Rudd and Sarkozy. As different as chalk and cheese.

I actually feel a bit sorry for our Prime Minister. The poor man is trying to strut the world stage and make himself important by talking about global warming in Chinese. Australia is simply too small for him and so he spends much of his time touring the world. Continue reading

Moving to Melbourne

They say a change is as good as a holiday. I say it’s better, much better. A holiday gives you a taste of what could be; a taste of other experiences, something new. Sadly, a holiday is finite and when it’s over, you are back to what was before. You may even be sadder still because now you know what you are missing. So all you can do is look forward to the next time and that means living in the future.

What I was seeking by moving to Melbourne was to enjoy life in the present, not for two weeks or a month of touring, but to enjoy living somewhere else and having time to absorb a new place on this planet.

We have been in Melbourne now for two weeks. Most of the cartons have been emptied. Tradesmen have been coming and going nearly every day. Some new furniture has been delivered and so apart from 26 cartons of books we are almost done. We have promised ourselves to empty one carton of books per day and we intend to keep our promise unless something else crops up. Yesterday, something else did crop up, but we definitely will empty a carton of books today.

There is a vibe in Melbourne which appeals to my nature. I like the fact that there are so many venues, concerts, cinemas, art galleries, restaurants and shops to visit.

Whilst Melbourne is sports mad, there are many things to do that don’t involve an arena or stadium or physical exertion of any kind. That suits me fine. Let’s face it I haven’t even watched the Olympics for reasons that I wrote about in past blogs. I simply don’t care.

The news this morning is that Mongolia has won its first gold medal. Congratulations, Mongolia! See the hordes of jubilant Mongolians jumping about joyfully in the streets. If only Tibet could win something too.

Everyone here has asked us why we left the pleasant weather in Brisbane. Melburnians seem to be inordinately apologetic about their weather. “Don’t you find it cold?” they ask us in a quietly concerned manner. “Of course we do,” we reply, “but we knew it would be cold and we like it” we reassure them.” That’s when they shake their heads and walk away.

We had been warned that Melbourne weather is changeable. So when we go out we take with us our snowshoes, umbrellas, fur muffs, heavy coats, lighter coats, still lighter coats and scarves. We also have to be prepared to remove all those items in a hurry when the sun pops out briefly. It’s just what I used to do when I took our young babies out in the pram. There were jackets, change of nappies, hats, not to mention toys and food. We no longer take the toys and food but nothing else has changed.

Today we will explore the other end of our street. Talk about adventurous!

You know the best thing about living in Melbourne? Well, it’s being able to buy Matzo in all the Coles and Safeway stores, not just at Passover, but all year round. Now that’s what I call winning a gold medal!

The end of the department store as we know it.

Shopping is much more difficult in department stores nowadays because they are no longer emporiums (emporia?). By emporium I mean a large store that sells everything or almost everything. This form of merchandising worked well in the past but lately, given that there is so much more on sale and less room to store it, department stores have become selective in what they are prepared to stock. Continue reading

Beijing ceremony later this morning

We watched the end of the Olympic opening ceremony this morning. Call me a patriot, but when the Aussie team entered the arena, I, who had been so nonchalant about the concert itself, shed a tear of pride.

The team was dressed in the most beautiful of blues that reflected the seas around our continent. Whereas some of the other nations walked in unison, the Aussies did not take themselves too seriously. They strolled in, waved to everyone and took photos. It was obvious they were having a ball before the hard work of competition began. I loved their attitude.

Their relaxed manner was so infectious that after a while even the composed Chinese team who followed them began to wave and smile. The Chinese team wore beautiful uniforms in yellow and red, but I especially liked the navy and white U.S outfits with the white berets.

However, my heart will always tend towards the Israeli team in their casual navy and white T-shirts. They too were very relaxed, but then when you take into consideration the constant threat that they have to face everyday of their lives, then whether they win a medal or none, doesn’t really figure. They were just happy to participate.

It was a pleasure to hear the clapping for every nation as it entered the arena. This is what de Coubertin would have wished for.

Beijing Opening Ceremony

To say that I was looking forward to the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics would be an exaggeration. I was mostly indifferent but slightly interested in case there was a bit of an emergency, if you know what I mean.

So what does that reveal about me or the lure of the games or both?

Before I suggest an explanation, I have to confess that I fell asleep about two hours after the ceremony began and woke up briefly when the athletes began their parades, so for all I know something truly unexpected might have occurred and I will learn about it this morning.

From the instant the ceremony began I was confronted by thousands of performers who were adept at doing things together. There is one word to describe what I saw- “synchronisation”. All those people had spent years moving together to near perfection. They jumped and swirled and chanted together and it seemed as if the aim was to fill the arena with as many performers as possible.

Some viewers would be impressed by all that but I felt it was too crowded and impersonal. In fact, the only time I became actively interested is when, on the rare occasion, there were only a couple of performers on stage. Perhaps it’s because I know that it’s no big deal to collect thousands of Chinese into an arena. After all, there are millions from whom to choose.

In my opinion, the ceremony was too crowded to be shown at its best on television. Even a large screen would not do it justice. Previous Olympics ceremonies did look good on TV but last night it really was a case of “you had to be there.”

So what does all that say about me? I can’t speak for anyone else but I am not a fan of digitally enhanced whatever. I am not impressed by hundreds of thousands of people moving to the right or left, forward or back or jumping up and down in unison. There is the niggling suspicion in me that says, so many years lost on such an expensive waste of time.

As for the lure of the games, I am no longer a fan of the Olympics because they are too professional, too political and too chemically-enhanced. For me, the thrill disappeared years ago after the East German “ladies” and those other rather large Oriental swimmers appeared on the scene.

I might have missed it but there seemed to be no humour in the performances at the opening ceremony, or hardly any moments of levity, which could offer a welcome respite from the congregating hoards.

My heart went out to all those peformers who had been bussed into the Bird’s Nest for so many years and now would be bussed out again for good.

I sincerely hope that they enjoyed the ceremony. As for me, I feel a little guilty that I was bored, but then what I learned about Chinese culture during the ceremony made me feel sorry for a country that promotes such conformity. On the other hand, with such a large population, perhaps it has to.

Jihad Rehab

I saw an interesting programme on TV last night which should have been on the Comedy Channel. It was called “Jihad Rehab” and was intended to show the “softer” side of Saudi Arabian law. Not the one where a Princess’s head is cut off for being found in the company of a man who is not a relative.

Apparently, there is a centre in Saudi Arabia which retrains jihadists…that is, terrorists who have been caught. According to this documentary, the bad terrorists, those who have blood on their hands, are dispatched elsewhere, but the Arabs in this centre are “nice guys” who have been led astray.

These “rehab patients” are shown playing computer games and table tennis. They are treated with respect and, in fact, the whole place looks like Club Med for jihadists. There are psychiatrists attending to the patients’ recuperation and counsellors whose sole aim is to help these poor prodigals to recover.

The documentary maker is guided through a rather lavish set-up meant to impress visitors to this resort for convalescing terrorists. We are assured that they are in the process of being transformed into upstanding Arab citizens.

As I watched the jihadists at their play stations with beaming smiles on their faces, I could not help but recall the documentaries that were made by the Nazis in the concentration camp at Theresienstadt for the sole purpose of fooling the Red Cross and the League of Nations.

Why IGA supermarkets are so expensive

I feel sorry for IGA supermarkets because much as one wants to shop there it is simply too expensive to do so.

Before coming down to Melbourne we lived in a Brisbane suburb that had only one supermarket. It belonged to Coles and I’ve never been so frustrated by a supermarket store as I was by this one.

It was a well known fact in New Farm that prices at this Coles were high. Without competition there was no incentive to win over customers. Items were often out of stock or out of date.

So when we heard that an IGA store was going to open in the vicinity of Coles, the locals were quite excited about the prospect. The IGA opened with a fanfare. Our local member was there to launch the whole thing and I looked forward to shopping there.

I went to the IGA store a few times because I was keen to support it. However, it turned out that the ordinary grocery lines at IGA were more expensive than those at that infernal Coles, so, instead, I chose to travel a long distance once a week to do my main shopping elsewhere. The result of all this was that the local Coles supermarket lost out on my business as did the new IGA store. I was so fed up with the whole thing that I was prepared to give up on the district.

Much as IGA ads on TV promise that their prices are competitive, I have visited several of them and they can’t beat the two bigger chains .

Apparently, according to the ACCC report which I rubbished (…just a little) yesterday, Metcash, which supplies the IGA stores is responsible for charging each individual IGA store too high a wholesale price for its goods. Apparently it can’t match Woolworths’ and Coles’ wholesale prices

Now, even though the ACCC cannot do anything about the problem of Metcash, at least it has explained why IGA prices are much higher than those at Woolworths and Coles. Of course, this leaves the consumer in as bad a position as before. To understand why IGA is expensive may be beneficial, but when it comes to the hip pocket nerve, one goes for value.

As the ACCC says, we need more competition, but how can we have that when the population of Australia is so small that it does not attract the major large enterprises such as Wal-Mart? Having enjoyed shopping at several Wal-Marts in the U.S I think it would be wonderful if this chain came Downunder. Then Coles and Woolworths would have to confront real competition.

Prime Minister Rudd’s robust inquiry syndrome

When I heard the result of Kevin Rudd’s official inquiry into food prices, I was not surprised. Any idiot can tell that prices are going through the roof and that nothing is going to be done about them. But it takes an especially duplicitous candidate for the Prime Ministership to pretend that an inquiry is going to lower prices. To be honest, Rudd never said he would lower grocery prices, but he certainly gave the impression that he would. And that’s what got him elected.

Let’s face it, how can any politician guarantee that prices will fall under his watch unless he becomes a dictator and nationalises the food industry? So we are destined to suffer from rising food prices and we cannot turn to the government for help.

And as for that ACCC, our consumer and competition watchdog, the best that it can do is to suggest that the large supermarket duopoly precludes competition. And for that bit of wisdom they get paid? Can the ACCC do anything about the problem? Of course not.

So here’s the scenario for the near future. Prices will continue to rise. We will continue to pay more and more while Rudd and the other bureaucrats will hold inquiries. It’s the old chant about “Something must be done about rising food costs. An inquiry is something. So let’s do it.”

Perhaps Rudd should hold an inquiry into the efficacy of inquiries. Sounds ridiculous? Not to our Prime Minister. When things turn sour, he will find any excuse to hold one. After all, he likes to portray himself as a very assiduous man and what can be more assiduous than holding thousands of inquiries and producing reams of statistics without solving one ruddy problem?

Fatah would rather deal with Israel than Hamas

Is this a crazy world or what?

The Palestinians are at war with Israel. They declare it constantly. They teach their children in kindergarten and on TV that the Israelis are Satans who must be destroyed.

And yet, when some Fatah members are in danger from Hamas, where do they run for refuge? To Israel. Can you believe it? They are more terrified of their fellow Arabs in Hamas than they are of their “occupiers.”

So what does that say about Hamas? I shake my head at the irony of it all…