Category Archives: My soap box

Bushfire funding rort?

Australia’s Black Summer of 2019/20 shocked the world. Scott Morrison’s Hawaiian holiday in the middle of the fires shocked Australians. But then Covid happened, and we just assumed that all the money promised to bushfire victims would be distributed.

Now, it appears that even this emergency relief has been rorted.

First we learned that the Blue Mountains area of NSW received next to no community funding at all. Then we learned that a sky diving complex [not in the Blue Mountains area] was not only approved, it was given roughly four million dollars more than requested.

The shock value of these funding inequalities lasted for about a day before it faded into obscurity, at least in the main stream media. Not so on Twitter. There, independent journalists, such as Matt Lloyd-Cape have been trying to get to the bottom of the bushfire funding. What they found was that matching promised funding to actual funding was not so easy because of the lack of transparency in the process.

‘Not easy’ and ‘impossible’ are not the same though. This is some of what they found:

‘Of the $566 million promised in emergency support to people whose homes and /or businesses were burned by the fires, only 43% had been spent by the end of October 2020.’

https://www.michaelwest.com.au/bushfire-money-mystery-recovery-funds-withheld-to-fight-the-election/

This is the funding allocated for immediate emergency relief, for people who lost their homes or businesses in the fires. Let me repeat that. The funding was supposed to be for the most destitute of victims.

Or how about this:

‘Of the $228 million released by the Morrison Government under this program so far, more than 77% went to NSW, 8.75% to South Australia, 7.5% to Queensland and just 6.4% to Victoria. While this split seems to disproportionately favour Coalition controlled states, there still may be good reasons – it could be a matter of different reporting schedules among states, or that the states have agreed to such a division for federal resources – but without better publicly available information there is no way of knowing.

https://www.michaelwest.com.au/bushfire-money-mystery-recovery-funds-withheld-to-fight-the-election/

There’s more, of course, and I strongly recommend that all Australians read the entire article: https://www.michaelwest.com.au/bushfire-money-mystery-recovery-funds-withheld-to-fight-the-election/

I think you’ll be shocked to learn how much news you have not been getting. I know I was.

The disruptions caused by the internet are still rumbling through the news media, and traditional news suppliers have either been forced out, or forced to toe the funding line just to stay in business. As for the journalists employed by those suppliers, their jobs have never been more precarious.

Hmm…. I wonder what that sort of financial pressure does to a journalist’s ability to report the news, without fear or favour?

I recently read about a media company that supplied a list of politicians that new, young, female journalists should stay away from. Yet not a word leaked to the general public because those journalists live or die by their ‘access’ to sources within the Canberra bubble.

On Twitter, these news suppliers are known as the MSM – main stream media. They include #Newscorpse [Rupert Murdoch’s News Corps], the Fairfax press, what’s left of it, commercial TV news, and…the Australia Broadcasting Corporation.

‘…the ABC was originally financed by consumer licence fees on broadcast receivers. Licence fees were abolished in 1973 and replaced principally by direct government grants,…’

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_Broadcasting_Corporation

I stopped watching commercial TV when I realised how biased ‘Sixty Minutes’ was in its presentation of genetically modified organisms [GMOs] and genetic engineering in general. I switched to the ABC because I grew up thinking the ABC was stodgy but accurate. I’ve recently had to revise even that article of faith. The ABC may not lie, but all the funding cuts have forced it to be very…selective…in the news it presents.

In my world, you’re judged not just by what you do say but by what you don’t say, and the ABC has been not-saying a lot lately.

I stopped watching the 7:30 Report a couple of years after Kerry O’Brien left. I stopped watching The Drum about a week ago when it became obvious that the discussion about Victoria’s recent 5 day lockdown would become a Daniel Andrews bash-fest. What else can you expect when the only Victorian on the panel was an ex Liberal politician?

Why was he an ex Liberal? Because we voted him out at the last election. Did he agree with our elected State Government’s strategy on Covid? Of course not. Yet the 5 day lockdown worked, just as our months long, hard lockdown worked.

It’s possible that someone else on The Drum disagreed with the bash-fest, but I didn’t see it because I stopped watching and haven’t watched since.

So why the heck am I writing all this now? I’m writing because I know that most people of my generation:

  • still believe that the news media ‘can’t’ lie.
  • still have faith in the ABC,
  • and don’t use Twitter, or watch podcasts by The Friendly Jordies, or seek out independent news sources etc etc.

Why do I know this? Because that was me just a short while ago. 😦

The Fourth Estate has changed, and the old guard are dying out. A new generation of fearless journalists are rising up to fill the void, but thus far it’s mostly the young who know about them. Those young people will be our movers and shakers very soon, but they’re not there yet. That’s why it’s up to us, the over 50s to start asking questions too. And if we don’t like the answers, we have to make ourselves heard.

I do not like learning that emergency funding for the most desperate of bushfire victims has been withheld, for any reason whatsoever. This is not only morally wrong, it’s obscene.

The rort we ignore is the rort we condone.

Meeks


What the hell, Amazon? Update

Firstly, thank you to everyone who checked their Amazon accounts to see if my paperbacks were available. Your feedback has helped me narrow down some possible answers – i.e. that the problem has something to do with my use of Ingram Spark for countries not covered by the Amazon marketplaces. I’ve sent an email off to KDP support outlining what the problem is and what we’ve ‘found’. I’ll keep you posted about the outcome.

And while I was messing around with my KDP dashboard, I came across a new, beta version of the Reports. I rarely used them in the past because they were so…useless. I’m thrilled to say that the new, beta version is MUCH better.

As I was tootling around the beta version, I discovered that I’ve earned roughly $15 AUD from sales in Australia! That really surprised me. It also made me dance with joy because it was so unexpected. I do have online friends from Australia, but I just didn’t think they’d be buying.

Okay, okay, I never think anyone is buying. That is more of my upbringing at work, and it’s not helped by the fact that Amazon US will only pay me when, or if, my total sales reach $100. So far I’ve only had one payment that passed that threshold so it’s not all my fault.

I’ve often wondered what happens to that residue if you unpublish with Amazon. Or die. Or never reach $100. Are they allowed to keep those funds, however small, forever? Hopefully one day, Amazon will change its payment system so we can be paid via Paypal or something. Ah well.

Anyway, thank you for all your help, and an extra thank you to the Aussies who’ve taken a chance on my stories. 🙂

cheers
Meeks


What the hell, Amazon?!?

My thanks to Gradmama for alerting me to the fact that for some reason, NONE of my paperbacks are currently available on Amazon. Not. One.

The ebooks are fine, but it seems that Amazon has reset each paperback version to the ‘Order author copies’ step:

I now have to go through each of the print versions and effectively click the last ‘Save and Publish’ to get them ‘available’ again. To all intents and purposes they were either unpublished by Amazon, or never published at all?!?

I don’t sell many paperbacks. I never expected to sell many paperbacks, but I did expect them to remain available after going through all the effort of putting them up on KDP. What infuriates me even more is that Amazon/KDP didn’t inform me of this rather big change. Perhaps they don’t even know. I miss Createspace. 😦

Not happy, Amazon/KDP, not happy at all.
Meeks


‘Native Sponsored Posts’? – it’s time to leave WordPress

So…Wordpress is ramping up its long term plan of monetising our content. First it was those shitty ads taking up valuable real estate on everyone’s blog page, now we’ll be hosting full length infomercials in place of our own blog posts:

‘WordPress.com has begun testing Sponsored Posts on free WordPress.com sites. These sponsored posts promote WordPress.com content, other Automattic products, and brands for the purpose of driving traffic and sales for users and advertisers.
For now, you may see these Sponsored Posts running on your sites as we expand testing. To remove Sponsored Posts from your site, upgrade to any paid WordPress.com plan which comes with many more benefits including the ability to use your own custom domain!
In the longer term, we hope to offer Sponsored Posts to our users as a way to help drive traffic and promote content discovery.

https://wordpress.com/support/native-sponsored-posts/#example

How it will be done is hidden behind opaque words like ‘testing’. Will our blog posts be replaced once a day? Once a week? At random so we never know when to post important marketing posts of our own?

And what happens when we want to post something new?

Will our new posts replace the obnoxious shit placed there by Automatic? Or will we have to wait for the cuckoo to run its course before we can post again?

And what of the content? Once WordPress start offering this new ‘service’ to paying customers, we could find ourselves hosting absolutely anything on our blogs.

Remember when paid ads first started appearing on our sites? I found a delightful adv. for some kind of porn site on my blog. This is the pic that went with it:

https://acflory.wordpress.com/2018/02/14/wordpress-do-you-know-what-your-blog-really-looks-like-to-visitors/

But at least that advert had no naked bits, and people knew it was a paid commercial. Once our actual posts are replaced by someone else’s paid content, I could wake up to find that Meeka’s Mind has hosted an infomercial for a porn site complete with full on visuals!

Automatic says I can complain and ‘ask’ for objectionable content to be taken off, but the damage will already have been done. Not only will that kind of awful content be on my blog, notifications about it will have been sent to all my followers, exactly as if I had posted a new article. Exactly as if I’d sponsored that content.

That scares me most of all. I’ve put nine years of my life into this blog. To have it, and my reputation, abused like that would be unbearable.

Yes, I could probably scrape together a monthly fee to be saved from this blatant ditigal blackmail, but as more and more of us pay to escape having our blogs hijacked, the price will go up. That’s how this marketplace works; corporations charge whatever the market will allow – i.e. whatever us poor saps are prepared to pay.

I simply can’t afford to pay that kind of protection money to Automatic out of my pension.

There’s also something else. WordPress would be nothing without our content. It’s like a digital shopping mall that offers us somewhere to create and display our ‘goods’. Take those goods away and you’re left with a great big empty building. Or maybe it won’t be empty. Maybe your blog will be surrounded by porn sites and 2 dollar shops. I’m moving mine before that happens and I waste more of my life on WordPress.

If I must pay to retain control of my blog, my brand and my content, then I’d rather pay a company with some integrity. And if that company abuses my trust, I’ll move on again. It’s called ‘churning’, and it’s the commercial equivalent of voting with your wallet. It is a lot of work, but it’s the only way we consumers have of forcing corporations to actually compete for our business. Given that these corporations are big enough to buy and sell small countries, I feel no guilt at punishing them when they abuse my trust.

I’ve been blogging with WordPress.com for nine years, but I won’t be here for the tenth. The price of free has become too high.

Meeks


Guest post: The First Year of the Third Decade of the Age of Stupid, by the Venerable Bede

Trigger warning: snark ahead!

Scifi author Chris James has a secret talent – he channels a Venerable from the 6th century called Bede. Chris was kind enough to allow me to reproduce some of the great man’s words of wisdom to start the New Year.

“And lo, at the beginning of the First Year of the Third Decade of the Age of Stupid, a Great Pestilence did make its way from the East along the Silk Road, and did cause much harm and bring vast Misery and Death to the countries of the West and the New World.

“But this was the Age of Stupid, when people turned their backs on the Men and Women of Knowledge. Yay, verily, in the New World, the disciples and acolytes of the Orange Shit-Gibbon did follow their Master’s teachings, unto the arms of Death itself, for they did not believe the Great Pestilence was real because they could not see it with their own eyes. Indeed, His disciples and acolytes did curse and spit on the Men and Women of Knowledge, and did reject the evidence that Knowledge brought forth even as the Great Pestilence did fill their lungs with foul liquid and they breathed their last. Such was the Age of Stupid.

“In Perfidious Albion, the Greased Albino Piglet strove to pretend to care for all the common people; but, lo, He gave out all of the Gold to His associates of knaves and charlatans, who did cluster about Him in the same manner as insects do weave and dive and fret about excrement. In Perfidious Albion, too, did thousands perish needlessly from the Great Pestilence, but this did not matter because the Hoarders of the Gold could protect themselves, and did reason that because they hoarded all of the Gold, they were better and their lives worth more than the common people. Such was the Age of Stupid….

To read the entire post from the Venerable Bede, please click here.

Sadly, the Venerable Bede had no words of wisdom about the #LiarFromTheShire in the Antipodes, but I guess travel was a bit restricted back then.

Have fun, and may the Bede be with you. 🙂

Meeks

p.s. Just corrected a boo boo I made when copy pasting the opening paragraphs of Chris’ post!


The inevitable decline of Facebook

I came in to take a break from mowing [the grass] and stumbled across a Medium article about why Facebook is dead ‘but doesn’t know it’. As I loathe Facebook with a passion, I was instantly intrigued.

The gist of the article is that generational change is killing Facebook. The youngest users don’t want to share a platform with the older members of their family – ewwww – while the politically inclined will head off to new apps that won’t fact check them, or try to make them feel bad about themselves.

As for the rest of us, we’ll be demanding things from social media that Facebook can’t or won’t offer, such as:

For social media users, expect (or demand) to see the introduction of a User’s Bill of Rights, including beefed-up privacy standards, far-less addictive algorithms, innovative protection from foreign trolling, and perhaps even ad revenue sharing… go Medium! It’s our presence and content creation that gives these platforms all their power and profit, and it’s time they start treating us more like customers and contributors and less like the product being sold.’

https://medium.com/better-marketing/facebook-is-dead-it-just-doesnt-know-it-yet-614e723e9f72

The nett effect of all this change will be that Facebook will become the domain of seniors. And I can’t wait! Having seen the demise of Geo Cities, and then Myspace, I knew the same would happen to Facebook, but I didn’t think it would take so very long, or that the platform would do so much damage along the way.

The one thing that bothers me is that I know something else will come along in time. I can only hope that by then, we will have learned to protect ourselves from the rapacious clutches of developers who see us as ‘the product’.

Facebook is dead, long live Facebook?

Meeks

p.s. you don’t have to sign in to Medium to read the article.


Warrandyte! No scheduled power outage today…grrrr!

By rights, I should be delighted that the power outage scheduled from 9am till 4pm is not going ahead today. Trust me, on any other day I would be. Today, however, I’m really ticked off because Ausnet Services, the electricity wholesaler that supplies electricity to a huge chunk of Melbourne, didn’t think to let us know the outage had been cancelled.

To be fair, we’ve had ferocious winds since Sunday, so a lot of areas have been without power…in an unscheduled way. Clearly, getting power to them has to be a first priority. But…it’s not the guys who go out and actually fix things that send us texts and letters about our electricity supply. It is…ta dah…the office types who do that. And…ta dah no. 2…not one of those office types had the mental capacity to go…”oh, hang on, didn’t we schedule a power outage for Tuesday? Maybe we should send a text out…”

Now it may well be that as a wholesaler, Ausnet Services only has the phone numbers of people like me – i.e. people who ring up and complain. So, still to be fair, maybe Ausnet Services doesn’t have the phone number of every person they supply. But. They must know who the retailers are in their area. Right?

How hard would it have been to ring up a few retailers and let them know? Then at least there would have been the possibility that the retailers could have diverted some resources to letting us know.

Or…! Failing all else, someone at Ausnet Services could have changed the automated message you get when you ring them about outages. You know, the one where you have to pick dinky numbers that never match the reason for your call…-cough-

Because I was expecting an outage today, I haven’t checked Twitter to see if Ausnet Services left a notice there. If you’ve seen such a notice, I’d love to hear about it in comments. Whether they did or didn’t though, I’d just like to point out that not everyone is on Twitter, or Facebook [makes the sign to ward off evil]. In fact, there are probably a lot of people who are on neither. So where does a large corporation’s responsibility end?

I could go on about how corporate culture has killed the concept of customer service, but I have to go mop the laundry floor again. Why? Because I was stupid. Thinking the power would be off any moment, I decided to fill the washing machine via a hose. While it was filling I thought I’d check with Ausnet Services because it was closer to 10am than 9am and we still had power. The rest I’m sure you can work out for yourselves.

-sigh-

Meeks

p.s. has anyone else noticed that WordPress is distorting images from the Media Library when you insert them into a post?


Where did all the [ABC] investigative journalists go?

Have you heard of the ‘Friendly Jordies’?

I hadn’t until the Offspring started talking about this daring exposé of National Party shenanigans in the small country town of Narrandera.

I watched the youtube podcast, and my first thought was “Why isn’t Four Corners investigating this?” Why is it being left to a young man and his mates to ask the tough questions?

I don’t want to be accused of being a conspiracy theorist so I won’t answer those questions. Instead I’ll post the youtube video I just watched and let you make up your own mind.

To quote the Bard, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”.

Meeks


Winning at all costs…and the death of honour

Anger, hatred and violence have always been a part of human DNA. That’s why every society has a system of justice and mechanisms for punishing those who transgress against the laws of society.

Those laws are the ‘big sticks’ that make it possible for so many aggressive humans to live in close proximity to each other, but there are cultural laws as well. Concepts of equality, honour and fair play are the ‘soft’ laws that make us want to obey the big stick laws because failure to do so means that we risk being ostracized by our peers.

Or it did when I was a kid.

I remember playing some kind of make believe conflict with the neighbour’s kids. There were four of us in total. Joseph was about my age – eight – while his sister and brother were a couple of years younger.

Joseph was a bit bossy and he made me want to beat him, just because. So I came up with a brilliant plan whereby I would trick Joseph into thinking that I was on his side against the two younger kids. In reality, I’d set myself up as the ‘leader’ of the younger kids. I guess they were a bit sick of their older brother too.

We carried out my plan and the plan worked. We won, but I will never forget the look of contempt and betrayal I saw in Joseph’s eyes.

Triumph evaporated, and I stuttered something stupid like “but it’s just a game!” Only it wasn’t just a game, and Joseph knew it; lying and cheating are lying and cheating no matter what the reason.

I learned a life changing lesson that day, and it boiled down to one thing – the end never justifies the means.

That concept was taught at the Catholic primary school we all attended, but it was not until that awful day that I realised why the end doesn’t justify the means. It’s because of what it says about us, and what it does to us.

If you believe that certain, reprehensible actions or even illegal actions are ok because of X, you will eventually come to believe that winning justifies anything and everything. Winning means power, and power trumps honour any day because honourable people rarely win.

It’s a circular argument that has gained more and more adherents as neo-liberalism has taken hold all over the world. Money means power, and power is now the greatest ‘good’, so anything is justified so long as it makes money. Here in Australia, the Banking Royal Commission revealed just how much our financial institutions have taken that concept to heart:

‘Declaring that “choices must now be made”, Justice Hayne also referred some of the nation’s biggest company names to regulators for possible criminal or civil action for the way they treated their customers.’

https://www.smh.com.au/business/banking-and-finance/the-banking-royal-commission-final-report-at-a-glance-20190203-p50vg2.html

And while expediency gradually became the greatest good, honour devolved into a pathetic concept fit only for ‘Care Bears’.

Remember them? The cute little cartoon bears who solved problems by doing good things?

I watched a lot of Care Bears videos when the Offspring was little, but these days, the name has become a perjorative, especially in the gaming community. Care Bears are seen as weak players who can be bullied without consequence.

Is that an ethical shift brought about by the games being played? Or do those games reflect a society that no longer values compassion and honour?

I’ve never seen myself as a Care Bear because I will always fight back if attacked, but I won’t cheat. Ever. If I can’t win by honourable means, I’d rather lose.

And this brings me to the anger that prompted this post. Yesterday, I discovered that ESO [Elder Scrolls Online], a game I have loved for a couple of years now, actively encourages something that I can only describe as ‘suicide bombing’.

No, not the real world kind of bombing, the PVP equivalent. PVP stands for ‘Player vs Player’, and as the name suggests, players get to fight each other instead of fighting computer generated monsters.

Back when I started playing MMOs, roughly 20 years ago, PVP was supposed to be the only real test of a player’s skill. In some games, it probably was. In others, especially those that allowed ‘open world pvp’, it became a way for players to gang up and terrorize lone players. This kind of behaviour even has a name: ganking.

Yesterday, I learned from a fellow Guildie [member of a guild of players] that in ESO PVP there are a couple of built-in skills – i.e. deliberately created by the developers, not just ‘exploits’ created by the players – that allow players go invisible, sneak into a group of opposing players and…detonate their armour, ‘killing’ a lot of players at once. This is, apparently, a winning strategy.

I was shaken at what this said about ESO and the players who used this strategy to win. Being kind of naive, I assumed that all of my Guildies would feel just as shocked. Some were, and piped up in agreement. Others said things like ‘you don’t have to use it’ [meaning the suicide bomber tactic]. Others must have felt a little shame because they came back with the old ‘its just a game’ response, or, ‘just because I kill people in game doesn’t mean I kill them in RL’ [Real Life].

That last comment made me see red and I said something about how normalizing such attitudes can have real life consequences. The example I gave was the pathetic excuse for a human being who planned and carried out the New Zealand massacres not long ago.

Someone piped up with “surely you don’t believe video games turn people into killers?”

The one that really threw me though, was a dismissive, “oh is that all? We have incidents like that every day”.

I’ve never believed that video games turn kids into homicidal monsters, but the normalization of violence in real life, and the need to win at any cost, which is reinforced by many of these games, is a form of conditioning. It validates the individual’s wants, right or wrong.

That lack of empathy or care for others was demonstrated in a newspaper article back in April or May in which the writer basically said that his grandfather was in his eighties and wouldn’t mind popping off to save the economy…

Politicians here, and in other Western countries, have not been quite as blatant, but the emphasis on the economy at the cost of lives has been clear. And no one from the mainstream media has connected up the dots and said “hang on, so you don’t care if the elderly die?”

What continues to shock me is not that politicians can be so callous, but that we, the public, don’t rise up in protest. We accept it as a valid argument.

When did we lose sight of fair play, and justice, and compassion for the weak?

When did we forget what being honourable actually means?

When did we stop caring?

Meeks


I just unfollowed someone :(

So what’s the big deal? The big deal is that I don’t think I’ve ever unfollowed anyone on WordPress before, certainly not in anger.

I don’t ‘Follow’ people lightly. I visit their blogs a number of times, lurk and read, sometimes comment and like, and generally ‘vet’ them before I decide to follow. So unfollowing someone I used to like, or at least thought I liked, is a bit like a marriage break up but without the custody battle over kids and property. It’s not…pleasant.

I don’t intend to tell you who I unfollowed, or precisely why, but I will say it’s because I believe the common good should trump personal likes and dislikes. The ONLY reason human beings have taken over this planet and remade it in our own image is that we are capable of making small personal sacrifices so that all of us benefit.

It’s not altruism, exactly. Rather, it’s enlightened self-preservation, a bit like the law against theft. Giving up the right to steal from our neighbour means that our neighbour does not have the right to steal from us either. Furthermore, the enforcement of that prohibition protects us all.

I’ve long believed that society can only function properly when there is a delicate balance between the needs of the individual and the needs of society as a whole. Without society, individuals would be at the mercy of a world where every predator has sharper teeth and longer claws than us. Without individuals, society would stagnate because individuals are the ones who push the envelope…for good or ill.

Finding the balance, especially at this dangerous time, will depend on compromise as never before. Sometimes, that compromise means choosing the lesser of two evils. Sometimes, that compromise requires that we set aside our own personal, individual peeves in favour of doing something for the greater good.

I know that what I consider the greater good may not be what someone else considers to be the greater good. But I can only make decisions based on how I see the world.

The way I see the world made me unfollow someone today. For the first and last time, I hope. 😦

Meeks


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