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

Scrupulously fair

Headmaster (addressing the assembled school): "As you all know, Jones Minor was severely punished after other boys testified that he possessed a catapult. I now have to tell you that, following an extensive and thorough search of his belongings, we have not so far found a catapult or any similar means of firing missiles, although the discovery of a short piece of elastic and a broken ruler indicate to us that this type of offensive weapon could possibly have been manufactured by him at some future date. I have therefore asked the Geography master, the French master and the school caretaker to conduct an inquiry into the reliability of the evidence which led to Jones getting the good wacking which, in any event, he thoroughly deserved."

Eurowatch: two more scandals

British universities will receive government money up front for the tens of thousands of East European students who register for degree courses. But in the students' countries of origin scarcely any of these will ever reach the £15,000-a-year income threshold when pay-back would be required, as the average annual income in the ten new member states is just £4,000. And, even for the handful who might just, in their later years, reach the threshold, the Student Loans Company would need to pursue, through debt-collection agencies, claims in the region of £9,000 against each of those who decided to make a run for it, move house or change their name to avoid having to pay up. Triennial cost to the taxpayer is estimated at £900 million - almost certainly an underestimate, for which we will get nothing in return.

MEPS and national governments have agreed to spend, as a modest beginning, £5.7 million on funding those political parties which are favourable to the aims of the EU, to assist them in setting up their new headquarters in Brussels. This will be music to the ears of David Triesman, Tony's newest 'lordship' and former General Secretary of the Labour Party, who would like to see 'approved' British parties subsidised by the taxpayer. Surely the dimmest voters will realise that when this happens the tattered remains of our 'democracy' will be gone for ever.

No, we are not surprised

In the bad old days when South Africa was competently governed, we were constantly reminded about the shanty towns where so many black people had to live. Today the word is 'informal settlements' - homes away from home to three million people, hundreds of which have sprung up across the countryside. Typically, these comprise rows of windowless one-room shacks around 9 feet square, often only inches apart, and without any heating, running water or sanitation. One of these hell-holes, to the north-west of Johannesburg, houses 200,000 wretches of whom 85 per cent are unemployed. Basic portable lavatories, provided by the authorities, are mostly filthy, broken and blocked and, in any case, wholly unsafe to use after dark - a couple of murders every night being the minimum expectation.

Children can be seen picking over festering rubbish tips which are breeding grounds for rats and flies; social services are non-existent and, for what it is worth (and that is not much), the nearest police station is five miles away. Even those few who have some sort of job are likely to drown their sorrows in drink to blot out the hopelessness of their situation. Courtesy of our advanced years, we can vividly recall the antics of young imbeciles parading around Oxford and elsewhere shrieking about the injustice of the old system of separate development. For our own part we would say that, if this is what one-man-one-vote is all about, then millions of despairing South African Blacks will be wistfully looking back at how things once were.

What we all fear

It's no laughing matter when you lose your job. Take the heart-rending case of Kazia Kantor, former finance director of the holiday firm My Travel, who turned out to be the wrong person for the position after only nine months. This poor dear walked out into the cold with just £600,000 compensation, which with her salary, meant that her total remuneration was not much more than £l million for the year to September last. Now dry your eyes and reflect that it could have been worse!

No improvement

Commenting on Much Ado About Nothing, the 19th century essayist, William Hazlitt, observed that:-

'Dogberry and Verges in this play are inimitable specimens of quaint blundering and misprisions of meaning; and are a standing record of that formal gravity of pretension and total want of common understanding which Shakespeare no doubt copied from real life, and which in the course of two hundred years appear to have ascended from the lowest to the highest offices in the state.' (Characters of Shakespeare's Plays, 1817.)

The writer was clearly unimpressed with the 'Establishment' of his own time. So what would have been his thoughts on Blair's barmy Britain in 2004? And how would he have coped with the 'quality' newspapers of today for example, the following from a recent edition of The Times?

'It's your holiday. You don't want some stale old hotel everyone else went to last century. You want the hottest spots, the freshest haunts, places to make you go wow. Susan d'Arcy presents a new world of travel for cool cats.'

Hang on! We thought it was only dogs that went 'wow'. Even so, the article was not without merit, as it listed several suggested destinations which, we conjectured, would be best avoided, the possibility of a chance encounter with either Miss d'Arcy or some other refrigerated feline being an event too fearful to contemplate.

Getting away with it

Safely tucked away in her rogue's retreat, otherwise known as Israel, 'Dame' Shirley Porter has yet to pay a single penny of the £37 million in surcharges levied for her part in Tory-controlled Westminster Council's 'homes for votes' scandal which grabbed the headlines some 15 years ago. Whatever happened to the 'seizing of assets', or maybe even extradition? Perhaps MI6 could stage an 'Eichmann' in reverse. But no, probably not. Something tells us that they'd botch it if they tried!

Sword in the Sand

The stocky, barrel-chested, black-bearded man had been asked how his resistance outfit was managing for money. Symbolically, he reached down and took up a handful of his native soil saying: "This is the only wealth that concerns us." Unfortunately for the propagandists in the White House, Abu is not your typical devotee of Osama bin Laden but a former university professor who is determined to avenge the rape of his land and his culture. He distances himself from other factions that have, he feels, wrongly targeted their own people. In another part of Iraq, Muhammad and his Sunni guerrillas favour a more drastic line. Only a year ago this young man would not have regarded himself as a fanatic, but now, a frustrated victim of alien occupation, he seems to believe, wrongly we feel, that he can identify with Al-Qaeda, with whom at present he has no contact. He will not accept any government put in place by the so-called coalition: "They will be ruled by the devil Bush and we will fight on until we are martyrs." Our media, presumably taking their orders direct from Washington, refer to all these groups as 'insurgents' surely a strange appellation for men and women risking their lives to rid their country of invaders.

It may never happen

Thanks to the efforts of a bunch of meddling busybodies, ably supported by an army of professional troublemakers, the word of Damocles will be suspended over our heads while the International Olympic Committee meditates on where its 2012 circus will be staged. The threat is real but, as ever, we must look on the bright side!

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