The Plastic Hippo

February 26, 2012

Phew! What a scorcher!

Filed under: Fiction,Media — theplastichippo @ 12:41 am

At last, your super, soar away Sun on Sunday hits the streets to lift the economic gloom and put the “Great” back into Great Britain. The nations` newest favourite Sunday newspaper will carry on the noble tradition of the much missed News of the World.

The glorious spring weather heralds the dawn of a new age of quality newspapers. For too long, the great British public have not been able to read about what someone off the telly gets up to in the bedroom or enjoy the wise words of top notch pundits slagging off people who are different from us. Under the watchful eye of the wonderful Rupert Murdoch, the Sun on Sunday has spared no expense in securing the very best journalists to tell us what the great man thinks. Mr Murdoch is a national treasure and deserves a knighthood. Oh if only he were British, or even Australian.

Newly appointed managing editor Barry MacKenzie, formerly of the Kelvinside Advertiser and Horse Renderers Gazette, has vowed to maintain the long and honourable legacy of News International publications. Speaking from his padded room in Wapping, Big Barry said:

“Dwarf throwing and topless weather forecasts are what the people want and what the people deserve and I`m going to give it to them.” In a courageous attack on soft soap liberal do-gooders intent on curbing free speech, battling Barry added: “Oh shut up. Shut up Watson and go back to sleep.”

Political expert and lovely man Toby Old has been appointed to unravel the really difficult stuff that comes out of Westminster. In plain English, intellectual Toby will give Sun on Sunday readers the low down on the stories that matter. Toby, 42DD – 26 – 38, said:

“We won`t bother with the trivia of that murdered girl thing, but we will concentrate on exposing thug Labour MPs who head butt innocent Tory members. We will also highlight the scandal of gay men in parliament. Err…hang on. No, right, yes. We will mount a crusade to name and shame paediatricians and give their names and addresses to Sun on Sunday readers so local communities can take the appropriate action to stop their vile deeds and their vile lives.”

Sports editor Jeremy Clarkson said: “I know which footballers are dogging in car parks and I know the alien cricketers who are taking bungs and I`m not afraid to name them. So buy the Sun on Sunday.”

Lifestyle and beauty expert Katie Price, aka Jordan, will share her expertise on parenting, relationships, physical mutilation and hot, top tips to keep you on the front page. When e-mailed by Sun on Sunday executives, the perfect example of British womanhood replied: “Yeah, whatever. How much are u gonna pay to see my false tits?”

Simon Cowell, show biz genius is to be our entertainment editor. With typical candour, Simon said: “Okay, how much are you going to pay me to peddle this crap? Yeah, a couple of mil sounds fine. Talk to my lawyers.”

Business editor Mandy, aged 19 from Billericay said:
“I can`t wait to get my kit off for the good of the nation. I don`t mind not being paid to debase myself because it helps our obese and stupid lorry drivers to keep the country moving. A quick flash of my breasts is nothing compared to what these knights of road do for the economy. The only way to cut the horrible fiscal deficit brought about by Gordon Brown is to allow our national heroes to masturbate in service stations when they are out of tachograph time. Economics? Simple, innit?

The new soar away Sun on Sunday is available now at all quality outlets. For 50p you can buy it at Tesco and buy two at Poundland. Our advertisers Vodaphone, RBS, and Lloyds Bank really need your support.

The Sun on Sunday, working for Britain, working for you and working for David Cameron.


February 23, 2012

Bearing witness

Filed under: Media,World — theplastichippo @ 9:00 pm

There is a certain type of journalist that is vulgar, lazy, corrupt, irresponsible and thoroughly vile. Marie Colvin was not such a journalist.

Her death in Syria, along with that of French photographer Remi Ochlik, is a loss not confined to the highest standards of journalism, but also to the very principles of freedom and truth. Blown apart by a missile allegedly targeted at the signal from her satellite phone as she filed copy, her body, or what is left of it, remains unrecovered. Wounded Sunday Times photographer Paul Conroy and Edith Bouvier of Le Figaro are in need of medical attention and are far from safety.

Tall, strikingly beautiful and sporting an eye patch as a result of losing an eye in the armed conflict in Sri Lanka, Marie Colvin was never afraid to put herself in harm`s way to report the barbarism of war and oppression. Never one to resort to the “look how brave I am” excitability of some of her more gung-ho fellow war correspondents, she brought us the true horror of inhumanity as we sat before our Sunday morning bacon and eggs. She is also credited with saving the lives of 1500 women and children in East Timor and forcing the attention of unwilling governments to address human rights abuses, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Aspiring hacks who think journalism is rummaging in the dustbins of Z list celebrities and hacking the phone of a dead schoolgirl should really read some of her dispatches. Executives who talk of witch-hunts and the freedom of the press and who define a war zone as attempting to park in Knightsbridge or running the gauntlet of paps when leaving the Groucho Club, will never experience the terrible consequence of incoming artillery. Marie Colvin did, and had the courage to report it.

It is probably true that she would have been furious if any military intervention by the West in Syria was provoked by her death. Her concern was for the countless civilians, women and children, being slaughtered by evil regimes across the planet. Our governments repeatedly tell us that Syria is “different” from Libya so armed intervention is out of the question, particularly with the Russian and Chinese veto at the UN. Syria might not satisfy our business interests, but the artillery shells, tanks and missiles aimed at children are the same and so is the death and destruction. If the life of Marie Colvin is worth anything and if the existence of our fellow human beings is worth anything, the world has to act to stop the slaughter. Words were enough for Marie Colvin. They are not enough for governments.

During the past 24 hours, the address she gave to the truth at all costs memorial service to commemorate journalists who lost their lives reporting 21st century conflict has been quoted and re-quoted. This blog makes no apology for reproducing her words.

“Covering a war means going to places torn by chaos, destruction, and death and trying to bear witness. It means trying to find the truth in a sandstorm of propaganda when armies, tribes or terrorists clash.

And yes, it means taking risks, not just for yourself but often for the people who work closely with you.

Despite all the videos you see from the Ministry of Defence or the Pentagon, and all the sanitised language describing smart bombs and pinpoint strikes… the scene on the ground has remained remarkably the same for hundreds of years.
Craters. Burned houses. Mutilated bodies. Women weeping for children and husbands. Men for their wives, mothers children.

Our mission is to report these horrors of war with accuracy and without prejudice.

Someone has to go there and see what is happening. You can’t get that information without going to places where people are being shot at, and others are shooting at you.
The real difficulty is having enough faith in humanity to believe that enough people be they government, military or the man on the street, will care when your file reaches the printed page, the website or the TV screen.

We do have that faith because we believe we do make a difference.”
Sleep well, Marie. You made a difference.

February 20, 2012

Undergraduate humour

Filed under: Education,History,Politics,Rights — theplastichippo @ 4:54 pm

A long, long time ago, those of us of a certain age will still remember condemning any figure of authority as a fascist. The schoolmaster, the PM and the postman were all jackbooted thugs who were, like, oppressing us man.

Secure with a student grant and through a haze of laughing lettuce and Newcastle Brown Ale, Harold Wilson and before him, Edward Heath and before him, Harold Wilson, subjected us to vile totalitarianism. Wilson was certainly cunning and Heath was certainly very unpleasant, but they were small beer compared with Pol Pot, Idi Amin and General Pinochet.

Looking back, our innocence was breathe-taking but we did succeed in ending the Vietnam war. The six or seven of us who in 1971 handed our demand for the immediate withdrawal of the American military from South-East Asia into the United States Consulate obviously frightened the life out of Nixon and the war ended four years later. Power to the people, right on.

The six or seven of us who spent almost an hour sitting on the Consulate steps in protest went on to different universities where Vice Chancellors became the oppressors, even if we had never met them or, indeed, ever even knew their names. Having graduated, we went on to make a living by wearing suits and telling people who were paid less than us what to do.

Now, with our children and in some cases grandchildren going off to universities that charge £9,000 a year for the privilege, our naive militancy is carefully airbrushed along the lines of the Clinton defence or the Bullingdon Club. I never inhaled. I did not have sex with that woman. Smashing up the restaurant was youthful high spirits. It was all a long time ago.

Our undergraduate children may be up to more mischief than simply wearing a traffic cone as a hat or throwing up in a Wetherspoons, but with 27 grand for a three year degree plus the cost of books, accommodation, a computer, mobile phone, playstation and a sound system, the days of turning up with a tin opener and a copy of the Anarchists Cookbook are long gone. Unless blessed with wealthy parents, today`s bright young things face the glittering prizes of debt and minimal career prospects. Generally more pragmatic and certainly better dressed than those of us who had to endure Glam Rock and pubs closing at three in the afternoon, the alumni of the future are far too intelligent to simply brand anything irritating as being fascist.

Then and now, it is preposterous to accuse any British government as being fascist. No UK government, even one without the comfort or mandate of an elected majority would force people into unpaid labour to sustain the profitability of greedy multi-national companies. No British administration would ever resort to printing more money to give to failed banks whilst depriving the less well off of health care and education. It is unthinkable that any democratic representatives would withdraw support from patients with a terminal illness or from children with severe disabilities. It is ridiculous to suggest that a government would only consult with those known to be supportive of a corrupt ideology.

Only actual fascist regimes would lock journalists in a cupboard when a tyrant visited a hospital and order a public broadcaster to replace the word “cuts” with the word “savings”. Real evil juntas first indentify defenceless minorities as the cause of the nation`s trouble and then target them with right-wing propaganda aided and abetted by a tiny number of sympathetic media moguls. This is not the British way.

We would never enter the bellicose world of threatening other countries with military action and would never, ever fight a war over land that just happens to cover deposits of oil. Dispatching a nuclear submarine to the South Atlantic is merely a precaution against shop lifting at the Port Stanley Post Office. Arming goodness knows who to topple a dictator is simply business prudence and telling us that borrowing money is a very bad thing whilst borrowing ever increasing amounts of money is indicative of British accountability, openness and fair play.

As people suffer hardship, the British would never allow a fascist dictator to spend vast sums of money to turn an Olympic Games into a propaganda showcase for the superior race that inhabits the City of London square mile. A British government would never lie to the electorate and so, therefore, a British government can never be fascist.

The crazy Stalinists currently questioning the credentials and ability of Her Majesty`s Government to govern are clearly suffering from mental illness and need to be re-educated. Civil liberties, care, education and health are a small price to pay to keep the rich, rich. If they are so unhappy with the dismantling of Britain, they should stop bleating and move to North Korea.

Describing the coalition government as fascist is inappropriate. Hitler, Mussolini and Franco were at least successful in ruthlessly suppressing any opposition and frightened the rest of their populations into acquiescent silence. They wouldn`t have such luck now with the irritation that is social media. However, our ambitious government is suddenly very keen to curb the proliferation of free speech dangerously hovering about in the ether and gagging the press by exploiting the illegal activities of the very scandal sheets that peddle the government`s propaganda. No, not in any way shape or form, not remotely connected with, unrelated to and not even close to anything that even a dope fuelled, beer swilling student of the past would dare to describe as fascism.

It is probably a good thing that we didn`t have the internet way back then. Given the pressures of fascists demanding that we write essays, hand them in on time and turn up for lectures, the effort of writing a blog would have proved too much for the future captains and mistresses of industry. The inconvenience of raising a head from the Rizla on the Steve Hillage album cover to address a Twitter feed is best left to a generation brought up by watching Teletubbies.

We never really encountered any real fascists back then apart from one. The landlord of our shared student house demanded proof that we were not Jewish, Catholic or black. When we left and had our deposit refunded. We went back and smashed the place up. Anarchy in the UK.

February 17, 2012

After the gold rush

Filed under: Fiction,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 10:33 am

Dateline: Walsall, 30 June 2013

Thar`s gold in them thar hills. Gold fever is causing a frenzy in Walsall as the great Alumwell gold rush is officially launched.

Hundreds of metal thieves, tatters and deluded members of the public too poor to buy lottery tickets finally came under starters orders to race west to make their fortunes in the vast gold fields surrounding Junction 10 of the M6. Lucky prospectors were able to stake a claim to mine the mineral rich soil and then line up to start the race to grab the most lucrative metre square parcels of land on offer.

The untold riches just below the surface of Pleck were first discovered by former councillor Andy Hadrian way back in February 2012. According to a chap he once met, there is gold, silver, bronze and probably diamonds just lying around waiting to be picked up. Highly desirable spent nuclear fuel rods and discarded weapons grade plutonium might also be buried under a local school playing field.

Before Supreme Leader and President for Life David Cameron dissolved Walsall Council and replaced it with an elected mayor, the then Walsall Council had a plan to spend “absolutely millions” on remediation of the site and make a lovely visitors centre and museum to celebrate the discovery of the Alumwell Hoard. The scheme, however, was put on hold when the council was abolished.

It was only when former councillor Hadrian successfully became Walsall’s elected Official Village Idiot that new life was breathed into the project. Rather than waste precious civic money on removing the precious metals, private enterprise and Big Society will be given the chance to pan for gold.

Elected Official Village Idiot Hadrian said:
“This is a great day for the regeneration of Walsall. As your elected Official Village Idiot, I know that you will want to thank me for my genius idea of allowing people to help themselves to whatever they can find.

Once the surface has been cleared and the prospectors move onto Ryecroft cemetery, then we can get on with job of remediation. I would remind people that only I, as your elected Official Village Idiot, and residents living within five metres of the scheme have the right to an opinion on these matters.

Trouble-makers from as far away as Pleck should mind their own business. Real local residents love the idea and we know who the real local residents are. They are decent, hard working people with two heads and the charming ability to glow in the dark.”

Speaking from his luxury mansion in Berkshire, newly elected Mayor of Walsall, Sir Noddy Holder said: “Am norra loud te say nuthin cuz I cum frum the Beechdale.” Elected Police Commissioner for the West Midlands Rob Halford, formerly of Judas Priest, said: “I like metal.”

Not content with opening up the Alumwell gold fields, Official Village Idiot Hadrian has announced a geological survey of Walsall Arboretum. Commissioned by Tesco, the survey will accurately assess the number of cigarette trees, lager lakes and oven chip deposits currently unexploited in the underused green space. If the extraction of these valuable resources is viable, then Tesco will utilise hundreds of people dying of cancer as well as wheelchair users and the unemployed to strip the park clean at no expense to the exchequer. The site will then be turned into a multi-storey car park.

The elected Official Village Idiot added:
“D`ya see this shoe box under me arm? It’s gorra real giraffe in it. Why are you luckin at me like that?”

February 14, 2012

Requires improvement

Filed under: Education,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 1:06 pm

There was a time when Ofsted commanded respect. Then along came Michael Gove and turned Ofsted into something that is simultaneously terrifying and utterly ridiculous. Imagine, if you will, Herr Flick in `Allo `Allo. That’s Gove`s Ofsted.

There was a time when any Ofsted inspector worth their salt could identify a failing school from the far side of the playground in thick fog. Similarly, even a half decent HMI can recognise the aroma of a successful school in corridors permeated by the smell of polish, stewed cabbage and boys. That expertise may still exist, but under Michael Gove, Ofsted inspections of schools have become a blunt, crude and rather nasty instrument that is being employed to destroy state education.

Forget the cancellation of Building Schools for the Future and forget Gove`s astonishing decision to write a foreword to the bible. Forget too his suggestion that the tax payer should buy the richest woman in the world a yacht to take her mind off the anniversary of her father’s death. Instead, let us look at what he has done to Ofsted.

The criteria used in the Ofsted Inspection Framework have been reduced from 19 to four and the emphasis is now on “attainment” rather the “achievement”. On paper, the removal of the bureaucracy of all those pesky criteria might seem like a good idea and ministers at the Department of Education continue to bray about the cutting of needless red tape such as CRB checks, accident books and the requirement to log incidents of bullying, racism, sexism and homophobia. “Attainment” means some arbitrary targets designed to harm children.

Add to this heady mix of dogma and total ignorance of education the appointment of the new head of Ofsted. Step forward Sir Michael Wilshaw, the latest defender of children and young people. Many people will have never heard of Sir Michael Wilshaw so it was important for him to make an early impression. With all the subtlety of Eric Pickles in a pie shop, Sir Michael announced the scrapping of the “Satisfactory” Ofsted judgement which will be replaced with “Requires Improvement”. For good measure, the new head of the Gestapo has decreed that schools formerly judged as “Outstanding” should be inspected again and, if necessary, downgraded.

Now, Sir Michael receives an awful lot of money for doing the coalition government’s dirty work and Ofsted Inspectors are paid very handsomely for terrorising schools, but the real reason behind this night of the long knives is Gove`s failing Academies programme. It might be sensible to take a look at the CV of Sir Michael Wilshaw.

He was knighted for his service to education during his time as Headteacher of Mossbourne Community Academy in Hackney, one of London’s most deprived boroughs. He introduced a regime of strict discipline, detention and exclusion. He demanded that children chant before each lesson: “I aspire to maintain an inquiring mind, a calm disposition and an attentive ear so that in this class and in all classes I can fulfil my true potential.” Many parents removed their children from the school because of it’s repressive authoritarianism.

At the time, Sir Michael was quoted as saying: “I have an evangelical zeal to do Christ’s work on earth. I want to do the sorts of things Christ asked us to do: doing your best for children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

His missionary work in Hackney bears a striking resemblance to that of Tory donor Robert, now Lord, Edmiston in Darlaston with his failing Grace Academy. The difference is that Sir Michael forced an improvement in GCSE results but did not help his students and alumni from finding a job and did not prevent them from taking to the streets of Tottenham in August 2011.

Prior to his appointment as head of Ofsted, Wilshaw was education director of Ark, a sponsor of academies set up by hedge fund managers as a tax dodge. The parallels with private health care companies writing huge chunks of the Health Bill and paying back handers to Andrew Lansley could not be clearer. It is, however, not clear how Wilshaw managed to run a school and work for hedge fund managers at the same time or if he is still receiving payments from Ark. His unshakable belief that forcing Academy status on schools is “Christ’s work” might raise a few eyebrows but why should he worry. “Christ’s work” is proving to be rather lucrative for Sir Michael.

His successful rod of iron at Mossbourne brought him to the attention of Michael Gove and the two now share a pew and a hymn sheet along with Lord Edmiston and others imposing their strange views in carrying out the will of God. Local Authority control of schools is clearly the work of the Devil and an unhealthy obsession with spurious data and spun statistics endowed with the infallibility of the Old Testament are employed to tell schools what is good for them.

It would be heretical to question the figures handed down on tablets of stone and Gove, being a vengeful God, will strike down any unbelievers who doubt his omnipotence. But, fighting fire with fire, it is worth digging into the hard data to see what improvement Academy status has made in schools.

In Community schools, the percentage of students making expected progress in English is 71 per cent. In Foundation schools the figure is 73 per cent and Voluntary Aided schools achieve 79 per cent. Nationally, Academies managed 65 per cent.

Five GCSE grades A* to C including Maths and English are the DfE`s preferred measure of concealing the true state of eduction and any school falling below the arbitrary 35 per cent figure is considered an abomination.

Community schools returned 56 per cent, Foundation schools 61 per cent and VA schools 67 per cent. So how did Academies do? A rather disappointing 47 per cent with a third of all Academies falling below Gove`s recently inflated 35 per cent target that triggers the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to charge into schools. So, using the DfE`s own data, in would appear that children in Academies do not do as well as children in other schools.

It is quite wrong to judge the Academies programme on the performance of a single school such as the “success” at Mossbourne in Hackney. For every knighthood and high profile promotion, there is a story of failure. Consider St Aldhelm`s Academy in Poole in Dorset. Prior to being forced into Academy conversion, GCSE A* to C grades stood at a dismal 17 per cent. Now, a three per cent score leaves that sorry school as officially the “worst” school in the country. God might forgive them but Gove won’t.

And what of the schools who attempt to resist the bullying of Gove and Wilshaw? Consider the fate of Downhills Primary School in Tottenham, just a blackboard duster’s throw from Wilshaw`s holy sepulchre. The Headteacher, the staff, the parents, the governors and the children did not want to be forced into becoming an Academy, preferring local accountability over the increasing megalomania of Michael Gove. Governors sought legal advice suggesting that their imminent removal was unlawful. Schools in Sandwell and other parts of the country will not need to be reminded that Michael Gove has some form when it comes to acting unlawfully.

Gove reacted swiftly by sending in a crack team of Wilshaw`s attack dogs who, in spite of evidence of a 40 per cent increase in standards in Maths and English, damned the school as inadequate and placed it in special measures. The Headteacher was forced to resign. Ofsted have now abandoned any pretence of a child centred agenda. They have become the boot boys that enforce Conservative dogma and the dismantling of education. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.

The experience of the appropriately named Downhills school is not unique and is being repeated across the nation. For more information regarding Walsall, try contacting parent governors at Walsall Academy, Shelfield Academy, Darlaston Academy, Sneyd and Bluecoat. Ah, sorry. Under Gove, they don`t exist anymore. If you want to contact the governing body of any school, you had better be quick because local accountability is about to go the way of Adam and Eve. Do not dare to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge because you will be banished from the Eden that is Gove`s vision.

Gove, to be fair, does offer an alternative to Academies in the form of “Free Schools”. No finer example of extending parental choice can be found in Yorkshire at the proposed Rotherham Central Free School. Due to open in September, the school has no building, staff, pupil applications, prospectus or curriculum. It does, however, have a patron in the inspirational form of one of the Chuckle Brothers, an unsuccessful Tory parliamentary candidate called Charlotte Blencowe as principle and the full support of Michael Gove and the DfE. Ms Blencowe is the partner of the Chuckle Brother’s son.

With Herr Flick joining forces with the Chuckle Brothers, God must be having a right old laugh. Sadly, an abandoned generation are not allowed to be in on the joke.

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