Saturday, 5 December 2020

The "hospitality" industry

has succeeded in their attempts to pressure the authorities into opening the pubs in this state - opening them to the point where the "one person per 2sqm" rule will apply and where people can stand at the bar to drink their alcohol.

I know they employ a lot of people. I know a lot of people like to go to the pub, meet friends and have a drink. It is also very obvious that the industry is suffering.

I have a distant cousin in the industry. He has overall responsibility for a very large group of pubs. This year has been a nightmare for him. He has said that they "might as well not open" under the old "one person per 4sqm" rule.  Those of them who had the "bottle shops" which sold alcohol to take away have managed to stay on top of the game. Indeed they have done quite nicely out of this.

But the rest? Yes, they have suffered. They have suffered along with a lot of other businesses - and some of those other businesses have gone under. We have lost two in our local shopping centre. They just couldn't keep going. This did not surprise me. I am actually surprised that at least two more businesses have apparently managed to survive. They certainly did not have the very powerful hospitality industry behind them for support.

It all bothers me. Gyms still can't operate at the same level and "play cafes" cannot open at all. Some playgrounds have been closed since February.  There are limits on weddings, funerals, going to church, going to a meeting, meeting one another at home and more but pubs have been allowed relaxed rules to a point which is not safe for private individuals? 

Now I have to admit that I don't drink alcohol. I am actually allergic. I have a reaction something like touching a stinging nettle - but all over. It isn't something which would kill me but it is very unpleasant. I avoid alcohol. It isn't something I mind - water is a lot cheaper than beer or wine or spirits. 

It also means that I don't tend to know the sort of people who arrange to "meet in their local for a drink". It may well be that this is a very important part of their social life - although it seems a rather shallow existence if that is the only way you socialise. 

And that bothers me. It bothers me that there are so many people who seem to be dependent on alcohol for their financial well being if they work in hospitality and on their social well being if they are dependent on "the pub" as a means of getting together with friends. 

What bothers me is that this doesn't seem productive. The destructive issues around alcohol are well known but that is a different issue. It is the idea that just standing there with a glass in your hand is somehow "having a good time".  I'd rather be doing something - not that I can throw a dart or play any pub card games. The occasional quiz nights have too many questions about sport for me to excel in those.

 Add a mix of "poker machines" into that and I see little of value in the reopening of the pubs. Taking the dog for a walk and chatting to someone in the street seems to me to have more to offer. 

I suppose I am hopeless. I simply don't understand the attraction. Playing with small children in among all those coloured balls in the play cafe looks like a great deal more fun.  

Friday, 4 December 2020

The ongoing row with China

is hitting new lows.

I don't use "WeChat" or "TikTok". I have no desire to do so. The Downunder Prime Minister did attempt to use it the other day - to send a reassuring message to the local Chinese diaspora that they are welcome and valued here. The Chinese Communist Party removed the message. 

I am not surprised. Communicating with China or about China has become increasingly difficult. I have no doubt that this blog post will be read and the CCP would like to have it deleted simply  because I have suggested something might be difficult.

Puzzled? Well let me put it this way. On another computer, outside my home network, I have been trying to help a number of students stuck in China due to the pandemic. It has been a very difficult year for them - and a number of people here. We have all been doing the best we can. A few days ago one of the students there unwisely expressed sympathy for the current situation between us. It wasn't a direct comment but enough of one to suggest less than total loyalty to the CCP. I was concerned when I read it. The next time he was due to discuss his work with me he was not on-line. He has not been on-line since then. 

This is the way the CCP works. The belief is that they need total control in order to retain control. The belief is that they need to have control outside the country as well as inside the country. "Do as we say, not as we do" is how they want the world to work.

We made a major blunder when then Prime Minister Whitlam made overtures to China and went off to visit - with much fanfare. It was announced that here was our new "best friend" and that we were "part of the Asian region". It was naive and ridiculous. China is not the "best friend" of anyone - not even North Korea. It does not see itself like that. Doing business with China has always been on the basis that it has been done on their terms - not ours.  Do as they say, pay the necessary bribes, don't criticise - the list goes on. 

And we are not "part of the Asian region" either. If Asia considers us in any way at all it would be a Pacific country. Many of my Asian acquaintances tell me that even this is unlikely to be correct. We are simply a vaguely European country in a non-European location - and a country which lacks any sort of cultural focus or national identity. Our much lauded "multicultural" approach is not something they see as praiseworthy at all. 

Of course this is not true of all individual Asians I know or many others know but it is the way we are seen in the official terms of trade and other relations.  China thinks it can exploit that - indeed it has been trying to exploit that for a very long time. Any misplaced sympathy, as they see it, has to be stamped out.

I wonder if I will hear from the student again. I doubt it. One short sentence "I know you have difficulties" has probably been enough to ruin his chances of any sort of career at this sensitive time.

We need to start on the long hard road of doing business with the rest of the world.

Thursday, 3 December 2020

QR codes need a "smart phone"

and, to  state the obvious, not everyone has a "smart phone". I don't have one.

Although I could probably get one I don't feel inclined to spend the money while the phone I have still works.  Yesterday though it meant signing in twice at places where the alternative was to snap my attendance at a QR point. It was annoying - even when I know and understand the reason for doing it. I am not bothered if the government knows I have visited those venues. They are harmless, indeed boring but the process is time consuming.

What bothers me more is that a lot of people I know do not own "smart phones". Even if they did own them they would have no idea how to use them for the purpose of using a corona virus "app". Still worse is the fact that these people would be some of the most vulnerable people in the community - the elderly and people with disabilities. It is also an issue for some people who have come from other places where a much closer watch is kept on what everyone is doing.

Like the wearing of masks and the problems they pose for people with a hearing loss this is something the government and other agencies simply have not thought through.  It sounds such a simple solution to quick contact tracing. I have no personal objection to it simply because I am still limiting my visiting to essential places only.  What is more the information won't be used unless I visit a place someone with the virus has also visited - and then, yes I do want to know.

When I went to visit the Senior Cat yesterday I took his younger cousin with me. M...'s medical clinic sent a fax through so that the residence had a record of his vaccinations. It is information that has to be shared for reasons of safety. We filled in the covid forms, we signed in, we wore masks as we went to and from the Senior Cat's room. In the room though we took the masks off - because the Senior Cat cannot participate in a conversation unless he can also see what we are saying. It is a situation which is causing real difficulties for the staff. Wearing masks is mandatory for now. The reality however is that they need to be removed at times - simply in order to communicate.

I saw a man I know yesterday. He is profoundly deaf. With me he uses sign language - something which requires extreme patience on his part as my skills in that area are extremely limited. He told me of his extreme frustration at present. His (admittedly limited) lip reading skills are of no  use at all if the person he is attempting to communicate with is wearing a mask. He understands the problems of the elderly with a hearing loss but very few people do understand the additional problems posed by the present situation.

And people with intellectual and other disabilities are having to rely on often inaccurate information given to them by others. F... cannot read and is slow to take in information. She can use her phone to ring her family and a friend in an emergency. She can answer her phone. She "does not remember things" - until I or someone else has perhaps told her more than a dozen times. Sign her name somewhere? She believes that is not safe - and neither it is.  Right now she goes to the supermarket and then goes back to her tiny unit. I colour coded pictures for her  yesterday so she knows she can go for a walk again. If the situation changes I will need to change that or her friend R.... will need to do it.  Even recognising the QR code would take time for her. Recognising it and using an app to "read" it would take months of learning. F.... is not the only person I know like that.

We have to be able to do better than this. It is even more mentally stressful for some people - and all too often this is not being acknowledged.

 

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

The jigsaw puzzle scam

is starting to really irritate me. Let me explain.

There is a group, it must be a group, of scammers out there who offer jigsaw puzzles that look good. The websites look absolutely legitimate. If you look at them individually they seem very professional. They offer "free shipping" over a certain price or a "three for two" offer but neither of these things are unusual in today's e-commerce world. Put together though they are a little different. The puzzles vary slightly - at the moment they tend to be Christmas pictures - but the pictures of people doing them are the same. The wording on the sites is often the same too. There is a street address and more. I might well have been taken in too - apart from that contact address. It was sheer good fortune that I recognised the name - and that only because someone I know in the US lives in the same street as the actress named. 
But research shows that a company supposedly registered in the UK (under the name Vankin with a legitimate looking address in London) is a scam. (Look it up for yourself.) They use all sorts of names - the two currently on my FB page are "gzuaemwo.com" and "nestruplo". I must have reported close to fifty of these to FB by now - as being "misleading or scam".

I first came across it when a young friend of mine (not MsW) thought it would be nice to buy a couple of jigsaw puzzles for a friend of hers who has spent months in strict isolation because of health issues. Young friend saved pocket money, did odd jobs and more. Then, with parental permission, went on-line and ordered two puzzles she thought her friend would like. It was a remarkable effort for a young girl.

The site she ordered them from seemed legitimate in every respect. There was an apparent address. There were references. The price she expected to pay (from her research) was about right. Payment was by various means, including Paypal.  

Her mother proudly told me all this and I thought it sounded pretty good too. 

    "Show me how you did it," I said. She did. I said nothing to her but when she had gone off to play I said to her mother, "Something's not right. Take a look at this."

It was the contact address. It was the name of that moderately well known actress in the US that gave it away.

    "Get on to Paypal now and put in a report to the Resolution Centre - ask them to halt the transaction."

 She did that - and Paypal did as asked. We left it at that, not sure if the money would be returned to the Paypal account but hoping that something would be done. I left Mum to tell Daughter - who was absolutely devastated and very, very distressed. 

I was so angry that I came home and did some research myself. Jigsaw puzzles are not something I know much about. I found out more than I wanted to know - not about the puzzles but about the scam. I am still finding out.  I contacted the "company" in question via the email on the site. It was a risk but I wanted to see how far they were prepared to go - a long way it seems. They were oh so apologetic...their suppliers in China....the volume they have to deal with....we are a legitimate company....proud of our reputation.  Eventually two jigsaw puzzles arrived. They were both damaged because the packing was so bad. The contents were something you might have bought for, at most, $2 in one of  cheap reject type shops - but only if you were desperate for something to do. Neither picture was one the child had ordered. She saw them and was hysterical all over again. The "company" was "pleased to hear" the puzzles had arrived - but not the right ones? Oh, so sorry - but do keep them and we will give you 10% off the next order.

Paypal had actually stopped the payment.

Paypal did return the money to the child - although they might not have been so keen to return it to an adult. There are many complaints about the fraudsters on their site and elsewhere. 

We looked up a bricks and mortar store. I had someone in the capital city in question check it (in order to show the child) and she will get jigsaw puzzles to give to her friend. Her parents are making her pay the $5:60 extra it will cost her - in order to help her understand the problem - but we got "free shipping" (I told the second company what had happened when I was asking about the puzzles she wanted and the owner tried to track that one down for her) and and the parcel tracker says they should be there today.

I have learned something from all this, she has, her parents have. But I have to say I am tired of reporting these scammers to FB - where they still seem to think I might be interested in giving them my money too.

Tuesday, 1 December 2020

The fake image posted by the Chinese

in their official media has been justified by them as a "cartoon" which is commenting on allegations that a small number of soldiers committed war crimes in Afghanistan.

No, that does not justify it. Even if the image was not fake it could not be justified.  Posting an image like that cannot be justified at any time. Nobody should post  such things. If something that bad is true and the world needs to know about it then there are other ways of dealing with the situation.

We are currently "at war" with China in the sense that the Chinese have been placing massive tariffs on exported goods while making as yet unsubstantiated claims about "dumping". They are targetting a range of things they import from us - barley, wine, seafood, wool and more. It is all designed to do maximum damage to our industry and minimum damage to theirs. They are using the excuse of "dumping" over and over again - as if we have the same economic power as the United States or the European Union. Our nation's economy overall is about the size of California's.

The reality of course is  that China is flexing its considerable muscle for a number of reasons. The Chinese Communist Party wants us to know that they are unhappy with us. They object to the way in which we have not been silent and loyal to them.

 One of the many reasons for their displeasure had been the way in which a suggestion was made that the origins of the Covid19 virus should be investigated. The Chinese do not want this to occur at all. There could be a number of reasons for this - the obvious one being that they have had some part in it and don't wish to be held liable. That it might help them as well as the rest of the world prevent a similar pandemic is apparently of no interest to them. They almost certainly believe they can avoid such things without making any admissions or harming their image.

 Another is that the Chinese and the United States have been arguing over trade. While we officially have not taken sides in the argument the Chinese have chosen to believe that we have sided with the US. It seems we were supposed to side with them.

The Chinese do not like our failure to support their territorial claims in the South China sea or our failure to support their regional attempts to colonise countries by economic means. 

Here they object to any attempt to prevent the expansion of their business interests - not just the Huawei 5G network deals but their desire to buy increasingly large portions of real estate, sometimes in vital positions like ports. They want to "loan" money for infrastructure development - at a very heavy rate of interest (not always in traditional ways of interest either.)

The Chinese have also objected to any support for the pro-democracy campaigners in Hong Kong. This is "internal" business according to them. That they are breaking any agreement which might have been made is simply ignored.

China, a country with an appalling human rights record, lectured us yesterday. As they would have it we should be ashamed of ourselves. We have committed serious war crimes and much more. That the proper and open legal processes are now in place, that those involved will be required to answer the charges against them is not enough. They have ignored that an apology has been issued - and accepted - and that at least some financial compensation will be paid is also being ignored. China will acknowledge none of this - to do so would be to lose face. The Chinese Communist Party cannot afford to do that.

All this says more about the internal concerns of the CCP over their control of a country which is too big in more ways than one.  

Our Prime Minister was heavily criticised yesterday - criticised for his careful and measured response to what had been posted. He was clearly very, very angry - indeed furious. He made it plain that he wanted an apology - although he knows he is unlikely to get one. The Chinese Ambassador was called in to "explain". There will be much more going on in the next few days.

In all this the Chinese believe they have the upper hand. They believe that we will simply buckle under the pressure they exerting. It is their hope that we will simply give in and sell our goods to them at much lower prices and that we will not question their own actions in any sphere or their acquisition of any territory.

We stand to lose billions of dollars worth of trade. Finding other markets is going to be much more difficult than it would have been when Whitlam first made overtures to China. Doing so much trade with China seemed to be the answer to everything. It isn't. We need to trade with the rest of the world, not just China or even Asia. We will now need to work very hard to achieve even a fraction of what we might have had.   

Monday, 30 November 2020

Bookshelves

matter in this house - some would say "clutter" it. I think that would be unfair. 

When my parents moved in thirty-six years ago my mother tried to limit the number of bookshelves we could have.

   "I don't want books in the lounge, the sitting room, whatever you want to call it," she told us.

We looked at her puzzled. Isn't that the very place they should be? No, not according to her. She wanted it to look "tidy". Oh. 

The Senior Cat and I looked at one another in alarm. We looked at my brother - and he was looking as worried as we were. Middle Cat sighed and said she had the same problem - in reverse. Her partner grew up in a house with no books apart from the books the children had for school.  The Black Cat just shrugged. She is still the only one of us who does not read much.

We had box after box of books that needed to be put somewhere. Mum was adamant. They were not going to be put where she did not want them. 

The Senior Cat put up a "garden shed". It was supposed to store things like garden tools and the wheelbarrow. It stored books. Mum agreed to bookshelves in other places. We triple stacked the shelves - one collapsed under the weight and the Senior Cat had to repair it. Mum was not amused.

Yes, she had books herself. They were stored in what she called "the sewing room". It was the room where the ironing was done and where she did her sewing on the fancy sewing machine we all dubbed "the747".  That was one bedroom taken care of.

The Senior Cat had some of his in his "office" - the room where he did the household paperwork and taught individual students study skills and conjuring tricks and held committee meetings for various groups.  That was another bedroom taken care of.  

Both of those rooms were barely big enough for a bed in the first place. Surely the best thing to fill them with was books?

The room I slept in, now my bedroom, had a bookshelf. I triple stacked that and then piled more books on top in increasingly precarious piles.  Mum was not amused. What if they had someone come to stay? I knew they never would. Family stayed with Middle Cat. Her house is designed for things like that.


I had come home some little time before to help with a, by then almost disastrous, situation.  There had been a few changes by then.  A bookshelf had appeared in several places. The Senior Cat asked the cabinet maker who lived opposite to put a wall of shelving into the room I now sleep in. I don't know whether I sleep in a library, a room with books, or a bedroom. The shelves are only double stacked. There was a floor to ceiling bookshelf in the "family" room. Mum had agreed to that as somewhere to store the toys and books belonging to her grandsons. The Senior Cat had made that one. There were still boxes of books stored in the shed.

After my mother died books kept appearing in the house. They littered the floor in untidy piles. The shed was  untidy. The Senior Cat kept searching for books. 

"You need some more bookshelves," his mate N.... told him. The Senior Cat thought about making more. N.... took him to a certain store of  Scandinavian origin. The Senior Cat bought bookshelves. They put them together and put them where the electronic organ had been - the one my mother had liked to play but nobody else could play.  It took almost two years for the Senior Cat to feel he could do that. 

Once done though he went around the house and made notes. One lunch time he sat at the table with a list.

"We could put a bookshelf here...and here... and here," he told me, "Then I can bring those books in from the shed."

We bought more bookshelves. He filled them - with the books that had been piled on the floor. A few books came in from the shed.  We rearranged the shelves. There was room for a few more books. 

One Sunday morning I quietly removed almost two hundred cookery books from "the sewing room". (The Senior Cat was at church. Middle Cat came and took them away to give to the local charity shop.) I managed to put some books in the space that left. There were still books in the shed.

And there are still books in the shed. The shelves inside are crammed. There is no wall space left that can reasonably by used for shelving.  I am slowly going through the shelves. I know we need to be rid of some but how....? 

Mum gave away more than two dozen boxes of books belonging to me. She never mentioned this to me. I did not discover this  until long after she had done it. The books were part of my collection of children's literature. Some of them were valuable then and would be even more valuable now.  If I had known about this in her life time the rift between us would have been wider than the ocean it already was.

My mother died twenty years ago - in this month, when the jacarandas were in full flower. They are beautiful in their own way. I will always associate her with those and not with the books. But when the Senior Cat leaves us my siblings and I will look at libraries and bookshops and stacked book shelves in other places and think of him.

Sunday, 29 November 2020

Letters to the Editor

feature in many newspapers - but not all. They are  undoubtedly more common in a "democracy". 

And now of course some newspapers allow readers to comment on line - perhaps not for every story but for some.

It is not unusual for a local person to introduce me as "the person who writes the letters to the paper". It is not unusual for people I don't know to accost me about something I have written. I can only assume that someone else has pointed me out - an ancient, tricycle riding cat has to be easily recognised!

I have had letters in newspapers all over the world - but most of those occurred when I was working on getting International Literacy Year accepted as an idea. Editors seemed to like the idea - but not my attempts to translate my ideas into the local language. 

And two Saturdays in a row I have had the lead letter in our state newspaper.  Yesterday someone out for his daily walk (despite the heat) spoke to me as I was coiling up the hose. He asked,

    "Why do you write those letters Cat?"

    "I try to make people think. I try to give them an alternative point of view."

    "Well, I don't always agree with you."

    "That's all right. I don't always agree with myself. That's not the point of writing the letter."

He frowned and then asked, "But you did agree with what you were saying today?"

Yes, I did. I wrote much the same thing about asking questions here. It seems to me that asking questions and presenting alternative points of view are an important part of writing letters to any newspaper. Once in a while I have had newspaper staff contact me and say things like, "It was a good letter. We can't  publish it because...." That has usually infuriated me. All too often the reason amounts to, "We don't want the public to start thinking about another point of view."

I explained all this to the walker who had stopped to chat. He has never written a "letter to the editor" himself. He could not remember when he had last written an actual letter. He thought it might have been when he went to work for his current place of employment some thirty plus years ago. 

"And I know I got some help with that. I don't know how you do it," he told me, "You'll have to try and get a letter in that London one - you know "The Times" one. My sister's got a book about those."

Yes, I know the book - and many years ago I had three lines in that paper.  It was probably one or two lines too many. The very best letters to the editor are brief, witty and to the point.