Posts filed under ‘Rant’

Tiffany Outlet

Well people, it’s embarrassing to admit this but – I’ve been the victim of a very shoddy Chinese company. I’ve decided to blog on my experience because I am sooooooooooooooo annoyed. Here’s what happened.

A friend of mine has always wanted the Tiffany solid pentagram-shaped silver keyring. And I’ve always fancied the Elsa Peretti silver mesh earrings. Being stuck in rural New Zealand, I can’t exactly wander down to my local Tiffany & Co. Over the years, I’ve been given some Tiffany items and bought things myself, so I’m very aware of what Tiffany jewellery should look and feel like.

I don’t usually order stuff off the internet because I’m paranoid about being ripped off. If I do order, it’s from reputable sites like Amazon or Strawberrynet. However, I thought I’d search for what Tiffany & Co might sell online and came across a site that I genuinely believed was a Tiffany outlet – rather like designer brands have outlet stores.

Here’s the site. Same distinctive Tiffany blue colour and use of the name Tiffany & Co. I spent time looking at the items and they seemed genuine. No sign of it being a non-American site – it even refers to the US Postal Service. I located the pentagram keyring and mesh earrings and I read the customer feedback. All glowing – but that’s because (as I now know) the people behind the site moderate comments and don’t seem to allow negative feedback to be posted.

So I ordered – here are the screenshots of the two items.

Screenshot of solid pentagram-shaped silver keyring.

Close up of the keyring.

Silver mesh earrings - note the round ball at top of earring.

Screenshot that clearly shows I qualify for free shipping.

The site very clearly stated that I qualified for free shipping and that my order came to a total of $US65.20. The two photos below show what I received:

Notice anything? The keyring is NOT what I ordered and the earrings don’t have the solid silver ball at the top. The items arrived in what looked like the distinctive blue box Tiffany & Co use as well as the soft blue pouches Tiffany use.

But…and this is when I became alarmed….the invoice had Chinese characters on it and the items were frankly shoddy CRAP encased in equally shoddy cheap, clear plastic pockets.

To add salt to the wound, my credit card had been charged the shipping fee!!

I immediately sent an email (using the Contact Us tab) but…and here’s the interesting thing…on trying to send the email, the system asks you for a validation code but I could not see or find any validation code. One therefore assumes they don’t want you to contact them?

I then found an email address and emailed directly from my business email. A series of emails flew back and forth and have ultimately led to this post.

This is what transpired:

  • they ended up admitting that they did not have the solid pentagram keyring in stock and took it upon themselves to send the star-shaped one instead. I reminded them that it says on their website that the pentagram keyring is IN STOCK and, if it’s not, they should therefore take it down from their site or say “Not in Stock”;
  • they refused to comment on why the earrings that I received were not the same as the ones I ordered from the site ie the silver ball at the top of the earring was missing;
  • their excuse about charging me for shipping? They said it only applied to Christmas 2010 orders. I pointed out that this was six months ago and their excuse was “oh website problems, sorry”. They did offer to refund $US15.00 but what’s the point of this?
  • I then requested a full refund. The keyring is useless as it’s not the pentagram shape and the earrings are not as described on the site. And frankly, the two items are very clearly CHEAP CRAP. They have remained silent since this request.
  • I have sent them two further emails requesting a refund and courtesy of response – nothing. I told them I would be blogging and using social media to expose their lack of customer service and shoddy goods. No response.

How is it that the real Tiffany & Co doesn’t sue these dudes assess off? The site is pretty clever at giving you some degree of comfort when it says: We are officially licensed by Tiffany outlet sales distributor”. But it’s vague information, obviously designed to lure in the unsuspecting.

Sad to say dear reader that I have been duped. You’ve been warned – DON’T USE TIFFANY OUTLET. They will simply take your money and run, whilst you end up with cheap and nasty goods made in China.

UPDATE: quite a few readers have privately emailed me saying good on me for telling you about this shonky lot. They didn’t want to give away to Tiffany Outlet how you can spot them as being shonky from the website.

FURTHER UPDATE: Yeehah! Tiffany Outlet is having their asses sued by the real Tiffany. Read my latest post.

May 23, 2011 at 5:16 am 76 comments

Come fly with me

Occasionally, I give out the ThinkingShift “dumb ass” award and I have two candidates for this honour. First up are the two woman who thought they could prop a 91-year old dead dude in a wheelchair, stick a pair of sunnies on him, dress him in a big coat and waltz up to an airport check-in counter and get the dead dude on a plane to Berlin. I’m afraid their excuses of “we didn’t know he’d carked it” don’t wash with me because the old guy had been dead for at least 12 hours, possibly up to 24 hours, according to the police investigating this bizarre incident.

Surely, no light chit-chat in the taxi on the way to the airport would have alerted the gals to the fact they had a dead body on their hands. And had they bothered to feed him over the previous 12 hours? A 91-year old not eating for over 12 hours might have been a clue.  Now, I’d be the first to admit that travelling looooooooooong hours in economy class on a plane can leave one feeling well, dead. But trying to smuggle the old geezer onto a plane is a bit Fawlty Towers. Imagine the poor airport worker who was waiting for the taxi to pull up at the airport. With wheelchair ready, he attempted to lift the old guy but his head immediately plonked sideways and his face fell against the airport worker’s. To quote: “It was ice cold. I knew straight away that the man was dead but they reassured me that he “always sleeps like that“. Smart dude that airport worker. When security attempted to find a pulse, the two women shooed them away. Apparently, the whole point of the macabre affair was to hold a funeral in Germany without paying £3,000 repatriation costs. Ah, ladies: there is a legal requirement to notify authorities of a death.

My second “dumb ass” award must go to Ryanair, the low cost Irish airline. I’m sure they’d say they are simplifying the flying experience and offering cheap or discount flights in planes that boast vinyl seats (nothing worse than vinyl if you ask me). In their never-ending attempts to cut costs, Ryanair at one point considered a proposal to have passengers stand up during the flight. This nutty idea would apparently allow for 50% more passengers and cut costs by 20%. I have no idea where one would put the seat belt – around one’s neck perhaps? And as the flight hits a bit of turbulence, well way to go, you might inadvertently choke your dumb ass self.

And the airline’s latest proposal is to charge passengers for going to the loo. Actually, they’ve been tossing this stupid idea around for awhile but recent reports are saying that if you get caught short on a flight, you’ll have to cough up around £1 to spend a penny. If this news had come out on April 1st, I’d be inclined to say it’s an April Fools’ Day joke. But alas, seems they’re deadly serious.

Do you remember when flying and going to an airport used to be a pleasurable experience? Nah, I don’t either. But I do remember when I was a little kid going with my dad to the airport on a Sundays. He was a fighter pilot in WWII so was somewhat obsessed with planes. But we used to be able to stand on the roof (or maybe it was the balconies) of Sydney’s Kingsford Smith airport and watch planes land and take off. And you could meet disembarking passengers at the bottom of those metal steps they used to wheel up to the aircraft’s front door. I well remember meeting my grandparents coming off a plane from England and I remember lusting after their cute red Qantas cabin bags like this one:

And do you remember being served food like this onboard?

Well possibly you do if you fly First Class all the time but this is a Qantas ad from 1959 emphasizing the quality service aboard. Mmmmm…bring 1959 back please.

And do you remember cabin service or cabin designs like this?

Porcelain cups of tea and bowls of fruit available in cabins that seemed to have lounge room style seats. (Note one ad though has a dude smoking – glad they don’t allow that anymore). I don’t remember this era of luxury, genteel travel. Maybe you do. I’m always stuck in toilet class (aka economy/coach), usually seated in the row just in front of the toilet. Mind you, if I fly with Ryanair in future, there will probably only be one toilet on the aircraft – so I might get lucky and have no smelly toilets near me.
If you want a trip down memory lane, check out these amazing, vintage airline posters showing what the flying experience used to be like. That was before the likes of Ryanair and dead dudes being smuggled onto planes.

April 11, 2010 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

Girlfriend: you ‘aint Jessica

Occasionally, I let fly at dumb ass people. Today is one of those days. Prepare yourself.  Firstly, I think we’d all agree that Hollywood star, Jessica Alba, is pretty hot – gorgeous olive skin, almond shaped eyes, stunning body, hair blah blah. Oh to be born again like her. But would I undergo serious plastic surgery to look like her? Would I try to morph from an Asian woman into Jessica? Hell no.

But there is a dumb ass person who is trying to do just this. And she has a dumb ass boyfriend she should have given the flick to a loooooooooong time ago. Here’s the sorry story.

A 21-year old Chinese woman, identified as Xiaoqing (probably way too embarrassed to give us her real name), has been running around Shanghai sporting a blonde wig and false eyelashes and wondering why on earth people have been laughing at her. Here’s a clue girlfriend: you look ridiculous.  Apparently, Xiaoqing’s boyfriend is obsessed with Jessica Alba and has demanded that Xiaoqing do her make-up like Alba and even go to bed wearing said make-up.  Girlfriend, here’s another tip for you: dumb ass boyfriend is probably some creepy, stalker dude with an altar to Alba in his house somewhere, run away NOW.

Dumb ass boyfriend gives Xiaoqing the blonde wig for Christmas and rather than tossing it in his face, she decides to wear it on the streets of Shanghai. Xiaoqing cries: “I love him very much…. That’s why I always followed his opinions. I don’t want to lose him.” The opinions of this dumb ass boyfriend are apparently so important to Xiaoqing that she is prepared to undergo extensive plastic surgery to turn herself into Jessica.

Hint number three girlfriend: we are all born with different features, personalities, bodies and so on. No amount of plastic surgery will make you Jessica Alba. But dumb ass Xiaoging says: “I’m a psychologically weak person. I want to do something to challenge myself and build a strong personality through it.” How about seeing a psychiatrist girlfriend?? But no, she’s thinking that submitting herself to eyebrow lifting, eyelid reshaping and nose reconstruction will please her boyfriend and give her an instant personality transplant. And it appears that the Shanghai Time Plastic Surgery Hospital will do the slicing and dicing job for free. Why I wonder?

Any form of elective surgery should be considered VERY seriously. I plan to age gracefully (or ungracefully as the case may be). No Botox-wielding, scalpel waving plastic surgeon is going to get near me. But contemporary society’s obsession with celebrity, gleaming white teeth and the perfect body has led to some recent untimely deaths that Xiaoging might want to take note of.

Former Miss Argentina and model, Solange Magnano, died after gluteoplasty, which is liposuction intended to give a better shaped butt, apparently by lifting it slightly. Magnano was 38 years old and left behind a husband and eight year old twins. This is how she looked before the cosmetic surgery that killed her (liquid injected during the procedure somehow traveled to her lungs and brain):

Now unless my eyes are seriously letting me down, Solange was gorgeous. She was a former Miss Argentina and model, ergo she was a beauty, yet she felt she needed a butt lift.

Both Nigeria’s First Lady, Stella Obasanjo and Kanye West’s 58-year old mother allegedly died following complications from cosmetic surgery. And American novelist, Olivia Goldsmith, died during a facelift operation. These are the high profile cases but then you hear about a 32-year old woman who died during a lunchtime tummy tuck procedure; the 42-year old woman who went into cardiac arrest following a facelift; or the 25-year old man who died after liposuction.

These are all very sad and unnecessary deaths brought on by the desire to look younger or slimmer. But when it comes to an Asian woman voluntarily submitting herself to the knife because her boyfriend is obsessed with Jessica Alba…well, that’s beyond dumb ass IMHO. Girlfriend: follow the links in this post and think VERY carefully. The procedure will be irreversible and you may not come out of the operating theatre alive. And also think VERY carefully about your boyfriend who might benefit from a trip to a psychiatrist.

End of rant.

February 1, 2010 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

Nationality is not genetic

Mouth swabWhat the? Am I living in some parallel universe? One occupied by a pack of racist, fear-mongering dudes? One in which nationality and ethnicity are being viewed as one and the same thing (which they’re not)?

I’ve come across another whacko project. At first, I thought the date was April 1 but this seems to be no April Fools’ joke. And it seems that the UK has once again lost the plot. Not content to surveil the heck out of its poor citizens, the UK is now proposing to – wait for it – use DNA and isotope analysis of tissue from asylum seekers to evaluate their nationality. Yes folks, you read correctly – to evaluate nationality.

The Human Provenance pilot project was launched quietly in mid-September 2009 (yeah, if it was announced there would have been a revolution!) by the U.K. Border Agency and will run until June 2010.  Can you believe that asylum-seekers (including children)  are being subjected to mouth swabs for mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosome testing and isotope analyses of hair and nail samples in an effort “to help identify a person’s true country of origin.” The program is voluntary so they say. But asylum-seekers are not likely to say “no thanks” because saying no would mean the boot out of the UK (ah, actually that might be a good thing).

Now, it’s true that refugees have been desperately trying to get to the UK from the French port of Calais, just as more boatpeople have been attempting to get to Australia. So some examination of who is a legitimate asylum-seeker might be necessary.  However, the project seems to be confusing nationality with ethnicity.

One aim of the project is to find out if asylum-seekers claiming to be from Somalia are actually from another African country such as Kenya. As one super-smart geneticist points out:

“genes don’t respect national borders, as many legitimate citizens are migrants or direct descendants of migrants, and many national borders split ethnic groups.”

And a pioneer in human DNA fingerprinting has this to say: “The Borders Agency is clearly making huge and unwarranted assumptions about population structure in Africa; the extensive research needed to determine population structure and the ability or otherwise of DNA to pinpoint ethnic origin in this region simply has not been done. Even if it did work (which I doubt), assigning a person to a population does not establish nationality – people move! The whole proposal is naive and scientifically flawed.”

Worse than being naive and scientifically flawed, there’s an echo of eugenics and Nazis ringing in my ears with this project.  Didn’t those whacko Nazis use nose calipers to “scientifically” determine ethnicity?

Science Insider is asking some very sensible questions about this project – a prime one being who is conducting the test and analysing the results? Some Border Agency official who’s been given a 20 minute crash course in validating DNA?? And some well-known geneticists and isotope specialists are making their thoughts loud and clear here.

And I’d ask: have the Border Agency dudes considered for one moment the issue of traumatising a child? Many children from Africa are the product of rape, so the child’s father may not in fact be genetically related.

This is the sort of daft stuff I fear: idiots and third-rate pseudo-scientists messing around with technology, wasting taxpayers money, in their misguided, paternalistic attempts to profile, surveil and control. In the absence of public debate and a legislative and policy framework to guide and supervise their actions, this is just bad science and morally wrong. Asylum-seekers are not guinea pigs to be subjected to lab tests.

It seems that public outcry and criticism from geneticists and scientists has whacked the UK Border Agency over the head enough to make them retreat – DNA evidence will still be collected but analysed later and will not currently be used for individual case decisions.

Mmmm…at least the whole debacle reveals what idiots are out there in Government and what whacko ideas they come up with.

October 13, 2009 at 2:00 am 5 comments

Half-baked cat fight

flying-cat-fight.jpg image by dankfern

Dear reader..imagine my shock, horror, FEEEEAAAR even when confronted with……

Well, let me take a step back. I had to shoot across the Tasman for a few days last week to visit my (literally) last remaining relative on the planet. My elderly uncle, who is in his 80s. Now, I realise this makes me seem incredibly ancient if you think about it – my last remaining next-of-kin who is in his 80s. But….I was born to an older mother and father and my nearest cousin is 18 years older than me. This might help you to visualise me as less than 80 years old (I hope).

I digress. So…I had to apply for a new NZ passport as the old one was just about to expire. Prior to 2005, the writing on the front of the passport (which I think was in silver) would completely rub off. When I handed in my old passport, the consulate people here in Sydney laughed because literally nothing was left on that passport cover to say what country I belonged to. But now I’m the owner of a very shiny new passport with gold writing on the cover. I was NOT happy to see that it is an E-passport with the dreaded micro chip. I searched for secretive ways to get rid of the chip but to no avail.

Regular ThinkingShift readers will know that I am often hauled aside at immigration for bomb-testing. So I was poised, ready, waiting. But this time, something more exciting happened to me. I was going through passport control, outward bound to NZ, when…my shiny new passport was confiscated and I was hauled off for questioning. No explanation. Just “come over here please and wait here”.

Had my many posts about biometrics and surveillance finally caught up with me I wondered? (I recently declined an invite to China because I thought my posts on China might get me hauled off). I sat like a young school kid outside the mirror-walled office, just behind passport control.  I had visions of ASIO types behind that mirrored window sussing me out – did I look nervous, suspicious?

After about 5 mins, a dude walked out and handed me my passport and said “have a nice flight”. What??? No grilling? No good cop/bad cop routine? I was disappointed. I asked what’s up? All he’d say was “your passport caused a red flag to go up on our system, but it’s fine now”.

What the? What does this mean? I scurried through the dreaded x-ray stuff and off I flew to NZ.  I returned a few days later….oblivious to changes at Sydney airport.

Whilst waiting in the passport control queue, a female official came up to me and said I could use the SmartGate line and sail through. Smart idea I thought; beat the queue. Dumb ass move on my part because… you scan your E-passport in a machine and then….you go off to…..the facial recognition technology area…and have your face scanned by these dreaded looking machines. I practically hyper-ventilated.

Despite the early hour of the morning and my foggy brain, I scanned for legal signs to tell me my rights. Typical. No signs. In the absence of these, I said to the grim looking woman “I decline to undergo facial recognition. Where are the signs to tell me what I can or can’t do?”.

I thought she was about to drop dead – either from laughter or shock at my hissy fit. After all, a few sheep incoming passengers were lining up for the facial business, so what’s my problem?  She barked: “well then join that long queue over there and wait your turn”.

Fine with me. Off I trotted. The irony is that I beat the facial recognition suckers to the passport control desk (seems the technology was still asleep in the early hours of the morning). And then my half-baked cat fight went something like this:

Passport control dude (with no smile): “You have an NZ E-passport. Why didn’t you go through the SmartGate?” (I’m thinking: unfortunately, Smart Gate is nowhere near as kick-ass exciting as Star Gate, otherwise I would have gone through it!).

Me: “I didn’t see any sign that said it was compulsory, so I prefer to join this queue”.

Dude: “Well, you have an E-passport”.

Me: silence (declining to state the obvious – duh!)

Dude: “Are you declining facial recognition?”.

Me: “Yes. Seems that it’s not compulsory, so until it is, I don’t wish to have it”.

Dude (with a slight smirk) “Do you have something to hide?” (and proceeds to look more closely at my passport).

Me: “Not at all. I just don’t like the intrusiveness of it and I don’t think the technology is foolproof enough yet” (dumb ass move on my part as I got a mini-lecture on the wonders and accuracy of facial recognition software).

Me: “Well, if it’s not compulsory, then I’d rather not have it. Seems you are using the SmartGate “beat the immigration queue” concept as a way to trap people into having facial recognition. Where are the signs and announcement about what is scanned; why it is scanned; and in what databases the scans are held; and who has access to them?”.

Dude: glare….raised eyebrows….narrowing of eyes.

Me:  return glare but realising I might now get myself hauled off.

Dude: “have a nice day” and hands over my passport.

Me: “you too”, grabbing passport and scurrying off faster than a cheetah running over the African landscape, chasing prey.

Soooooo….I have obviously missed any news about facial recognition technology being introduced to Sydney airport! I do remember something about facial recognition trials some years back but I thought that had bitten the dust. I decided to do a spot of research and found an announcement about SmartGate in a dreary Ministerial press release in July 2009. It’s being rather cleverly described as a “self-processing option for travellers” and a “long-term business solution” (what the?).

It says that SmartGate is proving popular. Yes…well…there were hundreds of people in the loooooooong queues for passport control and about 10 at the SmartGate. Not sure that’s too popular. The couple ahead of me (in their 20s) were clutching NZ E-passports. They were glancing at SmartGate. They turned to me and asked what it was.

Me: “That’s SmartGate. You put the photo page of your E-passport in that machine over there. Then you go get facial recognition”.

Young dude: “What? They scan your face? No way in hell”.

Young girl: “You gotta be kidding. I’m not having that”.

Ah, so Gen Y clearly are very astute and they renewed my belief that not all of us are sheep about to meekly walk into surveillance hell. But I’m wondering when SmartGate will become CompulsoryGate.

September 19, 2009 at 2:00 am 1 comment

Don’t it make my brown eyes blue

I cannot contain myself.  I’ve tried, believe me. But when I read this bizarre news item…well, I had a hissy fit, dummy spit, you name it. I simply cannot believe there are people so dumb, so stupid, so vain as to take such a risk with – in this case – their eyesight.

Aside from one’s health, being able to see is what gives humans pleasure in this world. Being able to gaze on the rich colours and textures of nature. Can you imagine what it would be like if you lost your sight overnight?

Well, it nearly happened to a UK woman by the sounds of it. Read this article, then come back to me. Do you think it’s a hoax? Do you really think anyone would be so reckless with their eyesight that they would willingly undergo an unapproved operation that changes one’s eye colour??

Well, apparently there are some dumb ass people in this world. The woman in the article decided her brown eyes weren’t good enough and wanted them altered to blue. Hello? Has she not heard of coloured contact lenses???? Heck, she could even have tried Hello Kitty! contact lenses.

I don’t wear glasses but when I get old and cranky (about 2 years from now), I’ll be going the contact lens route. I have blue-gray eyes. I would love to have green eyes but yeegads, I would not subject myself to an operation (in some shonky third world country no less) that purports to insert a coloured lens implant inside the eye, over the iris (guess that means the iris is slit open). Here’s a photo of the implant:

iris lens

The woman travelled to Panama for the op (I also read it was Mexico) and the result of the op was – a hole in one iris and the near loss of her eyesight. And after all the pain and risk, her eyes are still brown!

What I find intriguing is that the woman in question is a single mother of three children. She paid £5,000 for the operation and on top of this had to cough up airfare and accommodation. Unless she is a super-rich single mother, wouldn’t this money have been better spent on her kids? (Actually, I’ve read too she is unemployed).

And then the part that really leaves me shaking my head – she was told NOT to go ahead with the unapproved op by FIVE opticians in the UK. Hello?? If five medico types tell you not to mess around with your eyes, it’s probably a smart move to believe them. 

From what I’ve read, this woman wanted to have “European coloured eyes”.  Last time I looked, Europeans have brown eyes as well as blue, blue-gray and green.  UK surgeons had to operate to remove the implants and she is now likely to develop cataracts in later life and is at increased risk of glaucoma (and does the UK taxpayer have to foot the bill for this restorative operation???).

In what must be the understatement of the century, the UK woman is quoted as saying:  “It was the biggest mistake I have ever made….To think I could have never been able to see my children again. It was totally reckless of me.” Ah, duh!

What can I say? A lot actually – but I’d be up for defamation. So instead here are my golden rules for dumb ass people considering changing their appearance through foolhardy operations:

  • be satisfied with what you’ve been given in life – you are unique no matter what size or colour;
  • if you see an operation advertised on the internet and it’s in some third world country, might be advisable to switch your computer off; and
  • if it involves cutting you up, slicing, dicing, lifting, peeling – then you might just end up with a massive infection and cark it. Is it really worth it, all this vanity?

And for dumb ass people thinking of changing their eye colour from brown to blue – simply listen to the 1977 hit by Crystal Gayle ‘Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue’.

September 4, 2009 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

The decline of civility?

I was having coffee the other day with a KM colleague. We are planning a workshop together and somehow the conversation turned into a discussion around the decline of civility in public life. Beware: unstructured rant ahead. I’ve been pondering if I’m just turning into a cranky old goat. Mind you, I rather relish the thought of becoming cranky in my dotage and complaining of “those young people today with no manners”. Anyway, we were talking about what seems to be a lack of empathy in today’s society (a recent blog post topic for me), which has resulted in public embarrassment or humiliation of people on reality show TV for example.

We came to the tentative conclusion that it’s about time.  One hundred years or so ago, people had more time. They could study the Classics at leisure. Go on the Grand Tour of Europe studying art works. Letters took a week or so to get to someone so there was time to reflect on content and compose a measured response. For entertainment, families gathered around the piano and sang together; played cards; or….gasp…talked. Items weren’t manufactured in China for the throw-away society. Artifacts where more often than not hand-crafted and treasured, perhaps handed down through the generations. People weren’t trying to grab the spotlight of fame for 15 minutes, appearing on some reality TV show drivel. Now, we want a movie star life with the movie star salary.

There was less abundance; less choice. My friend was saying his daughter recently spent an hour in a DVD store and re-emerged with nothing. She had been unable to make a decision about which DVD to get as there was too much choice on offer. And so we become paralysed. We don’t value things as much because they are disposable, not as well made as in the past, not guaranteed to last a lifetime to be handed down to the grandchildren. We are bombarded with information. Blackberries shrill. Incoming emails alert us. We feel the need to Twitter or reveal our private lives on Facebook. We feel the pressure of needing to say something witty or smart so we have 1 million followers on Twitter.

The values that we, as a community, used to share – family, country, faith, learning, truth – have disappeared to be replaced by degradation and a lack of kindness or consideration for others. Dressed up as “entertainment” we have shows that encourage people to “look 10 years younger” by subjecting themselves to plastic surgery or talent shows where judges have acerbic tongues ready to lash out and criticise, humiliate and belittle. We live in an anti-political age where collective and community engagement is at an all-time low.

I used to love The Golden Years of Hollywood, hosted by Bill Collins (very knowledgeable Australian film buff). These were innocent films like “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “Singing in the Rain”. Now, we are inured to violence because we see it all the time in Hollywood blockbusters. There is a vulgarity present in our interactions with strangers in public space. Etiquette of course – the formal rules that existed in the 19th Century – was a way of enforcing social class distinctions, but any semblance of manners or consideration has flown the coop because we now seem to accept any form of behaviour because, hey – I’m an individual and entitled to my opinion.

The American philosopher, John Rawls, said “when liberties are left unrestricted, they collide with one another” (in his work, A Theory of Justice). I think that’s what we are seeing. Individuals with unfettered freedom colliding with each other. The rich, the bold, the brash, the powerful jostle to the top on the shoulders of others, whilst the rest of us are confused over what are the rules of social interaction in our society. Do I give up my train seat for that pregnant lady or do I say to myself “nope, I paid for this ticket too, she can stand?” (And BTW: I would stand up, not keep sitting).

And so as a result of the conversation, I ended up pondering the decline (the loss?) of civility in public life. Let’s not confuse civility with old fashioned good manners or etiquette. Civility is about respecting others and showing that respect. Even good old George Washington got this right when he said ‘Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present” (in his book, 110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation). Civility governs (or should govern) our public life surely. Our daily interactions place us in contact with strangers. We have no idea of their background, their personalities, their problems or their religious viewpoints. But to treat them as equals, we must surely show them civility. Civility gives them and us the cue as to what the rules of social interaction are. Civility becomes a shared rule we can all understand and it regulates society through harmonious relationships with one another.

But we are in a state of anxiety – over the global financial mess, over whether or not we’ll lose our jobs, over whether or not the very high opinion we have of ourselves and our talent is shared by others. I sense a bubbling undercurrent of violence and unrest in society (I’m talking about Western society). It’s like we are waiting for some time bomb to go off. Civillity has taken a back seat. Even Good Samaritans are killed these days. Or people are deliberately run over and critically injured following a minor traffic incident.

But if we deliberately and doggedly continue to pursue our own self interest and ignore civility in public space, then the question must eventually become – how long before we descend into anarchy? And then, how long before the State has to step in and curtail the freedom of the individual?

Okay end of rant. I will reflect on civility some more and do another post.

June 21, 2009 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

Empathy chip missing

Enough has been said in Australia over the tasteless sketch about terminally ill children on The Chaser.  They crossed the line with this one IMHO. Overseas readers can come up to speed by reading this article. I don’t know what The Chaser dudes were thinking but the whole debacle has caused them to issue a public apology. I had planned to do a post that would basically have ranted about how, in contemporary society, we seem to think it’s okay to take free speech to the extremes of ridicule and humiliation. You have been spared my rant because an opinion in The Age said it all for me. The opinion piece, by Shaune Carney, in part explains for me why something like The Chaser’s sketch happened:

“The most striking element of the public reaction was not the level of outrage and disgust, but the extent of public acceptance of the sketch and its message….What the positive reactions to the sketch by The Chaser suggest is that we are now in an era of Me, Me, Me. Years of relativism, cynicism and scoffing at objectivity, and the elevation of subjectivity as our prime condition, seem to have robbed a lot of us of a vital component in a civilised society: empathy. Take for example someone who goes by the handle “coreena”, who commented on Crikey: “I liked the ‘Wish’ skit … I’m fed up being expected to give money so some kid can go to Disneyland.” A child who has been subject to surgery or chemotherapy or radiation or perhaps all three becomes “some kid”. The child’s family, their lives turned inside out, do not rate a mention…..There’s only you, you’re all that matters, and if it’s not affecting you, poke fun at it. They all knew what they were doing. And they knew that a lot of people who admire their work would think that caring about yourself and not caring about anybody else was the smartest way to live.”

And this is also why we have to put up with the likes of Gordon Ramsay (foul-mouthed celebrity chef and “arrogant narcissist”) publicly denigrating Tracy Grimshaw (highly respected TV journalist) by calling her a lesbian, saying that she has the facial features of a pig and that “she needs to see Simon Cowell’s Botox doctor.” Tracy fought back thank goodness, fabulously saying: “Obviously Gordon thinks that any woman who doesn’t find him attractive must be gay. For the record, I don’t. And I’m not.” You can watch her response here.

This image was allegedly flashed on screen during Ramsay’s appearance at the 2009 Good Food and Wine Show in Melbourne and led him to liken Grimshaw to a pig:

Really, what on earth is a so-called celebrity chef doing showing soft-porn images like this at a food and wine show (presumably kids were present)? Why doesn’t he just stick to cooking? During the firestorm that broke out between Ramsay and Grimshaw, he was also caught on video dispensing lewd advice to a young, female reporter – ‘Having run ten marathons, extra-virgin olive oil is good for the nipples. Hot tip.’

With the carry-on about The Chaser and Gordon Ramsay’s stunning lack of grace (go back home to the UK PLEASE), it seems we’ve forgotten that life is about living it with others, feeling empathy for others, imagining yourself in their shoes. It’s not all about ME, ME, ME.

June 15, 2009 at 2:00 am 3 comments

Train tossers

I just have to rant about this. Australian readers would have recently seen this image on the evening news:

This is the photo of an idiot, a tosser, a goose, a dimwit (and throw in any other descriptive word you’d like). Since I have a large number of American readers, I will explain the Aussie word “tosser” – it means a jerk, a wanker (which means a show-off, jerk or tosser!). Basically, a tosser is that person in the image who was practising the fine art of “train surfing”. This art is the province of tossers – people who willingly risk their lives by riding on the back of a train, which is an area clearly not intended for carrying passengers. This particular tosser is a superior tosser – whilst train surfing he was caught on camera putting his finger to his lips, indicating to startled people on the train stations to be quiet as he whizzed past nine train stations. Fortunately, this superior tosser has now been identified by the long arm of the law who will be reaching out to this 19-year old and hauling his ass off to court. Said tosser should thank his lucky stars I never became a judge because I’d be throwing the book, no a whole library, at him.

Tossers very clearly don’t consider what impact they may have on other people. This 19-year old brazenly rang up radio stations the next day, bragging about his exploits and saying”if you hold on, you can’t fall off”‘. So should the train come to an emergency stop and the tosser disappear under the train’s wheels, I suppose the trauma the train driver and passengers would experience would never enter the thoughts of the tosser. Actually, the tosser would probably be bold enough to sue the transport company.

Apparently, train surfing is becoming popular. Here’s another image of tossers, these ones are in South Africa:

Seems South African tossers are very practised in the art – they dice with death by standing on top of trains and dodging bridges and high-power cables or swinging out of doors as the train travels through a tunnel and running along the sides. Clearly, these are Mensa-level tossers because if they get hurt, the response is “Yes, I can fall, but I can phone my mom, she can take me to the doctor”. Yeah right: I’d think these tossers should be saying “or take my sorry ass to the funeral home because I will be dead from the complete stupidity of train surfing”. 

Now, I realise that I’m very ancient (after all, I can in fact vaguely remember the 1970s). So can someone, anyone, please explain the attraction of this dangerous, idiotic, lunatic behaviour? I suppose those who indulge think of themselves as fearless and brave. I just think they’re TOSSERS.

May 22, 2009 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

Something more sane this way comes

Well, seems as though some people in the UK are waking up from the nightmare that is their surveillance state. If you ask me, “the terrorists” (whoever they may be) have already won when nation states subject their own citizens to biometric identification, CCTV cams and ridiculous airport screening that makes travelling hell on earth. To make us live in fear or under the glare of surveillance is tantamount to terrorists winning. On the part of the State, it’s an exercise in power – the watchers have the power over those who are watched and know they are watched.

So I was listening to ABC radio the other day when my ears pricked up. I caught snippets of the former Head of top secret squirrel squad, MI5, Dame Stella Rimington, apparently saying that she was alarmed at the spread of security cameras and police stop-and-search powers (smart Dame). And the Conservative Party leader in the UK, David Cameron, saying that the fabric of liberty had been shredded.

Naturally, the interview caught my interest. Dominic Raab was being interviewed. He’s the dude who wrote the book, The Assault on Liberty, that I have ordered for fast track delivery from Amazon. He’s an international lawyer who is also Chief of Staff to the Shadow Home Secretary. Here’s a taste of what he said:

  • the UK has the longest period of detention without charge in the free world (28 days compared to  12 in Australia);
  • the introduction of identity cards with 50 items of personal information on each and every citizen which will be shared with governments;
  • up to 4.2 million CCTV cams in the UK and the taxpayer has had to cough up over AU$1-billion to fund these unblinking eyes and 80% of the footage is useless;
  • over 1,000 separate search and entry powers, which are not just for serious crime or counter-terrorism purposes (yeah, well, Australia can match that now with our new police powers);
  • massive databases stuffed full of DNA (over 3.1 million DNA profiles) – information is shared amongst the various arms of the UK Government, local councils and security agencies. Yet, the UK has an appalling track record when it comes to keeping personal data safe. Literally, the personal details of millions of Britons has been at risk.

You can read the interview transcript here. Coupled with this is a recent op-ed from The Guardian with the opening paragraphs saying:

“It was never in a Labour manifesto that individual freedom should be surrendered in the interests of collective security. Nor was it written that society should submit itself to a blanket of surveillance by the state.It was never announced as a political creed of the current government that trial by jury is an expensive inconvenience that modern democracies can, in certain circumstances, do without. Nor was it proclaimed that the principle of habeas corpus, that prohibits the crown from detaining a free individual without his or her knowing the charge, was redundant in the face of terrorist threats in the 21st century. And yet, one way or another, all of those views have been expressed in laws introduced by Labour since it came to power.”

The piece stops short, denying that the UK has become a police state or has slipped into authoritarianism. I was disappointed by the op-ed because it didn’t go far enough. Its title is “Modern Liberty has Found its Voice”. Well, thank goodness for that but let’s take it further – what are the plans to restore civil liberties to the people of the UK?  I’d like to see a civil disobedience campaign organised by people who live in countries like the UK (and the US and Australia) where surveillance is rife.

Just over a year ago, I ran a week long workshop in Morocco on communities of practice for political activists. One of the things they were trained on was non-violent struggle – the history and models of non-violent action. Why can’t we take the lessons learnt and apply them to a non-violent strategic campaign against the surveillance society?

So for example:

  • citizens actively campaigning against CCTV. Demand that authorities demonstrate the efficacy of CCTV in preventing serious crime. And since we know around 80% of CCTV images cannot be used as legal evidence because images are too blurry or grainy, then CCTV footage should not be admitted as evidence in court and citizens should campaign against the use of footage in legal proceedings.
  • why are the UK people blindly accepting the national ID card?  It is nothing more than life-long surveillance of an individual. Nothing more than numbering of individuals (remember Nazi Germany). Nothing more than making personal details into “registrable facts” to be disclosed, constantly updated and shared with who knows what agency or foreign Government. Organise a local group to educate the public. Prepare fact sheets, newsletters – better yet, join an already established local group fighting the Database State in the UK. Challenge Governments to show how an ID card would make us more secure and how the ID card will not be subverted.
  • educate yourself about the location of CCTV cams – avoid them, wear a hoodie, face away from the CCTV. That’s what I do. Here is a good site to help find the location of CCTV cams in urban environments. There are ways to destroy CCTV cams but this is about protest and non-violence so I won’t give advice on this.
  • become aware of the abuses of surveillance cameras so you won’t bleat like a sheep and parrot “If you have nothing to hide…”. If you’re a student, then get inspired by kids in school who are protesting against CCTV or if you’re a worker with video cams in the office, stage a walkout with fellow workers. If judges can do it, you can do it.
  • arrange a demonstration through city streets like the Germans did – they called their protest Liberty Instead of Fear.
  • get an online petition going, like the Romanians, to protest against RFID and biometric identifiers in passports. Here’s one already started – No To RFID Chips. Let’s remember that the FDA in the US has cleared the way for RFID chips to be used in humans. Also remember that the RFID industry is very keen to embed chips into fashion clothing (they call this inventory control) – but it will allow retailers to create databases linking individual chips to consumers, so your own clothing will be a tracking device in the future. Protest before it’s too late.

Heck, these are just starter ideas. The fact is – we are nothing more than:

if we don’t pay attention to the creeping threat of surveillance and loss of civil liberties. Facebook looks at us this way:

Don’t let this happen. Become an anti-surveillance activist. Download this resource – Non-Violent Struggle – 50 Crucial Points: A Strategic Approach to Everyday Tactics. And learn how to plan symbolic public actions. It’s a fabulous resource for non-violent struggle against any form of political power.

Image source for Facebook sheep

March 18, 2009 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

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