The Way We Live Now    
    Some observations on contemporary society by Junius    

The never-ending spending spree...

Nothing spawned by the wonders of modern technology comes close to the miracle of double-entry book-keeping. In its simplest form it insists that when money is laid out we will also be informed as to how it was spent, i.e., it provides that every debit must be matched by a corresponding credit. And at any stage of the proceedings we can take a trial balance to check that the rules are being properly applied. Of course, no system can be foolproof. A glance at the nefarious activities of Cap'n Bob Maxwell and others of his ilk will prove that point. Nevertheless, provided that there is a record - the veracity of that record can always be challenged by the introduction of contradictory evidence, and fraud discovered. Without a proper record, the auditor has nowhere to begin his job.

These are days when numbers just roll off the tongue, so when we say that the EU Commission's budget is running at £66 billion, we would implore readers to consider that this means sixty-six thousand million pounds of taxpayers money! And, as the UK's membership is said to be costing us £1.3 million pounds every hour, our own annual payment would be in the region of £11,400 million. Reflect also that we get absolutely nothing out of this. All that happens is that civil servants far less capable than our own shovel money around the Community and ‘lose’ a good deal of it in the process. The Commission, in the words of a respected broadsheet, "Is unfit to run a corner shop" as, "its accounting systems are so scandalously short of all accepted standards, even mandatory double-entry book-keeping, that records can be altered at whim, all but undetectably." In a similar vein, one MEP opines that the EU has an accounting system that would not be acceptable in a school tuck-shop.

...and the arrival of Mr. Fixit

Not that the commission has been content to leave the problem unattended. Far from it! Here was a job for the best man available, a dynamic, thrusting. almost superhuman, yet down-to-earth, trouble-shooter who would see off all the fraudsters and pronounce that the Commission had a clean bill of health! So it was that on a warm sunny afternoon in 1999 they roused Commissioner Kinnock from his deep slumber - very gently, of course - and told him that he was in charge of Administrative Reform. Neil, unfortunately, reacted as though he was still leader of the Labour Party and followed the old party line that "if someone talks out of turn you shut them up." So when Chief Accountant Marta Andreasen complained that the Commission's financial controls were "worse than Enron's" she was sacked for her candour. More recently, another intrepid lady, Dorte Schmidt-Brown, uncovered a nasty little racket in Luxembourg, and was libelled for her pains. Did Neil spring to her defence and organise some legal aid? Well, not exactly. Instead he stood behind the decision of his gutless officials, supporting their view that "the focus should be on the future."

We find that there is a tendency amongst patriots to treat the EU as some sort of music-hall act: funny but not really relevant. Perhaps they should look at those figures again.

Ain't nobody here but us chickens...

...or is there? Lets go Dutch and see what's on offer. To be fair, it all begins with real chicken meat, although the final product - often labelled "succulent chicken breast" - will contain up to 50 per cent water. But injecting plain water does not work, so you need to add some tasty hydrolised beef or pork protein powder and then, bingo, everything swells up to double-size. All ready for packaging and dispatch to the dear old UK. No wonder we all look forward to a trip around the supermarket! However, while we may purchase and heartily enjoy this nourishing delicacy washed down we suggest with a lightly chilled Sauvignon Blanc - there are others less happy with the situation. Many brands labelled as halal meat are involved in this scam, which is bad news for those who do not eat pork or beef on religious grounds. How naughty can you get?

Gimme that old-time religion

Whilst speaking of faith - and here we hold steadfastly to the view that all should be allowed quietly to indulge their own beliefs provided they act within just laws and cause no harm or offence to others - we have to remark that the extant varieties of Christianity now appear to challenge numerically the product range of Mr. Heinz himself. And, of these, if we are obliged to make an appearance for some reason, be it wedding, christening or funeral, we favour the cool interior of some small village church, possibly with traces of Norman architecture, coupled with a mercifully short service, and the prospect of decent beer and sandwiches to follow.

At the other end of the spectrum from Thomas Gray's ‘idyllic country churchyard’ we find the Kingsway International Christian Centre with its 12,000 members who put their faith in what is now known as the ‘prosperity gospel’. In essence, worshippers, who are mostly Afro-Caribbean, believe that the Almighty will pay them back up to one hundred times what they hand over to the church. And, naturally enough, if that does not work then they clearly need to pray a bit harder. Matthew Ashimolowo, founder of the Centre, is a happy man. And with around £7.5 million rolling in every year, he should be!

The learning curve gets stuck

When, in June 2001, John Taylor (Damilola's father) rued his decision to bring his son to Peckham, where he was murdered, we were inclined to be sympathetic. However, it seems that Nigeria also has its educational problems. Recently, 10,000 secondary school pupils were expelled from five schools following a pitched battle over their teenage girlfriends in which dozens were injured and much damage done both to state and private property. Is this what we have to look forward to? It is, unless sensible policies regarding ethnic minorities are quickly introduced.

Lining up the rogues

We understand the Mayor of London hopes to erect a statue of Nelson Mandela costing around £400,000. Good idea, Ken! But why stop there? Could we not have some tree-lined avenue in a London park entirely dedicated to infamous international terrorists? Our short list would include Robert Mugabe, George W. Bush, Ariel Sharon, Gerry Adams, Tony Blair, Osama bin Laden, Jack Straw, Donald Rumsfeld, Martin McGuinness and Clare Short (extra strong pedestal needed). IDS was considered but unlike Ms Short, will probably change his mind more than once and does not qualify.

Still No. 1

Not so long ago, we had an egghead bemoaning the fact that Max Bruch's First Violin Concerto was still top of the classical pops. There were, he suggested, so many pieces more worthy of the title. We suppose it never occurred to him that it was there because we liked it!

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