning up on Twitter. Road closures, fallen trees, fires, closed schools, unemptied bins, speeding gritter lorries, bread for sale on Mellish Road, curry kits and golden wellies rotating gracefully over a canal hit cyberspace faster than a frown from Sigourney Weaver. With the one exception of what you are reading now, which is merely a collection of bizarre ramblings of a deranged alcoholic derelict, Walsall bloggers tend to post heartfelt, well informed and usually accurate articles, unlike the Express and Star.

As this humble blog knows only too well, anything that rings untrue or is hypocritical is carefully analysed, seized upon and then torn apart by erudite, well reasoned comments and tweets. Social media is a two-way street that has produced a vibrant internet community in Walsall that is the envy of larger towns and even cities. Friends from beyond our borders who know nothing of Walsall report following local bloggers not just for the entertainment value of the ranting, but also for the diversity of local history, wildlife, sport and even the perspective of the local boys in blue. They do this by accessing The YamYam, itself no stranger to being plundered by the dying printed media for stories without any acknowledgement. See this weeks Sunday Mercury.

This and many other blogs have long sung the praises of The YamYam. Its publisher, the tireless Mark Blackstock, has created a network that brings together all the diversity of opinion in Walsall and, more importantly, throws in sections on local business and arts and crafts. If the Regeneration Scrutiny and Performance Panel wish to explore ways of developing the creative arts and digital sector, they would do well to summon Mr Blackstock and listen to someone who has already done it.

We were recently told that the council has increased spending on communications to £800K plus a year. There have been some improvements, particularly live tweets coming out of the last meeting of full council and more councillors are using Twitter. But remember that some time ago we were promised live streams from council meetings so that we could judge for ourselves the antics of our elected representatives. The equipment was bought and installed and is now gathering dust. Wanting to know what is going on in Walsall, people tend to make the impartial YamYam the first port of call rather than the impenetrable council site. Perhaps the councillors on the scrutiny panel should ask if £800K plus is getting the message across and if it represents value for money. The digital economy, like public art should not simply be a tick box exercise on a council`s to do list.

In 1998, to celebrate their team reaching the cup final, fans of Newcastle United dressed the Angel of the North in a huge Alan Shearer replica shirt. The artist, Anthony Gormley was said to be delighted at the stunt as it showed that local people had taken the piece to their hearts even if they still insist on calling the statue the Gateshead flasher. Those that hung the boot on the Walsall Wood angler are to be congratulated. Ask the residents around Dulwich Park who had their Barbara Hepworth stolen and cut up for scrap for a fraction of its true cost how they feel about replica shirts, golden boots and vandalism.

As Sigourney famously growled in Alien: “Get away from her you b**ch.”

January 18, 2012

Carry on camping

Filed under: Politics,Rights,Society,World — theplastichippo @ 11:19 pm

In the High Court, Mr Justice Lindblom has ruled that the Occupy London encampment outside St Paul’s is unlawful. The City of London Corporation are now free to evict the happy campers. Many will say “good riddance”, but in fact it is good riddance to the freedom of expression and assembly and another small step towards totalitarianism.

The first name of Mr Justice Lindblom is not actually Justice. He usually answers to the name Keith which sounds a little less intimidating. In his summing up, Keith or Justice, or whatever his name is, said:

“The freedoms and rights of others, the interests of public health and public safety and the prevention of disorder and crime, and the need to protect the environment of this part of the City of London all demand the remedy which the court’s order will bring”.

It is interesting that health and safety should be rattled at the tent dwellers when this pitiful excuse for a government is seeking to repeal health and safety legislation designed to protect people in the workplace in the name of productivity. Dead worker, dead hippy, good riddance.

There has been no disorder or crime at any of the Occupy sites other than the actions of the security forces. Who can forget the images of peaceful protesters being doused with pepper spray by overweight policemen in the States?

As for the environment of the City of London? Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. The Corporation wishes to evict peaceful demonstrators opposed to the corporate greed that has brought the planet to the edge of the abyss. The pepper spray is going in the wrong direction.

Freedom to protest and freedom of assembly is a basic human right. Keith thinks that it is not and has given a judgement that protects the avaricious and allows law enforcement agencies to hit innocent people over the head.

The Occupy movement will not go away and even now, smaller hippos have been tasked with finding the moth eaten tent that lurks somewhere in the cluttered garden shed.

Alone we whisper, together we shout. We will carry on camping.

January 16, 2012

Freudian slip

Filed under: Health,Politics,Rights,Society,Walsall,World — theplastichippo @ 11:46 pm

It is not certain if Under Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Lord Freud has ever visited Walsall to view the Garman Ryan collection at the New Art Gallery. Should he do so, then West Midlands Police need to be vigilant. The man is a cheat and a liar and is capable of nicking Uncle Lucien`s best work.

Sir David Anthony Freud, Baron Freud to his mates, has been tasked with guiding the coalition government’s Welfare Reform Bill through the House of Lords. After the bill suffered a series of defeats last week, the Lords temporal and spiritual return to the Other Place with the government hoping that they will vote away common decency, independence, freedom and basic human rights. Lord Freud, however, is not doing very well and is becoming increasingly desperate.

When the Lords soundly defeated the government last week, Freud decided that he would not accept the decision. When the Lords and Ladies went home to enjoy a well deserved cup of Horlicks and an Inspector Morse DVD, Freud sneaked back into a deserted chamber late at night with a large number of Tory peers and introduced amendments to reverse the earlier votes. Having lost the argument to withdraw state benefit from people with terminal cancer and from children with severe disabilities because of an absence of National Insurance contributions, this ignoble lord attempted to cheat his way to stealing from the poor and, in so doing, brought parliament into disrepute.

With the mainstream press all but ignoring the outstanding #spartacusreport compiled by disability rights campaigners, Freud and the Department of Work and Pensions turned to their chums at News International and the Daily Mail to again smear people with disabilities as scroungers. It is no coincidence that the day before another series of crucial votes in the Lords, the Sun and the Mail cut and pasted a DWP press release demonising the sick, the disabled and the dying. For good measure and in the time honoured tradition of distraction, a story was leaked of the government gifting a £60million yacht to an 85 year old to celebrate her being the richest woman on the planet for the last 60 years. £60million is an awful lot of Disability Living Allowance.

So how is the great grandson of Sigmund and the nephew of Lucien and Clement qualified as an expert in both disability and democracy? After public school and Merton College Oxford, David Freud used the family name to blag a job on the Financial Times. In 1983 he entered the world of finance and made a complete hash of the Channel Tunnel project which lost investors £2billion and required a £1.2billion government bail-out. He later boasted that he had “successfully sold the market a pup”. He then completely failed as vice-chairman of UBS, an investment bank notorious for rogue trading and tax avoidance. How appropriate that all this qualifies him to take £75 a week away from someone who cannot walk.

His credentials in the democratic process are equally bogus. Declaring that he was bored with the city and not merely useless, Freud was appointed by Tony Blair to review the benefits system. He concluded that the private sector should have more involvement in welfare and that single parents and people with disabilities should be forced to work by having their benefits stopped. Then, and now with knobs on, he offers no explanation as to where these jobs are going to be found. When grumpy Gordon Brown took over from Blair, Freud saw the writing on the wall and he jumped ship to join the Conservative party. Rather than endure all the unnecessary effort of standing as a parliamentary candidate and face a tiresome election, he was quickly ennobled as Baron Freud of Eastry and is now the minister that has lied to parliament, lied to the country and is trampling over disabled people and democracy.

Exactly a year after he became a minister, Lord Freud was hit by a motorcycle outside the Houses of Parliament in May 2011. Fortunately, he made a full recovery and remains able-bodied. How different his attack on the vulnerable might have been if he were immobile and in need of care. However, this Perineum Peer, so called because he is somewhere between an utter penis and a complete rectum, remains along with Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling and Maria Miller, a liar. When a Rabbi offers a sermon comparing the Welfare Reform Bill to policies adopted in Germany during the 1930`s, you know that it is time to become very, very frightened.

One can only hope that Her Majesty lives long enough to see the champagne bottle smash against the bow of her lovely new yacht.

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