12.29.2001

"I MIGHT BE AS CRAZY AS BIN LADEN" writes Mark Steyn, recalling his US election promise ("If Bush loses, I hereby pledge that I will kill myself live on the internet") and dwelling on What Might Have Been if the chads had fallen the wrong way: "At the very least I'd have had to fake my death, get a sex-change operation in North Africa, and re-emerge as a ferocious Left-wing lesbian harridan at the Guardian."

Some other highlights from Steyn’s latest:


"Nothing is so certain as that, when a man appears on television with the words ‘Professor of Middle Eastern Studies’ under his name, everything he says will prove to be utter rubbish."

"The argument that, simply because America lost in Vietnam, it would therefore lose in Afghanistan … is tenable only if you believe that for the past three decades the US military have been as institutionally resistant to innovation as the John Pilger column."

"It's because Americans are crazy enough to like owning guns and frying murderers and driving the world's biggest cars at the world's lowest petrol prices that they're also prepared to maintain the only serious military in the Western alliance."



Steyn is always right. How do we know? When a Steyn piece appeared a week or so ago in The Australian, the paper was swamped with letters of outrage. And there is no finer indicator of accuracy and reason than the Outraged Australian Reader Index.

ALL THE NEWS THAT FITS THE NYT’S CRAVEN POLITICAL AGENDA: Imagine if George W. Bush had ignored the attacks on the US because he preferred to concentrate on Mexican trade issues. Imagine how the New York Times would have savaged him.

Bush can’t win. Now the NYT is savaging him because Mexico is "Lower on Bush’s List Since Sept. 11":


"Not long ago, President Bush called Mexico America's most important friend among the world's nations.

"He met with President Vicente Fox more often than with any other leader. He spoke of a ‘special relationship’ with Mexico, a phrase traditionally reserved for Britain.

"But for the moment, Mexico has fallen off Washington's foreign policy agenda … talks on every important issue uniting and dividing the two countries — trade, drug trafficking, immigration — have been all but suspended since Sept. 11."



What did the NYT expect? A Presidential decree to halt all bombing until an agreement on taco quotas could be reached?

Despite the NYT’s hilarious beat-up ("like a bride left standing at the altar, Mexico is starting to wonder how long it will have to wait") President Fox seems to appreciate America’s situation:


"The United States has changed. They have had to pause. For them the focus on terrorism has forced them to put less attention on our bilateral issues. I understand that necessity."



If only the NYT did.

HELEN THOMAS, the only White House correspondent who is older than the White House, has called upon George W. Bush to show compassion to Tali-Boy Walker.

"Perhaps in mulling over Walker's life, he will try to remember when he was a 20-year-old," writes Thomas, whose own youthful memories involve Stutz Bearcats and President Taft. "True, he did not defiantly challenge the system as so many young protesters did in the Vietnam War era. Politics was not his bag at Yale when others were marching in support of civil rights and against the war."

Thomas seems to be implying that Bush is morally inferior to Walker, inheritor of the Vietnam era’s idealistic traditions. She continues:


"(Bush) surely knows he was a different person back then. The president has often sought to dismiss his youthful escapades with the cute tautology: ‘When I was young and foolish, I was young and foolish.’"



The President is talking about scarfing down booze and chasing babes, Helen. He’s not talking about training with and fighting alongside a foreign militia dedicated to the destruction of the US. There’s a difference between "young and foolish" and "young and engaged in acts of terrorism."

It’s almost as big as the difference between "young" and "Helen Thomas".

A PENETRATING INSIGHT INTO THE AMERICAN CONDITION: Gay Alcorn, the Sydney Morning Herald’s US correspondent, has written an analysis of America after September 11 that apparently relies entirely on a few magazines and papers she found lying around her apartment. That's the only possible explanation for her piece being so unengaged and, in places, completely wrong.

It’s also as ill-written an assembly of conventional wisdoms as you’ll ever read:


"The cliche of the year was that September 11 - we still don't know quite what to call it – ‘changed everything’."



Still don’t know what to call it? Seems to me most people are content to call September 11 "September 11".


"American culture is already shaping September 11 as a story of evil versus good."



And your point, Gay?


"A fractured and complacent nation rediscovers that its real heroes are firefighters running up stairs in burning skyscrapers rather than celebrities and dot.com millionaires."



There are still dot.com millionaires?


"Americans who once thought their military power made them invulnerable to foreign attack are getting used to the idea of vulnerability, much the same way as they are used to living with school shootings and deranged mass murderers."



And really lame Australian journalists.


"(George Bush’s) simple message after September 11 - fight evil, go out and shop - causes eyes to roll in Australia and Europe, but strikes the perfect note at home."



Gay never misses a chance to paint Americans as stupid and vulgar. Why doesn’t she apply for a posting in sophisticated Glasgow?


"Nobody says any more that Bush, who during the election campaign could not name the Pakistani President, is dumb."



Nobody? Nonsense. Gay just doesn’t know where to look.


"What has changed is an acceptance that government is needed in this time of crisis, for international as well as domestic problems. Faith in government is at record levels, after an era when many Americans ignored it, or questioned its relevance."



Gay loves Big Government.


"Americans think of themselves as benevolent and well intentioned, and remain bewildered that parts of the world hate them and that even their friends and allies resent their success and power. But if anything, their idea of themselves has only strengthened, wrapped in Old Glory, with pride and even defiance."



Those stupid Americans! Will they never learn?


"The surge in patriotism has been commercially exploited, so things must be getting back to a semblance of normal. Shirts and trousers picked up from the dry cleaners now come wrapped in plastic stamped with ‘Freedom! Bravery!’".



Shirts AND trousers? Wow! Talk about your commercial exploitation.


"Will Bush be forced into co-operation with other nations because of the need for global action against terror, as he was in the war in Afghanistan? Will that spread to American re-engagement with global problems such as poverty, AIDS, the environment, and the notion of ‘nation building’, of which Bush was once so contemptuous?"



You tell us, reporter girl. You’re in Washington. Why are you asking us these things?


"This year, Americans' clear sense of priorities has shifted, and the rest of the world will have to get used to it."



I give up. What does this sentence even mean?

BLOG WATCH I: Your guide to who is saying what, where

Andrew Sullivan: Begala Award winner; Sully’s Man of the Year; Derbyshire Award winner; Innovations of the Year; Sontag Award winner; Best, Worst movies; Best, Worst columnists; Worst Prediction of the Year; Von Hoffman Award winner; Winners, Losers of the Year; Poseur Alert winner; Effective, Ineffective Liars; Worst TV Performance; Gaffe of the Year

Glenn Reynolds: Leftist double standards; Australia follows my advice on the UN; Ted Rall’s daddy problems; Ivins ups Jesus ante; Natalija rocks

Bjorn Staerk: EU's helpful list of evil political groups doesn't contain EU

Virginia Postrel: The economics of scratchy garment labels; Dershowitz defended; super-intense Christmas displays; down with illumination!; Happy Birthday to The Scene

Ken Layne: Shrek trauma; sweeping through the Sierras; hail Edward Giradet, the anti-Fisk

Shiloh Bucher: Encourage global warming, for the penguins’ sake

Will Vehrs and Tony Adragna: Post-colonial posturing; India v Pakistan musings; outstanding posts recognised at Best of the Fray; InstaPundit knows culture

Lawrence Haws: Afghanistan’s thoughtful military advice; big trouble in Happy Valley; PC speak

James Lileks: No to snowblow; hills alive with sounds of mucus; monster Zowie rejected; plotting death of Xbox villians; Twin Peaks still zesty on DVD

Iain Murray: Henry VII rated highly; is Seth Efrica destined to collapse?

Jay L. Zilber: Plaintive plea for Blogger help

Rallying Point: God a victim of terrorism?; skeptical links

Jason Soon: Pythonesque Islamic law to continue in Afghanistan; cool new ideology for Western anti-Westerners; environmentalists and Sydney fires; spying on our email

Get busy! These Blogs won’t Watch themselves, you know.

12.28.2001

FIRE WALK WITH ME: How many firefighters from all over Australia will join together in New South Wales tomorrow to combat the bushfires?

5,000? 7,000? 10,000?

Try 15,000. And we need every single one of them, with massive temperatures and high winds expected this weekend.

FISK BREAK: Robert "Rope-a-Dope" Fisk cops a lot of (deserved) grief for his appalling reporting, but his appalling writing is usually ignored. Artless and repetitive, Fisk suffers from John Pilger’s tendency to exaggerate; everything Fisk covers, from mundane conversations to journeys on dirt roads, is loaded with deep meanings, ominous portents, and unspeakable dangers.

He can’t help himself. Fisk exists in a state of perpetual hysteria. His latest piece – already skewered by Bill Quick, who identified a particularly foul, even treacherous Fiskism – reads like an excitable teenager’s diary entry, right down to the juvenile obsession with self.

Let’s take a look [with commentary added]:


"The first time I met Osama bin Laden inside Afghanistan it was a hot, humid night in the summer of 1996 [how romantic!]. Huge insects flew through the night air [it being night time, they had little choice], settling like burrs on his Saudi robes and on the clothes of his armed followers. They would land on my notebook [who would? The followers?] until I swatted them, their blood smearing the pages [Fisk turns a routine encounter with mosquitoes into a Peckinpah movie]. Bin Laden was always studiously polite: each time we met, he would offer the usual Arab courtesy of food for a stranger: a tray of cheese, olives, bread and jam [if this is a ‘usual Arab courtesy’, why describe bin Laden as ‘studiously polite’? Isn’t this typical, rather than exceptional, behaviour?]. I had already met him in Sudan and would spend a night, almost a year later, in one of his mountain guerrilla camps, so cold that I awoke in the morning with ice in my hair [maybe Fisk slept beneath an incontinent camel].

"On 20 March, 1997, I would meet him again. Although only 41 at the time, his ruggedly groomed beard [‘ruggedly groomed’? Was it also ‘dirtily clean’?] had white hairs, and he had bags under his eyes [maybe he’d been trying to fix Fisk’s copy]; I sensed some infirmity, a stiffness of one leg that gave him the slightest of limps [when Fisk says he ‘sensed’ the infirmity, it means he actually saw it right in front of him]. I still have my notes [good for you!] scribbled in the frozen semi-darkness [the darkness was frozen?] as an oil lamp sputtered between us. ‘I am not against the American people,’ he said. ‘Only their government.’ I told him I thought the American people regarded their government as their representatives [way to go, Robert. There’s no such thing as an innocent American, is there?]. Bin Laden listened to this in silence. ‘We are still at the beginning of our military action against the American forces,’ he said. [isn’t it normal for people to ‘listen in silence’? Does Fisk usually meet people who scream or sing while they’re listening?]

"The first time we met, in Sudan, I persuaded bin Laden – much against his will – to talk about those days [What days? Fisk hasn’t mention any ‘days’ to this point]. And he recalled how, during an attack on a
Russian firebase not far from Jalalabad, a mortar shell had fallen at his feet.
He had waited for it to explode. And in those milliseconds of rationality [it’s rational to hang around waiting for bombs to go off?], he had – so he said – felt a great sense of tranquillity, a sense of calm acceptance [of what? Nothing happened to him!], which he ascribed to God.

"One of his armed followers in Afghanistan took me up the ‘bin Laden trail’, a terrifying two-hour odyssey along fearful ravines in rain and sleet, the windscreen misting [oh, the horror! A misted windscreen!] as we climbed the cold mountain. ‘When you believe in jihad, it is easy,’ the gunman informed me, fighting with the steering wheel as stones scuttered from the tyres, bouncing down the valleys into the clouds below [See what I mean about exaggeration? Fisk takes a slow jaunt along a bumpy road and makes it sound as though he’s riding shotgun with Tommi Makinen]. It was two hours more before we reached bin Laden's old wartime camp, the jeep skidding backwards [backwards? You were driving backwards?] towards sheer cliffs, the headlights illuminating frozen waterfalls above [WHAT? Help me out here, Bob – which way was the car pointing? Backwards? Forwards? Straight up in the air?].

"Bin Laden is a tall, slim man and towers over his companions [oooo, he sounds dishy] … History – or his version of it – was the basis of almost all his remarks … He also told me that ‘swift and light forces working in complete secrecy’ would be needed to oust America from Saudi Arabia. In the following two years, bin Laden was to form his al-Qa'ida movement and declare war on the American people – not just the government and army of the United States [he’s got you to thank, Fisky. Thanks for clearing up that government-people distinction]."



I’d love to read Fisk’s account of a shopping trip. "The towering stack of bread loaves, great cumulous formations of baked dough, cast a grim shadow over my shopping trolley. Its wheels creaked menacingly. I was still two aisles away from the frozen vegetables, but comforted myself with the knowledge that when you believe in jihad, it is easy."

SYDNEY FIRES: Not getting better. Getting worse.

And no rain is expected for at least another ten days

FOUND! THE LAST HUMAN BEING ON EARTH WHO BELIEVES THE "TOURIST GUY" PHOTOGRAPH IS GENUINE: Remember "Tourist Guy"? The bland, docile chap pictured atop the World Trade Center, apparently unaware that a jet was approaching at 500 mph?

Remember the easy debunking of this bogus image?

Well, someone out there is yet to be convinced.

BLOG WATCH I: Your guide to who is saying what, where

Glenn Reynolds: Exterminate the core!; Osama’s fetching Goth look; no easing up on sucka DJ Cornell West; impose Big US Government on France

Natalie Solent: Cold turkey

Rand Simberg: Modest acknowledgment of acclaimed media casualty piece; puppet bear channels spirit of Carmen Miranda; travel horror tale will soon be told

Ken Layne: Advice for the Blogger-hacked

Will Vehrs and Tony Adragna: Blogistan attacked! Updates as events unfold; huzzah for the admin guy; after Kabul, next we hit Montreal; Gang of Three blamed for Blog attack

James Lileks: Resting. So go rifle through his gilded archives

Iain Murray: Profiling only works when profiles are obvious

Jay L. Zilber: He’ll be back once DSL, hacker, holiday dilemmas solved

Watch them Blogs 24/7!

WHY ARE BROADSHEET NEWSPAPER READERS SUCH GODDAMNED FILTHY SNOBS? My friend Miranda Devine, a wonderful columnist, this year took her act from the tabloid Daily Telegraph to the broadsheet Sydney Morning Herald. Yesterday she reflected on how the SMH’s readers reacted to her move.

It wasn’t pretty.

"Go back to the Telegraph," wrote one despiser of the tabloid press. "I've just put myself through another one of your columns and it was again up to your usual standards." Oddly, this champion of the workers loathed working-class tabloid buyers: "Your right-wing, biased, unintelligent columns might have impressed the readers of that tabloid but they are out of place in this paper."

Another wrote to applaud an "excellent" Devine column, but ended with this: "However, are you not the same Miranda Devine that wrote for that rag The Daily Telegraph? Shame!"

Size obviously matters to certain people. If you read a small-format paper, you must be stupid. Read a big paper, you must be intelligent.

By this logic, anyone who reads a novel must be retarded. And the wisest of us all read journals printed across acres of countryside, in the manner of crop circles.

Do broadsheet readers buy supersized computer screens so their online news is similarly huge and, therefore, brainy? Do they mock laptop users as idiots? Do they judge films by the size of the screen they’re shown on? Is an SUV cleverer than a scooter?

People, listen to me – it’s just ink on paper. Size matters not. The SMH readers who thrill to articles by John Pilger would probably be dismayed to discover they were first run in tabloid form in London’s Daily Mirror. (Of course, Pilger is stupid in both papers.)

These snobbish folk would also be upset to learn of the journalistic truism that it’s easier to go up than it is to go down. That is, it’s no big deal for a tabloid writer to adapt to broadsheet ways, but a broadsheeter usually struggles to adapt to a tabloid.

The broadsheet London Guardian once attempted to disprove this by producing its own version of the tabloid London Sun. The result – named The Fun – was a wretched, screaming debacle. Wordy, worthy Guardianistas simply couldn’t replicate the tabloid form. Lead paragraphs went on forever. Headlines stank. Staff argued about sexism.

One of the paper’s editors, according to Chris Horrie’s tabloid history Stick It Up Your Punter, took copies of The Fun to a housing estate to gauge working-class appreciation of the first edition. "Take it, it’s a collector’s item," the editor told one resident. "You collect it then," the fellow sullenly replied.

Another attempt at a tabloid-by-broadsheeters, London’s News On Sunday, was founded on £6.5 million donated by lefty unions and councils. It went broke after three editions.

It should’ve been a broadsheet. The snobs would’ve bought it by the bushel. They’re stupid.

12.27.2001

FOR BIN LADEN, A TRIAL WOULD BE WORSE THAN DEATH: Geoffrey Robertson, lawyer, is an intelligent man. Far too intelligent for me, at least back in 1988, when I called him at his London chambers and asked whether he was having an affair with Sydney novelist Kathy Lette.

I was working for the Inquirer-like Truth newspaper at the time, and had been a scandal-trawler for all of two months. Robertson expertly brushed aside my inexpert questions, and then – masterfully – managed to not-quite hang up the phone as he loudly complained to his secretary that someone was "calling from Australia, asking if I was sleeping with Kathy Lette!"

The trick worked; I reported to my editor that Robertson was aghast at the allegation. No story was published.

A few months later, Robertson and Lette were married.

Apparently he ditched superbabe Nigella Lawson for the shrill, pun-addicted Lette woman. This is one of the enduring mysteries of our age, but no more mystifying than Robertson’s analysis of the war and What Should Be Done, which ran recently in the Sydney Morning Herald.

His conclusion: bin Laden and his henchmen should be tried once they are captured. But not before a jury, because a jury wouldn’t have the wisdom needed to cope. And the panel of judges should include Muslims. And no death penalty should be available.

I’m no lawyer. I am reminded of this by the beautiful Nadia, who has just yelled from the bedroom: "You’re no lawyer!" I get frightened when words like "pursuant" appear. But I think Robertson is way wrong when he writes that a trial (if what he describes can be so called) would "serve to de-mythologise" bin Laden and his goons. He also claims a trial would "expose their cowardice and hypocrisy, destroy their cult status and emphasise the evil of any movement which calls for the racist murder of innocents."

Would it? I don’t think so. Then again, I think Kathy Lette is the worst writer on earth, yet Robertson married her, so what do I know?

We need expert advice. Over to you, Professor Reynolds.

FIRES AND … TERRORISM?: 140 houses charred, more than 100 fires still raging, 80 firefighters injured, cost expected to be beyond $50 million, roads and railways cut, the ancient Royal National Park (only Yellowstone is older) being consumed … and a hunt is on for arsonists suspected of causing the inferno.

Which brings me to Bill Quick, who sent an email yesterday asking an interesting question. Could these fires be linked in any way to terrorism?

My first impulse was to say no. These sorts of outbreaks are relatively common in Australia, and we have enough crazy fire-loons to guarantee at least a few deliberately-lit bushfires every year.

But … the fires were apparently lit on Christmas Eve, which might be powerfully symbolic for anyone fighting a Religious War.

Also, there seems to have been a coordinated attempt to light fires in a circle surrounding Sydney. In the SMH article linked above, the Rural Fire Service says it is helping police identify people following reports of suspicious behaviour in the lower Blue Mountains, Cessnock, Luddenham, Liverpool, Camden, Campbelltown and Appin.

Is that too much "suspicious behaviour" to reconcile with random individual attacks? At this stage, who knows. Meanwhile, it’s a miracle – and a testament to the firefighters’ work – that nobody has been killed.

12.26.2001

EUCALYPTUS HUNTER: A pinheaded Australian is wreaking havoc in Los Angeles, and I’m not talking about Steve Irwin.

The red gum lerp psyllid, a voracious tree-eating minibug native to Australia, has destroyed 20,000 eucalypts in LA parks since infiltrating California in 1999. The city’s attempts to combat the lerps have failed. "We lost the battle with the bug," a parks official admits.

LA City Council will now spend $2.3 million to remove all lerp-ruined trees. Officials worry that the weakened trees will fall on someone who knows a lawyer.

ATTENTION, AMERICANS! YOUR CIVILISATION IS DOOMED! DOOMED, I SAY! So writes Chalmers Johnson, president of California’s Japan Policy Research Institute, in today’s Australian. He warns that continuing to pursue war will bankrupt the US:


"The Soviet Union collapsed because of internal contradictions inherent in its economy, imperial overstretch and an inability to reform. All of these factors are also at work in the US, which was always richer than Russia and therefore may take a bit longer to collapse."



Care to put an estimate on that, Chalmers? Two years? Twenty? Maybe America should already have fallen. According to Chalmers, collapse was imminent ten years ago:


"This time the Japanese do not have the money to bail out the Americans, as they did during the Gulf War."



"Bail out"? What is Chalmers talking about? Japan contributed only about $8 billion to the $61 billion expense of the Gulf War. Two-thirds of that total, according to assessments based on Defense reports to Congress, was covered by the Gulf States. In the end, the Gulf War cost the US only $7 billion, about the same amount the US spent fighting the Spanish-American War. "Bail out"?

Chalmers also deems as "high-handed" any attempt to challenge terrorism. It’s the sort of thing "Julius Caesar, Catherine the Great or Louis XIV might have undertaken."

Besides, the real enemy isn’t terrorism. It’s SUVs, as usual. Is there anything these wicked machines aren’t capable of?


"The US needs to begin a crash program to conserve petroleum and reduce its dependence on Persian Gulf oil. Instead of promoting conservation, the Bush administration has unilaterally withdrawn from the Kyoto protocol on global warming and has an energy policy devoted to finding more oil. The US constitutes 4 per cent of the world's population but uses 40 per cent of its resources.

"The chief symbol of the US in the post-September 11 days is a gas-guzzling sports-utility vehicle speeding down the freeways with a US flag tied to its radio antenna."



Consider the elements of that symbol: gas-guzzling, SUVs, speeding, freeways, patriotism, radios. So very evocative of the former Soviet Union, don’t you think?

AT LEAST HE'S GOT A SENSE OF HUMOUR. Glenn Sacks writes:


Tim:

A reader sent me your Christmas Carol. Thanks for the warm Christmas sentiments, but I'm actually Jewish. Can you do something with "Hava Nagila?"

Best Wishes,

Glenn Sacks



I’ll try, Glenn. In the meantime, thanks for reconsidering your support of the Walker boy. Now, can you do something about the outrageous garbage your SF Chronicle pal Stephanie "Saviour" Salter has been writing?

LATEST: 90 properties destroyed. 100 fires burning, many of them deliberately lit.

BLOG WATCH I: Your guide to who is saying what, where

Glenn Reynolds: Hacked!; antisemitism as measure of opposition to progress, freedom; limp sex column abandoned entirely; intra-Instapundit clan Christmas; infamous Mercedes recirculating-ball steering derided

Natalie Solent: Geekette posts on Christmas Day

Rand Simberg: War is hell – especially for the losers

Virginia Postrel: Public official Kass loses clarity; Dershowitz thinks Latin is French

Ken Layne: Layne joins the Scientologists; Laura’s rule-busting generosity

Will Vehrs and Tony Adragna: Tony learns the true meaning of Christmas – getting things; Barbie infestation at the old Vehrs place; applause for Simberg

James Lileks: Santa assaulted over failure to bring cigarettes; seasonal classics combined

You can never Watch enough Blogs.

"BLAZES SPREADING AT AN UNPRECEDENTED RATE": Up to 80 properties destroyed, according to the latest SMH report. Reinforcements are arriving from Victoria to assist the 5,000 firefighters who've spent the last 24 hours working on firefronts some 700 kilometres wide.

And earlier, on ABC radio, the first mention of "fireys".

EXTRAORDINARY. Australia’s largest city is encircled by fire. Houses are burning. People are running for their lives. The air outside our inner-city house is dense with smoke and ashes.

And what are the television networks running?

On Seven, we have an infomercial about barbecues.

On Nine, an informercial about positive thinking.

On Ten, an infomercial about Abtronics.

On Sky News, a British review of 2001.

And on the ABC, a British movie from 1957 called "The Big Chance", which at least has a fire theme. Some dame is escaping a conflagration as I type.

Australia’s media industry is hugely regulated. It's a closed market. The result of all this regulation? We CAN’T GET NEWS, not even when Sydney is ringed with flames.

THIS ISN'T GOOD. Now Koperberg’s made it to the third paragraph. Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph still has nothing online at all about these fires. Andy and David and the other Tele newsdeskers need to kick some heads.

WHERE THE FIRES ARE: Still nowhere near as bad, but starting to look like the beginning of 1994.

WHENEVER you see the name "Phil Koperberg" high in an Australian news story, you know it’s bad news. Koperberg is the commissioner for the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, and he’s only ever quoted when massive fires are about.

In this Sydney Morning Herald story, Koperberg makes it by the fourth paragraph. Some 75 fires are out of control; 22 houses have been destroyed; 5,000 firefighters are doing their best (one has been injured); 25,000 homes have no power; 3,000 people have fled their homes; and Sydney is ringed by flames.

BEST CHRISTMAS RETORT: Trying to sympathise with the teenager singlehandedly running the local 7-11 on Christmas morning, I offered some lame line about how tough it must be to work while everyone else was celebrating.

"Not a problem," she answered. "I’m Coptic Orthodox. We celebrate on January 7."

A toast to St. Mark, provider of December 25 convenience store staff!

CHRISTMAS BURNING: Our day was spent under a gigantic mass of smoke rolling in from bush fires south of Sydney. About a dozen or so homes have been destroyed; some 70 or so fires remain alight in the mountain bushland.

Fires are common during Australian summers – the flora has adapted; some of our trees actually need flame to release their seeds – but this bunch is ominously close to outer suburbs. High temperatures and messy, swirling winds aren’t helping.

Worse: no rain is predicted for the remainder of the week. This will test the fire containment measures put in place after the catastrophic Sydney fires of ’94, which killed four people and destroyed hundreds of homes. "We’re fine, mate," my friend Mark Day told me back then, when I called him after seeing that his farm was in the fire-path. "If it gets really bad, we’ll go swim in the ocean until the house finishes burning."

I really should learn to swim. One day it might save me from incineration.

Mark and his house survived, by the way. The people most at risk in these things are the firefighters. Many of them are volunteers, albeit highly-trained; about 2,000 are at work at present. They’ll likely be so for days.

Aside from the pall of terror, Christmas was excellent. Kerry Packer, Australia’s richest man, provided the food. (Bryan, our Christmas host, works for Packer’s television network. Every year Packer gives all his employees a fantastic hamper of Christmas wonders, including a massive turkey. Packer employees tend to be extremely loyal.)

There was no violence, despite the wine and the vodka and the curious Iranian chocolate sugar dessert substance. A child was wounded in some beach-related frolic (note to self: swimming is dangerous. Stay on land). Nadia made something non-meat based (but apparently delicious) for Claire, the lone vegetarian. And James, our American guest, ended the day in a screaming Stones singalong with Bryan, who sometimes forgets his own name but never forgets a lyric.

A happy day for us. Happier still if those fires can be dealt with.

12.25.2001

0 TO 100 IN ONE CHRISTMAS: We may have a winner in the Christmas Weather Extremes competition.

Super lawyer Gillian Lyons just called from Sydney Airport. London-based Lyons is on her way to Brisbane, Queensland, for her family's annual Christmas madness.

Weather in London when she left: below zero.

Weather in Brisbane today: 41 Celsius. That's around 110 Fahrenheit.

CHRISTMAS BLOG WATCH I: Your Yule guide to who is saying what, where

Glenn Reynolds: Passat great, sportscarlike; SUV debate erupts; ancient beginnings of revered Kwanzaa ritual; Saudi anthrax; we are rough men!; WSJ’s Dropped Ball awards; U-238 not exactly the Rolls-Royce of uranium

Natalie Solent: Anti-British slurs in American popular entertainment; dialogue defeats Googling

Virginia Postrel: Christmas bonus book offer; SUVs in the sky; size matters; cute credit cards; progress angers New Yorker readers; cheap Hotwheels; Saudis are dumb

Ken Layne: $74 million worth of talentless, idle, loss-making crap takes a holiday; SF Chronicle reviled as corporate tool

Will Vehrs and Tony Adragna: Claus sighted on approach to Gatwick; down with evil; Santa belief poll; Christmas in Punditville


Thrill to more Christmas BlogWatch magic here.

SNOW BUSINESS: Remember how Afghanistan’s brutal winter was going to be halt American advances? And how those tough Al Queda fighters, trained to deal with the cold, would easily prevail?

Yeah, right

JINGLE HELL: It’s 1.00am Christmas morning in Sydney. And nobody is sleeping, not even a mouse, because we’re beset with 22 degree heat (about 74 on the Fahrenheit scale) combined with 78 per cent humidity. I must maintain a high Liquid Intake. More wine!

(A summer drinking tip: Andrew Darby, deputy photographic editor at Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, has the odd habit of lacing his wine with ice cubes. This was believed to be a unique aberration, but it turns out to be genetic; when Michael Beech, now the Telegraph’s New York operative, visited the Darby family compound in Tamworth, he discovered that the entire Darby clan are ice-wine drinkers.)

Anyway, this sleeplessness has given me the chance to open my Christmas gifts. Nadia bought me a fantastic oyster-shucking knife – about four inches long, solid blade running to the very end of the handle – and a steel-fibre Oyster Man glove so I don’t rip my hands to shreds with aforementioned oyster-shucking knife.

Now the advantage is mine. Those bivalve molluscs don’t stand a chance.

12.24.2001

CRUEL SHOES: Latest theory on "Richard Reid", the wannabe airline bomber whose Converse C-4s would’ve produced hang time unmatched since Michael Jordan’s college years, is that he was born in east London in 1973.

Damn. I knew I should have taken that Layne bet.

By the way, what is it with the Mullah Omar impressions? The guy has always got one eye closed. Is "Richard Reid" really Rich Little?

SPOOKY: Go to this story, the Sacramento Bee’s wire account of the dispute between Exorcist director William Friedkin and Warner Bros., then look at the other wire stories on the right of the page.

One of them tells of a priest mysteriously crushed by an eight-foot-high, fifteen-foot-long steel gate that "somehow" was able to fly loose from its moorings.

If I was Warner Bros., I’d settle with Friedkin immediately. Dark forces are in play.

GERRY THE CUBIST: Get into an argument about Cuba and you’ll always hear the following: that Cuba has the highest literacy of any place on earth, the most wonderful health care, and best, most innovative scientists.

Ha! That the data for these common assertions is provided by Cuba is your first warning sign; the second is, as Gerry Adams noticed during his recent happy visit, that most of the cars there are circa 1950 American.

Brilliant Cuba is yet to figure out a form of transport more advanced than a DeSoto.

Still, Sein Fein Gerry was able to locate signs of progress. The damage from Hurricane Michelle is "already being repaired" – only seven weeks after the hurricane hit! The taxpayer-funded health system is, as Gerry understands such things, "free". The education system (here we go) is "one of the best in the world".

Why was Gerry there anyway? Swapping grooming tips with el Beardo? No, he was there to unveil a monument to Bobby Sands, the Irish prisoner who starved himself to death in 1981.

There’s something definitely Irish about celebrating deliberate starvation in a nation where, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, food shortages have cut average daily food intake by more than 500 calories per person over the last 20 years.

That’s progress, Gerry. Bobby Sands-style progress.

FETCH THE HAMMER AND NAILS, BOYS. WE GOT US SOME CRUCIFYIN' TO DO: We really should have foreseen this. The combination of war and Christmas has produced an alarming rise in Gabbling Idiotry. It’s too late to act now; the time for legislation has passed. We can, however, point at the Idiots, and laugh.

The latest GI is Stephanie Salter, previously unnoticed opinion leader for the SF Chronicle. Unluckily for her, James Lileks happened to be of a mind to read her latest column. His resultant analysis is better than the best thing you’ll find under your Christmas tree.

To excerpt from it would be to spoil your fun, so I won’t. I will reveal, though, the mind-twisting conceit central to Salter’s piece:

She pretends to be Jesus. And she lectures George W. Bush about love.

DREAMING OF A GRIM CHRISTMAS: The Australian newspaper recently held a contest in which readers were invited to rewrite the lyrics of White Christmas. The winning entry, by Donella Peters of Aldgate, South Australia, was stunningly lame:


I’m dreaming of a green Christmas

The River Murray running clear

Environment protection our main direction

And GM crops abandoned here

--

I’m dreaming of a green Christmas

With forests protected in every state,

No uranium mining, and Kyoto signing,

Solar energy before it gets too late



And so on, until you kill yourself. My own entry failed to earn even a commendation from The Australian’s White Christmas judging panel, possibly because my lyrical reworkings relate entirely to popular Blog targets, and possibly also because I never entered the contest:


I’m dreaming of a Fisk Christmas

A gang of Afghans bash and maim

This time there’s no retreating

They just continue beating

If Fisk was them, he’d do the very same

--

I’m dreaming of a Sacks Christmas

Defending Johnny from the Bay

He’s just a hopeless loser

A bewildered self-abuser

(That’s you, Glenn, not Johnny, by the way)

--

I’m dreaming of a Rall Christmas

A Marxist halfwit with a pen

Are his cartoons entertaining?

Does he ever stop complaining?

Not ever, not even every now and then



Merry Christmas, Bloggers and readers all. Nadia and me will celebrate the day at the stylish Bondi home of Bryan and Shelley, where a violent mob is probably already gathering. As usual, a confused and alienated American will be among our number – this year it’s Reason magazine’s James Morrow, who will enjoy his first Kwaanza in life-choking Sydney heat.

A full report will follow, once bail has been posted.

BLOG WATCH I: Your guide to who is saying what, where

Andrew Sullivan: Gloating bastard gets 250,000 visits in one week; Christmas, family oppressive; NPR appearance

Glenn Reynolds: Worthlessness of national ID; dirty bums plan dirty bombs; attack the Belgrano – again!; bring on arrogance; Jesse Jackson seeks right tone

Natalie Solent: Linse teases the Right; this is your naked pilot speaking; big pull ruins Apostles; Christmas stress melts away

Ken Layne: Osama’s final vengeance put down by (ahem) French; does anyone dare take Layne’s bet?; lowdown on C4

Shiloh Bucher: Drinking in the basement

Will Vehrs and Tony Adragna: Let Buicks be your guide; Tony sees the light(s); crab solidarity

Lawrence Haws: Mastery of sea, air must come before space

James Lileks: Home Depot sawdust people; Olivia Newton-John an indispensable mnemonic tool; hookless Garbarge; manna sources questioned; man actually says "Quite"

Remain vigilant, fellow citizens. Watch more Blogs here.

LONG MARCH: Sally Loane, genial radio presenter and newspaper columnist (and Ken Layne fan – her interview with the novel-spruiking Layne was probably the best of the many he submitted to during his Dot.Con tour) sums up her year in today’s Sydney Morning Herald, and includes these lines:


"I was gobsmacked by the flood of anti-American sentiment expressed vehemently in the letters pages of this newspaper, some of it thinly veiled anti-Semitism.

"I found myself literally walking away from people who told me that the Americans deserved it."



Considering that Sally works at the SMH and the ABC, the two leading anti-American cells in this country, this means a hell of a lot of walking.

"IT IS A FAMILY DAY, AND OSAMA IS OUR RELATIVE."

Michael Leunig, cartoonist for the Melbourne Age, proves that indefensible stupidity is some kind of global uniform standard among practitioners of his craft. In today’s paper, the whiny, preachy, holy, crappy Leunig – who, like Ted Rall, simply can’t get noses right – issues a plea to the West: "We should try to love bin Laden".

He begins, menacingly, with a poem by Lao Tzu:


Weapons are the tools of violence;

all decent men detest them.

Weapons are the tools of fear;

a decent man will avoid them

except in the direst necessity

and, if compelled, will use them

only with the utmost restraint.



Which would seem to be good advice for Osama, rather than for those who are presently digging through caves in search of him. "Direst necessity" is their calling; unless bin Laden is found and dealt with, who knows how many more innocents will die?

Leunig then raves about Jeebus for a while, before arriving at the central point of his missive:


"After the recent great clouds of propaganda and the fierce demonising of our so-called enemies, and seeing as it's Christmas, I wonder - can we love them, perhaps even briefly.

"Mercy, forgiveness, compassion. These are great treasures. If you don't use them you lose them."



Leunig is a gross hypocrite. In his work, he displays no mercy, forgiveness, or compassion for Americans, who are his true enemies. Instead, he mocks and belittles them. And spills out puke-making lunacy like this:


"Might we, can we, find a place in our heart for the humanity of Osama bin Laden and those others? On Christmas Day can we consider their suffering, their children and the possibility that they too have their goodness? It is a family day, and Osama is our relative."



Nice family you’ve got there, Michael. You wouldn’t happen to have cousin Osama’s current address, would you? Some people I know have some … er … gifts they want to deliver.