Thursday, 8 January 2009

atheists and buses (again)

Not long ago I reported on the atheist bus advertising in the UK, with the somewhat underwhelming slogan: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and get on with your life."

Now the Sydney Morning Herald reports "Atheist message misses local bus", with similarly underwhelming messages: "Sleep in on Sunday mornings" and "Celebrate reason". Most Australians already do the first, and the second seems to contradict itself by giving no reasons. I could wholeheartedly support both of them.

But their advertising campaign has unfortunately been run over by a bus. The outdoor advertising company APN Outdoor has declined to accept their business without giving any reason. The atheists suggest freedom of speech is at stake, but it hardly seems free to force a company to take on a commercial job it chooses not to.

Perhaps the company wanted to avoid some unfortunate juxtapositions ....

Sunday, 4 January 2009

houses to save the world

We all know something's got to give. In Australia, our houses are getting bigger (and uglier) while our families are getting smaller. Petrol consumption and greenhouse gases are increasing as cities sprawl and large houses require air conditioning. Our economic standard of living is rising and many in the developing world want a piece of the action.

One part of the solution is surely more environmentally friendly houses, which means smaller, better designed, energy efficient, carbon-neutral, water efficient, solar-powered buildings made of renewable materials. Or at least some of these.

The exciting thing is that it is slowly beginning to happen, even if only on an experimental level or by die-hard greenies, and the designs are attractive and interesting too. Take a look at these "green houses" - perhaps my favourite is this New Zealand house built from old shipping containers.

Photo: Jetson Green blog

Check out more photos of the shipping container house, plus a house in Japan with polycarbonate walls, a passive solar urban kit home, office space and artists' studios in old railway carriages on building rooftops in London, and this house from an old barn in Belgium.

You're probably the same as me, unlikely to make a move from where you're currently living. But surely somewhere here is the way of the future.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

the best time to be alive?

When was the best time to be alive?

I've always thought I had pretty much the best of it - born at the end of World War 2, living when our western societies were becoming increasingly wealthy and jobs were easy to come by, and growing into adulthood during the 1960's when there was plenty of idealism and good music (for me, Bob Dylan represented both of those). So I missed the war and the depression, but also missed the pressure of today's mad rush to get a university place and a job while avoiding drugs and depression and shallow relationships.

But Michael Duffy, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, reckons differently. He thinks "the luckiest generation" was the one before mine, which was born in the 1930s. This is how he figures it:

  • They missed the great Depression and were too young to serve in the war.
  • They would have been buying houses in the 1960s, when, in relation to household income, they cost a third what they do today.
  • Society was more stable. "The divorce rate increased in the mid-'70s, a period when crime, single parenthood and chronic forms of mental and physical illness also started to boom. In the '60s only 3 per cent of working age Australians depended on welfare. That figure was to rise to about 16 per cent." Job insecurity also increased.
  • He says welfare and tax policies have been shown to have most favoured this generation, especially in retirement.
  • Social researcher Hugh Mackay has found that this generation has stronger values: "loyalty, saving, the work ethic, the sense of mutual obligation, and patriotism". These helped them cope less selfishly with the prosperity of the 1960s than a later generation dealt with the prosperity of the 1990s.
  • "There has been a sharp increase in fear of all kinds in recent decades", and people have grown less happy. The less stable society, loss of values and decline in religion have all been suggested as reasons for this.

I'm still not sure I agree. Studies indicate that despite the negatives Duffy mentions, Australians are, on average, pretty much just as happy as we were a decade ago and half a century ago, and it is the same generally right around the world. But we are agreed that it is tougher growing up and living today than back then.