economics, education, history, Personal comment, population, religion, sociology, technology

Decadence: Decline of the Western World

This past week I attended the premier of Pria Viswalingam’s latest documentary Decadence: Decline of the Western World. I wasn’t disappointed. Although I’m broadly familiar with Pria’s basic thesis on the decline of the western world and share most of his views, I was still surprised by this extraordinary treatment.

Pria explores and lays bare much that a thoughtful observer would undeniably find cause for concern about a system that has passed it peak achievements. His critique, while damming in parts, is not a demolition of the Western way of life, rather it’s a call for attention to an approach that is slowly losing it’s democratic base; becoming numbed by secularism; streaming its educational approaches conferring the best on a few; mismanaging its financial systems; generating alarming inequities in the distribution of income; and creating an impulsive commodified cultural response that leaves its citizens stranded in consummerism.

Making a feature film length documentary is a challenging and daring task and Pria has clearly succeeded. He brings us a powerful work that easily holds an audience for the entire duration. His brilliant writing and beautiful imagery are the keys. They held my attention even when I realised that I’d heard some of it before, in one or more of our many discussions over the years. For the converted such as me there was still much to learn. For a younger generation of Westerners I’m hoping that this will be a major wake-up call.

The pre-publicity succinctly captures the approach when it informs us that Decadence recalls what we now take for granted – values that made the West the world’s pre-eminent civilisation for more than 300 years. But throughout history all civilisations rise and fall. Many a pundit has predicted the West’s demise but now we appear to have the evidence. Decadence asks whether it realises what it’s losing. It may even be a call to arms . . .

Decadence opened at the Roseville Cinema on 1 December, and will open at the Nova Carlton Cinemas on 8 december. Check for times and DON’T MISS IT.

Australia, economics, environment, Personal comment

Continuing mismanagement of #Australia’s #coastal zone: Is there any plan for future sea level rise?

So the problem continues.  When I visited Kingscliff near the border of NSW and Queensland, in April this year, I was both intrigued and dismayed at the small disaster in coastal management that was so evident. There was a road to nowhere, in the waterfront park come parking area.

Kingscliff's road to nowhere in April of 2011

Beyond the green mesh barrier was beach, well a beach of sorts.  It was certainly an area of sand and were it not for a few tell tale signs, like pieces of  road tarmac strewn across the sand and an ominous wall of rocks emerging in the distrance, it might simply have been an area of coastline, once poorly managed, now being brought back into some dynamic equilibrium by the forces of nature.

Eroded beach at Kingscliffe.

Today my brother sent me a link to the Tweed Shire Echo.  It presented a view of the same beach, now six weeks later and in an even more degraded condition.  Yet the tone was almost upbeat.  The article read:

Tweed Shire Council says it’s preparing to carry out interim works on the beachfront at Kingscliff to restore public access to the beach as the southern corner of the beach continues to erode.

Next week further sandbagging works will be undertaken to enable safe access to the beach near the Cudgen Headland Surf Club.

So the Tweed Shire Council is on the case.

The article went on to say that:

Some 300,000 cubic metres of sand would be placed on the beach and re-nourishment would continue as required in the long-term, in accordance with council’s adopted Tweed Coastline Management Plan.This sand nourishment would cover the rock wall – which is currently exposed – and this wall would only be visible after extreme weather events.

I’m inclined to wonder just what the real cost of such management strategies are, for the residents of the Tweed Shire.  Why did they build the wall in the first place?

Is the Tweed Shire seriously advancing the beach nourishment strategy as the only viable one?

It seems the mismanagement of the coastal zone continues, unabated.  I wonder if the Tweed Shire Council has any plans to deal with sea level rise?

economics, Health, Indonesia

#Smoking rates in #Indonesia increasing: advertising largely unrestricted.

Several days ago I was impressed by the sheer magnitude of the Grand Indonesia Shopping Town. It could certainly be described as a small town given it’s extent and it’s complexity of functions and services. The base line is that there’s a vast number and variety of shops with a mind-boggling volume of goods.

An official website explains that Grand Indonesia Shopping Town consists of Grand Indonesia Shopping Mall, BCA Tower, Kempinski Private Residences and Hotel Indonesia Kempinski, the old Hotel Indonesia on Jl Thamrin.

The three story skybridge joining the east and west wings

The project was designed by RTKL Associates Inc. an architecture and urban planning firm with headquarters in Baltimore, USA. According to the website  ‘. . .  the core concept was to merge the grandeur of a cutting edge mega complex with the friendly atmosphere of a well-integrated small town.’ and this it has most certainly done.

Despite enjoying the experience of shopping in such a person friendly environment, my mind kept returning to one unsettling fact, the US$242 million Grand Indonesia Shopping Town project was built with money from the major cigarette company, Djarum, under a 30-year build-operate-transfer (BOT) contract.

Moving about the vast 7 hectare complex, images of the suffering caused by cigarette smoking disrupted my thoughts.  I recalled the story of the young woman, covered by Australia’s ABC, last year, who died in her 20s a victim of slip stream smoke.

There is much balanced and non-sensational comment available on the magnitude of Indonesia’s smoking problem. There is also the tragically bizarre, such as the infant with a 40-a-day habit.

In May 2010 Indonesia’s second largest Muslim organization, Muhammadiyah, issued a fatwa against smoking and encountered both political criticism and street protests.

Indonesia’s Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali cautioned Muhammadiyah against causing “public restlessness” suggesting they need act “more wisely”, such is the power of the tobacco industry in Indonesia.

WHO report
For a quick view of a report on prevalence of smoking in Indonesia go to the 2002 WHO report in Google docs.

To make matter worse, according to AFP reports, although excise taxes have recently been increased “prices remain extremely low by international standards, with a pack of 20 costing little more than a dollar. Even so, studies have shown that poor families spend more on cigarettes than on books and education.”

They also make some observations about the economic significance of the tobacco industry noting that the Indonesian government refuses to cut tobacco production levels

“British American Tobacco and Philip Morris have long recognised the opportunities in Indonesia. In March, Philip Morris’s local unit, PT HM Sampoerna, the country’s largest producer, announced a net profit increase of 31 percent to 5.08 trillion rupiah (548.64 million dollars) last year”

Colonial origins
The problem of tobacco’s economic importance is partly traceable to the Dutch system of enforced cultivation of cash crops, beginning from the 1830 through to the 1870s, when it was smewhat relaxed. The colonial administration forced cultivation introduced to Java. was known as the Cultivation System (Dutch: cultuurstelsel).  It compelled farmers to deliver fixed amounts of specified crops, such as sugar or coffee. To ensure its success the administration disrupted ancient irrigation system and practices that provided water for wet rice agriculture. A legacy remains in the significant tracts of land available to cultivate cash crops including tobacco.

Appealing to the young
Smoking is broadly accepted amongst the young and tobacco companies have been quick to target youthful dreams and aspirations, in their marketing. There is scarcely a musical or sporting event that isn’t associated with smoking in some way.

A street advertisement

The implied promises offer a life style that is exciting and transcendant, on the cutting edge, contemporary and life affirming. Fortunately the small print reads ” Smoking can cause cancer, heart disease, impotence and disturbances to pregnancy and fetuses.

Smoking on the increase
Smoking rates in Indonesia are on the increase, but in a country where the health budget is only 3% of GDP, there is little exacting health research to pin down the true costs of smoking to the nation.  University of Indonesia’s Professor Hasbullah Thabrany has studied the health effects of smoking and says the economic picture is incomplete because health care is chronically underfunded. Interviewed on Radio Australia, he says that if the Indonesian government ban cigarette advertisements near schools and in and on television when children are likely to be watching.

Australia, economics, geography, sociology

#Trams: a short pictorial study by State Records #NSW

State Records NSW has a remarkable collection that’s been extensively digitised.
Since one of the themes of this blog is trams, or light rail as the rather over engineered contemporary version of a Sydney tram is called, I’ve planned a series of posts on trams.

Trams carrying race day crowds at Randwick Racecourse

Reproduction rights: State Records NSW

Globally trams are on the way back, actually they were always there. It was only the short sighted few who abandoned them in favour of the internal combustion engine.

Myopic politicians
Here in New South Wales myopic politicians systematically dismantled and sold off the world’s largest urban tramway system. They were thorough in their work, what infrastructure they couldn’t grub-out they buried under bitumen or allowed fall into neglect.

Where dedicated tramway land remained they either alienated or filled it in with ‘development’. Tramways infrastructure has all but disappeared from Sydney, except for those with a discerning urban eye. Rebuilding tramway networks presents a difficult task. Nowhere is the nature of the task more evident than in the suburb of Randwick. Yesterday this was driven home to me as I stood and looked at what was once a broad avenue of dedicated tramway running from Peter’s Corner (Randwick Junction) to Centennial Park.

This was the intersection of Belmore Rd/Cook St and Alison Rd. Between Coogee Beach and Flinders St Belmore was one of the few places where trams actuially travelled on a roadway. Elsewhere they remained on dedicated tramway en route from Coogee to the City.

Now as I gazed diagonally across the intersection towards Cook St I was reminded of just how much money politicians made for their respective levels of government, selling off swathes of dedicated tramway land for high density residential development.

The broad avenue of tramway descended past some fine old late Victorian mansions, some replete with classical statuary, before swinging past the vast Randwick tramways workshop.

Currently Sydney City Council is investigating the options for restoring some trams from the 1950s and 1960s, lying vandalised and neglected in what remains of the old Rozelle Tram Depot.

The six trams ferried Sydney commuters in the 1950s and 60s, and include the last tram ever to run on the Sydney Tramways network. They are at great risk of deteriorating beyond repair.

For more comment on trams see High Riser, a blog by Andrew, from Melbourne

Photo collection
The photo archives of State records NSW contain many fine images of trams from this area. Here are just a few.

Dr John Gerofi
In a later blog I’ll be interviewing Sydney Engineer Dr John Gerofi who has been a life long campaigner for trams and was instrumental in the campaign to see the construction of the Central to Lilyfield line.