Thursday, January 31, 2008

Sorry It Took So Long To Say Sorry

It's interesting, and disheartening, to read some of the international mainstream media reaction to the Rudd government's decision to offer an official 'Sorry' (to the tens of thousands of Aboriginal children removed from their parents in the first half of the 1900s) the initial item of business for the new government's first day in Parliament on February 13.

Excerpt follow from longer reports and news stories.

The Associated Press :
Australia will issue its first formal apology to its indigenous people next month, the government announced Wednesday, a milestone that could ease tensions with a minority whose mixed-blood children were once taken away on the premise that their race was doomed.

Australia has had a decade-long debate about how best to acknowledge Aborigines who were affected by a string of 20th century policies that separated mixed-blood Aboriginal children from their families — the cohort frequently referred to as Australia's stolen generation.

From 1910 until the 1970s, around 100,000 mostly mixed-blood Aboriginal children were taken from their parents under state and federal laws based on a premise that Aborigines were a doomed race and saving the children was a humane alternative.

Barbara Livesey, chief executive of Reconciliation Australia, a government
commissioned agency tasked with bringing black and white Australians together, said the apology on the day after Parliament resumes for the first time since the November elections would be historic.

"It's a moment that all Australians should feel incredibly proud of, that we're recognizing the mistakes of the past," she said.
Excerpts from the New York Times :

The history of relations between Australia’s Aboriginal population and the broader population is one of brutality and neglect. Tens of thousands of Aboriginals died from disease, warfare and dispossession in the years after European settlement, and it was not until 1962 that they were able to vote in national elections.

But the most lasting damage was done by the policy of removing Aboriginal children and placing them either with white families or in state institutions as part of a drive to assimilate them with the white population.

A comprehensive 1997 report estimates that between one in three and one in 10 Aboriginal children, the so-called stolen generations, were taken from their homes and families in the century until the policy was formally abandoned in 1969.

Excerpts from Reuters :

Aborigines are Australia's most disadvantaged group. Many live in Third World conditions in remote outback settlements.

The 1997 "Bringing Them Home" report found Stolen Generation children, as depicted in the 2002 film "Rabbit-Proof Fence", were forcibly taken and placed in orphanages run by churches or charities, or fostered out to socialise them to European culture.

Some were brutalised or abused.

But John Howard, as prime minister, rejected an apology, arguing that because the removal of aboriginal children between the 1870s and 1960s was done by past governments, such a move could open the door to reparation claims.

From the BBC :
Thousands of Aboriginal children were forcibly taken from their parents and given to white families or institutions to raise between 1915 and 1969.

The policy was aimed at forcing assimilation between Aboriginal and white communities.

Indigenous campaigners have been seeking a billion-dollar nationwide compensation package for the policy.

But the government has ruled this out, instead promising to fund improved education and health care facilities for Aboriginal communities.
From the Voice Of America :

The apology will include a reference to the so-called "Stolen Generations." These were young Aborigines taken forcibly from their families by the authorities and placed in foster homes. It was an official attempt to dilute indigenous culture, and the practice persisted from 1910 until the 1970's. One-hundred thousand children were affected.

Members of the "Stolen Generations" have said that being taken from their families amounted to kidnap, from which they suffered great trauma.

Senior officials say the apology will not attribute guilt to the current generation of Australian people, nor will it offer compensation.

From the Malaysian Sun :
The Australian government has said it will make a formal apology to Aborigines for centuries of discrimination.

The previous government had always refused to apologise to aborigines.

Aborigines make up only 2 percent of the Australian population and often live far below the poverty line.

Until the 1970's, aboriginal children were forcibly adopted by white families, with the objective of integrating them into society.

Much of the historical summarisation in the international media regarding racist and colonial policies towards Aboriginals is harsh indeed, as it well should be, for the most part. But for an issue that is rarely mentioned in the international mainstream media, it's still a bit shocking to see how this part of Australian history now reads to the rest of the world.

Which is yet another reason why 'Sorry' is a first and important step towards long-overdue reconciliation.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Murdoch Pro-War Propagandist Retreats From Claims War In Iraq Has Been "Won"

Andrew Bolt : Did I Say "Won"? I Meant "Going Well"

By Darryl Mason

In early November last year, Murdoch media columnist Andrew Bolt proudly declared that "The War In Iraq Has Been Won".

The Orstrahyun covered Bolt's moronic declaration of victory in Iraq here.

After a six week long holiday, Bolt has returned to declare again that the War In Iraq Is Now Won.

It's easy, wrote Bolt last Sunday, "to publicly back George Bush now that the war in Iraq is won."

But a few hours later, Bolt had a sudden and dramatic change of heart about whether the Iraq War has actually been won or not.

Bolt pulled the last Sunday blog post with the big fat "Iraq War Is Now Won" headline and deleted all traces of it from his blog and newspaper archive. However, it's still listed on the Google News archive. When you click the link, you get nothing.

The next time Bolt referred to Iraq, on Monday, he claimed that Iraq has been secured, and its democracy and thousands of Iraqis lives saved, all thanks to the Bush troop surge. But he didn't say the war has been won. Instead he says it is, simply, "going well".

So why has Bolt backed down on his claim that the Iraq War has been "won", and decided to delete all traces of his most recent post referring to a "won" war in Iraq?

Perhaps he wasn't paying attention, while on his six week long holiday, to the relentless death, destruction and horror in Iraq since he last declared the Iraq War had been won.

In his Herald Sun newspaper column of November 2, 2007, Bolt claimed the Iraq War had been "won", in part, because the monthly toll of Iraqi civilian and coalition soldier deaths had dramatically decreased :
Just 27 American soldiers were killed in action in Iraq in October - the lowest monthly figure since March last year.

The number of Iraqi civilians killed last month - mostly by Islamist and fascist terrorists - was around 760, according to Iraqi Government sources.
In the eleven weeks since Bolt's insidious pro-war echoing of NeoCon propaganda was excreted into the public debate, more than 3600 Iraqis have died after being shot, blown up, beheaded, drowned or tortured, beaten, burned or stabbed to death (according to this archive). More than 7000 more Iraqis have been wounded in hundreds of terror attacks.

In those same eleven weeks since Bolt last declared "The War In Iraq Has Been Won" (without deleting the claim), more than 100 coalition soldiers have lost their lives (mostly Americans), with hundreds more wounded, many left permanently disabled.

Winning the war in Iraq sure has led to a lot of killing and torture, shattered American military families and Iraqi children having their arms, legs and genitals blown off.

I've put the question to Mr Bolt on why he has decided to un-declare the Iraq War has been "won" and is now only "going well" and I will update this story with Mr Bolt's response, if any.

UPDATE : No response from Andrew Bolt on why he has backed down so dramatically on how the Iraq War has been "won", but he has mentioned Iraq again today, and reveals the Bush (and Howard?) troop surge strategy is "bearing fruit" and that Al Qaeda has been defeated. His hero George W. Bush would thoroughly disagree with Bolt on that claim.

To recap Bolt on Iraq :

November, 2007 - "Troop Surge Brilliance Means We've Won The War In Iraq"

January, 2008 - "Troop Surge Bearing Fruit"

UPDATE : Still no response from Bolt, which is strange. Usually he leaps on any chance to exercise his right of reply. Not this time, however. Is this truth too hard to refute?
Howard Just Won't Go Away

Former Prime Minister Ready To Collect His Iraq Blood Money From NeoCons And American War Industries

Yet another example of the incredible arrogance and utterly oblivious-to-reality character of former prime minister John Howard. Within weeks of losing the federal election, all but destroying the Australian conservative movement and bailing out as leader of the Liberal Party, Howard was on the phones begging to be installed as party president. Incredible :

Party sources confirmed that Mr Howard put himself forward as the next Liberal Party president to replace outgoing Chris McDiven.

One source said that "Howard contacted people to make it known he wanted the presidency", but his candidacy was scoffed at by senior Liberals.

They were amazed he seemed to want a role so soon after the Liberals' worst defeat. "They told him, 'Don't be ridiculous'," a senior source said. "Howard wanted the presidency so he could control the review process the party was conducting into why the Howard Government lost and what needed to be done," another said.

"He wanted to control the way the history of the Howard Government was written."

Like his buddy George W. Bush, Howard is obsessed with how history will view his years in power, and how he will be portrayed by historians. It's already bad, and it's going to get much worse as official government records and reports of the Howard years are declassified.

It's not all bad news for Mr Howard, of course. He will be spending a few weeks, if not months, this year on tour in the US, gigging at NeoCon think-tanks, institutes and universities. Many of which, by sheer coincidence, receive millions in funding from American and Israeli war industries, arms dealers and bomb makers. Howard will likely receive at least one or two million dollars of Iraq War blood money for 'speaking engagements' as payback for his relentless help in creating the reality of the never-ending and very, very expensive 'War on Terror'.

Don't be at all surprised to see Howard scoring at least high six figures, or low seven figures, for his opinions and memories from a Rupert Murdoch publishing company while he's in the United States. If not for a book, then for a contract writing op-eds for the Wall Street Journal.

Murdoch, like the world's biggest arms contractors, owe Howard big-time and Howard won't hold back from taking every dollar of blood money he can get.

After all, he's earned it. Hasn't he?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Freedom Or A Return To Prison Colony Days?

In the latest chapter of my serialized online novel, ED Day (about life in Sydney after a bird flu pandemic kills millions) some of the survivors are finding themselves in growing conflict with the man who has appointed himself their leader. Entire streets of Sydney are now burning, with no way for the survivors to fight the fires, after an act of arson.

The narrator, Paul, is now close to deciding whether he will stay and help the survivors he has come think of as family, or if he will leave the city and make his way to the Blue Mountains, where he knows his girlfriend waits for him.

From ED Day, Chapter Sixteen :
All the time we were talking, and arguing, Greenfingers had said nothing. He'd sat with us for a while when we were drinking harbour-cooled beers and then he’d gone back to his work. Outside the greenhouse, he was re-potting a huge variety of vegetable seedlings. Mostly salad greens, but also more varieties of tomatoes, beans and root vegetables. The huge garden beds of the Botanic Gardens, now mostly stripped clean of all those foreign decorative flowers and shrubs was filling up with Greenfingers' food crops. The soil was magnificent, rich, fertile (or so he told me). The ashes and crushed bones from the thousands of corpses that had gone through the funeral pyres were now feeding the fruit and vegetables that would soon be supplying enough food to help keep a few hundred people alive.

But as I watched Greenfingers working away tonight, almost oblivious to the towers of smoke and flame rising above the city, I wondered what sort of society would be living here in a year’s time, when most of the crops would be turning out a steady supply of fresh food.

Would this society twelve months from now be the small enclave of mostly free survivors that we’d had for the past two months, or would it be more like a return to the prison colony that gave birth to this nation more than 200 years ago, on the very same harbour foreshore where we now live?

Go Here To Read The Latest Chapter Of ED Day

Go Here To Read ED Day From The Beginning

Note : Thanks to all the readers of my blogs who have sent me e-mails of support, criticism and encouragement in the past four months that I've been publishing the chapters of ED Day
online. I will be able to make the finished dead tree novel available for sale through this and my other blog sites, and I hope to get the price for a copy down to around $20. The finished novel will, however, always be available online to read for free.

Right now I expect to have the last chapter finished and online by late February. The first print run should get underway by mid-March.

Thanks again.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Happy Orstrahyuh Day

Richard Glover has an excellent list on How To Tell If You're A True Orstrahyun.

Some highlights :

You think it's normal to have a leader called Kevin.

You've made a bong out of your garden hose rather than use it for something illegal such as watering the garden.

When you hear that an American "roots for his team" you wonder how often and with whom.

You pronounce Melbourne as "Mel-bin".

You pronounce Penrith as "Pen-riff".

You can translate: "Dazza and Shazza played Acca Dacca on the way to Maccas."

You believe it makes perfect sense for a nation to decorate its highways with large fibreglass bananas, prawns and sheep.

You're secretly proud of our killer wildlife.

Hamburger. Beetroot. Of course.

You know that certain words must, by law, be shouted out during any rendition of the Angels' song Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again.

You believe, as an article of faith, that the confectionary known as the Wagon Wheel has become smaller with every passing year.

You believe, as an article of faith, that every important discovery in the world was made by an Australian but then sold off to the Yanks for a pittance.

You believe that the more you shorten someone's name the more you like them.

You know what it's like to swallow a fly, on occasion via your nose.

You understand that "you" has a plural and that it's "youse".


Friday, January 25, 2008

Two Boys Up A Tree, The Crocodile That Killed Their Friend Waits Below...

This is easily one of the most remarkable crocodile attack and survival stories you will probably ever read.

In December, 2003, three young friends went for a bit of a hoon on their quad bikes near a river in the NT. They got muddy, and went to the river to clean off. Something close to a flash flood hit and the three friends were swept away. One was taken by a crocodile, the others climbed a tree to escape, and spent a long and terrifying night up there while the crocodile that had taken their friend waited for them down below. The rescue of the two survivors is almost as incredible as the story of their survival.

The full story of this real-life horror movie has now been told for the first time :

Four years on, the survivors are getting on with their lives, shielded by family and friends. After a couple of brief statements and a press conference at which the boys, pale and visibly shaken, paid tribute to their mate, none of those involved directly, or indirectly, has since spoken about the tragedy. Crocodile attacks in the Top End of Australia are not uncommon. But there was something in the boys' ordeal that ensured that their story continues to resonate.

The trio spent a raucous, enjoyable day, spraying each other with mud as they roared around on the bikes. At 4.30pm, they went down to the river, to a spot 200 metres downstream from Walkers Ford, parked their bikes just up from the bank, and began to wash their clothes and boots, which were covered in sand and mud. They had noted that the water was fairly high; they thought this was normal for the time of year, but did not realise how much the river was in flood and that a strong tide was coming in.

Shaun's police statement detailed what happened next: "The three of us walked into the water among some stringy trees. The water was running a little bit at this spot... and Brett went out a little farther and was washed away. I don't know if he lost his footing or the current was a bit strong for him. After we saw Brett washed away, both Ashley and I went out after him. Ashley and I caught up to Brett and we both got in front of him as we went with the flow. I was in front, Ashley was next and Brett was at the rear. We were all within arms' reach of each other. It probably took us about 300 metres to catch up with Brett and then we began to look for a place to get out of the river. We all spoke to each other to check that we were all right. There was no real panic at this stage."

The three young men, caught in the current, travelled for 700m-1km as they looked for a way to get back to dry land. Shaun's police statement recounts the next part of the story: "Ashley yelled out, 'Croc, croc, I'm not joking, there's a fucking croc. Head for a tree, get out of the water.' I didn't see a croc, but swam to the nearest tree and climbed up into the first fork. I helped pull Ashley up into the same tree. We looked around for Brett and called his name out. I didn't see Brett anywhere or hear him call out. I didn't hear a call or a splash or anything. It wasn't very long after we got into the tree, maybe two minutes later, that I saw a croc pop up with Brett in his jaws. Brett wasn't moving, he was lying face down in the water and the croc was gripping him by the left shoulder. I know it was Brett because he was wearing his O'Neill riding gear, which was mainly yellow with black and white stripes. The croc was only about five metres away from us at the time. It was only a couple of minutes that the croc remained looking around at us. It went under the water with Brett and swam away. I did not see Brett again."

The two survivors described the crocodile as "big, black and aggressive" and around four metres long. Five minutes later, it returned and remained at the foot of the tree, bobbing up intermittently. The traumatised teenagers spent the night in the tree, keeping each other awake. Shaun was in the second fork of the tree, Ashley in the third. Just on nightfall, Shaun tried to move higher up and, in a heart-stopping moment, fell into the water. Terrified, he scrambled out again within seconds.

As night closed around them and the temperature dropped, Ashley moved down to the second fork so the two friends could huddle together and try to keep warm. Throughout the long night they didn't say much, apart from checking the other was all right. "Because we couldn't see each other, because it was dark, I had my hand on Ashley's foot," Shaun said later. "Whenever we moved, we'd say, 'I'm moving', and just check in on each other and make sure we weren't going to sleep. We were worn out from hanging on to the little tree. The tree was swaying all night because there was a lot of wind and rain."


"It's something [the boys] will never completely recover from," Sgt Casey says, "but they're doing well and trying to get on with their lives."

Now in their mid-20s, Shaun and Ashley still live locally. Shaun works for his family's business and one of his jobs is cleaning swimming pools. He tells customers that if they have any blow-up croc toys in their pools to make sure they are out of sight before he arrives.

Ashley took the longest to get over what happened, and is said to be still very affected by the ordeal. Brett's parents are now divorced and both moved away after their son's death.

Every year, however, Brett's family, Ashley, Shaun and their friends return to the spot where he died to remember him. "It's a nice occasion, obviously very sombre and emotional," Casey says.

"Everybody arrives in their cars and goes down to the river to where he disappeared. Some people say a few words or maybe there's some music. Afterwards we have a barbecue and a couple of drinks in his honour."

Definitely worth reading this story in full, here.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Farewell Heath

Heath Ledger was one of those character actors that you knew was going to keep taking on challenging, and interesting, roles for the rest of his career. Like Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando, it didn't mean every film he would do would be brilliant, but he would always be watchable.

In his far too short career, Ledger turned out some magnificent performances in some good to excellent movies - BlackRock, Two Hands, The Patriot, A Knight's Tale, Ned Kelly, The Brothers Grimm, Brokeback Mountain and I'm Not There. His completed work in the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight, will likely prove to be the most interesting and powerful work of his career, judging from the few minutes of footage I've seen of him playing The Joker as an utterly unhinged manic-depressive.

Ledger didn't have a great relationship with the media, and didn't do a whole lot of interviews. One of the best and most revealing was with, of course, Andrew Denton on Enough Rope.

When the interview was conducted, shortly before the Iraq War began, Ledger had been copping a disgusting amount of vitriol and and filth from the pro-war media, particularly the usual suspects in the Murdoch columnists' stable. Ledger led one of the biggest pro-peace marches in Melbourne. From the Denton interview :
Andrew Denton : ....You were in Melbourne the other day, leading the march. I saw you on TV last week, after a bit of thought referring to our Prime Minister (John Howard) as 'a dick'.

Heath Ledger: Yeah.

Andrew Denton: You stand by that?

Heath Ledger: Well…yes, I do stand by that, absolutely.

Andrew Denton: There are those…and they've written over the weekend to suggest that you've been duped, that you're grandstanding.

Heath Ledger: Well, you know what? It's like… Screw it, man, everyone has their right to their opinion and that's mine. And, look, I'm not alone, am I?

Audience: No.

Andrew Denton: And to those who'd say, "Get your hand off it, Ledger, what do you know?"

Heath Ledger: ....the unfortunate truth is none of us know enough and we will never know enough. But, screw it....This is the first time in the history of our country that we're an aggressor, and we're not an aggressive nation or people. I'm certainly not, and I'm very proud of my country and I'm the very proud of the people here. We shouldn't be a part of this. It's not a fight for humanity. It's a fight for oil....I think we should all pull out and live a peaceful existence down here.

Andrew Denton: Are there people around you saying, "Just pull back, Heath. Don't say this, don't blow it?"

Heath Ledger: Yeah, but at the end of the day, what am I going to blow? My career? At the end of the day, my career is so insignificant in this…this war. It just is, and I'm willing to lose a few jobs over it. God. Yeah. I'll start to cry soon....I don't know how much effect it will have on it, but hopefully we can stop this thing before it's too late. Unfortunately, you know, within the human kind of instinct, we don't… It's like, I could tell you, Andrew, "Don't touch the fire because if you touch it you'll burn yourself," and you'll go, "OK." But then when I'm looking that way, you'll go over and you'll touch it and burn yourself and then you'll learn. I just hope we don't take it that far. I hope we learn before something disastrous happens.

You can see the Denton interview, and read the transcript, here.

One of Ledger's best performances was as Australian bush ranger legend Ned Kelly. Fantastic role and Ledger absolutely carved. The closing moments of the movie, with Ledger's voiceover contemplating the death Kelly knows is coming for him, at only 25 years old, are some of the most powerful in Australian movie history. Definitely worth seeing if you haven't already seen it already.

Here's a clip of Ledger as Ned Kelly :

Below is the trailer for the new Batman movie, 'The Dark Night'. With Christopher Nolan (Memento, Insomnia) directing, it should prove to be a memorable last role for Ledger. No doubt, the mentally unstable, death-fixated character of The Joker will go down as some of Ledger's best work :

One of the last in-depth interview Ledger gave was to a journalist from the New York Times, in November last year. Some excerpts :

He is here in London filming the latest episode of the “Batman” franchise, “The Dark Knight.” (Mr. Bale, as it happens, plays Batman; Mr. Ledger plays the Joker.) It is a physically and mentally draining role — his Joker is a “psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy” he said cheerfully — and, as often happens when he throws himself into a part, he is not sleeping much.

“Last week I probably slept an average of two hours a night,” he said. “I couldn’t stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going.” One night he took an Ambien, which failed to work. He took a second one and fell into a stupor, only to wake up an hour later, his mind still racing.

Even as he spoke, Mr. Ledger was hard-pressed to keep still. He got up and poured more coffee. He stepped outside into the courtyard and smoked a cigarette. He shook his hair out from under its hood, put a rubber band around it, took out the rubber band, put on a hat, took off the hat, put the hood back up. He went outside and had another cigarette. Polite and charming, he nonetheless gave off the sense that the last thing he wanted to do was delve deep into himself for public consumption. “It can be a little distressing to have to overintellectualize yourself,” is how he put it, a little apologetically.

An open bag with clothes spilling out lay on the floor of the master bedroom. “I’m kind of addicted to moving,” Mr. Ledger said, perhaps on account of having had to shuttle back and forth after his parents’ divorce, when he was 11. He carries his interests around with him, and his kitchen table was awash in objects: a chess set, assorted books, various empty glasses, items of clothing. Here too was his Joker diary, which he began compiling four months before filming began. It is filled with images and thoughts helpful to the Joker back story, like a list of things the Joker would find funny. (AIDS is one of them.) Mr. Ledger seemed almost embarrassed that the book had been spotted, as if he had been caught trying to get extra credit in school.

Mr. Ledger now lives in Manhattan, and, when he’s home, likes to play chess with the chess sharks who hang out in Washington Square Park; sometimes he beats them. But mostly he likes to hang out with (two year old daughter) Matilda— “it’s kind of like your whole body has a lump in its throat,” he said, of having to be away — and goes back as often as he can to see her.

Mr. Ledger was born in Perth, Australia, a place so far away, he said, that “sometimes when you’re there, it feels like the earth really is flat, and you’re sitting right on the edge.”

He acted in some Australian soap operas before moving to Hollywood in pursuit of a girlfriend. (The relationship did not last.) He was cast in “10 Things” opposite Julia Stiles, starred in a brief-lived television series and began appearing in movies like “A Knight’s Tale,” playing a swashbuckling medieval lover-jouster.

“I was more concerned with having a good time than with focusing on work,” he said.

But suddenly he realized that he cared. “I started to look at the work and think, ‘Oh, God, maybe I should be taking this seriously, because people are going to see this,’” he said. “All I saw were mistakes — a lack of care, lack of attention to detail.”

Among his next projects are a film directed by Terry Gilliam, and another by Terrence Malick. Mr. Ledger is learning to play the piano and to sing. He also directs music videos, has a small independent record label called Masses Music in Los Angeles and is planning to direct a film at the end of next year.

“Some people find their shtick,” he said. “I’ve never figured out who ‘Heath Ledger’ is on film: ‘This is what you expect when you hire me, and it will be recognizable.’”

He continued: “People always feel compelled to sum you up, to presume that they have you and can describe you. That’s fine. But there are many stories inside of me and a lot I want to achieve outside of one flat note.”

Damn shame.

Ledger Family : "He Didn't Kill Himself"
Rat Eating Plant Discovered In Australian Jungle

An Australian pitcher plant - more images at Gecko's

Australia has the most kick-arse natural predators in the world. Boat-attacking sharks, tourist-eating crocodiles, flesh-shredding Tasmanian devils, eucalyptus-crazed koalas and funnel-web spiders and brown snakes that can kill you with one bite.

Now we can add the rat-eating plant.

Really :

A rare new species of plant that eats small rats has been discovered at the tip of Cape York.

Pitcher plants, otherwise known as flesh-eating plants, grow throughout Cape York but now a new, larger species that grows like a vine has been discovered.

The new species has been called "Tenax".

James Cook University ecologist Charles Clarke and a colleague found the new species at a swamp near the Jardine River, but exactly where is a secret.

"They are quite vulnerable," he said.

"They are only found in a few small areas and if we broadcast the location then there are people out there who would take advantage of that.

"There's a lot of interest in pitcher plants from Australia, even from people outside of Australia.

"And while people often associate these things with New Guinea or Borneo or Sumatra, the fact that there's more species here is actually very exciting."
Very exciting. Every backyard should have one.

Can they also devour small cats?
Australian Markets Lose $300 Billion In 21 Days

$110 Billion Worth Of Investors Savings Wiped Out In One Morning

Last Friday Reserve Bank Said 'No Need To Panic', So How About Now?

If anyone tries to tell you, "No-one saw this coming," tell them they're full of shit. The real players on the Australian stock market saw this horror story coming and pulled out, or shifted, their money months ago. Those who could afford to do so, anyway. Others with millions to play with laid bets that the Australian stock market floors would be awash with blood in January, 2008, and are now raking in their winnings.

But not the 'mum and dad' investors that former prime minister John Howard and ex-treasurer Peter Costello did so much to encourage to pour their money into stocks. No, thousands, if not tens of thousands, will lose most of their money, their houses, their cars and their nest eggs.

What is happening today, what has been happening early December, is not an accident, and it was not unforeseen.

This is business.

And it's time for a few hundred thousand moderately rich Australians to taste the bitter lemon of poverty again. And the bloodshed is not over yet.

In the words of Keith Richards, "It's funny how things go around, but go around they do..."

They sure do. They always do.

Watch and see how many people lose their eastern suburbs mansions in the coming months, and then compare those numbers to the newly homeless in western Sydney. Who wants to bet that for every mansion lost in the eastern suburbs, there will be twenty homes lost out west?

From The Australian :

The biggest share market rout since the October 1987 crash has caught millions of Australian shareholders off guard and raised fears the China boom might not protect the Australian economy from a looming US recession.

Panic engulfed world financial markets yesterday, with Australian shares plunging by 7.3 per cent to suffer their fourth-worst day in history and wipe $110billion off the savings of investors.

The carnage - which was worse than the financial market reaction to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 - left traders stunned.

The S&P/ASX200 index lost 393.6 points to close at 5186.8, the lowest point in two years, while the All Ordinaries was smashed by 408.9 points to end at 5222.

Until now, most analysts believed China's seemingly insatiable demand for mineral exports would protect the Australian economy and its share market from the fallout from the US sub-prime mortgage crisis.

Instead, Australia's share market has fallen harder than Wall Street.

Australian shares are down 18.2per cent since the start of the year, a much bigger fall than Wall Street's 8.8 per cent, not including last night's performance.

HSBC chief economist John Edwards said the market was now pricing in a harder hit to the Australian economy from a US recession than first thought.

The punishing loss yesterday was the fourth-worst day in history, behind the October 20, 1987 crash (25 per cent), the junk bond collapse on October 16, 1989 (8.1 per cent) and October 29, 1987 (7.6 per cent).

Brokers said retail investors panicked, and many had to dump stock immediately after receiving margin calls to meet emergency loan repayments.

The popular online broker CommSec collapsed for 25 minutes because so many investors attempted to sell as the market opened.

The plunge in Australia means it is in official bear territory. More than $300billion has been wiped out since the start of the year, three weeks ago.

The damage will hit Australian superannuation savings.

ABN Amro's head of institutional sales, Justin Gallagher, said there was widespread fear despite most experts believing the market has become relatively cheap.

"I've been in the markets for 15 years and I've not seen anything like this," he said. "To fall 7 per cent in one day, you expect that from the emerging markets, not the developed markets, and certainly not Australia.

"There was no rationale today, it was just sheer panic. For us to fall by this much without any catalyst does not make sense."

No catalyst. No major terrorist event. No nation-crippling natural disaster. Just sheer and total panic, because the myth that the markets just needed a little 'correction' could not be maintained for one day more.

A 10% loss of value in the markets in one day is the very definition of a stock market crash. Yesterday, Australian markets lost 7.3%.

Go Here To Read The Latest Chapter Of Darryl Mason's Online Novel ED Day - Life In Sydney After The Bird Flu Pandemic Kills Millions

Go Here To Read The Latest Stories From The Orstrahyun

Go Here To Read The Latest Stories From Your New Reality

Last week, Reserve Bank boss Glenn Stevens was in London meeting with UK and European central bankers, who were no doubt preparing for what they surely knew was coming. In other words, they were preparing their spin and getting their stories straight :
Asked at a business lunch in London overnight what his message would be to Australian mum and dad investors who had been hit by the market falls, Mr Stevens said: "Share markets go up and down.

"Mums and dads shouldn't be trying to play them on a short-term basis."
The clip of Glenn Stevens comments on the evening news revealed the audience of bankers and business leaders laughed, they fucking laughed, when Stevens said "share markets go up and down..."

The sound bite version of Stevens' comments used in newspaper headlines and on the evening news was 'No Need To Panic'.

How about now, Mr Stevens? Can all those mum and dad investors panic now?

They sure as hell can't pull their money out of the market without losing a bundle.

How exactly the Reserve Bank, and the mainstream media, will contain the panic isn't exactly clear. They probably won't be able to. But it's the 'mum and dad investors' that need to be convinced that they can't pull out now and eat their losses. They have to keep their money in the market or the whole thing truly falls apart.

The big boys have already mostly protected themselves, and taken the few hits they were willing to sustain, hence the crash-level losses yesterday.

When millions of 'mum and dad investors' suddenly start saying "Oh, fuck this for a joke" and demand what remains of their money back is when the markets shut down and the banks start locking their doors.
Robot Trains, Robot Trucks And Autonomous Drilling Platforms For Outback Australian Mines

One of the world's largest miners is preparing to unroll a new 'automated' mining process, which is expected to result in robot drilling platforms hauling up iron ore, loading it onto robot trucks, which then deliver it to robot trains that will then carry it to the ports, with minimal human hands involved.

And they're not talking twenty years from now, Rio Tinto wants this 'mine of the future' program to kickstart within two years.

More on this here :
A number of new technologies including autonomous drilling rigs, trucks and trains will be deployed in Rio Tinto's Iron Ore division in Western Australia's Pilbara region over the next two years.

The vehicles will be part of a two-year trial of autonomous technology and the company hopes to install robotic gear at other iron ore mines from 2010.

The autonomous vehicles will be controlled from a remote operations centre 1300 kilometres away in Perth, eliminating the need for hands-on operators to control heavy mining equipment.

The operations centre is scheduled for completion in 2009...

The centre's first major task will be to operate a driverless train that will run on a 1200 kilometre track connecting Pilbara mines to ports.

A number of major mining companies are trialling a range of autonomous vehicles and other leading edge technologies, such as radio frequency identification, in order to boost the productivity of mines and processing plants.
And the robot mining technology that works in the harsh Australian outback will presumably pave the way for mining on the Moon and Mars.

Expect NASA, the European Space Agency and Japanese and Chinese space entrepreneurs to be watching these 'autonomous mining' programs very, very closely.

So robots will soon be mining, loading and transporting iron ore. It's only a short step to robots turning that iron ore into the materials they need to build more of their own kind. And another Philip K Dick reality is born.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Now It's The Liberals Turn To Say "Bloody Howard!"

The headline promises so much, 'It's All Howard's Fault, Say Liberals', but the story delivers so little meat :

The nation's Liberal leaders have blamed an unhealthy focus on the former Howard government for contributing to their electoral woes.

State and territory Liberal Party leaders held a crisis meeting in Melbourne to try to revive the fortunes of the party, which languishes in opposition throughout Australia.

Victorian opposition leader Ted Baillieu said while it had been important to focus on keeping the party in power federally, the situation had changed following the November 24 election loss.

"The focus on the federal coalition from time to time drew resources, staffing and focus to that effort," he said.

"The efforts of the state and territory division have not been helped.

"We need to assert the states and territories, who are central ... to reviving the fortunes of the party."

Is that it? No quotes hammering Howard, or shredding Abbott, Nelson, Downer or Costello for spending most of 2007 singing the praises of John Howard when they all knew, from their own polling, that Howard was a key reason why they would lose the federal election?


At least the state Liberal leaders showed what they thought of the new federal Liberal 'leader' Brendan Nelson. He wasn't invited to the pow-wow.

Baillieu took the time to spell out just what the Liberals now stand for :

"We stand for freedom of the individual, freedom of enterprise, growth and aspiration, small government and a strong and productive, safe future for all Australians," he said.

So basically they stand for everything that Howard was opposed to, or did his best to ensure Australians were denied.

Smells like a nasty war is brewing between state and federal Liberals.

What a shame. And just when they where showing signs of....well, nothing much really.

Monday, January 21, 2008

'Australians Now Support Big Brother Society'

Will 2008 Herald The Rise Of 'The Unplugged'?

Why did Australians fall so easily and with so little dissent into the clutches of a surveillance society?

We used to cherish our privacy and gag at the thought that our every movement outside the home could be captured on video and stored away somewhere. Or that our personal details, our opinions, our beliefs and our favourite food choices could be databased and monitored for the rest of our lives.

Many of are still repulsed at even the idea of every Australian being issued with a centrally controlled and fully databased ID card. But it's already here, even if it is spread across your driver's lisence, supermarket loyalty cards, credit cards, e-mail records and search engine queries. All those records will be centralized soon enough, if they aren't already. If you're working, or on social security, you've already been issued with a unique numerical ID - it's called your tax file number.

Echelon is yet another of those once absurd conspiracy theories that has turned out to be an everyday fact. Every phone call, every e-mail, every fax, every text message, every web page you visit can surveilled if you are deemed to be "of interest", or if you are associated with people "of interest", even if those friends or family members haven't committed a crime, yet.

Speak, type or text the right 'key word' and a record of your communication will be stored within Echelon. Three years or two decades from now, your teenage years joke text message about terrorism or 'bombing' may come back to haunt you.

And why did you buy so many tubs of pool chlorine during the second half of 2008? Your store loyalty cards are compiling details of your shopping habits that will be analysed and evaluated, in years to come, in ways that even the techheads at Coles and Franklins haven't yet considered.

Did you even stop to think about how all that personal information about yourself that you so freely typed into MySpace questionnaires and quizzes and into Facebook profiles will be used? Do you even know that all that info will never disappear, and that those personal details are already being traded and circulated and analysed and used to build profiles of you, your emotions and your thought patterns?

And if you think that using fake names or profiles on MySpace or Facebook will keep you safely anonymous, think again. That little bout of Googling your own name a few months ago IDed you to your computer's IP address.

Big Brother isn't just watching you. He's already inside your head and saving back-ups of your thoughts, your dreams, your passions and desires.

Perhaps the next great trend amongst Australians will not to become more 'wired' but to become one of 'The Unplugged' - lose the cell phone, burn the Blackberry, delete the MySpace and Facebook profiles, shred the loyalty cards and credit cards, hang up on anyone who rings your home and starts asking questions for a 'survey' and only use internet browsers that allow you to wipe your personal information and browsing records every time you end a session online.

Why make it any easier for them to know so much about you? They already know enough.

From the Sydney Morning Herald :

Increasingly Australians are being bar-coded and scoped. Their whereabouts are checked, along with the company they keep. How they make money, how they spend it - all is monitored in the name of progress, profit and private and national security.

Australians had been sceptical about the surveillance industry and associated identity checks. But the terrorist attacks in the US on September 11, 2001, and subsequent terrorist outrages changed much of that. And while law enforcement agencies' activities have expanded considerably to fit new laws and demands, other surveillance industries and programs have enthusiastically jumped on the "new world order" band wagon and grown exponentially.

Data-matching and data-mining allow information generated by people doing ordinary things - such as using automatic teller machines, paying with credit cards, using shopping loyalty cards or smartcards, writing cheques, renting cars or videos, sending or receiving emails or surfing the internet - to be collected and collated, often without the subject's consent or knowledge.

Once people carefully husbanded their identities, and that privacy was respected. For years the only piece of paper people were happy to carry was a driver's licence.

In 1987 Bob Hawke's government pulled a double dissolution in an attempt to get its proposed Australia Card legislation through the Senate. The ID check for Australian citizens and resident foreigners arose partly out of the ease with which drug runners wandered in and out of the country but voters remained unconvinced.

As a consequence Australians were lumbered with a tax file number, a sort of watered down version of the American Social Security number that, together with the Medicare card, targets small fish by permitting greater scrutiny of the link between welfare and tax.

For the hundreds of thousands who came to Australia as immigrants, the absence of ID checks symbolised the new freedoms they had embraced.

Authoritarian regimes were skewered as Big Brother in George Orwell's book Nineteen Eighty-Four, published in 1949. The two words were synonymous with one-party states and dictatorships for years. However, just as globalisation, the internet and money markets made Australians surrender to a brave new world where surveillance was king, the sense of incipient threat that Orwell's words symbolised was drained away with the 1999 arrival of the reality television franchise that eventually saw totalitarianism give way to "turkey-slapping".

The proliferation of online transactions and a trend towards a cashless society means thieves no longer need to steal a wallet when they can steal an identity.

Billions are being spent to counter identity theft. Research into "gait DNA" enables a computer to make identifications by matching a person's facial image to gait, height and weight. Also being investigated are body odour measurement and ear geometry.

Traditionally Australians have been wary of such "Big Brother" developments but opinion polls show that - like Americans and the English - Australians now tend to support more rather than less surveillance.

But for how much longer?

Could you live your life as one of The Unplugged?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Australian Scientists Warn Global Food Shortages More Vital Battle Than Fighting Global Warming

How's your food stockpiling going? Think of it as an investment. $500 worth of 'long-life' food will probably be worth about $1000 this time next year :
A worsening global food shortage is a problem far more urgent than climate change, top Australian scientists have warned.

The Australian Science Media Centre briefing heard why prices for some staple foods had risen by as much as 60 per cent in the past year, and how dramatic price rises are expected to sweep across all staples in the near future.

Executive director of the Australian Farm Institute Mick Keogh said dairy products, grain and poultry had seen the strongest price rises in recent months.

Beef and lamb were forecast to follow, with nationwide livestock shortages taking the average price for a cow from $700 a head 12 months ago to $1400 a head going into autumn.

Key speaker at the national science briefing Professor Julian Cribb said the security of our food supply is "the global scientific challenge of our time".

The problem was more urgent even than climate change, said Professor Cribb, from the University of Technology in Sydney, because it will get us first . . . through famine and war.

"By 2050 we will have to feed the equivalent of 13 billion people at today's levels of nutrition," he said.

"This situation brings with it the very real possibility of regional and global instability. Investment in global food stability is now defence spending and requires proportionate priority."

Global grain stocks have fallen to their lowest level since record-keeping began in 1960, while Australia's sheep flock is at its lowest since the mid-1920s, with about 86 million.

The days of cheap food now look to be well and truly over. More from Mr Keogh :

Australian consumers are facing another sharp rise in meat, dairy and bread prices, stretching budgets already under pressure from rising mortgages, rents and petrol.

According to the Australian Farm Institute, meat prices could surge by 15 per cent or more in the next few months.

Institute executive director Mick Keogh said the rain now bringing relief from the drought would result in a shortage of livestock available for meat production.

"Typically what happens going in to a drought is that farmers sell off any stock they can to avoid having to feed those stock through the drought," Mr Keogh said.

"Then at the end of the drought, a lot of farmers go into the re-stocking phase."

Mr Keogh said the increased competition to buy livestock for re-stocking had already seen big increases in prices at saleyards in NSW, and the same could be expected in Queensland soon.

He said that would quickly flow through to supermarket meat prices.

"I think most people would suggest a 10 or 15 per cent increase wouldn't be surprising at all. In fact, you would think it would be likely to be more than that over the next couple of months," he said.

Mr Keogh also predicted consumers would be paying more this year for dairy products and bread, due to increasing costs.

Prices had already risen about 30 per cent over the past six to eight months.

The price of wheat reached its highest-ever level on international commodity markets in August and has jumped about 70 per cent in 18 months, with world stocks at a 26-year low.

Bread, milk, beef : three of the hardest food sources to grow in your own backyard. Unless your backyard is a farm.

City dwellers are really going to miss the loss of all those urban market gardens and small dairies.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Australia's Most Powerful Street Secures Its Own Emergency Water Supply

Macquarie Street in Sydney's CBD is undoubtedly the most power-concentrated street in Australia, filled with the offices of top lawyers, accountants, business leaders, the prime minister and the NSW State government.

Soon it will have its own independent, secure recycled water supply. If Sydney ever suffers severe water shortages, you now know where to take your buckets :

Recycled water will be stored under one of Sydney's main streets in a scheme aimed at saving New South Wales Parliament almost 18 million litres a year, or about half its water consumption.

The water recycling project, which begins today, will use large rainwater tanks built on top of Parliament House, the State Library and Sydney Hospital that can each hold 60,000 litres.

Water Utilities Minister Nathan Rees says the water collected will flow into an "artificial lake" being created under Macquarie Street.

"What we're calling the St James Lake is an old disused railway tunnel that we will now be filling with water from the roofs of these buildings, keeping it in storage and then using it for gardens and toilets and so on," he said.

The tunnel, just north of the State Library, already holds 5 million litres of stormwater after collecting run-off for decades.

The Government wants to pump a lot more stormwater into it. The reservoir would then be used as the main supply of recycled water for all of the public buildings along Macquarie Street.

Mr Rees says the water in the disused tunnel is surprisingly clean.

"Despite the debris, the water is crystal clear after it's come through the sandstone," he said. "You just don't expect to find this under the centre of Sydney."

No, you don't expect to find out that the State government is stockpiling recycled rainwater and stormwater, particularly when they have been so reluctant to embrace city wide stormwater harvesting, and instead chose to blow almost $2 billion on a desalination plant that will eventually be owned by foreign interests.

Sydneysiders will be paying some of the highest prices for water in the world within the decade, except for those residing in Macquarie Street of course. They will have their own free, "crystal clear" water supply. Enough fresh water, in fact, to last them all a good year if hardcore water shortages become a reality.

It's called looking after your own.
Police Pepper Spray Children At Tennis Match

Those Australian Open tennis match crowds can really get out of control, and extremely anti-social, what with all that shouting and cheering and clapping...and shouting and cheering.

Obviously, there was no option but to unleash powerful jets of pepper spray into a crowd of mostly calm people who then bolted for the exits, placing the lives of dozens of people at risk. At least six children are believed to have been maced in the internationally embarrassing display of 'zero tolerance'.

Says one of the players, who witnessed the unbelievable scenes from the court:

"It was full of people who were cheering and looked like they were enjoying the tennis and it was a really nice atmosphere."

Fellow player Fernando Gonzales, was reportedly the one to whom a rail of abuse was hurled from someone in the crowd, who was then confronted by police, and told he had to leave. When his friends asked why, the police moved in and maced the crowd. Gonzales says a bit of verbal abuse now and then is no big deal, and he's used to it.

Gonzalez said he had never seen police use pepper spray before at a tennis tournament.

...the Chilean said, while the crowd was noisy and one Greek fan was abusive to him in Spanish, he was not overly insulted by anything said.

"They say a few things, but it's part of the crowd," Gonzalez said.

"Only one (offensive) thing (was said) in Spanish, but it's nothing that bad. I mean, they're fans ... it was very noisy, but also was the Chileans.

"It was really fun for them. It was a lot of Chileans and a lot of Greeks too.

"But, for me, it's fun to play like that. It's like a Davis Cup match. I think the people enjoy it."

The pepper sprayed children should count themselves lucky. Soon, police might be reaching for tasers instead of just the mace.
Non-Cancerous Blair Will Return Soon

Tim Blair's pizza delivery guy looks almost exactly like John Malkovich

The prognosis is good, for now, but blogger Tim Blair is going under the knife next week to have his cancerous abdominal contents removed. If he applies the same dedication to destroying his cancer as he does to regularly dismantling Al Gore, Tim Flannery and Traceee Hutchinson, Blair will get through this.

Back in 2002, Tim Blair's sister had a cancer scare. He wrote : sister Dianne underwent a routine pap smear. It revealed pre-cancerous cells. She's now recovering from an operation to discover whether she has anything worse to worry about.

Early indications are good. Although Dianne is yet to receive the results from her operation, she at least survived the surgery ordeal. I'm betting on a happy outcome; Dianne is super fit and as tough as hell, with a pain threshold so high it would shame a marathon runner. Which Dianne is, come to think of it.

She's a freak of a gal, my sister. Dianne has inherited all the athletic abilities of my father, combined with my mother's terrifying bulldozer determination.
His sister was given the all clear soon after.

Let's hope, for at least the sake of the Australian blogstream, that Blair gets the same kind of good news soon. Blair's blog, along with four or five fast coffees, can always be relied on to kickstart the head and the heart each morning, whether or not you agree with him. And let's face it, where's the fun (and adrenalin) in only reading blogs that agree with everything you believe? That's a fine way to learn absolutely nothing new.

It will be interesting to see how cancer surgery and a month or more of recovery affects his view of the world, and death in particular. No doubt it will shift a few perspectives, but hopefully the experience won't morbidise his often cutting and insightful wit. Plus, Blair's still got what will surely prove to be one of the funniest and most entertaining books on Australian politics, and the rule of Evil Lefties, to write.

The tributes pouring into Blair's blog are many, passionate and touching. It's nice to see them all not wishing death on someone for a change.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

"Make It End"

The latest chapter of my free online novel ED Day is now up :
If this was bird flu, I hadn't seen anything this extreme before. I coughed up plenty of blood and pus when I was ill at the detention camp. I felt like I was going to die, the throbbing agony in my bones and joints and the struggle to breathe through all that fluid, the endless vomiting and stomach muscle spasms, all of it made me want to die. But I didn't begin to decompose when I was still alive, like Maggie.

Is this the next mutation? Is this how bird flu is going to really finish off humanity? By mutating into an evil more horrific virus and delivering a immune-system apocalypse that means no-one can survive once they got sick because decomposition begins before you even die?

Be warned, though, this chapter gets gruesome as it vividly describes the last hours of an elderly bird flu victim.

If you haven't been reading ED Day, you can start here at Chapter One.

If you're a regular reader, here's a link to Chapter Fifteen.

Friday, January 11, 2008

(Crying) "They're All In Prison, Mummy!"

Young friends visiting from Tasmania, so it was a day to take in a couple of the tourist-choked sights of Sydney. Darling Harbour's Wildlife World and the Sydney Aquarium, during school holidays, such woeful timing. But still fun, in a kind of fullcore sensory assaultive way. At what age does that almost hallucinatory excitement of being a child in begin to wind down?

After seeing one too many of the various fish, seals and sharks that she recognised from Finding Nemo, a small girl could take no more, coughing out her mind-shocking realisation through shuddering tears : "They're...All...In....Prison, mummy!"

Well, that until-very-recently-quite-content squid isn't. It just got taken out by the massive shark in the main tank, along with a few mouthfuls of smaller fish. A few seconds of feeding frenzy follows. The mass wailing of small children begins.

The horror.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

10 Weeks Of Stockpiled Food Needed To Deal With "Inevitable" Bird Flu Pandemic

When The Supermarket Shelves Grow Bare, Where Will You Get Your Food?

By Darryl Mason

The massive floods in northern New South Wales and Queensland have led to hundreds of people being isolated in their homes, with only neighbours in boats and the occasional SES volunteers turning up with food and emergency supplies. Some farmers expect to be cut off by floodwaters for two or more weeks. Hundreds of roads and bridges have been washed away. The damage bill is expected to top more than $100 million.

While some of those affected by rapidly rising floodwaters are used to dealing with floods every few years, for most it was the worst flooding they'd seen in decades, and there was no advance warnings. Not everyone was prepared - that is, with food stockpiles and a few boxes of emergency essentials.

Some of the experts who have been planning for a bird flu pandemic in Australia use flood disaster models to explain what life will be like for millions of Australians when the "inevitable" bird flu pandemic begins.

Like those now trapped and cut off from the world by floodwaters, a full blown bird flu pandemic would see entire towns, huge stretches of suburbia, and cities, literally cut off.

Trucks delivering food to supermarkets and 7-11s will grow more infrequent as voluntary and mandatory quarantines kick in, electricity and water supplies will likely be effected and may cut off altogether as those responsible for maintaining infrastructure fall ill, stay home to care for sick relatives or simply refuse to turn up for work in fear of catching what would be an extremely lively and deadly virus.

I clearly remember laughing at the thought of stockpiling food and water when YK2 threatened to end civilisation as we know it. But last year, a few days worth of truck deliveries failed to turn up at the local supermarket (a smallish one) for a variety of reasons (illness, maintenance problems, industrial disputes) and it was chilling to see how quickly the shelves and fridges emptied, or thinned out.

Not just bread and milk, but things like jars of peanut butter, nappies, toilet paper, fruit juice. In less than six days with no deliveries, an old shelf stacker said, most of the stuff they sold would be gone and they'd shut up shop. And then what?

If the bird flu pandemic became real, if hundreds of thousands of Australians fell gravely ill, all at once, if there were quarantines, many Australians would find themselves in a similar position to those in northernNSW and QLD cut off by floodwaters.

Stockpiling food, water, batteries, and yes, toilet paper, doesn't seem like such a crazy idea anymore. In fact, we are likely to see a government sponsored, or at least government 'inspired' marketing push in the coming months to make the stockpiling of food and essentials something every Australian family should begin to do. You know, just in case.

From the Courier Mail :

Every Australian household should stockpile at least 10 weeks' worth of food rations to prepare for a deadly flu pandemic, a panel of leading nutritionists has warned.

World health experts now agree a pandemic is inevitable and will spread rapidly, wiping out up to 7.4 million people globally and triggering rapid food shortages.

....Woolworths and Coles, the nation's two major supermarket chains, will run out of stock within two to four weeks without a supply chain – or even faster if shoppers panic.

This has prompted a team of leading nutritionists and dietitians from the University of Sydney to compile "food lifeboat" guidelines to cover people's nutritional needs for at least 10 weeks.

Their advice – published in the Medical Journal of Australia – would allow citizens to stay inside their homes and avoid contact with infected people until a vaccine becomes available.

The lifeboat includes affordable long-life staples such as rice, biscuits, milk powder, Vegemite, canned tuna, chocolate, lentils, Milo andWeet-Bix.

Jennie Brand-Miller, professor of human nutrition at the University of Sydney and co-leader of the study, believes it is common sense to stockpile food before a pandemic strikes.

"It's really not a question of if: it's a question of when," she said.

"It will spread very rapidly just like flu does normally because it's a highly contagious organism, except this will be a really lethal one. What we suffer from is a false sense of security that someone else is looking after all this."

The short version is, as was made clear by BushCo. in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, don't rely on the government to come to your rescue when a pandemic, or another major disaster, hits. You're pretty well on your own.

And the better that you can take care of yourself and your family, and feed yourselves, the more likely you are to get through two months of quarantine without having to go and queue for hours in a localcarpark with thousands of others, waiting for food and water.

What the story doesn't tell us is that most bird flu experts believe that if there is a pandemic, it is likely to come in 'waves', two or three, over a year or more, with each 'wave' lasting eight or ten weeks.

Life might get back to normal between each 'wave', which would mean you'd probably have to go out and build up the stockpile again.

More on all this from the Medical Journal of Australia :
  • Influenza pandemics are a real risk and are best managed by self-isolation and social distancing to reduce the risk of infection and spread.

  • Such isolation depends on availability of food of adequate quantity and quality.

  • Australia has one of the most concentrated food supplies of any country, making rapid food depletion more likely in a crisis.

  • Food stockpiling by both authorities and citizens is an important safety precaution that should be given greater media coverage.

In the event of a lethal pandemic, emergency measures such as closing schools, staying home with family and friends, and avoiding contact with other people (until all have been immunised) will be instrumental in avoiding infection.

The Australian Government and the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) have been planning for such a scenario for several years and have advanced plans in place

Australia has one of the most concentrated food supplies of any country, being dominated by two large supermarket chains. These organisations operate with such efficiency that their logistic chains hold only a few weeks’ supplies.

If the supply chain shuts down, or if there is no delivery from central stores, supermarkets’ stocks will be depleted within 2–4 weeks. If domestic stockpiling begins at this late stage, then depletion will be accelerated.

Food supplies in the home will need to last as long as it takes for vaccine development and production. For ordinary seasonal influenza vaccines, there is a lag of 6 months or more after a new virus strain has first been discovered until a new vaccine is available for distribution. For weather-related catastrophes, food stockpiles might be required for much longer.

A destabilised global climate, where small changes in atmospheric and ocean circulations have major consequences for temperature, rainfall, wind and storm patterns, may precipitate food stockpile dependence for several years.

While long-term food stockpiling could be considered a governmental responsibility, we suggest that home stockpiling of food to last about 3 months might be done by individual households. This would allow a window of time for governments to put emergency action plans and food deliveries in place.

The MJA has a detailed list of what foods, and in what quantities, they recommend you stockpile for emergencies here.

The idea isn't that you rush out and rack up $500 on your credit car tomorrow filling the spare room, or the space under the stairs, with 40 jars of Vegemite and 20 kilos of powdered milk.

The way I've been building my stockpile is to simply toss in a few extra cans of soup or baked beans or an extra jar of peanut butter, each time I do a shop. Considering the variety of canned and dried and 'ready-to-eat' meals that crowd our supermarket shelves, you can actually put together a pretty damn tasty stockpile, most of which will last months, or years, beyond the 'use-by-date'.

You can also expect to see lots of stories in the coming months about the benefits of planting herbs, vegetables and fruit trees around the family home, or on the balcony if you're an apartment dweller. Very little of the vegetables and fruit that you see for sale in supermarkets in Sydney, for example, are actually grown locally. In a pandemic scenario, the fresh fruit and vegetables will, obviously, run out much quicker than just about everything else on the supermarket shelves.

Short of wheat and corn, you can grow a wide variety of herbs, fruits and vegetables in even the smallest suburban backyard, and on apartment balconies, if you plan your garden efficiently.

You can get by on canned carrots for months, if you were forced to, but ripping a handful of fresh carrots from an old metal tub on the balcony is going to feel extra special if you can't go up the road and buy them.

Opening a cupboard and seeing three months worth of stockpiled food and water is still pretty weird. But it's also remarkably reassuring, and satisfying. Just remember to buy a couple of spare can openers.

Regardless of whether or not a pandemic hits, you're going to save money in the next year or two on what you buy and stockpile, or plant, now. Food from the supermarket is only going to grow more expensive in 2008 and 2009.

If widespread food shortages hit, a three month food stockpile is going to seem like a very worthy investment, indeed.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

I think I'm going to spend the next few days finishing the ED Day book, or at very least getting closer to the end of it. Finishing that novel seems much more important right now. This blog should be back to normal by Wednesday or Thursday.

There should be a new chapter or two up at ED Day between now and then, so I hope you can come over and read along. There's a lot happening in the world of the survivors of the pandemic. Sides are forming, their new little society is beginning to fragment. As they get closer to the truth of what has happened to them, and what is happening to them now, there is an atmosphere of terrible violence growing.

Here's the link :

ED Day
On Death

By Darryl Mason

In the end when death came, there was no final dramatic moment. It wasn't a movie scene. There was no raging struggle to keep breathing, to fight on. She just slept on. She just died.

We saw her shortly before she died. She was sleeping, as she had been sleeping for weeks. The cancer she had was not the most painful kind, it just gradually drained her of energy. A winding down after a long, busy life in which no illness had ever slowed her before.

In July she had been as she had always been, almost bursting with energy and passion. The kind of energy that made you jealous, because you knew you if you had it, you would feel as though you could fly to the stars and back again.

Her mind as sharp as a razor then, her wit hilarious, incisive, absolutely cutting, brilliant.

Within weeks, the switches were turning off. Less than three months ago she was lying in casualty of the RPA hospital in Sydney, listening to a doctor explain that if she were to have a heart attack, or stroke, that they would not try to revive her, that they would let her go, that her cancer had spread too far, throughout her. She nodded, she understood, but as soon as the doctor left us, she was telling us, me and her daughter, how terrible it was that the "poor woman" lying in a bed across the room had cancer "and they can't do anything for her. The poor dear." Did she know that was her, too? That she was the same as this woman she was talking about? Of course she did. But she was more concerned for a sick stranger than she was for herself.

We went to see her the day she died. If she was in pain in those last hours of her life, in those final hours of the 700,000 hours she had lived in her lifetime, it did not disturb her from her sleep. She only woke we came in to see her and touched her arm. Her flesh was cold, as though her death was growing over the hours, with her blood cooling long before she took her last breath.

She cried out only once as her daughter moved the pillows and her utterly frail, thin body to make her more comfortable. She was asleep again within seconds. The kind of sleep only known by those just born and at the other end of life. We watched her breathing, the normal rhythm of breathing out of sync, the loop of regular inhalation and exhalation broken, bent. Not long to go now. Soon it would be over.

The window was open, a dazzling sun razoring through the tree branches and casting glowing anti-shadows on the grounds of the park outside. Next to her, a cup of water she could barely swallow. She could take in nothing but air and drops of water now. Flowers, a wall of cards from all over the country, from around the world, some pills, the bowl of mints she had only stopped eating a few days before, photos of family, friends, neighbours, neighbours who had become like family in that small Sydney street where she had lived with her husband for decades. The sort of neighbour most only ever get to know in fiction, who welcomed all and judged nobody.

The curtains flowed in slow motion, touched by a breeze, the cries of children in the park down below echoed softly into the room. No life support equipment, nothing to monitor her heart beats, no machines that go ping, just an old woman who had lived a long time and was near the end. She wasn't letting go of life, she was just going.

We said goodbye, a last goodbye, because we knew it would be tonight. Sometime tonight. Her husband knew this, the nurses there knew this, she knew it, too. There was no final fight. It was time.

You can feel the phone call coming, before the phone rings. You're not supposed to know when someone you love dies, this is paranormal or at the very least not normal, or so we are told. But you do know. Of course you do. If you listen, not with your ears but with everything that you are, you can hear the lives of the people you love, and when one of them dies, something is then missing from the comforting thrum of that thing that connects you all, that is not supposed to exist, but is still there. It's always been there.

The nurse doesn't ask her daughter if she wants to see her mother, now she is gone, she issues a soft order, "Take as much time as you need and then come and see me up the hall." The nurse knows the daughter must do this, even if she would say no if given a choice.

The nursing home is mostly dark, it's late at night now, and in every other room is an elderly man or woman who will die in the weeks or months or years to come. Not many years. This is a place where you come to die. It never struck me as an utterly depressing place. Some days when we visited, it was like a departure lounge. Old people sitting in chairs, waiting, some patient, some frustrated and impatient. Lots of chatter and noise. The Waiting. Most ready for what comes next, whether they believe there is something next or not.

This night there is not a sound to be heard from the other rooms, where there is usually, always, some babbling, some soft crying if you care to listen closely enough, or the occasional groan of "Nuuurrssse...." and calm mutterings in dreams of youthful times ten thousand days ago, or whispers to those already gone, promising to "be with you soon."

But tonight there is not a sound. Perhaps they all know, not because they have been told, they haven't been, but they seem to know, their silence is respectful, because one of them has gone where they're all going, too, soon. Silence. Not a chilling silence, just stillness.

She is lying on her back. Her mouth is slightly open, her eyes almost closed. She is dead, she took her last breath less than half an hour before. But who she was, the person inside that body, is already gone. There's not a trace left of her. Just her body, a little more deflated, as though something really has left her.

Her forehead is warm, damp with sweat, but her cheek is already cool, and will soon be as cold as her arm was a few hours before.

The window is still open, there is no breeze, and no-one is in the park now. Finding a strength I cannot even comprehend, her daughter pulls back the sheet and lifts her mother's arm off her chest. She removes the wedding ring that has been on her mother's finger for more than sixty years and slides it onto her own finger. We sit there with her but she's not there. Without religion, there are no chants or prayers or noise or activity. Stillness, calm and quiet. It's just memories for now, and grief, but the grief has been there for months, so the shock is not so great. The inevitable is now real, but the reality is not terrible. There is sadness, but not horror.

Her daughter goes to the nurse and thanks her for everything she did to help this elderly woman in her last hours, her last weeks. The nursing home has a funeral director they recommend, but her daughter wants to choose another. She is given a phone book.

We go downstairs and to the table outside, and sit at the edge of the circle of light from the wall lamp to go through the pages of that section of the phone book you always knew was there, but never really looked before. When you're young and people you knew and loved died, there were always others who did these things, made these arrangements. Now it is the daughter who must take care of this duty.

It's still hot outside, even as midnight approaches. The branches and leaves are as still as photographs.

And then a breeze comes, from nowhere, or somewhere. Cool, but not cold, it doesn't pass us, it moves through us. The breeze doesn't touch the leaves only a few feet away, it doesn't disturb the rising blue straight line of cigarette smoke, it doesn't disturb the pages of the phone book, or even shift one hair of the daughter as she leans forward, but the breeze is real enough, because you can feel it on your skin, inside your skin, everywhere.

Not a chill breeze, it's warm but cool, strange but comforting. There's a shiver from the breeze, but not of fear, it's of something familiar, recognition, of something inside you that is not flesh or heart or mind, but is you, recognising the breeze for what it is, and being glad for knowing, not pretending it is otherwise, knowing it is going from from this to that, from here to there, knowing that it is not a bad or terrible thing. Feeling that it is, in the end, good. That this is the end.

A beautiful moment. A final goodbye.