I will not be posting today, apart from this.
YouTube by beanough.
The subject, naturally enough, was how the media had behaved in the past week, and generally there was a thumbs up for a job well done: Reporting the Bushfires. But there were exceptions.
The last few minutes of the program were reserved for the most savage attack. I have to admit I too had been appalled by The Devine One but mentioned it only in passing rather than dignify it; I also pointed in a comment to a rebuttal. But Media Watch went for the jugular.
…Plenty of others, last week, were pointing the finger at policies that they claim have discouraged preventive burning, and the clearing of bush around houses.
But only Miranda Devine came up with a sentence like this:
If politicians are intent on whipping up a lynch mob to divert attention from their own culpability, it is not arsonists who should be hanging from lamp-posts but greenies.
— The Sydney Morning Herald, 12th February, 2009
That’s not opinion-writing, Miranda. That’s hate-mongering.
You and your paper, which saw fit to blazon your ugly piece across the front page of its website, should both be ashamed of yourselves.
I should say, once again, that there’s been plenty of fine reporting this week under harrowing circumstances.
Rab in Indonesia also expressed concerns I share about Facebook vigilantes: Facebook, Suppression Orders, and Arsonists.
The problem with the Facebook groups is that they violate the suppression order. It is not a difficult argument to make that the Facebook groups would fall under the suppression order even if Facebook is not considered to be traditional media. If this was indeed to be made out then Facebook might find itself in contempt of court as the publisher, along with the author. And, the lawyers would undoubtedly be arguing that their client cannot get a fair trial because of the exposure.
I can understand that people need to vent their anger after such a tragic loss of life and property. However, in the aftermath I would also imagine that people would like to see justice done, and perhaps not vigilante justice, but that kind of justice that sees the perpetrator do the time for his crimes. If this is the case, then it is a risky proposition to breach the suppression order. Sometimes we just have to have faith in our judicial system that it will work and work well.
I think the point is that none of us ought to destroy our hard-won if imperfect rule of law because righteous anger possesses us for the moment. In its own way this is as destructive as the bushfires themselves.
See also what Legal Eagle said, noted here yesterday.
And the spirit of the age, in tandem with economic conditions, is a fertile ground for monsters, alas. There are so many instances I have been noting, but draw your attention to a chilling sentence from Culture Matters — Gomorra and Frozen River.
Gomorra, by contrast, is full of victims, villains and heroes, and seems to be very much in sync with Italy’s current political trends that are more anti-immigrant, anti-South (I mean Italy’s South) and pro-strongman than probably at any time since World War II.
Watch this space, as they say. Not good. Europe seems often to be a very backward place in some respects.
This is on right now. It is a must see. In time there will be full transcripts up, and more. Do not miss it.
Update 18 February
The transcript is now up.
…QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: In Kinglake, built on an escarpment, the fire was unstoppable.
RUSSELL REES, CHIEF OFFICER, COUNTRY FIRE AUTHORITY: The fire’s gone up the slope into Kinglake, which is on a bit of a plateau, and it would’ve spat bits of fire everywhere. You know a splattering on a, on an enormous landscape scale, you know, like just enormous. And we knew that whatever resources we had, whatever they were, no matter what they were they could not have stopped such a fire.
QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: At least 39 people died in the Kinglake inferno. But there were miraculous escapes. When Ken Williamson and his second lieutenant pulled up at this house, they found a family fighting to save their home.
KEN WILLIAMSON, CAPTAIN, WHITTLESEA CFA: We noticed two men here with a hose, a garden hose, just a garden hose battling against all odds to try and save this house. And I said to Tim, we’ve got to pull up and get these people out. Tim run down there, just then the wind changed and it was really roaring, and the next thing I know Tim’s running up the driveway here with two little girls in dresses under his arms, out of breath, put them in the car, the next thing I see, Mum and Grandma and a couple of puppy dogs, we got them in the car, everyone’s sitting on everyone’s knees, flat out down to Whittlesea, drop them off, flat out back up the hill to continue our work, unbelievable. We expected to find these two gentlemen, you know, probably deceased, but remarkably we come back and they were still squirting water, unbelievable.
QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: Again and again, neighbours risked their lives to save neighbours…
So clever! Why, you’d wonder if we could ever win against such a cunning and resourceful opponent.
I mention this because it is surprising how much internet space is being devoted to this pet theory, aided and abetted by some who should know better. The whole thing is best put in perspective by Anorak, a satirical site, which is actually telling the unvarnished truth about what some have been saying. See Australia Fire: Warmists, Jihadists, Terrorists, Arsonist, Religionists And Opportunists.
No matter, of course, that the police disagree.
…"None at all, absolutely nothing, zero," Superintendent Ross McNeill told AFP.
"We usually rank possibilities on a scale of 0 to 10 – this would be on a negative scale," he said.
McNeill said he was aware of last year’s report, which said US intelligence channels had identified a website calling on Muslims in Australia, the US, Europe and Russia to "start forest fires"…
What would the police know? After all, bloggers are much better informed…
So far no-one seems to want to credit the Jihadists with the Queensland floods.
I mention this because I have been engaging in dialogue (if that is the right word) with another blogger whose post popped up in the WordPress.com list. See my comment here.
Hat tip to Bruce for this.
Irfan Yusuf posted COMEDY: Herald-Sun writer exposes marsupial jihad… on his main blog (not the one I have in my Google Reader) yesterday. He quotes, and I quote in turn, some apposite responses.
This is an unnecessary and dangerously incendiary article. How stupid and pointless to stir up anti-Muslim sentiment at a time when emotions are running high and there’s so much good will and community support to be celebrated.
Posted by: Deborah Bartlett Pitt
Don’t fall for this people. The general Muslim community want nothing to do with these lunatics. As arsonists walk amongst our community, idiots walk amongst theirs.
Posted by: CFA Volunteer
It is very likely, no doubt, that certain “jihadist” web sites may have “rejoiced” in the tragedy. That of course is sick, but on the other hand is rather analogous – very analogous – to the “it’s God’s judgement” school of thought some Christians have been foolish and tasteless enough to embrace. The “jihadist” rejoicing, however, in no way proves cause – which would in fact be post hoc reasoning.
As for Sheikh Haron, I suspect this nasty piece of work is heavily into self-aggrandisement. I’ve downloaded and read his “claim of responsibility” addressed to Kevin Rudd. If, that is, we believe he is real. Austrolabe makes a good case for his being a fake. Some in the comments question his mental health. Austrolabe is a Muslim site.
Enough said! That last comment cited by Irfan, and his whole post, pretty much nails it – not to mention the assessment of the police.
Not unrelated, see Legal Eagle in a top post reminding us of the obvious: we have a legal system in this country, not lynch law. See Publication with prejudice.
…Our legal system works on the basis that this guy is innocent until proven guilty. That’s a fundamental retributive principle: we can’t punish someone unless we know beyond reasonable doubt that he deserves to be punished. We have to have a trial presenting all the relevant evidence before we judge him. We can’t just say, “He was a kooky scrap metal guy who was always lighting fires in the backyard, so he must have done it.”
By assuming this guy’s guilt without knowing all the evidence, the vigilante groups may have exactly the opposite effect from what they want. They may cause his trial to be derailed, as the defence barristers will be able to argue that he has been unfairly prejudiced before the trial even began. Do they really want to make it very difficult to prosecute this guy? Seems to me that they need to calm down and think logically and carefully about it. The same goes for the media: they need to be responsible in the way they report information about the accused.
I do think that vigilante group perpetrators should be charged with contempt of court if possible. Their behaviour is highly irresponsible, and an example needs to be made.
If ever we forget such principles we’re sunk!
Update 18 February
I have decided to link directly to the post and thread which triggered this post. It has been at least reasonably civil, but I have reservations about our national tragedy being hijacked, in a way, to feed a particular interpretation of world events, especially given the evidence for that is so thin. Speculation is OK, I guess, and people will believe what they will. But in this case it really is a distraction. I doubt very much it will figure in the police investigations, our own national security assessments, or the Royal Commission.
You can read the post and thread and make up your own minds. The blogger concerned comes from North Carolina; he also participates in an interesting thing I hadn’t seen before called Where I Stand. I even agree with some of the opinions expressed there, but would like this one to be wrong: The Left and Right will not find a way to live with each other in a civilized manner. What do you think?
There is to be a National Day of Mourning on Sunday 22 February.
Some of you will like this sermon by Dave Groenenboom; it’s a matter of your perspective, I guess, but I offer it as a contribution. I won’t analyse it or critique it; I do admire its spirit.
Over in Michigan my ex-student David Smith via Facebook “wonders if anyone has heard any convincing explanation of why Victoria has nearly all the bushfire fatalities in Australian history. If so, let me know.” Now there is something to think about, though topography and settlement patterns must have something to do with it. I imagine the Adelaide Hills and the Blue Mountains would be up there too, perhaps for similar reasons.
Some points along these lines were made on Radio National’s Bush Telegraph by Tom Griffiths yesterday.
Award-winning Tom Griffiths, is one of Australia’s leading environmental historians.
He knows the Victorian fire country extremely well. He has written about it in Forests of Ash (2001) – his beautiful book about this very part of Australia.
Professor Griffiths criticises the National Fire Policy. He says that it was impossible for people to ‘stay and defend’ their homes in this extremely fire-prone region of Australia. He argues that we need specific regional policies – not a ‘national approach’
I found this review of Forests of Ash.
Firstly, it is a social history of human involvement in the forested areas of Victoria, Australia, lying north and east of Melbourne. Griffiths devotes one chapter to an attempted Aboriginal settlement there. His other chapters detail the uses and meanings that the area has had for Europeans: They "improved" its agricultural potential by destroying half the forest, mined there for gold from the 1850s, set up mills to exploit the timber resource, then reserved some of the forest as a water catchment area. (Upper Yarra Dam, in 1957, tripled Melbourne’s water supply.) Increasingly, the area also attracted naturalists, bush walkers, and other tourists. Its features (waterfalls, tall trees, lyrebirds) came to symbolize Victorian identity; even its industrial heritage gained cultural significance.
These chapters are a revision of part of Griffiths’s Secrets of the Forest (Allen & Unwin, 1992), with many of the paragraphs simply divided into more appetizing bites, but half the original work is thrown out in preference for new material and a new emphasis. While the first book grew from a report to Victoria’s Historic Places Branch, Forests of Ash appears in association with Museum Victoria, resulting in a slicker, wider-ranging presentation, including "spotlights" on the forest by specialists with biological (rather than historical) knowledge. These do not always integrate well with Griffiths’s text, but they underline that this is, secondly, a consciously environmental history of a particular ecosystem, dealing with interrelationships of climate, fauna and flora, and of how human activity affects and is affected by that ecosystem.
As an entirely new chapter explains, these Victorian forests are not the dry "bush" typical of Australia, nor the less extensive rain forest or "jungle." Rather, they are a blend of the two in which the tallest trees are Eucalyptus regnans. Australians call these mountain ash, but they are unrelated to the rowan and mountain ash of Europe and North America, and as mighty as redwoods.
Griffiths follows Stephen Pyne in stressing the role of periodic fire in Australian forest, and so the title also refers to ash left when the forests have burned, the necessary nursery for a further generation of trees. The central event in Griffiths’s history is Black Friday, 1939, when 1.4 million hectares of Victoria burned, analyzed as "a cultural exaggeration of a natural rhythm" (p. 189). Humans, by lighting fires, extended fire’s usual range and frequency (and then they deepened the imbalance by salvaging burnt trees). As so often with environmental history, the causes of a "natural" catastrophe are found to have a human component.
Forests of Ash is a good story well written. The subject is made even more approachable through maps and over sixty photographs, many of them stunning. This is definitely not just a text for scholars. But the book can be regarded, thirdly, as a case study, a springboard from which to leap into discussion of environmental history itself. Griffiths does this in the epilogue, where the argument that this discipline "uniquely bridges planetary and deeply local perspectives" (p. 194) justifies both concentration on one geographic area and his global extrapolations. Finally, his source notes are, effectively, a bibliography of Australian environmental history. This is a valuable gateway into Australian material, which provides an excellent counterpoint (and sometimes a corrective) to many studies made elsewhere.
Perhaps some answers for David (and the rest of us) lie here.
ABC has an excellent site on Black Friday: Griffiths is a contributor.
*** To visit:
From the liturgy prepared by Dorothy (right) in the past week.
Let us go from here
As the bush springs green again,
restoring its beauty to us as a gift,
as the seeds are broken open by the fire
for the beginning of new life,
and as we bring together all that is among us
for the future in this place:
Let us go from here,
stronger than when we came,
holding on to those who have lost the most,
ready for all that is to come
and walking firmly into a new day.
Let us go in courage, hope and peace,
surrounded by the love of God.
— photo by Neil 23 Nov 2008 at South Sydney Uniting Church
There are so many places where amazing stories are being told about the past week in Victoria. I will keep that extra feed on the side a little longer; there you see what people on WordPress.com have been writing about it. On my own Google Reader feed I have been selecting only those items relevant to the bushfires, but
tomorrow this afternoon I will begin catching up* on some of the notable entries which have thereby been put on hold. "Normal" entries will also resume here.
Tonight on ABC there is a special program in the Stateline 7.30 time slot. Meanwhile see the ABC coverage.
There was a telethon last night on Channel Nine. (The YouTube extract I had has been taken down by YouTube.)
Naturally there has been much discussion about causes, and some have been throwing blame around rather prematurely. I could link to such things but won’t. Some of the discussion has raised fair points, while the prize for insanity must go to the goose on YouTube who blames Arab terrorists. That, I think, even eclipses Pastor Nalliah’s biblical errors. People like Miranda Devine have been predictable; in fact quite a few have been ridden by their hobbyhorses – and that even applies to some whose hobbyhorses I may happen to share.
Whatever, anyone looking for a single explanation will be sadly disappointed. Quite obviously a whole set of circumstances have combined to make these fires particularly horrendous. Some of those circumstances will prove reasonably easy to correct for the future, some won’t. We should all keep an open mind until the current phase of discussion has worked itself through.
* Pretty much done, though you missed some… From here on I will add what takes my fancy from my stock of blogs.
This trumps all entries on my blogs today.
Satellite image of the Victorian bushfires on Saturday afternoon
And by Sunday…
On the ground…
66 dead so far in Victoria, 600+ homes destroyed.
And that picture was taken in Gippsland, Victoria, a week ago!
This is by far the worst bushfire disaster in my life time – I turn 66 this year — and I have been close to some big ones in my time too. For comparative natural disaster records see List of disasters in Australia by death toll.
For the south-eastern Australia heat wave (ongoing, and currently – I am writing this on Sunday and a cool change is predicted — affecting Sydney too) see 2009 Southeastern Australia heat wave.
Many locations through the region have reached all-time high temperatures, Adelaide reaching its third-highest temperature, while Melbourne reached its highest temperature on record. The heat wave is predicted to be the worst in the region’s history…
Many areas in central South Australia, northern Victoria and inland New South Wales regularly experience temperatures over 40 degrees for 1, 2 or 3, sometimes more, consecutive days during the summer months. During the heat wave however, many of these regions experienced temperatures over 40 for twice as long or more, on average, than is normal for that time of year. Coastal regions and the ACT experienced slightly lower temperatures, however these were still above average and prolonged.
While coastal regions may have experienced shorter periods of heat wave, for the time that they did experience temperatures over 35, they mostly reached the top 3, top 5 or top 10 all-time temperature records for a number of days. An excellent example of this is Melbourne, which had only 3 consecutive days over 40, yet each of those days are now in the top 10 (being 2nd, 5th and 10th) all-time temperatures recorded in that city.
The heat wave was perhaps most extreme in northern and eastern Tasmania, where 7 of the 8 highest temperatures ever recorded in Tasmania occurred during the heat wave…
Meanwhile, thanks to a slow-moving monsoon pattern, Heavy rain continues to drench flood-stricken north Qld.
See also Weatherzone News.
Jim Belshaw has an excellent post: Victoria’s fires – at least 14 dead, written Sunday morning.
Monday morning update
Update 11 February
There has already been a degree of speculation and comment about the connection, if any, between this event and global warming — a reasonable issue. Needless to say argument from one event is fraught with difficulty either way. Only a fool would assert there is no connection, while equally no substantial argument from this one event can be made in support of the proposition either. However, do study Monday night’s Australian Story "The Heat of the Moment".
Many have pointed to unique characteristics in terms of the intensity of the Victorian fires, the Victorian Premier being just one:
…We talked a moment ago about the "stay or go" policy, and I think one of the things in the future if that policy remains in place, the levels of fire protection and fire preparedness that we’ve got in place is going to have to be much, much higher. And I say that because the climate is changing, we are seeing more extreme events. We had parts of the state on Saturday, as you know, where the temperature was 48 degrees. You know, it’s 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the old scale, with 100km/h northerly winds. So, we are gonna see more extreme weather events…
What occurred on Saturday – I mean, I saw the aftermath of Ash Wednesday in ’83, but as gruesome and as terrible as that was, I’ve never seen anything like what I’ve seen in the last two days. And, to talk to the survivors from Marysville or Kinglake, they will tell you that the fire moved so quickly, it was moving at 40, 50, 60km/h. It was coming down the main street of Marysville just like a series of rolling, burning balls. And it just incinerated everything in front of them. Now, these are extreme climatic conditions, but the experts would tell us unfortunately we may see more of these in the future. So, again, all of these issues will be examined…
The Premier also refers to the religious primitivism of the unfortunate Pastor Danny Nalliah who "suggested the fires in Victoria may be God’s punishment for liberalising abortion laws." As do I, he finds this grossly offensive. God is not so clumsy in his methods for a start, and if he is he is hardly deserving of respect, let alone worship. Compare Kooky crap indeed from Paul Walton, minister of the Centenary Uniting Church, Brisbane, Australia.
I am adding to this post a PDF copy of the 2005-6 CSIRO report on bushfire risk in Australia. It makes sobering reading, whatever one may think: CSIRO Report on Climate Change and Fire Risk. You may follow that with a search of the CSIRO site.
Kudos to ABC Local for its work in keeping Victoria and the rest of Australia informed over the past several days.
It is feared the death toll will exceed 200.
I have added temporarily a feed in the side bar to all WordPress.com blogs tagged “bushfires”. Naturally I do not read them all, and do not choose them – but some really good things are appearing over there. It lags a little, but clicking on the feed heading takes you to the latest. One nice one is Good Hearts Shine Through the Flames.
…The times now are really bad. Horrible. So many dead people, so much damage, so much heartbreak.
But I bet I’m not the only one who feels today that Victoria is not bad, after all. We’ve looked through the smoke and past the burned timbers, and we can see something very alive among the ashes.
It’s the good heart of Victoria
Then there’s Victorian Bushfire Disaster from Sheree, a CFA firefighter.
…To think mother nature is capable of such destruction is one thing, but to think that people are responsible is far worse. It is mass murder.
On the other hand, it makes me proud as a Victorian resident, as a fire fighter and as an Australian to see how well we all come together in times of crisis. There are so many people affected by this disaster and so many helping to make it better.
To all of my fellow CFA volunteers, good on you! 12 hour (at least) shifts in exhausting situations is something we should all be proud of. There are so many people behind the scenes who often get taken for granted; those who prepare all of the food for us firefighters (Paul the Pieman muffins are the best!) and making hot food for us at 3am, thanks guys! And there are just so many more giving their time and efforts to help relieve some of this disaster.
The heroic ongoing support from communities near and far is what being Australian is all about. I extend my sympathy to all those affected and my admiration to all those doing their bit to help in this tragedy which will leave scars for many years to come.
That is followed by original photos.
Update 12 December
For those for whom his words have resonance I commend PostKiwi Duncan’s God in the Firestorm, and am pleased to see South Sydney’s Dorothy McRae-McMahon referred to there too. For that see Liturgical Resources: “In the grieving: after the fires”.