Sorry about that headline there – old tabloid journos write their own obituaries, did you know?
I read an intriguing book a month ago – part crime mystery, part science fiction. The Last Policeman by Ben H Winters is set in New Hampshire USA at a time when a large asteroid known as Maia is on a collision course with earth. It has gone beyond speculation – they know where and when the asteroid (6.1 kms wide) will touch down near the Indonesian archipelago.
This curious work of fiction stars the well-meaning obsessive, Detective Hank Palace, who is investigating a suicide he thinks is probably a murder, just when the powers that be have decided it is a waste of time and effort investigating cases that are never going to trial. So the police force is on what the mining industry calls “care and maintenance”, relying on a heavy street presence to thwart outright anarchy.
Intrigued, I tracked down and read the second book in the trilogy (got the third and final from the library yesterday). I’ve been seriously taken in by the all-too realistic scenarios – the underlying tensions between survivalists, conspiracy theorists (who think the military could divert the asteroid with a mid-space nuclear explosion), escapists, who have “gone bucket list” or found easy ways to do themselves in. Then there’s the other people; the ones with guns and knives and no particular moral code. One of the policemen in Winters’ second book is having a little melt-down, during which he splutters “Just you wait until the water runs out…”
I have no particular thoughts or qualms about a pending apocalypse beyond worrying about the effects of climate change. I still cling to a notion that goodness and common sense will prevail and we can save the planet while there is still time.
Pah! I hear you survivalists say. Oh, you thought survivalist movements existed only in Texas? There are many such groups in Australia, clusters of people who think the world will go stinko and not so very far off in the future. They are busy cornering the market on bottled water, iodine tablets, canned and dried food, guns and ammunition and the complete series of Packed to the Rafters and Kath & Kim.
Some of the end-of-the-world-ists thought it might happen on December 21, 2012 when the Mayan Calendar predicted the end-time. A lasting image which did the rounds on Facebook was a cartoon by Dan Piraro depicting two Mayans examining a calendar carved on a round rock. “I only had room to go to 2012,” says one. “Hah! That’ll freak somebody out some day,” says the other.
The end is nigh, sooner or later
Doomsdayers have been around forever – the classic wild-eyed, bearded fellow in rags prowling the city streets with a sign proclaiming “the end if nigh”. There was a lot of it about in the 1930s when 20% of people couldn’t get any work at all.
The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 created a tense atmosphere and an industry for people who built atomic fallout shelters for people who could afford them. Some made their own or converted their basements. Others moved to New Zealand or Australia (some are still here). At the time, Russia had nuclear weapons and was building a missile base in Cuba, a bit close to Miami for comfort. It was the time of the Berlin Wall, the KGB, the Stasi and the Cold War. Everyone was paranoid.
President J.F. Kennedy promulgated the idea of civil defense and the building of fallout shelters, where people could hide until the fallout (atomic dust) settled or drifted away to pollute other countries. Some of those shelters still exist and have been useful during hurricanes, tornados and earthquakes.
Armageddon out of here
I didn’t really want to single out any one organisation that believes in the Armageddon, but since they have turned up at my door uninvited many times in the past, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who continue to warn of an end-time, spring to mind. But as the New York Times observed, in a lengthy 2007 essay about Armageddon, the Jehovahs have nominated the end-time eight times between 1914 and 1994. More recently, we had Y2K in 2000 and the aforementioned Maya non-event in 2012. The true believers no doubt have other forward dates in mind. If you hunt around, you will find a Doomsday Clock, a Rapture Index, cataclysmic forecasts involving the super-volcano under Yellowstone, magnetic pole shifts and climate change disaster scenarios.
The Australian did a piece a while ago about an entrepreneur in the US who has built the ultimate underground shelter where 80 people (each parting with $US35k), can go and hang out for a year, hoping that whatever happened up there will dissipate to the point where the surgeons, doctors, dentists, lawyers, engineers and trauma counsellors who survive can emerge from their techno-cave and rebuild civilisation.
It is worth having a look at the overview video. This is not an unlikely response in the US, where wealthy people have paid to have their remains put on ice until such day a cure for the ailment that killed them can be found.
Get a good job (and a haircut, damn hippies)
Meanwhile in Australia, June 2015, $US35k ($A45k) could possibly be enough for a deposit on your first home, assuming you have a good job that pays good money. The 7 million-plus Australians who rent houses or units, unable to get a foot on the home owner ladder, would have been grossly insulted this week by Treasurer Joe Hockey’s glib solution to housing affordability.
Last week I wrote about homelessness and how it touches even seemingly prosperous villages like ours. But it can be just as much of a struggle for those who do manage to put a roof over their heads.
Did you know that of the 7.2 million Australians who were renting in 2011, 3.02 million need help to pay their landlords? Two thirds of those people were receiving Commonwealth Rental Assistance and a third lived in social housing. (ABS stats).
A Griffith University study found that between 1997 and 2010, Australian house prices increased nationally by 220%. The deterioration of housing affordability in Australia is more alarming in relative terms. In 1980 the average salary in Sydney was $13,780, and the average house price $64,800, a multiple of 4.7 times earnings. By 1990, house prices in Sydney were a multiple of 5.89 times earnings, and 6.58 times earnings in 2000. By 2010, the average salary was $65,565, but the average house price was some 10.1 times higher, at $663,000.
Academics Gavin Wood and Rachel Ong writing for The Conversation observed that Australia’s housing system is saddled with growing indebtedness. Between 1990 and 2011, mortgage debt soared relative to average household incomes. The table below shows how the proportion of home owners with outstanding mortgage debt has increased. Fortunately, interest rates are much lower than in 1990, so home owners can service loans that are larger relative to household income.
So let’s hope they have a good job that pays good money.