Debating current affairs

Paul Thomas is a Weekend Herald columnist

Paul Thomas: Over heated and over here

18 comments
Signs of the times we live in...evetyone gets offended and Aussies want to come to NZ.

Australia is heating up, with temperatures 1C higher than a century ago. Most of the warming has occured since 1950. Photo / AP
Australia is heating up, with temperatures 1C higher than a century ago. Most of the warming has occured since 1950. Photo / AP

It's the nature of satire and history that this decade's flight of fancy can be next decade's grim reality.

We've become familiar with the term "Orwellian," meaning sinister and pervasive government oversight. (George Orwell's novel 1984 was part dystopian fantasy and part satire of Soviet totalitarianism and Joseph Stalin's cult of personality.)

"Orwellian" was bandied about after Edward Snowden's revelations of indiscriminate NSA eavesdropping, although not all those bandying distinguished between surveillance as a tool of oppression employed by the authoritarian state against its people and surveillance as an anti-terrorism and law enforcement tool used by the democratic state to defend its people.

Perhaps Snowden, who now lives in Russia, might like to apply his data retrieval skills to that country's security network and let us know what his host and protector Vladimir Putin has in mind for the people of Ukraine, who have the temerity to want the freedom the great whistle-blower is supposedly fighting for.

In 1969, a Times columnist recycled an old army joke about the sort of trousers worn by men in parts of the Middle and Near East. Offence was taken by Muslims in various parts of the world, notably Rawalpindi in Pakistan where a mob burned the British Council Library to the ground.

At the time, the general reaction was along the lines of "Look at these bloody idiots. Someone writes something they don't like in a foreign newspaper, so they burn down a facility built for their benefit. Anyway, what's for tea?"

Then in 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini imposed a sentence of death on Anglo-Indian writer Salman Rushdie, forcing him undercover for a decade. (The fatwa remains in place; according to the Iranians, the only person who can revoke it is the person who imposed it and he's dead.)

In 2006 we had the Danish cartoons affair, which prompted the leader of Hizbollah to say that if it had nailed Rushdie, Westerners wouldn't dare to make fun of the prophet.

To be fair, it wasn't for lack of trying: a would-be assassin blew himself and two floors of a London hotel to smithereens when a device meant for Rushdie exploded prematurely, and Rushdie surrogates - booksellers, translators - were attacked and, in some cases, killed.

What in 1969 seemed absurd - the natives are revolting - is now all too real.

Thus no one turns a hair when Katy Perry's latest video has to be hastily re-edited because Outraged of West Yorkshire and East Pakistan detected a nano-second of "blasphemy".

The determination of some Muslims to take offence - at times violently - and Westerners' willingness to compromise their principles to placate them has become a fact of life.

In 1977 Michael Wharton, who wrote the Daily Telegraph's Way of the World column under the pseudonym Peter Simple, satirised the fanaticism of the health bureaucracy by having the director of community medicine for the mythical and godforsaken borough of Stretchford demand that all cigarette packets carry the warning "Smoking Kills."

Now, in addition to bearing that and other dire warnings, cigarettes must be kept out of sight in shops, set aside for the wretches who can't do without them like the "adult" material in second-hand bookshops.

In 2007, Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) warned that by 2030, Sydney's climate would be much the same as that of the parched and stifling interior, where no sane person would live unless they're extracting a fortune from a hole in the ground.

(The latest Time magazine reports that the Western Australian mining town of Kalgoorlie, pop 35,000, located in "one of the least hospitable places on the planet," has more self-made millionaires per capita than New York City.)

Back then, I semi-facetiously suggested that in a decade or two the transtasman migration pattern could be reversed: we'd be overrun by hordes of vowel-mangling Shanes and Rayleens, and would think back wistfully to a time when our leaders wrung their hands over the 30,000 Kiwis who decamped to Australia every year.

This week, the CSIRO was back on the case, reporting that temperatures in Australia are 1C higher than a century ago, with most of the warming occurring since 1950. Seven of the 10 warmest years on record were after 1998.

Another report suggested that by the end of this century the Sydney Opera House - and some of the most desirable and expensive private property in the Southern Hemisphere - would be under water.

It was left to Kiwi climate scientist Dr Jim Salinger to spell out the implications.

"Australia is the burning, drying continent" because of its very harsh climate, he said. Because of this, he expects to see "a reverse in migration across the Tasman, with increasing numbers of Australians coming to New Zealand".

- NZ Herald

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf03 at 28 Dec 2014 10:48:26 Processing Time: 468ms