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

The truth is coming out

Up until the year 2000, Dick Cheney, US vice-president, headed up a company called Halliburton, which has now been handed a lucrative contract under which it will virtually run the oil industry in Iraq. Strange then that, according to a spokesman for the Democrat Party in Congress, Halliburton has in the past profited from numerous business dealings with state sponsors of terrorism, including two of the three members of Mr. Bush's ‘Axis of Evil’. Seems that, either way, some people can do no wrong. It would be foolish to expect either Tony Blair or IDS to understand properly what is really going on but, as the days go by, it becomes clearer and clearer why our Treasury had to lay out billions to fight a dirty war in which British folk were unnecessarily wounded or killed and innocent Iraqis died. Watch this space for further heart-warming revelations!

Arty but not crafty

In England the preservation of both national treasures and modern muck is entrusted to Arts Council England, a body clearly over-funded by any standards. Finding themselves awash with our money, they decided to set up the Baltic Centre at Gateshead Quays on the Tyne at a cost of £46 million. But sadly, what has been hailed as the northern Tate Modern (a grim enough label in itself) is now known as the northern ‘Dome’. It has fallen into financial crisis with no ongoing business plan and a massive accounting backlog. Or take the case of the failed Sheffield Museum, which has eaten up £11 millions of lottery money. The Council neglected to ensure that it would own the building if the project was liquidated, and has got just £500,000 back! The CRE is still top of our private hit list but Arts Council England is running strongly in second place.

Taken for an expensive ride

Thanks to Gordon Brown's stealth taxes, floundering stock-markets, plus a truly alarming measure of financial incompetence, many companies are telling employees that - to put it mildly - they will not be getting the pensions they might reasonably have expected only a few years ago. Undeterred by this and sensing a possible fall off in business resulting from an astronomic rise in property prices, the mortgage lenders - that is the banks and building societies - have decided to offer loans where the term will run well past the retirement age of the borrower. How long will it be before, "Pensioner's home repossessed" becomes a familiar headline in your local paper?

A monumental cheek

Staying in the financial world, we think it imperative that our young folk should be taught to live within their means. However, Skunks Incorporated, a.k.a. Barclays Bank, gives not a two-penny damn about principles. Youngsters whose credit rating is not so good are being offered a ‘Monument’, credit card, whereby the annual interest rate will be as high as 29.3 per cent per annum. Now watch the figures closely. If, on average, six kids owe £1,000 each over three years, then the bank rakes in £5,274 interest, so that, even if at the end of the day, two of them default owing £2,000 between them, the lender still gets a more than healthy profit. We always thought that, in the dim and distant past, we British had laws against usury.

Life for a few dollars more

We live, it seems, in a compensation society, where lawyers encourage their clients to rattle a collection box whenever some misfortune overtakes them. Once or twice we have seen the appeal court overturn some bizarre awards, such as that given to the genius at the seaside who scrambled all over wet rocks to take photos and then sued the local authority for negligence when he fell off.

And then we had the joker who jumped out of an upstairs window to evade capture and unsuccessfully sued the police for not stopping him. But, as a generality, a sharp solicitor can usually hit a vulnerable target such as the NHS, or a county council, where the taxpayer ultimately picks up the bill.

Is it then over-sentimental to suggest that the worth of a cherished life can never be measured with reference to any particular number of pounds, euros or dollars? Maybe, but it seems to depend on who you are. Many readers will be aware that insurers, for the most part German, have been badgered up hill and down dale, to settle ‘claims’ in respect of persons who died in labour camps during World War Two. In many cases, to ensure their own protection for the future, the companies have asked the beneficiaries to sign a statement to the effect that the payment is an act of charity rather than a legal obligation. This has not always gone down well. Mrs. Weiner-Zada, wife of a wealthy Hungarian timber merchant, and therefore not we suppose, short of a forint, observed that: "They wanted to make us look like beggars." Ah well, her words not ours!

Gutless, as usual

Junius occasionally addresses letters to the high and the mighty. We reproduce below the text of a missive which The Times did not have the courage to print:-

Dear Sir,

During the ten years which have elapsed since the murder of Stephen Lawrence, we have neither seen nor heard a shred of credible evidence as to the identity of his attackers. Yet, inexplicably, the media persist in referring to this incident as a racial crime.

Yours etc.

Don't just blame the press. When this pyramid of lies and deception collapses, the whole establishment is going to look extremely silly.

Operation 'Yankee Freedom'?

People occasionally seek our views on whether it would be possible or practical to topple the internationally outlawed Bush régime. Certainly, finding good cause for action against him and his henchmen would present no problems. On his own admission he has large caches of chemical and nuclear weapons of mass destruction. Also there is abundant evidence that he holds ‘political prisoners’ in abominable and degrading conditions which make those seen in Auschwitz appear to be more like a holiday camp.

As to the legality of an attack, it would seem reasonable to rely on recent precedent, which suggests that it is perfectly legitimate to bypass the United Nations whenever you feel like doing it. Moreover, we can be fairly confident that Russia, France and Germany will sit on the sidelines, so that the coalition would comprise small nations genuinely and vigorously opposed to tyranny and naked aggression wherever it shows its face. Logistically the operation would look to be difficult. However, as the invading armies encircle the key cities which need to be taken, it will be reassuring for their commanders to note that, for every casualty inflicted by the liberating forces, the defenders will undoubtedly take out at least two of their own people. Moreover, internally we have every reason to expect that millions of folk in the Confederate South, shamelessly oppressed for best part of 150 years, will defect to the coalition and, who knows, the Mexicans might just grab the opportunity to get their revenge for the loss of Texas, etc.

Fanciful? Possibly! But these people have to know that, in the final analysis, when you chuck your weight around the world, a price has to be paid.

"All the world's a stage..."

Indeed it is, and we believe, with sincerity, that there is a part for everyone. But, when we see someone patently in the wrong part, we beg leave to mention it. King Henry V of England was, as his portraits show, of white race beyond any shadow of doubt. However, our tacky National Theatre, not content with staging Shakespeare's epic play in modern dress, decides to cast a young black man, Adrian Lester, in the title role. How long will it be before we see an Inuit Eskimo in the part of Macbeth, or possibly a Japanese Julius Caesar?

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