Archive for the ‘Comment’ Category

Don’t follow, lead.

Sunday, October 29th, 2017
Laisvės-Alėja. The longest walking-street-in-Europe

Laisvės-Alėja, Lithuania. The longest walking-street-in-Europe

Soomaa National Park Peat Bog walk in Estonia

Soomaa National Park Peat Bog walk in Estonia

As a tourist it’s easy to buy a package tour and visit the places that are high on the wish list.

This can have its problems.

The issue is that you are not alone, as there are millions following you.

As mentioned in a previous blog, this was highlighted in a BBC article about tourists flooding popular destinations such as Barcelona, Venice, Florence and some Greek islands.

And more recently Iceland.

It is expected that over 2 million people will have visited this spectacular and sparsely populated country in 2017 – completely overwhelming the local population of just 334,000.

This has been exacerbated by the influx of tourists from China, India and Russia, plus the growth of cruising.

Some of the popular destinations are so overrun with tourists that the locals are moving out during the high season.

This year 70 million tourists will have visited Spain.

Another factor that changes the state of the destination is the accommodation.

The more tourists there are, the more places they need to stay.

In steps Airbnb and other accommodation sharing businesses.

The result is that the locals move out, because their apartments are worth more when they are rented.

Apart from the sites, the other attraction in a destination are the locals.

Increasingly the only people you see in the tourist areas of Berlin, Athens and Santorini are other tourists.

Another casualty of excessive tourism is the loss of local cuisine.

Unless you venture into the backstreets of Geneva, Hamburg or Prague you won’t find much more than pizza and pasta.

The local restaurants all left with the locals and moved into the suburbs, well away from the tourists.

Try finding good Catalan food in the centre of Barcelona.

What is tourism about, if not experiencing the culture, food and people?

On this trip we have been to some big cities like Berlin, Helsinki and Warsaw. There English is always spoken and everything is relatively easy.

But you are not alone, tourists are everywhere.

The prices are higher and you are more likely to get fleeced, as the locals are aware of what the punters will pay.

While in many unexplored countries the prices are very reasonable.

This trip we have been fortunate enough to visit Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Slovakia. In Banská Štiavnica in Slovakia we seemed to be the only tourists that weren’t from Eastern Europe. Most seem to be from bordering countries, such as Hungary Poland, Austria and the Czech Republic.

The countries we visited offered us an insight into Eastern Europe and the Baltic States. It also gave us a new perspective on the history and culture of these places, both before and after the Second World War.

Both the German occupation and subsequently the seizure by the Soviet Union left its mark. However the history before that was equally as turbulent, as invasion from neighbouring countries seemed to happen on a regular basis.

Travelling to unique places allows you to experience different people, cultures and geography. We discovered the ‘longest walking street in Europe’ in Lithuania and walked in a peat bog in Estonia.

However travelling in uncharted water isn’t without its difficulties.

Language can be an issue as English isn’t widely spoken and communication can be an issue. Especially when it comes to ordering from a menu that’s only in the local tongue.

Tour guides at these tourists sites tend to deliver the narrative in the language that most of the tourists speak and in many cases this wasn’t English.

Failing to find an English speaking guide we turned to the next best thing – maps and and printed information.

Even this had its problems, as on many occasions they weren’t printed in English either.

In large, well patronised, tourist towns you can always find a meal, at any time of the day or night.

When you are in these smaller places you have to eat when the locals eat, which isn’t necessarily when when you’re used to eating.

The benefit here is you are eating and talking with the locals and having a genuine tourist experience.

One of the real pleasures in visiting these off-the-beaten-track destinations is that you are an oddity to the locals and local tourists.

People want to engage you in conversation, just to discover; “Why on earth are you here?”

Democracy is dead.

Friday, September 15th, 2017
Cleisthenes, the father of Athenian democracy

Cleisthenes, the father of Athenian democracy

It’s been high jacked by the ‘popularists’

The democratic process was designed so society could move forward, towards a better future, by voting in people with vision, compassion and a willingness to selflessly serve society.

We now have candidates running for office who are more interested in remaining in power than doing anything positive.

No sooner do they win an election than they put all their resources into being re elected and remaining in power.

Their only strategy is to win the next election and their only policy is to pander to their electoral base.

Any media who is against them is considered ‘fake news’, any opposition organisations are regarded as ‘terrorists’ and any inquiries into their behaviour is a ‘witch hunt’.

They try to divide the citizens into good and bad.

This phenomenon isn’t restricted to crackpots and political minions like Pauline Hanson or Jackie Lamby in Australia. It’s playing out on a world stage, at a very high level.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey, Vladimir Putin in Russia, Beata Maria Szydło in Poland, Viktor Orban in Hungary, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Hun Sen in Cambodia and even, as unlikely as it may seem, Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar, who has turned a blind eye to the ethic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslims.

The list goes on.

And let’s not forget, Donald Trump in the USA.

They all claim that they have a mandate and are doing if for the ultimate good of the people.

Foreign policy is even used as tool to promote the local popularist agenda.

The increased US sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea will do nothing to solve the issues. They will however pander to Trump’s electoral base.

The same goes for the right wing Polish government’s demonising of Lech Wałęsa, a pivotal figure in the Solidarity movement.

And now, Erdoğan is encouraging the Turks, living in Germany, to vote against Angela Merkel because of her opposition to his draconian measures.

History has also had its fair share of those seeking the popular vote.

Stalin in Russia, Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy, Tito in Yugoslavia, Franco in Spain. And more recently Frank Bainimarama in Fiji.

They are just a few who have come to power with a popularist agenda. Which usually involves marginalising some part of their society.

Then there are the countries that have tried to avoid popularist politics by holding a referendum on divisive issues.

That didn’t all go well for the Conservatives in the U.K.  Now they have Teresa May and Brexit to contend with.

There’s also trouble in the UK, north of the border, with Scotland wondering how they will survive when they are out of the EU.

Closer to home we have Malcom-in-the-Middle wondering what to do with an ex PM who seems to want to grab onto the popularist mantle and do a Lazarus, back to the top spot.

Abbott is also playing a sly hand with branch politics within the Liberal Party – some might even call it ‘branch stacking’.

All this back room politicking is happening in Australia, while housing is becoming unaffordable, infrastructure needs replacing, banks and aged care facilities are screwing their customers, climate change and aboriginal rights are being politicised, and farmers are being sidelined by the supermarket chains.

Now same sex marriage has gone to a postal vote, because the politicians don’t have the guts to have a ‘conscience vote’.

Basically no one is looking to the future.

The collective eyes are most definitely off the ball.

Many Australians seem to share my view about the demise of the current political system.

According to research, commissioned by the Museum of Australian Democracy in 2016, satisfaction with democracy has halved over the last decade.

The same research also found that federal governments, of any persuasion, were incapable of solving current issues.

The Athenians, led by Cleisthenes, established the first democracy in 508 to 507 BC.

Democracy has always been considered as the answer for social justice and equality. A system that allows all members to have equal say and power. (However this form of ancient democracy did exclude women, slaves, men under 20, foreigners and non-land owners.)

The Greek meaning of democracy is ’the rule of the people’

Popularists polarise and try to convince the electorate that only they have the answers.

If you’re not with them, you are the enemy of the people and therefore against everything that they believe is ‘good and just’.

Articulation is the answer, the ability to convince people that there are alternatives.

Not a popularist way but a way forward – one that delivers benefits to all of society.

Not policy on the run at 120 character bursts of incongruity.

There is hope and it comes from North America, Europe and across the ditch in New Zealand.

Emmanuel Macron in France, Justin Trudeau in Canada and Jacinda Ardern in NZ are offering sane, sensible and rational alternatives.

They are seen as a ray of hope, in a world of turmoil.

It will come down to how well these young, new wave, politicians can articulate their vision for the future.

Let’s hope that more politicians can move their countries forward, not just push their own agendas.

This will only happen if they can get society involved in the debate and participate in the decision making.

Then democracy may yet survive.

Will tourists kill tourism?

Monday, August 28th, 2017
DSC06323

Dubrovnik, 2012

Tourists, in major tourist sites around the world, are starting to isolate the locals.

This is not a good sign for tourism.

I have recently read articles that describe how cities such as Barcelona, Venice and Florence have become such a draw card for tourists, that the locals are being displaced.

With the expansion of a globalised middle class, more people have the opportunity to travel.

This creates inherent problems.

The more travellers there are, the more places they need to stay and the more places they need to eat.

Last year 17 million tourists visited Barcelona. That’s more than two thirds of Australia’s population.

Airbnb and even the mainstream hotel booking sites like bookings.com are clamouring for accommodation. This has the effect of forcing up prices, which in turn disadvantages the local rental and buyer market.

Restaurants within the heart of the cities tend to ‘dumb down’ their offering in order to cater for a broader market. As a result restaurants serving up local cuisine are forced to move out of the central city areas.

Try finding authentic Catalan food in the tourist areas of Barcelona or German food in the centre of Berlin or Frankfurt.

You’ll more than likely be offered pizza, pasta or hamburgers.

Another contributing factor to the boom in tourism is expansion of the cruise market.

Mega ships, with the capacity to hold more than 6,000 passengers are descending on the major ports.

When we arrived in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, we were surprised by the number of tour groups that were wandering around the old city.

We were frustrated by how long it took us to negotiate through the crowds to get to our apartment. This crowd came from just two of the regular size cruise ships that dock at Tallinn, every day over summer.

Just imagine how the locals feel.

The more the locals are disenfranchised by the tourist industry the more tourists will become alienated from the destinations.

Especially if the the locals become aggressive, which has happened in Catalunya and the Basque regions of Spain.

We experienced this anger first hand in 2012, when a tyre on our leased Renault was slashed when we were at traffic lights in Naples.

We were on red French tourist plates.

Tourists behaving badly is another issue that puts them at odds with the sites and the locals.

Just recently a British museum at Prittlewell Priory, in Southend-on-Sea, had an 800 year old stone coffin damaged by tourists.

The happy wanderers thought that it would be a great photo opportunity to place their child in the coffin and take a snap.

The ancient walled city of Dubrovnik is actually considering limiting the number tourists they take.

The city has always been a must see on the tourist hit list, but now that it has a staring role in Game of Thrones, as King’s Landing, it’s become even more popular.

This summer, Dubrovnik will have been invaded by a flotilla of 538 cruse ships, delivering 750,000 of its two million visitors.

Another, and very worrying factor, is the threat of terrorist attacks.

As we have seen recently in Barcelona, tourists, not just locals, have now become the target of the jihadists.

The larger the tourist crowds the more vulnerable they become.

Major cities like London, Paris, Florence, Rome and Barcelona may be put on the ‘no go’ list by the tourists themselves.

Internal politics is yet another factor.

Egypt’s tourist industry has almost been wiped out, as a result of the domestic conflict during the Arab Spring of 2011. People were too afraid of being caught up in the violence to visit one of the world’s premier destinations. They felt that the risk was too great, even to see the Great Pyramid of Giza – they still won’t travel there.

Turkey has its own issues with the rise of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his nationalistic political agenda. The more he isolates Turkey from Europe, the more tourists will become isolated from Turkey. In the worst scenario, this alienation could turn to violence.

Once tourists are specifically attacked then the results for major destinations will be devastating.

One outcome, of this growing antagonism towards large numbers of tourists, is that lesser known destination might become more attractive.

As we have seen on our travels through Eastern Europe and the Baltic States, these places have a lot to offer. Countries like Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania might ultimately be the winners.

However I do hope that they don’t get overrun.

The Slovakian and Polish national summer pastime.

Sunday, July 30th, 2017

P7252885

We have just spent about three weeks in Slovakia and Poland, travelling to both the big cities and out-of-the-way places.

One thing that struck us was the amount of ice cream that’s consumed in both these countries.

Eating ice cream is gender and age neutral and seems to happen at anytime of the day or night.

Families do it, teenagers do it, older people, office workers and even tradies do it.

Here are some of the people I snapped – doing it.

Whatever happened to service?

Friday, June 30th, 2017

This is where the service has gone

Ever since the post Second World War boom in consumerism, the customer has always been placed first in the US.

“The customer is always right”, was the catchphrase

Now, “Put profit first”, takes that mantle.

Auto manufacturers lost the plot in Detroit during the 80s by building cars they wanted, and ignored their customers needs. Now the service industry has done the same.

Service appears top of mind when you are in restaurants and hotels but it’s very far from reality.

Everything is done for the convenience, and profit, of the establishment, not for the benefit of the customer.

If you don’t order enough you’re frowned upon. At the Biltmore Estate we were literally scowled at for not ordering a full meal each. Thea had a side-salad and soft drink and I had a coffee, as I don’t usually eat lunch.

Their issue was the bigger the bill the greater the tip and we therefore didn’t warrant the effort.

In most Brewpubs we visited in the eastern US, you couldn’t carry your bill from the bar to the restaurant. Why? Both the bar staff and the ‘wait staff’ need to have their separate tips.

The same happens at the end of a shift. You are rushed to finish your meal so the staff can close your account and get the tips earned during their shift.

This isn’t about you, but all about the staff making tips and the restauranteur making profit.

The tipping regime is out of control.

Most ‘wait staff’ get the standard rate of $2.13 per hour – this is below the poverty line. They ultimately hope to make about $25 per hour, which comes from tips.

In effect you are paying their wage, not their employer.

Most restaurants include a ‘suggested tip’ on your bill this starts at 18% and goes as high as 35%.

Then taxes are included before the tip is calculated.

Your hotel room won’t get serviced, unless you ask. There are no longer, ‘Please clean my room’ hangers to put on the door.

The excellent concept of not changing sheets and towels every day has been extended to no service at all. Beds aren’t made, floors aren’t vacuumed, even the bathroom isn’t cleaned.

This has nothing to do with the environment, they do this to cut down on staff.

Everything is plastic and disposable.

Most cafés don’t offer anything but disposable cups, plates and cutlery, which you are expected to clear away when you are finished. However the counter staff still expect a tip.

The cost of the disposable crockery and cutlery is offset by not having to employ staff to clear tables and wash dishes, at $2.13 per hour.

Again the customer loses out.

At breakfast, In most hotels and motels, even the milk for your coffee only comes in half pint (236ml) containers.

Most people only use a fraction of the contents, the rest goes in the bin.

In effect service has gone into the trash, along with everything else.

Graduation Day.

Saturday, May 27th, 2017

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“There’s a time a for joy

A time for tears

A time we’ll treasure through the years

We’ll remember always

Graduation day”

‘Graduation Day’ was a hit single for the Four Freshmen in 1956 and then covered by the Beach Boys in 1964.

The version by the Beach Boys is the one I remember best.

We had come to New York for Steph’s graduation and had no idea what to expect.

Graduations aren’t that big a deal in Australia and both Hayden and Even had missed theirs entirely.

Steph had just completed a two years Masters at Columbia University Teachers College (TC).

My vision, probably developed from 1960s US sitcoms, was of students, dressed in black academic gowns, throwing their mortar boards in the air at the conclusion of the ceremony.

There was much more to it than that.

My first big surprise was that the Columbia graduates didn’t wear a black gown, but sky blue.

The celebrations and presentations went on for three days. There were welcome drinks for the International Students and their families and friends on one night. This was followed the next day by the Masters presentation, called the Convocational, at St John the Divine. It was preceded by a light lunch and followed by a dessert of strawberries dunked in chocolate and chocolate chip cookies.

The following day was the ‘big one’.

It was called the ‘Commencement of 2017′ celebrations, however it was really the conclusion of the 2017 academic year.

It was attended by a crowd of over 30,000 guests and students, sitting in the hot sun, with most having no shade, not even a hat. That is apart from those clever people who improvised with headwear made from the Columbia newspaper.

It was huge.

It took close to two hours for everyone to be seated and the academic staff to parade in.

The speeches, awards and confirmation of degrees took another few hours.

Finally, when it was all over, I waited for the mass mortar board toss.

It didn’t really happen.

The biggest surprise to me was the tone of the speakers.

Without every mentioning his name ‘The Donald’ and his administration was put down in every conceivable way.

The President of Columbia, Lee C Bollinger, led the charge by reminding the graduates that they would always remember the graduation of 2017 as a dark year in the history of the US.

Another fascinating part of the event was discovering the history, and culture, of the Teachers College.

The Teachers College was founded in 1887 by Grace Hoadley Dodge. Today it has over 90,000 alumni in 30 countries.

It was the world’s first Teachers College and incorporated the study of educational psychology and educational sociology. It was also mindful of the vast number of immigrants entering the US and tried to incorporate their special needs in the teacher training. The founders insisted that ethics and the nature of ‘good society’ should also be a part of the curriculum.

No wonder both the college and the university are at odds with the Washington administration.

Know your market. 

Saturday, July 23rd, 2016

Swan_Hill_RSL_duo

We have recently travelled by road to Brisbane and back.

Travelling north was via the coast and the return journey was on the inland route, passing through Goondiwindi, Lighting Ridge, Bourke and Griffith.

For many evenings meals we availed ourselves of the various clubs, especially in NSW. These are reasonably priced, centrally located and offer some surprisingly good food.

In Swan Hill, Victoria, we had a meal at the RSL, which was next door to our motel.  It was a Sunday night and the only patrons were people of our vintage and many who were a lot older.

The bar and waiting staff were at least two generations younger and this was reflected in the music that was being played.

While the older generation were enjoying their Grilled Barramundi, Reef n’ Beef and Parmi, they were subjected to a medley of Chicago House, Rap and Detroit Techno.

Fortunately most of them could block out the music by turning down the volume on their hearing aids.

Is the truth really out there?

Wednesday, April 6th, 2016

X_files

Recently I watched six new episodes of the very successful science fiction TV series, ‘The X-Files’.

The original series ran from September 1993 to May 2002. Written by Chris Carter and staring David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, there were 202 episodes and two feature films. The second film was released in 2008.

It was the longest running science fiction series in US history.

I think that this latest 6 episode series is a fishing expedition by 20th Century Fox Television. Each episode was so completely different that I can’t help but feel they are all part of an elaborate market research program.

Some episodes were verging on ‘slap-stick’ while others continued with the old protagonists and conspiracy theories.

The producers even introduced Fox and Scully clones.

Its been 8 years since the last film and 14 years since since the last series, so the market’s attitudes towards the characters and plots may well have shifted.

Will there be more X-Files and what will be the theme?

The truth is probably out there, or at least buried in the market research.

All’s not well in the Spamasphere. 

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

Disaster_strikes

There has been a strategy shift in the spam I get – it’s moved from greed to fear.

I receive up to six spam emails a day, and until recently they have all played on the greed factor to try and get me to respond.

I have won competitions, had thousands of dollars put into my account and been offered amazing money-making schemes.

All I have to do to unlock this wealth is to ‘Click here’

I know that they more than likely contain malware or are using ‘phishing’ to get personal information – I have therefore never clicked on anything to find out.

They seem to get around the text-based junk mail filters by disguising the content using numerals instead of letters and inserting punctuation in the middle a word.

‘The first thing you need to do is c0llect your c0mmissi0n ch.eck of 6,492.94. Set up your details here:

This has suddenly all changed.

I am now getting, with equally annoying regularity, a different form of spam. These all relate to impending disasters that will be unleashed on the USA, changing the American way of life forever.

And I don’t think they are referring to Donald Trump.

Subjects like: ‘The Imminent Danger From Within Our Borders’ and ‘The Worst Crisis Within US History is Almost Here’ now grace my inbox.

The ‘Click here’ relates to viewing secret reports or videos that will reveal these dastardly plots.

Conspiracy is now the new reason to ‘Click here’

Also to be found at the base of these emails is another link:

‘If you want to unsubscribe from our list. Click here

By clicking to unsubscribe you are actually verifying your email address.

Of course the spam will continue – that’s unless disaster strikes first.

Casting. 

Thursday, January 14th, 2016

Lee_Lin_Chin

The latest installment of the long running Australia Day Lamb Campaign has been released.

This highly regarded series of ads started in 2005 and stars Sam Kekovich. Sam has always been very forthright in his approach to eating lamb, especially on Australia Day, and he castigates anyone as being un-Australian if they disagreed.

In this day of inclusiveness Sam’s brutal approach could be misconstrued as being overtly nationalistic.

Enter Lee Lin Chin, the legendary newsreader for SBS.

This is an inspired piece of casting, that brings a new face to the Australian Meat and Livestock campaign. It proves once and for all that you don’t need to be a white Australian male to enjoy a lamb chop.

Not surprisingly the latest commercial has still received a number of complaints, this time from the vegan community. They believe that the torching of the kale, by the commandos, borders on violence towards those; “…soap avoiding, hippy, vegetarians” as Sam described them in the original ad.

Good ads stand out by being controversial – this one is no different.

The sales figures also back up the success of the campaign, with butchers reporting that lamb sales skyrocket by 35% around January 26th.

Watch the Australia Day Lamb 2016 ad here.