Friday, February 27, 2009

today : ...and another thing

...while we're on the subject of disability and ignorance, the nine putrid imbeciles who made official complaints over CBBC disabled presenter Cerrie Burrell's arm should be tracked down and banned from ever owning a TV.

today : 2 deaths reported

The Irish writer Christopher Nolan died the other day. It kind of slipped by un-noticed, what with the Oscars and the "Satago Glacialum" and everything. He was always someone I was aware of, partly because he was roughly my age. His first novel, Under The Eye of the Clock came out when he was still a teenager and I was pretty envious, given that I was ( and still am) an aspiring novelist. I remember thinking that it read like a teenager's novel when I read it. I don't think I read anything else he wrote.

Nolan was remarkable and initially famous because of his Cerebral Palsy and was sold as the new Christy Brown. Both were Irish, writers, and both severely disabled. Both died pretty young and, oddly both choked to death. Nolan was 43.

And then we learned of the early death of another Cerebral Palsy sufferer : the 6 year old son of David Cameron.
On an early news report, the correspondent bluffed and sputtered his way through information about the condition, giving a mixture of false, heresay and true but vague information.

It's about time that people understood more about the three main conditions that affect so many people, CB, Autism and Down Syndrome. All are pretty common, yet I bet if you asked most people to delineate them they would struggle. I certainly know this is the case in the education system, as there is a scandalous lack of knowledge and training for teachers and educators, whilst at the same time a policy that seeks to maintain affected students in mainstream education. I've talked to Special Needs Co-ordinators who were vague on the details. I've also taught many people who are perhaps mildly affected, but undiagnosed. The lack of diagnostic mechanisms accessible through schools was a constant frustration.

I once attended a training session on Autism where the person delivering the information gave no information, bluffed his way through questions and referred everything back to one student they knew many years ago. I left the room angry, because there were people in the room who were genuinely interested to learn things they didn't know and they, and their potential charges, were let down.

One of the problems, I think, about these broad types of disability is their very breadth. Each condition possesses a huge range of ability and disability, each is highly personal to the person living with them, and each is complex to understand and deal with. They are just not as easy to name and box as people would like.

I hope the legacy of Ivan Cameron is that his father's politician colleagues finally begin to address society's unwillingness to learn about and engage with the issues of disability, so that children and carers can feel themselves understood more than they do now.

today: cool for CATs

Today I went for a CAT scan on my ankle (represented by the picture which a scan of AN ankle, which isn't mine. You can tell by the way that the one in the picture is fairly normal whereas mine would be a hideous mess of failed operative aftermath, hence the fact that I can't walk)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

today : A woman of no importance

It has to be said : Jade Goody is an imbecile and a racist.

The fact that the poor girl is dying of cancer deserves our sympathy. Wishing death on someone or delighting in the suffering of others is abhorrent. But to respond to the news of her impending demise with an 'outpouring' is hypocritical and rather ghastly.

I don't wish it in a personal way but to celebrate the life of someone whose contribution to society is effectively zero is a flashing neon sign of our times. Jade rose to prominence for doing nothing. In fact for much of her time in the spotlight she has been a figure of ridicule in the very press who are now fawning and cooing over her. It's a clear demonstration of how ghoulish and appalling parts of our culture have become.

In many ways, her story could not have been scripted any better if the media did it themselves. It now has everything they delight in: controversy, redemption, illness and death.

When Mark Frith was touting his memoir last year, the man who was a key player in the acceleration of 'celebrity culture' said that he quit editing Heat magazine because of the increasing expectations of negativity and prurience in the face of tragedy and pain. The media began to revel in the travails of people like Pete Doherty and Amy Winehouse. Basically, the joke wasn't funny anymore. And the story of Jade is the perfect illustration of this. A dim girl who is sucked in by the lure of fame, who shows little or no decorum, who reveals herself as a crass and cruel bully, whose 'life' is a series of contrivances invented by reality TV producers. Jade is the epitome of the nothingness of modern celebrity. With nothing else to contribute her fifteen minutes of fame were going to run out at some point. Eventually she was bound to be eaten up by the cancer of media attention, even if she hadn't got cancer for real.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

today : Drinkin' Again

I recently took up drinking after a break of about fifteen or sixteen years. There was no single reason why I gave up, and when I say 'gave up' I don't mean I was on some temperance pledge kick or became a Muslim or embraced a particular regime of asceticism and abstinence. I just stopped going out drinking (or staying in drinking) as an end in itself. This doesn't mean that I remained teetotal either, but for a lot of years you could count the alcoholic drinks I had per year on your fingers. I still enjoyed a glass of champagne or a nip of malt, I still occasionally demolished a cool beer on a hot day or sipped a decent glass of wine with a meal. It's just that I stuck to one, and mostly stuck to none.

But the other week I just felt the urge to have a beer, so went out to buy some. It hit the spot big time, so I had another. And then I started having one regularly during the evening. Sometimes I have two. The other day I mixed myself a G&T. Next time I'm out at an appropriate place, I fancy I might order a Vodka Martini. Who knows where it will end?

I think what happened 15 or 16 years ago was that I wasn't drinking properly. It was pretty much lager lager lager - which is, on the whole, a terrible alcoholic genre. And even though I wasn't a beer monster like many of my pals, I tended to just one or two too many, enough to make the subsequent suffering not really worth it.

Which brings me to the subject of drunks. Almost all drunks are awful, dysfunctional and unpleasant to be around. Most drunks show us at our worst and most pathetic. It's hard to admire a drunk.

But in the case of Shoichi Nakagawa I think I can find it in my heart to forgive. As the finance minister of a major economy that has just announced a potential 12% loss of GDP, in a global climate where nobody knows what is going on and what will happen next, I can fully understand that Mr Nakagawa might have felt like the odd Sake or a Japanese Slipper or two.

In fact, getting completely Klangered seems like rather a sensible option for a finance minister in 2009. So Mr Nakagawa, tomorrow evening I shall be raising a glass to you.

today : the mantras of blame

Was anyone surprised that the new bi-partisan politics looks just like the old party politics? Did anyone really believe that the Republican Party wouldn't be full of out-dated, sulking ideologues, unable to accept both the seriousness of the current economic situation and the fact that their party got spanked in the elections?

I saw a clip of one of them throwing the bill onto the floor, and crying because they want tax cuts and only tax cuts. It's not a surprise. After all, Obama ran against these people. I cannot imagine that they saw his victory as some bi-partisan watershed.

But I didn't set out to talk about American party politics. I started out thinking about how, in the UK, the Tories have used recent economic and financial issues to go on the attack.

It's too easy: you lost, you are not in power and the whole reason you are in politics is to gain power. It's frustrating. And here, circumstances present an open goal that is impossible to guard. It's the gift that keeps on giving. You can put everything on the current government. You can repeat and repeat your mantras of blame ad nauseum, because you won't actually be called upon to do anything real.

This is a charge that I can level at any opposition. However, pretending that the endless back and forth blame game that is party politics as usual is apposite to the current climate is a rather hollow game.

I would be wary in this situation. The longer things go on, the less easy it will get. Obama is okay for now. He rode in to rescue the shambles that Bush left behind. But when the election comes in Blighty we will be a further year into the chaos. Real solutions will be needed. The Tories will likely win, but are also likely to walk right onto a straight jab to the nose.

I wouldn't want to be Prime Minister or President of anywhere for the next few years.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Monday, February 09, 2009

today: We are all f*cked

In war we are never told how bad it is. The cliche is that the first casualty is truth. We've seen this recently with Mr Regev's pronouncements over Israel's activities in Gaza. Whatever your opinion of what went on, you can't really say that the spokespeople were offering the straight unfiltered facts.

I think the same thing is happening with the Credit Crunch/ Economic Crisis/Depression/Credit Quake, or whatever Bloomberg are calling it this month. I understand how it works. Nobody is allowed to say how bad things really are, and as such they tiptoe around the first domino, petrified they'll be the one that sends the whole lot tumbling. Politicians and people who work in banks and finance are pretty much bound by rules and protocols. They have to be market sensitive in everything they say. So, like Mr Regev admitting there may have been one or two civilian casualties but we are unsure about the numbers, they admit there's a problem but always appear unsure about he numbers. Journalists report the daily information, but none of them really want to put it all together lest they be blamed. Even Evan Davis on his excellent documentary series exploring the causes of it all, ended on an almost patriotic note of definite (if somewhat vague) optimism

I am not fooled. Even when the numbers are obfuscated, they are obviously very very bad.

The other day I had cause to go to my local job-centre. Because I am currently between operations I needed to update my disabled status and get a couple of forms to fill in - God forbid that I, as a qualified and experienced professional, am actually unemployed! I decided to try and insert myself into the appointments system by simply turning up. I figured the combination of ice and snow outside and me hobbling, barely unable to walk, on two walking sticks, would work. Nobody would dare send me away with an appointment card, for fear of me legitimately complaining about how difficult it was for me to come back.

I was stunned by what I saw. The place was packed like Harrods on New Years Day: like some mini Grant Park. Queues and queues of people filled the foyer and spilled into the vestibule. I quickly got behind the scenes, sitting on a chair and waiting for someone to spare me a minute. The job centre is usually a fairly laid back place. The employees tick through a steady stream of 'client' interviews and the like. Often you see them chatting to each other and generally operating at a fairly low level intensity. Only this day people were frantically trying to process the sheer number of people. Ironically, the energy in the place was more akin to an investment bank trading floor.

I mentioned this to the lady who was dealing with me and she concurred that they were understaffed and overworked. "This is the one growth industry", she said.

The real numbers are on the ground. If you can be bothered to correlate all the figures given out daily on the news with anecdotes from friends and acquaintances, and add them up to things like my job-centre experience, you can build up a picture. It's what the politicians and financiers and journalists aren't saying for fear of nudging the domino:

"We are all completely f*cked."

Thursday, February 05, 2009

today : fessin up

Mr Obama impresses me more and more. It was telling this week that everyone jumped on his comment that he 'screwed up' over the Tom Daschle problem. Many people seemed to take great pleasure in pointing the finger at him and treating his admission as some kind of revelation of systemic failure. It reminded me of someone whom I worked with who couldn't ever accept and apology. Several times stuff went awry and I owned up to my part in it, following my confession with an apology. Each time, I was reminded endlessly for days and sometimes weeks, both directly and indirectly, that I had screwed up. And we're talking here about me promising to collect her mail from the pigeonholes but being sidetracked and forgetting, or not putting a class set of Macbeth's back in the stock room, not appointing senior government officials.

I think Obama fessing up took the press by surprise. They are so used to the usual way of doing stuff that they can't handle it. Their modus operandi is to face down a politican who is playing never apologise, never explain and try and get them to do both. Obama stole their clothes, ironically by behaving exactly in the way the press has been begging polticians to behave for decades.

today : it's about time I defended the BBC

Y'know what? I am a huge supporter of the BBC. I think it's one of the great institutions of the world and one of the truly best things about Britain. A publicly financed but fiercely independent broadcaster with its own unique ethos and an unrivalled reputation and reach across the world.

Nothing could be more satisfying for the Beeb to know that Iran has declared its Persian Service as illegal. They must be doing something right.

Okay, the BBC, like every institution, gets it hideously wrong sometimes. Like Davina McCall's celebrity chat-show, or continuing to buy and show Heroes, or last weeks coverage of Obama's inauguration (which was pretty shoddy and ill-produced). I even once complained to them over an item on a show that -jokingly- portrayed people with club feet as dribbling hunchbacks. But on the whole the BBC is my own major source of news and information.

But it appears that the BBC has lost some confidence. Last years Ross/Brand 'scandal' was one of those occasional mis-steps that broadcasters make. No worse, really, than Jools Hollands infamous tea-time trailer for The Tube that lost him his job. When I saw and heard what had happened, I thought it pretty unfunny and rather lacking in taste, but I was pretty shocked by the response.

If one thing is for sure, it is that The Daily Mail will create waves of mock outrage and then ride them as far as possible. That is their schtick. Asylum seekers eating swans, MPs having sex with people who are not necessarily their wives (or even the same gender as their wives), asylum seekers claiming benefits and having operations on the NHS, people using swear words in public etc etc. The success of the DM is to appeal to the grump in people and pander to the middle class unease that fings ain't what they were in the old days - despite the 'old days' being a mythical construction that never really existed (apparently some kind of cross between a Jane Austen Novel and the interwar years of Evelyn Waugh novels). .

In this spirit, The Daily Mail hates the modern BBC, which should exist only to report the activities of the royal family and show things like Upstairs Downstairs, Ask The Family and All Creatures Great and Small. Radio 2 should be Sing Something Simple and Friday Night is Music Night. All this trendy politically correct stuff is just not on. People called Chakrabati reporting the news, comedians who wouldn't be seen dead in a frilled shirt and bow tie and people with Northern accents expecting to be taken seriously whilst walking the wrong way up the Underground escalators. They also hate the principle that the Beeb is funded by a special tax because they are part of the Thatcherite rump who still hate taxes of any kind.

All of which meant that when they saw the chance to stir up some anti-BBC sentiment they went for it. What surprised me was the fact that the Beeb took the bait. They bowed and grovelled and ate unhealthy amounts of humble pie. Why didn't they just tell the Daily Mail to piss off? If there's a competition between the two as long lasting and credible institutions then the BBC wins. It's a global entity that reaches probably billions of people. The Daily Mail sells a few million a day. Who stands on the stronger ground - both in the public mind and in reality?

It was probably right for the Beeb to respond in some way, but the continuing public self-flagellation just fed the beast, and weakened the BBC hierarchy.

At least they had the guts to stand up for themselves in the matter of the Gaza appeal. Again, I personally was horrified by the way the people of Gaza were treated. Whether the Israelis should eb held to account for their apparent overbombing and whether they set out to simply punish Palestinians is a whole other discussion. But the BBC was right to stand up against the protesters who were desperately quick to attach both the Beeb (and Sky News) to their bonkers Zionist Conspiracy theories (again, it's a whole other discussion but it is MUCH easier for people to rush to a conspiracy theory than to actual try to understand the complex machinations of international politics. Some otherwise clever and rational people that I know seem unable to parse Middle Eastern issues without suspending their intelligence).

Perhaps the two responses tell us rather a lot about the BBC, namely that it sees itself mainly as a global news organisation and not a provider of light entertainment, Sunday night serials and nature programmes to the people of the UK.

The problem with the BBC is that people want it to be a democratic organisation. They think that because they pay for it, it should do what they want on demand. But herein lies the strength of the institution. It isn't really answerable to anyone, but to the principles of it's charter. The BBC is at its strongest when it's sticking two fingers up at the naysayers.

It's difficult for some people to get the idea that they should pay for something that exists to disagree with them. People are used to getting what they want to hear for their money: not what they don't want to hear.