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Not the biggest, but the deadliest. So far 108 people reported dead. This figure is likely to increase because some bodies are still in burnt homes and vehicles.

750 homes destroyed. Whole communities have disappeared into ash.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd described the deaths as ‘mass murder.’ Many of them were deliberately started.

Thousands of people have lost everything – not just their homes and physical possessions, but loved ones, and along with them, the things that you would normally treasure after such a loss – photos and toys, for example.

Cash donations to help provide shelter and emergency care can be made through the Red Cross.

There may be no more posts today. We are arguing with staff in the ICU about whether Amanda should be returned to her completely ineffective regime of psych medication. It is difficult and time-consuming.

Please continue to pray for her, for medical staff and for us.

After an ultrasound doctors found a large quantity of fluid in Amanda’s chest yesterday, and asked us to leave for a few hours while they sedated her and inserted a drain.

Dad and David and I went and had pizza for dinner and then went to see Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino.  Gosh! Wow! Heck!

It was a great film. My emotions are pretty close to the surface at the moment – Amanda is still dangerously unwell, is not responding as well as we would like, and will need lots of support to recover – so I am not sure whether I would have laughed and cried as much if I had seen it at another time.

What is not so good in the film is that there is a little more swearing than is necessary (though most of it is in context and appropriate), Clint’s growling and grumpiness are a little overdone, and the actress who plays the Hmong girl next door, while pretty and appealing, just did not seem to be able get any real conviction into her character.

Also, some people might find some of the terms used a little hard to take.

There was one couple in the cinema who left half way through claiming the film was racist. No it isn’t. It is partly about racism. That doesn’t make it a racist film.

The heart of the film is a very well paced exploration of the nature and cost of both friendship and redemption. Who and what matters, and why. It is intelligent and moving. It is currently number one at the box office in New Zealand, and will go on my list of DVDs to buy.

In a process described by University of Edinburgh researcher Duncan Forgan as ‘quantifying our ignorance,’ scientists have estimated that there are at least 361 ‘intelligent civilisations’ (are there unintelligent ones too?) in the Milky Way, and possibly up to 38,000.

While this is interesting, a guess about a number that could be anywhere between 361 and 38,000 does not sound very reliable or useful to me.

I don’t know what I think about this. The Tamils have not been treated well by the majority Sinhalese. Tamils are in the majority in the north of Sri Lanka. I can understand their wanting a state of their own.

On the other hand, this has been a terrible civil war in which some 70,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced, with allegations of atrocities on both sides.

If the Sinhalese do finally defeat the Tamil Tigers, I hope their victory will not be seen by the government as an opportunity for payback or further oppression against the Tamil people.

And no, as far as I recall there have been no all-night sessions at the UN or world-wide protests about this.

Greedy or stupid policiticans, probably… 

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd gets one thing right in his 7,000 word reiteration of the destructive Whitlam era philosophy that big government, big spending and high taxes are good. The thing he gets right is this: ‘Soft or hard, protectionism is a sure-fire way of turning recession into depression, as it exacerbates the collapse in global demand.’

Virtually everything else in the essay is wrong, and can be shown to be wrong. Rudd blames ‘extreme capitalism and unrestrained greed’ for the present crisis. This is utterly counter-factual.

The cause of the present crisis was do-gooding intervention in domestic home loan markets by successive US Democrat administrations.

In essence, starting with Jimmy Carter, those administrations offered incentives to lenders to give home loans to people who would not have qualified under normal lending criteria (or penalties to lenders who did not). This is the ‘sub-prime’ mortgage market, which consisted of giving loans to people who could not afford to repay them.

If you assume (as seems likely) a complete lack of understanding of basic economics in those who formulated this policy, you can allow that it may have been well-intentioned. In fact it should have been obvious to anyone with half a brain that it would leave those to whom the loans were given worse off in the long run, because they were likely not only to lose their homes, but any money they put into them, and their credit rating.

It should also have been obvious to anyone with half a brain that such a system could not be maintained. You cannot continue indefinitely to lend billions of dollars to people who have no chance of repaying it without eventually having a serious impact on the whole economic system.

In 2001 the Bush administration tried to get real answers from the Government Sponsored Enterprises (Fannie May and Freddie Mac) which underwrote those loans, and to ensure proper lending criteria were in place. These efforts were defeated by a consortium of Democrat representatives and senators, many of whom were in receipt of large donations from those bodies.

John Pilla on publicopiniononline.com has more details.

I am a native New Zealander myself. Coming back to NZ this time I was struck by the difficulty I was having in understanding ordinary speech.

New Zealanders are inclined to drop the fina consonan of wors.

But more confusingly, every vowel sound (with the exception of the eu dipthong – as in duel – and the long a – as in way) collapses into a neutral ‘uh’ sound.

Thus muns yuh und up wuth suntunsus thut sund luk thus.

After Geithner, Daschle, Richardson, Killefer, et al, further consideration of Labor Secretary nominee Hilda Solis has been postponed because her husband ‘only yesterday paid off tax liens, some of which had been pending for up to 16 years’.’

What is it with Obama’s team and taxes? Is forgetting to pay your taxes part of the whole ‘wealth redistribution’ thing?

‘At the the end of the process the nominee is asked one final catch-all question: Is there anything that could cause you, your family, or the President embarrassment if it became public?
Either Obama and his nominees aren’t easily embarrassed, or the vetters have tin ears the size of satellite dishes.’

Either these people are dishonest, or they are incompetent, or they are just plain stupid. Whichever it is, events so far hardly inspire confidence in the incoming administration.

Interesting to compare New Zealand’s stimulus package with those proposed in Australia and the US.

New Zealand has a conservative government made up mostly of people who have actually run things before, including in many cases their own farms or other businesses.

The NZ package includes some infrastructure spending, but the focus is on building business confidence through reduced taxation, and simplifying the tax system.  Well done.

In Australia, Kevin Rudd is proposing that home owners should get free ceiling insulation.  Great.

There’s always something to be scared about. But in the history of things to be scared about, this has to be at the very bottom of the list.

The Murray is Australia’s largest and longest river. It’s not all that spectacular by world standards, but we’re quite fond of it.

Before European intervention, The Murray was what most Australian rivers are – a series of inter-connected waterholes along a dry bed, which were linked during flood times, when water would spread out over a wide area. After the floods, water in the river would gradually dry up, returning the river to its normal dry bed. For almost all of its history, except for the last seventy years, it has regularly been possible to walk across The Murray.

Over the last century flows in and out of the river have been increasingly carefully managed, so that for much of its length water is maintained at a fixed level, and there is always some flow, even in times of prolonged drought. Testing at centres along the river, including Morgan in its lower South Australian reaches, show that salinity and turbidity (the amount of suspended matter in the water) are both decreasing.

In other words, even during times of low rainfall and consequent low inflows, the river’s health has been good. The river is a major source of tourism income, and supports vast areas of irrigation where grapes and citrus fruit are grown. It will never be returned to its ‘natural’ state.

The lower lakes are similarly an entirely artificial creation. The Coroong, the name of the estuary and lower lakes, was a tidal, that is, salt water estuary, which was occasionally filled with fresh water in times of flood. The flow of water in and out to the sea was blocked when barrages were built across the mouth of the river about seventy years ago, and the current permanent fresh water lake system created

About 500 gigalitres of water is lost from these artificial lakes each year through evaporation. This leads to higher levels of salinity, but levels which still do not approach those of the sea water which used to fill the lakes. There are questions about whether this loss is sustainable, or whether the barrages should be removed and a weir built across the real mouth of The Murray, where it enters the lower lakes at Wellington.

This would reduce loss of fresh water through evaporation and make management of the river in its lower stretches (from Morgan to Wellington) easier. But it would create considerable difficulties for the communities which have grown up around the lower lakes, and especially for the town of Meningie.

Further study and debate will help to clarify the best solution. But scare-mongering headlines will not help.

Shouting, stomping your feet and screeching at people are an effective way of getting what you want. If you are a two year old.

My Mum used to tell me that if we were in a supermarket and I saw something I wanted, and she wouldn’t let me have it, I would say I felt sick  and then vomit. It didn’t work. Mum was smart enough to realise that taking the easy way and giving in would make life harder later on (for both her and me).

Without making any comment about Lindsay’s parenting, it is a pity there are some things she didn’t learn as a two year old.

But then again, why would she, when the same behaviour keeps working?

A brave busker versus the Evil Dunedin Council of Doom (EDCOD, P.O. Box 666, Dunedin Central). Ha ha.

I learned the pipes as a teenager, and love pipe music. But I am also a business owner. In this case I think my sympathies are with the local shopkeepers.

There’s a time and a place for (almost) everything. A retail centre during shopping hours is not the time and place for a piper.

I was in the airport in Auckland the other day and saw this headline. Well, it didn’t actually say that. The magazine was upside down, and that’s what it looked like. It actually read ‘Obama Changes Words Into Deeds’.

I think my version is truer. The proposed stimulus programme will not, cannot, do anything to improve the economy. Simply increasing spending cannot help. What will help is increasing productivity. To do that you need measures which increase business confidence, and make it easier to employ people. This will increase business investment and raise employment levels, and this increases spending in an appropriate, affordable and sustainable way.  Simply increasing spending will only increase debt, and prolong and deepen the recession. Richer countries may be able to cope. But this is a disaster for developing nations, and will not win friends for the US in the long run.

As for changing words into deeds, well, what exactly?

Given the well documented use of the internet by sexual predators, I don’t know whether to be alarmed that so many registered sex offenders were users of just one of many social networking sites, or delighted that they have been identified and removed.

A little of both I think.

Interesting that before MySpace commissioned a private firm to create one, there was no national US database of registered sex offenders.

‘MySpace said on Tuesday the technology had enabled it to identify 90,000 users as registered sex offenders – people who have been found guilty of sex crimes and ordered to register with law enforcement officials – and had removed and blocked them from the site.

“We can confirm that MySpace has removed these individuals from our site and is providing data about these offenders to any law enforcement agency including the Attorney-General’s in Connecticut,” MySpace’s chief security officer Hemanshu Nigam said in a statement.’


This is a good thing, not just for Obama’s administration, but for the credibility of the US overseas. Daschle may be talented, but his appointment would not have passed the ‘smell test’.

Tax issues with Killefer, who was to ‘be a chief performance officer’, allegations of corruption in the form of favourable treatment for political donors by Bill Richardson, who was to be Commerce Secretary, and other tax issues for Timothy Geithner, whose role would have included oversight of  the Internal Revenue Service…

There were suggestions from the press that the McCain campaign had fellen down in its vetting processes because Sarah Palin’s daughter was pregnant. I could never make any sense of this. It always seemed like unseemly gloating. How did that very human and normal family situation that didn’t involve anything she herself had done, diminish Sarah Palin’s capacity to function as vice-president?

But favours for mates, taxes unpaid, and goodness knows what hasn’t made it into the media? Unless backhanders to political donors and cheating on your taxes are not considered anything unusual in some circles, it is hard to understand how these things were not picked up before the nominations were made public.