GREG RAY: Hopes for Kon-Tiki movie  

The Kon Tiki in 1947 on its voyage across the Pacific Ocean. THOR HEYERDAHL

MARGARET and David have given the Kon-Tiki movie three-and-a-half stars.

Sounds all right, but I don’t know if I want to go see it.

Because my memory of the book, while admittedly a bit hazy after a lot of years, is still pretty resonant. I’d hate to have that ruined, if I don’t like the film.

But then again, if it recaptured some of the exhilaration I felt when I first read Thor Heyerdahl’s incredible book, it would probably be worth the risk.

Kon-Tiki was one of those books that just gripped my imagination, as it gripped the imagination of the world when it appeared.

Most people, I guess, are familiar with the plot of the true-life yarn, but if you’ve never read the book you ought to put it on your list.

Heyerdahl had been fascinated by Polynesia for a long time. As a young man, with his wife Liv, Heyerdahl took the amazing step of leaving civilisation to go “back to nature” on the Pacific island of Fatu Hiva.

It proved to be an education, with the hardships of life on a “tropical paradise” much greater than he’d imagined. He and Liv saw how local people were ravaged by malnutrition and its ailments, and watched in horror as a village was decimated by influenza imported from a copra boat.

Civilisation had many redeeming features, after all, the couple learnt.

When Heyerdahl saw giant stone statues in the forests of the island that closely resembled some seen and illustrated by other people in South America, his mind went into overdrive.

He became obsessed with the theory that Polynesia may have been colonised in the dim past from South America.

But when he tried to share his theory, many established academics wrote him off, which prompted him to attempt the voyage, simply to show it would have been possible.

So he and some other Scandinavians went to South America in 1947, lashed some balsa logs together and hopped aboard to see where they’d end up. The raft design came from some very old drawings by Spanish invaders of Peru, and Heyerdahl insisted that no nails, spikes or wire be used in the construction.

As Heyerdahl had hoped and predicted, they wound up bumping into the islands of Polynesia after 101 days afloat, proving the feasibility his theory to his own satisfaction, if not necessarily everybody else’s.

But it was the journey, not the anthropological musings, that captured the world’s imagination.

I remember reading his book with astonishment at his audacity and boldness. Then I searched for his other books and read them, one by one. The others didn’t make such an impact, except Aku Aku, his wonderful Easter Island book, in which he explains to my complete satisfaction the “mystery” of the huge statues there.

Unlike some academics, Heyerdahl adopted the technique of winning the trust of the island locals and asking them patiently to share their old stories and traditions.

When he was given the folklore account of how the statues “walked” from the quarry to their final locations – and how their funny hats were put on – he asked for a demonstration and one was duly given.

After Aku Aku, I found the other fantastic book about the original Kon-Tiki expedition by Heyerdahl’s raft-mate Erik Hesselberg. Kon-Tiki and I is an illustrated version, much shorter, with hand-written text and lovely, quirky drawings, intended for young readers.

I’d like, some day, to watch the 1990 BBC series – Kon-Tiki Man – that covered the whole Heyerdahl saga, from Fatu Hiva and Kon-Tiki to the Ra and Tigris reed boat expeditions of later years.

In the meantime I have the book of the series, which is so comprehensive and readable that it probably makes ownership of most of Heyerdahl’s own works (except for Kon-Tiki and Aku Aku) unnecessary.

Kon-Tiki is a great, great story. I hope the movie measures up.

OPINION: Iron Lady’s dogma a hard lesson for us all

FORMER British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has been called a ‘divisive figure’ in the media.

This ‘divisiveness’ is merely a front to legitimise her policies in a post-Thatcher world where the swing to the right was mimicked by a number of countries, Australia included, and saw a politics created to benefit a rich minority while punishing the vulnerable.

This kind of politics was in no way ‘‘successful’’ except to benefit a minority and allow that minority to maintain their wealth and political power.

Lauding Baroness Thatcher’s policies is a mistake that we should not make today.

Lady Thatcher came to power promising to unite the country and to govern for everyone.

In reality her policies favoured those already well-off and hurt the already vulnerable. The gap between the haves and have-nots widened as a direct result of Lady Thatcher’s policy, leaving a distinctly un-United Kingdom.

The facts on the ground remain: unwilling to push for an overtly feminist agenda and unwilling to present a social agenda that was progressive in any way, Lady Thatcher pushed politics quite far to the right.

Economically, Lady Thatcher and the British Tory policies doubled unemployment, then pushed unemployed coal miners to register for long-term disability pensions to hide the unemployment figures.

The country’s gross national product fell, and there was never a recovery on the horizon, with top tax rates on the rich cropped from 83per cent down to 60per cent, while the value-added tax nearly doubled from 8per cent to 15per cent, largely hurting the poorer classes in the process, to recoup the revenue loss.

If not for the boom in North Sea oil, Lady Thatcher’s government would probably have been bankrupt in its first years.

Her refusal to co-operate in a greater Europe, her willingness to go to war, and her increased militarisation of the UK pushed international politics closer to crisis rather than further away.

At the same time this militarisation was coupled with a resurgent appeal to nationalism.

Her hostility towards Nelson Mandela, whom she derided as a terrorist, while having a long-lasting friendship with the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, remains a source of embarrassment and marks a shocking lack of personal judgment.

Lady Thatcher’s legacy is a world in which radical individualism is privileged at the expense of any sort of social solidarity or sense of responsibility to anyone outside of one’s self.

If we are to laud Lady Thatcher’s legacy then let us laud our own selfishness and greed as the products of this legacy.

We have seen how tolerating governments supporting dictatorships for the sake of convenience was dangerous in Lady Thatcher’s day and this continues.

Her neglect of the people hit hard by her economic policies, increased drug addiction, destroyed families, and caused enormous social problems in the UK.

If all governments, including ours here in Australia, were to act in such a manner, we would need to ask ourselves what it is that we need government for.

Helping to organise our lives for the better is part of the mandate of all governments, and pressing for positive change on the world stage is part of that. Lady Thatcher’s legacy is a cruel one, and not to be lauded.

Dr Robert Imre is a senior lecturer in politics and international relations, the University of Newcastle. Stephen Owen is a PhD student at the University of Newcastle.

Margaret Thatcher

OPINION: Opposition’s lack of vision for broadband

Fibre optic cable being layed in the Canberra suburb of Gungahlin this week. Photo: Alex EllinghausenTHERE is not much new in the opposition’s NBN policy.

Critical details on how it will achieve a cheaper outcome even at lower prices remains a big question. The roll-out of FTTN (maintaining the old copper network) is increasingly becoming a less-favourable option.

With the ageing of the copper network, that problem will only increase. Working with an old network means that you will come across many ‘‘surprises’’ in that network that need to be fixed and that will either increase the costs or make it impossible for people to get true fast broadband in.

There are plenty of such examples in Europe and North America.

This doesn’t need to be a major problem as long as there is a policy in place that recognises and address these issues. This, however, is still missing from the opposition, nor is there any recognition of the potential technical problems that might occur.

What will be its path to eventually get everybody in the country (i.e. more than 95per cent) on a network that provides an equal opportunity for all to participate in the rapidly developing digital society and digital economy?

Also, how is it going to entice Telstra and Optus to abandon their lucrative contracts with the government?

How is it going to entice the rest of the industry in relation to the far more complex regulatory issues that will occur if we keep the old Telstra-owned copper network?

One of the most significant problems arising in Europe in relation to FTTN is how to make it an open network in relation to ensure competition (wholesale) over that infrastructure.

While the opposition indicates you can’t trust this government in relation to its NBN, why would we trust it with its plan, as there are so many elements that can cause unforseen costs as well as hard-to-resolve technological problems that could lead to a widening of the digital divide – a problem that is increasingly seen as a major issue in European and North American politics.

True, if you have $5000 or so to spend to upgrade your own infrastructure to FTTH that is fine, but broadband is now seen worldwide as essential national infrastructure and it is seen as critical for the digital economy, e-health, tele-education and so on. The opposition still fails to address and recognise these issues and to formulate its policies accordingly. The question remains why does the opposition want a NBN?

This is clear in the case of the government: it talks about nation-building, essential infrastructure, etc. While there are still many questions that need to be answered by the government, at least it has policies in place, for example, the national digital strategy.

It is good to see that the opposition indicates that eventually FTTH will be needed.

So the question remains, how will the opposition address that issue in five years?

Eventually, for social-economic reasons, all of the network will need to be upgraded in order to run a sophisticated country such as Australia. There is nothing in the opposition’s plan that addresses this issue, beyond its initial quick and cheap fix, still at a considerable cost of $20billion.

There are quite a lot of assumptions in the opposition’s plan that are easy to say but difficult to reconcile.

Looking back over the past 10 years, all internet and broadband-based services have come down in price. If you compare an internet access product that was available 10 years ago, that same product (i.e. internet access at a certain speed) has come down in price more than 200per cent.

The reality, however, is that people still spend about the same as 10 years ago but now have speeds that are 20 or 40 times faster.

The same will apply over the next 10 years. It is highly unlikely that, as the opposition suggests, prices will increase.

There is no technological reason for this to happen and secondly, the ACCC would never allow it.

So, the opposition’s projected increased costs for the NBN (if continued) is scaremongering, as such a development would run against international trends.

There are still no clear policies on the demand side of the NBN (digital productivity). If the opposition doesn’t see the NBN as a socio-economic policy, it should abandon the NBN altogether and leave it to the private sector.

You would only, as a government, intervene if you believe that this was needed for a national purpose.

As a step-one plan, it addresses some of the cheaper and faster issues but it falls short of providing a true vision for the national digital infrastructure for Australia.

Paul Budde is a telecommunications consultant.

EDITORIAL: Fine way to make money 

THE trouble with imposing broadly based fines of any sort, such as those for parking or traffic infringements, is that a temptation soon arises to treat the income as a given in yearly budgets.

That leads to targets and quotas, which leads to pressure on those responsible for issuing fines, which leads to criticism that the organisation concerned has lost sight of the original reason for introducing the fines and is instead involved in naked revenue-raising.

If that sounds like a description of Newcastle City Council, that’s only because the organisation is so commonly the butt of public complaints about allegedly over-zealous parking fine practices.

Indeed, the council scarcely makes a secret of its expectation of minimum revenue receipts from its squad of compliance officers, although in the same breath it insists its only concerns are safety and support for businesses.

It might be presumed that the city area has now attained such a fearsome reputation as a place to be mercilessly fined that the council is being forced to work harder and cast its net wider to meet its desired revenue targets.

If so, that might explain the heavy and unpopular blitzes around the stadium during big sporting events, and perhaps even the sporadically vigorous activity around the Calvary Mater Hospital.

The council is not alone in its growing reliance on fines to bolster its apparently sick budget.

Other visitor magnets with notoriously poor parking provision are seeing their chance too. Rising stars in the Hunter’s fining stakes are Hunter New England Health and the University of Newcastle.

Parking at John Hunter Hospital is often extraordinary difficult.

That’s why cars are often backed up along Lookout Road and why residents of New Lambton Heights had to lobby for parking restrictions outside their homes.

The university’s case is probably worse, with paid parking permits cynically referred to by their holders as ‘‘hunting licences’’. If anybody cared to quantify the lost productivity due to time spent circling the campus in search of parking spots, the figure would probably be large.

Fines play a part in cutting traffic and maintaining safe practices. Knowing this, few motorists who knowingly park illegally complain.

The clearest indicator that the valuable practical functions of the system may be losing ground to revenue raising is the volume of protest at allegedly unfair penalties. That volume seems loud at present, which should mean something to those in control of the revenue targets.

Danish cabernet, anyone?

That bottle of Bordeaux you put aside may become even rarer in the next few decades if climate change reduces wine-grape production in traditional parts of the world and moves it elsewhere, researchers say.

Wine-grape production’s sensitivity to climate makes it a good test case for what could happen in the next several decades. And the land suitable for viticulture in current major wine-producing regions could be reduced by 20 per cent to 70 per cent by 2050, depending on the amount of greenhouse gases produced, the researchers said this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

An increasingly affluent global population is likely to create more demand for wine and ensure that wine-grapes will continue to be grown in current areas as much as possible, and be grown in new areas as well, the researchers said.

The researchers said they expected a “major global redistribution of suitability” for wine-grape production regions. That has significance for what happens to water resources and animal habitats, said Lee Hannah, an author of the study and senior scientist for climate change biology at Conservation International’s new Betty and Gordon Moore Center for Ecosystem Science.

That could mean that wine-grape production moves from regions such as Mediterranean France to higher latitudes, including northern Europe and the western US. At present, Mediterranean regions, with dry and warm summers and cool and wet winters, are especially suitable.

“The actual extent of those redistributions will depend on market forces, available adaptation options for vineyards, and continued popularity of wine with consumers,” researchers said.

Climate change could drive changes in viticulture that will change the ecosystems of the Mediterranean and threaten native habitats in areas where the industry goes, the researchers said. And a warming climate could force vineyard managers in traditional regions to try to cool grapes on the vine, and bring in more water – affecting the freshwater ecosystems.

The researchers, from several institutions in the US and elsewhere, used more than 100 models to assess potential climate change effects on wine growing. They said agreement using various models was high, both for signalling declines in suitability for wine grapes in the Mediterranean and projecting increases in northern Europe, New Zealand and western North America.

There are some coping strategies available, and others are needed, such as investments in new varieties of grapes that have different climate tolerances – such as withstanding heat stress – and new ways to manage vineyards, the researchers said.

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