Myer is a sad shadow of what it used to be

MYER is one of Australia’s two big department stores – and by that I mean stores which belong to Australians. Over the 14 years that I have been visiting the store, it has noticeably gone downhill.

I visited the store this morning to send a gift to the daughter of a friend who is getting married shortly. Myer has a gift registry where a couple can create their own wishlist and send the number of the list to their intended guests. The guests then either visit the store or else call up and order an item from the list; one has the option of having it delivered to the residence of the bride and groom.

The wishlist can be accessed on the Myer website but an indication of how far Australian stores are behind the rest of the world is evidenced by the fact that there is no web facility to order and pay for anything on that list using a credit card. One has to call a number and do it that way. Why has a payment option not been added? Strikes me as backward in this day and age.

Since ordering something on the phone and paying by credit card is normally a frustrating process, I went to the local Myer store this morning. The first thing that struck me was the fact that there are very few staff in what is one of its main stores, at the Westfield Shopping Centre in Doncaster.

On the ground floor, a young woman very confidently told me that I should go down to the basement and they would be able to look after me. She was wrong. The woman at the desk I went to directed me to another desk diagonally across the basement floor. That was the wrong place as well – I was then directed to go up to the second floor.

I went to the second floor and found the gift registry. It was unattended but the desk next to it was manned. A man was having a conversation with a woman there, and both, judging by their attire, appeared to be employees of the store.

The man finished his conversation and, after a glance in my direction, started walking off. I am game to this kind of tactic and rather loudly said, “Are there no staff in this store?” The man immediately turned and headed in my direction. He asked me what I needed and when I showed him, he sat down and started logging in to the terminal at the gift registry desk.

His name tag indicated that he was the manager. I asked him why several of his staff did not know where the gift registry was located and whether it was a new service. He said it had been existing for yonks and the fact that staff did not know was peculiar.

I asked him why the list on the web was not linked to a facility for credit card payment so people did not need to visit the store. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “that’s the system, sir.” Myer uses some kind of ancient application software and he could not show me the couple’s wishlist on the screen to check if the gift I wanted to buy was still on the list. He had to print out the entire list – and the output, all four pages, looked like it had been produced on the type of printer that was manufactured soon after dot-matrix printers went out of style.

The manager then took me a to a desk where he handed me over to a young employee who took care of me. While I was waiting for this youngster to check whether the item I wanted was in the warehouse, I asked another woman who was working there why there were such a few staff in the store. She made a face and said, “I guess it’s the budgets.”

After the young man got the gift organised, he had to send me back to the gift registry where a senior employee completed the process. She knew her way around, the only person I met in the store who did not need to ask anyone about procedures. I told her that it must be difficult to work at Myer, given the paucity of staff. She laughed ruefully. It’s a sad commentary on what was once a grand store and the last word in customer service.

Serena Williams is one good reason why people dislike the USA

SHE is often touted as one of the better women’s tennis players of the modern era. But Serena Williams is just an ugly example of American arrogance, someone who can never be wrong, someone who carries a chip on her shoulder that is even bigger than her behind (and the latter does take some beating).

Williams contested the US Open final a couple of days ago, her opponent being Australian Samantha Stosur. She was soundly beaten – but made her own news by behaving like a buffoon.

When she was rightly penalised for shouting during a point, Williams unleashed a tirade of abuse against the referee.

Williams has form in this regard. Two years ago, she abused a Chinese lineswoman in terms that were quite racially oriented. She was on the losing end that time too.

When she is asked about her ugly behaviour, Williams always has the same excuse – she was in the “zone”. Whatever that is. She claims that she cannot remember what she did.

But the US officials never make her pay for this kind of behaviour. For her outburst in 2009, she was fined a pathetic $US10,500. This time she has been asked to pay $US2000.

Such fines are not a deterrent. Williams earned $US1.4 million from the tournament this time. When officialdom reacts in this way, it is practically inviting her to behave in a similar fashion in the future.

Why is Wayne Barnes allowed to referee rugby games?

During the last World Cup rugby tournament in France, Englishman Wayne Barnes ensured that tournament favourites New Zealand would be thrown out at the quarter-final stage by allowing a French try that was scored off a blatant forward pass.

And this wasn’t one of those line-ball decisions – there was a difference of about two metres between the two French players who exchanged the pass.

Now Barnes has done it again, denying Wales a chance of defeating the reigning champions, South Africa, at the 2011 championships.

Wales was denied a converted penalty and the match, a Group D game, was lost by a single point in the end. South Africa came off second best despite the win. (Game highlights here)

Penalties can be subject to video evidence; it all depends on the referee’s decision which is final. Barnes chose not to call in the television match official. He is obviously confident in his own abilities, the mark of many mediocre people.

In a tournament which has seen close matches until now, this would have been the icing on the cake.

Instead, one stupid, incompetent official’s mistake has cost an aspiring team, which played its heart out and deserved to win, a spirit-uplifting victory.

This is especially so in Group D which is the toughest of the four five-nation groups in the tournament. Apart from South Africa and Wales, Fiji and Samoa are also in the group and neither is a pushover.

Referees can spoil a game, no matter what levels of skill the players exhibit. And, horror of horrors, Barnes is down to officiate Wales’ last game on October 2. As this article points out, in the 2007 tournament, Fiji beat Wales 38-34 and kept the Welsh out of the quarter-finals.

Barnes is a terrible advertisement for a game which needs to grow a great deal – it is still only a minor sport. Idiots should not be masqueraded as officials, the sport will suffer.

The International Rugby Board should ensure that Barnes takes no further part in this tournament – that is if they are interested in the growth of the game.

Why was the US attacked on September 11, 2001?

THIS weekend will mark 10 years since the World Trade Centre was brought down by Islamic fundamentalists in a spectacular attack that changed life in the US. But till today, we have had no answer to the question why.

The Middle East correspondent of The Independent, Robert Fisk, tells of an incident shortly after the attacks, when he was interviewed along with Alan Dershowitz, the well-known US lawyer. Fisk, like any good journalist, raised the question of why the attacks had taken place; as he explained it, even in the case of a small robbery, the first thing the police try to find out is possible motive.

In response, Dershowitz called him a dangerous man, anti-American and anti-Semitic. Exactly why he did that is open to question.

Why did 19 young Muslims volunteer to end their lives by staging an attack of this nature? While there are conspiracy theories aplenty on the internet as to the how of the operation, the book Masterminds of Terror offers the authentic account, straight from the mouths of the planners, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh. Journalists Yosri Fouda and Nick Fielding published this tome in 2003 but then ignorance is rampant and people continue to attribute the attacks to everyone from the Mossad to the US government.

But the why is equally important. American policy in the Middle East has, for ages, been slanted in favour of Israel. For a long time, Muslims, both Arab and non-Arab, had no choice but to accept the repeated humiliations to which the US subjected them. In this light, the fact that some among them hit back is no surprise.

The main problem in the Middle East is the Israeli-Palestinian question. A deal was signed as far back as 1993 for a two-state solution but it is still to be implemented in full. The main reason for this is the fact that Israel does not want the conflict to end – if it did, its importance would decline and correspondingly its ability to influence US policy. It is much better to always be in the news as a country that is being attacked by Arabs; that way it is easy to generate sympathy from the world at large.

There are other issues in the Middle East. The US is willing to deal with any kind of dictator as long as he does their bidding. Talk of democracy is very selective. Young people in the Arab world are fed up with the double standard. Is it any wonder that the more determined and idealistic among them choose to join fringe groups that use killing as a tactic?

The US has learnt nothing from the attacks. The same kind of arrogance that it exhibited in the past is still seen in its dealing with other countries. The level of hatred that people around the world have for the US has grown by leaps and bounds as news emerges of the way innocent Muslims are kidnapped and tortured in bases around the world. And this feeling of hatred is not confined to the Muslim world; it is evident in Western countries equally.

The adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan have turned out to be disasters in terms of image-building and also empire-building. But the US continues to muddle on, antagonising people left, right and centre.

As the song Where have all the flowers gone asks, When will they ever learn?