Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Headlines Wednesday 11th February 2009

Bushfires death toll 'could hit 300'; 80 still missing
There are fears the death toll from Victoria's horrific bushfires could reach 300, with up to 80 people still missing in fire-struck areas.
Shark attack in Sydney Harbour leaves diver critical
A navy sailor has been attacked by a shark in Sydney Harbour.
Toddler dies after being run over in driveway
A toddler's died after being run over in the driveway of a home in Ballarat in Victoria.
Stay-or-go safety message here to stay: Brumby
Victorian Premier John Brumby says the stay-or-go bushfire advice to householder will stay in place while the royal commission reviews the safety message.
Croatian cops linked to Lapthorne case
Two men depicted in forensic sketches and linked to the Britt Lapthorne investigation have been identified as Croatian police officers.
Three escape as train crashes into car
A train has hit a car which careered onto the tracks this morning at Carlton in Sydney's south.
Aussies donate $30m to bushfire victims
US Senate passes Obama stimulus plan
Wind aids fire threat to Yea-Murrindindi
Stimulus stalemate as Senate inquiry handed down
Who's to blame for the Victorian bushfires?
There's been an awful lot of finger-pointing going on in the wake of the horrific Victorian bushfires - but who's really to blame? Tim Brunero asks the question.
Why Greens policy is responsible for the bushfires
Liberal MP Wilson Tuckey is right, it's the Greens' push for untouched national parks that is to blame for the Victorian bushfires, according to Alan Jones.
Tim Blair
Just as they used Hurricane Katrina, warmenists are preparing to use Australia’s fires:
UPDATE. It’s on. A warmenist swarm commences at the ABC, Crikey and the Age, where Freya Mathews—a research fellow in the philosophy department at La Trobe University, if you don’t mind—writes:
It is only a couple of years since scientists first told us we could expect a whole new order of fires in south-eastern Australia, fires of such ferocity they would simply engulf the towns in their path. And here they are.
Congratulations, geniuses. You’ve successfully predicted bushfires in Australia during the Australian bushfire season.
These fires are simply the result of the new conditions that climate change has introduced here: raised temperatures, giving us hotter days than we have ever experienced before combined with lower rainfall giving us a drier landscape. Let’s stop using the word “drought”, with its implication that dry weather is the exception. The desiccation of the landscape here is the new reality. It is now our climate.
Freya has evidently appointed herself Australia’s official Climate Announcer.
But can we adapt to it if it gets worse? It was only by chance that a cool change came through on Saturday. What if the pattern of the heatwave that occurred in the last week of January had been repeated? If instead of the cool change on Saturday evening we had had three or four days of above 40 degree temperatures? How much of our state, how many of our towns and outer suburbs, would have been engulfed?
Note that cooler weather arrives merely “by chance”, yet hot weather is pure human-caused evil warming.
The Prime Minister weeps on television at the tragedy of Saturday’s events. He looks around uncomprehendingly, unable to find words, unable to find meaning.

But there are words. There is meaning. This is climate change.
Rudd was responding to news of hundreds of Australian deaths. Freya is a disgrace. Happily, the Age also runs a sensible piece by Frank Campbell, who actually seems not to be insane:
Contrary to current hyperbole, Black Saturday was not the worst fire day ever. Ash Wednesday’s wind speeds ranged from 70 to 120 km/h. A savage south-west front led to most of the deaths and property loss, whereas Saturday had a modest wind change.

Nor was the area burned in the latest fires exceptional. About 300,000 hectares is the likely total, compared with 1.5 million on Black Friday 1939, several million on Black Thursday 1851, 260,000 on Red Tuesday 1898 and 230,000 on Ash Wednesday. Note that the days of the week have mostly been used up already. Every 10 or 20 years there is a bushfire disaster. This isn’t going to change.

South-eastern Australia is perhaps the worst fire vortex in the world ...
It would be evidence of change if the place didn’t burn. There’s a reason why we call it “bushfire season”. And all those firefighters and firetrucks aren’t there by accident.
Too much, too fast, too wasted
Andrew Bolt
Professor Milind Sathye, a former cengtral banker, is right about Kevin Rudd’s $42 billion stimulus package:

So why has the Australian Government opted to go for such an extravagant spending spree? Why could it not pace itself, spending in two tranches of $20 billion each? This would have given it a time to review the measures being taken in China and other countries and fine-tune the next stimulus…

Finally, infrastructure spending needs to be targeted to improve the productive capacity of the economy, something that the Japanese stimulus failed to do when it targeted politically important rural infrastructure rather than boosting its productive capacity. Similarly in Australia, vast expenditure on schools and insulation may be politically popular but will do little to boost productivity.

Fiscal stimulus is not a free lunch. The risk for Australia is that if the shock-and-awe approach fails, it may get pushed on to Japan’s route and stagnate for a decade.
The hard lessons we forgot
Andrew Bolt
TWO hundred Victorians cannot have died without mistakes being made. And lessons forgotten.

I am in no mood for blame-throwing. The grief in this state is too great. The need for help too pressing.

And there is much about these fires and their victims we do not yet know.

But already I fear we will not absorb—really absorb—some of the lessons we must relearn to save ourselves from yet another such catastrophe.

We were told long ago—and as recently as last year—our forests had been left far too loaded with fuel.

We were warned many times we had bush communities without the fire breaks and warnings they’d need.

And so many of us, living in bush as if it was tame suburbia, forgot some of the survival strategies we should have learned from past disasters.

I am sorry to raise this now, when people are so upset, and when so many of those who died had so little chance, no matter how careful they clearly were.

But I am driven to do so by the sight of so many burned out cars whose drivers tried to outrun the flames, but crashed in the choking smoke, or found their way blocked by falling trees, or had their cars stall, the petrol vaporised in the unbelievable heat.
Never stood taller
Andrew Bolt
I COULDN’T give food. Too much had been donated already.

I was turned away from the Blood Bank. The queues are so long I was told to come back next week.

I could only give money, and tens of thousands of you have done that, too.

What an avalanche of help. Have your fellow Victorians ever shown themselves to be so good?

Our pain now is terrible. The loss immense. But this much we now know to our consolation: A fire can destroy our towns, but not our community.

In fact, never have I seen so many people so desperately eager to lend a hand. My God, but we are strong.
The fires
Andrew Bolt
The official death toll in the fires is now 181, but no one believes we’ve yet heard the worst of the news:

POLICE now fear that as many as 300 people may have died in the bushfires...

Survivors of the fires can get government help here.

The tidal wave of help for the victims has been overwhelming. From last night’s one-day game between Australia and New Zealand, just as an example:

The Commonwealth Bank Series Bushfire Appeal has raised more than $6 million for people affected by the natural disaster.
Biden is the real Palin
Andrew Bolt
We warned that the vice-presidential nominee was an embarrassment - someone not fit for for high office, Unqualified. A joke.

No, not Sarah Palin, but Joe Biden.

Here’s his take on his boss’s stimulus package:

If we do everything right, if we do it with absolute certainty, if we stand up there and we really make the tough decisions, there’s still a 30 percent chance we’re going to get it wrong.

And here’s Barack Obama, treating Biden as the clown that Palin isn’t:

MR. OBAMA: (Laughs.) You know, I don’t remember exactly what Joe was referring to, not surprisingly. (Laughter.) But let me try this out.

I think what Joe may have been suggesting, although I wouldn’t put numerical — I would ascribe any numerical percentage to any of this, is that given the magnitude of the challenges that we have, any single thing that we do is going to be part of the solution, not all of the solution....

So I don’t know whether Joe was referring to that, but I use that as a launching point to make a general point about these issues.

Toby Harnden was at Obama’s press conference (above), and concludes:

Obama came close to conceding that Biden was indeed a joke… Of course, Biden wasn’t saying anything of the sort - Obama knew that and all the rest of us did too.
Could this save lives next time?
Andrew Bolt
Is it now time to consider not only fire-safe shelters in each bush town, but an electronic warning system for each home?

Reader X. explains:

I am a software developer. The company I work for has some expertise in control, communication and early warning systems.


In the US people use “Hurricane radios” which are set up to receive special broadcasts sent out by the NOAA to warn communities in the path of a hurricane.

The system uses a protocol called “SAME” (Specific Area Message Encryption). Messages are sent with a code indicating which radios (by defined area) will broadcast. The area can be as large or small as required. In the US they generally use county codes. You could actually use codes that resolve down to street level if required. The sets will emit a loud audible alarm, then a more specific message. You can’t turn them off, they are wired into the mains, with battery backup. Normally they sit there mute.

There are many commercial models of sets available, bought in bulk they would probably be less than $100 each.


Consider the Israeli system where they “phone ahead” for civilians to leave buildings they are about to bomb. It relies on a meticulously maintained database of phone numbers, addresses and GPS co-ordinates. Were Victoria to have a similar database a modern call-centre (nearly as good as the spam telephone sales organizations) could easily auto-dial and warn people in a threatened area to evacuate, and which way.


Both methods would require a serious, professional, command and control centre with some sophisticated fire tracking and forecasting software. All completely do-able (ref the US Hurricane warning system) but absolutely there is nothing anywhere near it even dreamt about in our fire organizations (CFA, MFB, AFAC etc). ...

Technically can these systems be put in place ? Absolutely.

Will it be costly ? Cheaper than the destroyed lives. And it would be a small drop out of that stimulus bucket.

Will it take a long time ? If started now it may even be ready for next fire season.

I agree we might well need such a system in some areas, given this:

A number of residents of Kinglake and Kinglake West who spoke to The Australian said they were unprepared. There were no warnings on radio or the CFA website and they didn’t even hear any sirens before the blaze engulfed the towns, they said…
Defend the right, denounce the message
Andrew Bolt
I don’t regret having fought to defend this guy’s right to speak, but, by God, I wish he wouldn’t abuse it so:

The Catch the Fire Ministries has tried to blame the bushfires disaster on laws decriminalising abortion in Victoria.

The evangelical church’s leader, Pastor Danny Nalliah, claimed he had a dream about raging fires on October 21 last year and that he woke with “a flash from the Spirit of God: that His conditional protection has been removed from the nation of Australia, in particular Victoria, for approving the slaughter of innocent children in the womb”.

Which makes Nalliah the Hilaly of the Pentacostal faith.
Crowing over the flames
Andrew Bolt
The Australian starts a counter-attack on the global warming opportunists now exploiting the horrific fires.

I’m not sure the time is yet right to join the debate, despite the eagerness of the 7.30 Report and Lateline yesterday to blame global warming or raise its spectre. Surely this is the time to focus on how to help, how to console and how to prevent yet more such suffering as we’ve seen. Your advice would be useful.
No scorn for this scone
Andrew Bolt

Imagine the fun if this bumped head had been Bush’s. Was Bush ever allowed to get away with a single such misstep?
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