MARK STEYN offers some alternative choices to People magazine’s "25 Most Intriguing People of 2001" (which, as usual, contains nought but bores like Julia Roberts and Jennifer Aniston).

Among Steyn’s picks:

Richard Reid. "A shoe-in for most intriguing Briton of the year. Just what makes him tick? Could it be the timing device in his sock?"

Goran Persson. "Hot from his stint as Euro President … the Swedish prime minister is unquestionably the most intriguing Persson of the year."

Mullah Omar. "Please don't talk about him, one eye's gone! The intriguing mullah … routinely turns down interview requests."

General Musharraf. "On September 10, he was the Taliban's biggest backer. By September 15, he was Bush's biggest backer. In a land of intrigue, no one is more intriguing."

AN AMERICAN HERO DOWNUNDER: Kenny Chapman, the pride of Rogue Valley, Oregon, is the remarkable Erickson Air Crane pilot who rescued 14 Sydney firefighters on Thursday. Here’s the Daily Telegraph’s front page report:

"The lives of 14 volunteer firefighters trapped yesterday in a raging inferno in the Blue Mountains were saved by the water bombing helitanker nicknamed 'Elvis'.

"Walls of flames surrounded the three crews from Lawson and Hazelbrook bushfire brigades as bush ignited all around them on the Ingar Fire Trail, near Wentworth Falls, for 45 minutes before they radioed for aerial support.

"Within five minutes of receiving the distress call, Elvis swooped, dousing the flames and clearing a path for their escape. 'The flames were crowning the treetops, it was a fireball, we were surrounded,' Hazelbrook crew member Chris Tierney, 20, said.

"'Elvis saved us, absolutely. You could feel the heat on the window as we were driving out,' fellow crewman Darrell Pascoe, 31, said. 'We love Elvis,' said 29-year-old Michael Laverton."

We love Elvis's pilot, too. Chapman, whose unbelievably adroit handling of the enormous Air Crane is astonishing to witness, has been avoiding praise for his efforts. "The real heroes are on the ground," he told a television interviewer. "If I ever get in trouble, I can just fly away. They’re stuck there."

People are chasing Chapman for autographs. He’s quiet, modest, a genius pilot, and currently the most admired American in Australia.

He’s also admired in Turkey and California, where Chapman has served in massive fire-stopping actions. Here, aside from his rescue of the firefighters, his skills have saved hundreds of homes in Sydney’s upper North Shore and helped stall fires advancing on Woodford in the Blue Mountains, among dozens of other operations.

We owe Kenny Chapman a tower of thanks. If the Prime Minister isn’t already preparing to reward him – an honorary citizenship, perhaps? – he should be.

FIRE LATEST: We’re into the 14th day of burning. No end to the flames is in sight; expected hot weather could well revive some dormant blazes, or start new ones.

Speaking of which, another arsonist was charged late Friday. A teenage girl.

God, what the firefighters must think when they read about people like her. At least they can feel assured of massive public support. Hail fireys!

Further updates and links can be found below.

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

Andrew Sullivan: Buddy falls to The Curse; Europe’s "democracy"; the Left maintains furious spin rate; Republican tent broadens; brace yourself for the Sunday Times, Bill; spotting non-celebs

Glenn Reynolds: Cornell "U Can’t Touch This" West; Germans threaten US dumbness title; Layne wonderful; oddly Chomskyish fellow disputes football result; new traffic record

Natalie Solent: When Citizens Attack; enemy forces infiltrate The Guardian

Rand Simberg: Socialism in space; farm subsidies exposed, mocked

Virginia Postrel: New York Times Runs Boring Headline, Writer Annoyed

Ken Layne: Ripped off by Business Week stooges; multiculture to the rescue!; long, dull post turns out to be usual Layne work of wonder; UFO, snowman’s hat witnessed

Shiloh Bucher: Back in the Texas saddle

Will Vehrs and Tony Adragna: Poet alert; mega-story on horizon; Saviour Salter still at large, not nailed to cross

Lawrence Haws: Rahm Emanuel dodges Clinton curse … so far; random search provokes predictable response

James Lileks: Just go there, OK? Lileks is in terrific form. Go there NOW

Iain Murray: Anglo cult; Brit street crime increases outrageously; sadness of dogs; 1901 knowledge craved; economist identified as witty

Bill Quick: Increasingly sad, lonely Ted Rall; increasingly sad, lonely Yasser Arafat

Christopher Johnson: Rall hallucinations persist; quisling disqualified

Jason Soon: The infinite coolness of immigration; Marx and the middle class; excellent fire photography

Will and Tony, sitting in a tree, Watching Blogs for you and me …

SHADES OF LAUGHTER: Following September 11, comedians wondered if their craft could survive in post-terrorism America. "Can we be funny?" asked Saturday Night Live executive producer Lorne Michaels. (Rudy Giuliani’s memorable reply: "Why start now?")

Comedy has survived, of course, nursed by David Letterman and The Onion, among others. Letterman’s September 17 monologue beautifully addressed the comedy/terror dilemma:

"It's terribly sad here in New York City. We've lost five thousand fellow New Yorkers, and you can feel it … It's terribly sad. Terribly, terribly sad. And watching all of this, I wasn't sure that I should be doing a television show, because for twenty years we've been in the city, making fun of everything, making fun of the city, making fun of my hair, making fun of Paul ….

"… The reason we were attacked, the reason these people are dead, these people are missing and dead, and they weren't doing anything wrong, they were living their lives … as I understand it, and my understanding of this is vague at best, another smaller group of people stole some airplanes and crashed them into buildings. And we're told that they were zealots, fueled by religious fervor. Religious fervor. And if you live to be a thousand years old, will that make any sense to you? Will that make any Goddamned sense?

"We're going to try and feel our way through this, and we'll just see how it goes ... take it a day at a time."

And he did. By the time of the anthrax panic, Letterman had restored the mood of his show so completely that he was able to cheerily warn the audience not to applaud, "because it circulates the spores."

So comedy, overall, is alive. But September 11 has buried a particular form of comedy. Let’s call it Leftist Message Comedy – comedy where the jokes run second to allegedly wise political and social insights.

Barry Crimmins is the exemplar of Leftist Message Comedy. Since September 11, the Boston-based activist-humorist’s jokes come off as cold as a Tora Bora cave. (Actually, Barry wasn’t travelling too well before September 11. Here’s his killer line about the US election: "The biggest problem with this election is someone is going to win it!" Ha. Ha.)

According to Barry’s bio, "by the end of his show there are very few people who wouldn't feel a little guilty about not voting or, for that matter, becoming active in grassroots efforts." Sounds like a hoot! It’s little wonder Barry’s won so many prizes from respected comedy analysts, like Boston Mobilization for Survival, which gave him its Peace Leadership Award; Wellesly College, which bestowed upon him its Courage of Conscience Award (Maya Angelou, that celebrated stand-up gagmistress, is another winner); and the The Life Experience School at The Peace Abbey in Massachusetts, which stopped chuckling long enough to present him with their Social Change Award.

There’s always a "but" in any description of your Leftist Message Comic. We find it here in comments from writer Howard Zinn: "Barry is hilariously funny, but more important, his humor comes out of a deep intelligence, and extraordinary understanding of the world around him and an intense commitment to social change."

Translated, that means Barry is not funny, but it doesn’t matter because he Always Says The Right Things.

Barry Crimmins is a stereotypical left-wing irritant, shrieking "Fascist!" at his enemies while handing out brutal fascist directives of his own. Barry’s big on banning stuff that he doesn’t like. Here’s an example from one of his unreadable Boston Phoenix columns:

"Pro franchises and college teams must stop electronically provoking bad sportsmanship. Never again should a pitcher have to leave the mound to the strains of ‘Hit the Road, Jack.’ Never again should a visiting player have the reality of a tough defeat emphasized by a pep band playing ‘Nah, nah, nah, nah, hey, hey goodbye.’ In both instances noble foes should be given their due, which is a polite round of applause.

"Oafish behavior exacerbated by organized taunting diminishes what should be a pleasant afternoon or evening at a game. Life has too much unavoidable acrimony and hatred."

Hypocrisy, thy name is Crimmins. Here the foe of "organized taunting" and "oafish behavior" tells us about his trip to Detroit last Labor Day, to protest George W. Bush’s visit:

"As each union marched in place waiting to round the corner of Michigan and Trumbull, I suggested to the workers just how insulting and cynical Bush’s visit was … Bush’s photo op was co-opted by thousands of real working Americans. Carrying signs and chanting insults, union members made it clear that Bush was no more welcome in Detroit on Labor Day than they would be at a clambake at Bush’s country club."

Chanting insults? Carrying signs? I hope none of this organized taunting diminished anybody’s pleasant afternoon.

If Barry was out of touch on Labor Day, he’s completely lost after September 11. Flags anger him:

"I understand that many are taking comfort in the American flag at the moment. They see it as a symbol of resilience, determination and respect for victims of terror.

"But I can't join in the nationalistic fervor is because I fear it will lead to more senseless death and because it's inarticulate. No one who was killed last week died for the red, white and blue. They died tying to earn a living for themselves and their families … The flag-waving came after that. I repeat, most of it is completely sincere. People are in pain and need to grab hold of something. Flags are easy to hold."

So are idiot commie views. Barry was still fuming over flags when it came time to pen his final column of 2001:

"Since September 11, the flag has become a perverse and undemocratic symbol of blind obedience to the edicts of the unelected son of a former chief of the CIA, an organization that helped school Osama bin Laden in terrorism."

Makes you want to vote, doesn’t it? Or, for that matter, become active in grassroots efforts. Almost anything, in fact. Except laugh.


FIRE LATEST: Over 170 houses have been destroyed by fires still roaring across 2,000 kilometres of New South Wales, and there were more evacuations today in the state’s worst hit areas. One blaze is headed headed directly for a small town. The outlook for the weekend is grim; no hoped-for rain is forecast for days.

Twenty-four people have now been charged with deliberately lighting fires, and a 16-year-old girl is currently being questioned by police.

A firefighter was airlifted to hospital after being burned. Fourteen of his mates who were trapped by flames escaped likely death thanks to Elvis the Air Crane. Two other Air Cranes are on their way from the US; their departure has been delayed by snow storms in Atlanta.


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

Andrew Sullivan: Poseur Alert begins; Sontag Award 2002; marketplace delivers savage Dershowitz verdict; shaking at notion of President Al; poor, blind Mullah pitied

Glenn Reynolds: Banned words; chair inspires posting record; Allah fella in court; blanket bombing Kabul … with blankets; hating the Gipper; B-52s make us smile; file these predictions away; I want the future now!

Natalie Solent: Blogger unretires; fear of trains

Bjorn Staerk: Deluded Pakistan; bargain prices for captured Pakistanis; Naomi Klein still getting away with it

Rand Simberg: If we do not use this cliched phrase, then the terrorists have won

Will Vehrs and Tony Adragna: W. the enviro-activist; Smarterpundit wanders into hostile territory; defending indefensible Stone fantasy

Lawrence Haws: NATO numbers nonsense

James Lileks: Bottles of unnamed substance solve global dilemmas; angelic husband behaviour; the Stages of New Year’s Parties; hizonner Hatless Mike; unhappy doggie; collapse of Doobie Bros empire; MC Hammered; tired and happy

Iain Murray: Civility key to avoiding war; three strikes rocks; Clintons shun the bereaved

Bill Quick: French reach Kabul; school cold on Tali-Boy; sharks snapping again; Greta moves to Fox; Peronistas never learn; hats off to Reynolds

Jason Soon: Net censorship

You want more Blog Watch? You can’t handle more Blog Watch!

AN EVIL DAY. Here’s all you need to comprehend yesterday’s Sydney fire fury, which consumed 20 homes:

- 5,000 flee as houses burn

- "21 Lucifers"

- Details of those arrested

- Prosecutor calls for gentle treatment of accused

- Blame environmental zealots and state inactivity, not arsonists

- New measures to deal with arsonists

- Suburbanites join frontline fire battle

- North Shore suburbs threatened

- "Angels in overalls"

- Towns north of Sydney menaced

PILGER ATTACKS! London-based Australian journalist John Pilger has reacted righteously to some tame criticism thrown his way by David McKnight in the Sydney Morning Herald. The ponderous mope slammed McKnight as a peddler of deceit in a letter published in yesterday’s paper.

His letter, in abbreviated form, is presented below. Helpful notes have been added:

"David McKnight is entitled to his critical view of those of us who oppose the so-called war on terrorism, but he has no right to falsehood.

"He quotes me as if I was referring to the Islamic fundamentalist groups' ‘distant voices of rage in faraway brutalised places’. In fact, I was referring to ordinary people all over the world, struggling against injustice."

Really, John? Here’s your "faraway brutalised places" quote in its full context: "It is only a few years ago that the Islamic fundamentalist groups, willing to blow themselves up in Israel and New York, were formed, and only after Israel and the US had rejected outright the hope of a Palestinian state, and justice for a people scarred by imperialism. Their distant voices of rage are now heard; the daily horrors in faraway brutalised places have at last come home."

Sure looks like Pilger was referring to Islamic fundamentalist groups. Either that, or he doesn’t intend that paragraph to be read using any of the established rules of English grammar … which, come to think of it, might explain a lot of his work.

Pilger continues:

"He uses his false premise to construct a specious argument that ‘people like John Pilger and Noam Chomsky almost appear to absolve the [September 11] perpetrators of their crime’.

"I wrote in The Guardian: ‘The truth [about September 11] is that the killing of thousands of innocent people is indefensible.’"

That’s Pilger for you; always prepared to take a brave stand. But Pilger was in full absolve mode on September 13, when he wrote: "Far from being the terrorists of the world, the Islamic peoples have been its victims - that is, the victims of American fundamentalism, whose power, in all its forms, military, strategic and economic, is the greatest source of terrorism on earth. This fact is largely censored from the western media."

The real point of Pilger’s letter, however, might be found it its final sentence:

"None of this was published in Australia. Having had McKnight's bogus ‘criticism’, your readers surely have the right to read the original."

If Pilger was genuinely concerned about Australian readers not having access to his article, he could have mentioned the Pilger website (hosted by Carlton Television, who finance Pilger’s documentaries) where that piece and a whole lot more Pilger bilge are stored. Instead, he seems to be angling for a few lazy dollars re-selling something he wrote months ago, as though SMH readers will be denied their "right" to his work unless it’s printed in the newspaper they buy. How quaint.

A few years ago I compared Pilger to a man using imperial tools to work on metric machinery. He’s looking more so all the time.


FULLY AWARE that she risks global humiliation, Guardian columnist Julie Burchill has claimed that helium-voiced Australian songstress Kylie Minogue sums up "why we have something worth fighting for" in the war against terror:

"I really do believe that Bin Laden and Kylie represent the polar opposites of human nature; the first all about cruelty without beauty, the second all about beauty without cruelty."

Actually, Burchill has a point. Kylie may possess minimal talents (compensated for by wearing minimal clothing) but she’s an unpretentious, completely likeable human, who has built a substantial showbiz career without becoming a basketcase. Moreover, as Burchill points out, when Kylie gives to charity, she actually gives her own money instead of simply showing up at a charity concert:

"That's the way you do it, celebs: give of your own deep pockets, not dole out 12 hours of crap TV once a year, exhorting those who can't afford it to part with their pension or pocket money."

Burchill also makes this New Year’s vow:

"I won't use the word ‘Muslim’ any more about the sort of life-loathing, murderous, rich men's kids we're currently at war with, because, in the 1970s, exactly the same sort of legions of the loveless, nihilists posing as radicals, used to call themselves ‘marxists’ when they chucked an old bloke in a wheelchair over the side of a cruise ship or blew up a busful of kids, and as a teenybopper marxist I didn't like that one little bit. Instead, from now on, I'll call them fanatics."

Or Kyliephobes.

THE Washington Post’s account of the Sydney fires contains this information: "Authorities said the downtown area was not in danger."

But the Post’s headline – "Fires threaten Downtown Sydney" – asserts exactly the opposite. What a strange little newspaper.

SEVERAL houses burned today after a new outbreak south of Sydney. They are the first buildings destroyed by these fires in four days. Two thousand people have just been evacuated from Shoalhaven, on the south coast.

Another arsonist was arrested this afternoon, bringing the total to 21. Fourteen of them are kids. The Premier of New South Wales, Bob Carr, has demanded jail terms for anyone convicted of lighting fires and will redraft juvenile sentencing laws to achieve this.

This map of the devastation ran in the Sydney Morning Herald today. It’s already out of date, but provides an idea of how widespread has been the damage.

ELVIS HAS SAVED THE BUILDING: The massive water-dumping Erickson Air Crane helicopter brought from Victoria to fight the New South Wales bushfires yesterday saved almost 300 homes from incineration.

Known as Elvis – it consumes 9,000 litres of water in mere seconds, so consequently achieves Big Hits, and was also once based in Memphis – the Air Crane may soon be joined by at least two others. Prime Minister John Howard announced earlier today that the Federal government would fund the purchases. Seems sensible.

The state has now seen 500,000 hectares scorched, but property damage over the last couple of days has been minimal. This is an extraordinary achievement.

The pity is that today firefighters have to repeat all their outstanding work – for the eleventh day in a row. We’re about two hours away from the time fire chief Phil Koperberg says may prove to be the most critical so far, with yet more gusting winds and high temperatures.

Arrests for deliberately lighting fires, according to the latest radio reports, have increased to 20. Thanks, fellow Australians.

BLOG WATCH I, 2002: Your guide to who is saying what, where

Glenn Reynolds: Academic Milli Vanilli; Norway strives for ordinariness; sexless, cashless, readerless Salon; San Francisco the new Deep South

Bjorn Staerk: Turkey no chickens on women’s rights; Muslim Dictionary the ideal gift

Rand Simberg: Conjugal rights for Simberg!; Dan the Sandpiper Man; Jeffords the Turncoat of the Year

Virginia Postrel: Retail spies banned; super-involved modern dining experiences; huzzah for the Professor Man; Internet enriches the forgotten zones; mystery man no longer so mysterious; there’s such a thing as lemon diet Coke?

Will Vehrs and Tony Adragna: NYT spins, spins, spins for Bill; your papers unfolded and examined; hangovers blamed

Bill Quick: Voteless mayor takes office; men beheaded for bebottoming; astounding sentence published; despite abundance of berries, pork, fish, poor folk eat dirt; may be time to cry for Argentina

Rallying Point: The Left is fraudulent. No argument here

Christopher Johnson: The Left is on the run; school proud of Tali-Boy Walker; Ted Rall is an idiot. In fact, he’s the Idiot of the Year

Jason Soon: Light rain assists Sydney firefighters; cool books, CDs

Experience the thrill of international Blog Watching with Will and Tony

WHEN COMEDIANS TURN SERIOUS: A few years ago a friend moved from Victoria to the Northern Territory, where he was required to exchange his Victorian driver’s licence for a Northern Territory licence.

A mistake was made. Previously only allowed to drive ordinary cars, his new Northern Territory licence permitted him to drive gigantic road trains.

Something similar happens to people whose images are displayed on television or movie screens. They suddenly become qualified to analyse events far beyond their area of expertise. Hello, Barbra? The brothers Baldwin? Julia Roberts? Oliver Stone? Sarah Jessica Parker?

Latest to join the Outspoken Actors’ Guild is Terry Jones, one of six members (and fifth wheel) of the Monty Python comedy team. Jones has decided that the US mission in Afghanistan is wrong, wrong, wrong, and outlines why in a recent UK Observer piece.

Thanks to Damian Penny and Dr. Frank for bringing this item to our attention. Let’s take a silly walk through Terry’s deep thoughts:

"Osama bin Laden is looking 'haggard'. A videotape broadcast on al-Jazeera TV showed the Most Wanted Man in the Known World looking haggard … So I would like to congratulate George Bush and Tony Blair on the first concrete evidence that their 'War on Terrorism' is finally achieving some of its policy objectives."

Finally? It’s been just months since the attack on the US, and already bin Laden is powerless and ruined. And this in a conflict the Observer – and its mothership, the lumbering, hate-mongering Guardian – told us would take years, if not decades, to achieve anything.

"Of course, they've done terribly well in bringing chaos to Afghanistan, but I don't remember that as being one of the policy objectives."

Terry presumably preferred the orderly calm of Afghanistan under the Taliban.

"Bringing to justice the people who actually perpetrated the crime was out of the question since they were already dead."

Great thinking, Mr Comedy Man. By this logic, Charles Manson goes free, Hitler wins a posthumous pardon, and bin Laden is guilty of nothing more than a little reckless tent chat after too many camel-milk martinis.

"Well, many months later, who has paid for it? US taxpayers have stumped up billions of dollars. They've paid for it. So have the British taxpayers, for some reason which hasn't yet been explained to us."

Many months? Try four. And as for billions of dollars … show us your accounting methods, Terry. Where have these ‘billions’ gone? And why is an old leftie like yourself suddenly concerned about taxpayer dollars, especially taxpayer dollars from a country where you don’t pay tax?

"Uncounted thousands of innocent Afghan citizens have paid for it too - with their lives. I say 'uncounted' because nobody in the West seems to have been particularly interested in counting them. It's pretty certain more innocent people have died and are still dying in the bombing of Afghanistan than on 11 September, but the New York Times doesn't run daily biographies of them so they don't count."

Plenty have been interested in counting Afghan losses, Terry. Pay attention. As for the NYT not running daily biographies, let’s see you get over to Afghanistan and start splicing together some snappy paragraphs about the dead, you carping suckweasel.

"We've all paid a considerable amount in terms of those precious civil liberties and freedoms that make our way of life in the Free World so much better than everyone else's."

Name one liberty or freedom you’ve lost since Sept. 11. Just one. You can email me, if the government hasn’t yet confiscated your iMac.

"We are all also paying a huge price, all the time, every day, in terms of our daily anxiety quota. We daren't fly in planes or, if we do, we do so in fear and dread."

So complain to bin Laden. In the meantime, my daily anxiety quota has soared due to half-arsed opinion pieces written by imbeciles.

"If the police were setting out to catch a particularly clever and evil murderer, would they go around with loud-hailers announcing where they were going to look for him, pinpoint the areas they intended to search and give him a count of 100 to get away? That's what you do if you're playing hide and seek, not if you want to catch a criminal."

The man wears a dress in movies to get a laugh and now he’s the world’s foremost military strategist. Stand by for Terry’s address to the graduating class at West Point.

"But I realise that's not a very American way of going about things."

The British method, as demonstrated by Neville Chamberlain, is obviously superior.

"If Osama bin Laden is looking haggard, that means he's scared … but at least it means he's not enjoying himself as he was in his previous video. This is a considerable triumph for the US forces, for the brave bomber pilots who release their bombs from such considerable and dangerous heights above the ground … "

What cowardly altitude was Mike Spann cruising at when he was kicked to death by Taliban prisoners in Mazer-e Sharif? And how far above the earth’s surface are all the US , British, and Australian ground troops? Ground troops, Terry. There’s a hint in the name.

"So keep up the good work, President Bush and Prime Minister Blair, let's see if we can continue in this vein and perhaps - at the cost of only another few billion dollars, a lot more innocent lives, many more civil rights, and the stability of the Middle East, India and Pakistan, and perhaps a Third World War, we might even be able to make Osama bin Laden frown."

This ‘stability’ you mention in the Middle East, India, and Pakistan … what century are we talking about here, Terry?

Maybe it was the century when you and your kind were considered clever and entertaining. Go back there.


SYDNEY FIRES ERUPT: There was hope last night that the fires surrounding Sydney were under control, or at least on the way there. That’s all gone to hell today; the major outbreaks have jumped their containment lines, and a new blaze – in the north-western suburbs – broke out just two hours ago.

Withering heat and crazy winds boosted the existing fires (we have a fire perimeter now of about 1,000 kilometres) but the new outbreak bears all the signs of a deliberate act. So far nine idiots have been arrested for lighting fires. It’s estimated that 40 of the present 100 or so fires were deliberately lit.

Needless to say, people are furious. Here’s a couple of letters to today’s Sydney Morning Herald:

"Because there is no death penalty in Australia, there is no ideal way of dealing with arsonists. I suggest special cages at Taronga Zoo where they could be held for life. The sign on the cage should read: ‘Australian Traitor - please do not feed.’"

-- Len Berlin, Mosman

"Let's not call them arsonists. Let us call them what they really are, eco-terrorists, and let the punishment fit the crime."

-- Wayne Holt, North Richmond

Some fourteen fire units have been redirected to the Pennant Hills fire, along with the massive water-dumping helicopter now known to locals as "Elvis", due to its gigantic, 9,000 litre appetite. Heroism abounds, with firefighters now operating in a condition somewhere beyond total exhaustion.

Latest news is the worst imaginable: no significant rain is due for 12 more days.

WHEELS WITHIN WHEELS: Staffers for US Democrats David Bonior, John Dingell, and Dale Kildee are required by their bosses to drive only US-made vehicles.

Given that cars are a form of self-expression – and anyone who disputes this can discuss Alfa Romeos with Gino, my beautiful Nadia’s father – is this not a violation of the right to free speech?

Let’s say, unlike the Bob Allison sap mentioned in the LA Times story linked above, you’re not prepared to drive a suckhole ’96 Olds Cutlass in order to get a Democrat press secretary job. Let’s say you’re a person of taste, who thrills to the precise handling of a Miata. Or perhaps you own a Ferrari. Or a Peugeot. Or a Morgan.

No Democrat jobs for you, friends. Not unless you submit to the products of the United Auto Workers union.

DYING TEEN SEX DEBATE: The author of the piece that provoked this inter-blog frenzy is a former journalistic associate (and a truly gifted writer). I’ll try to get her to pen a response to the various arguments, to be posted here. Stay tuned.

2001 IN AUSTRALIA: The Sydney Morning Herald’s Imre Salusinszky and Gerard Henderson sum up our year with wit and charm. The same paper’s Peter FitzSimons attempts to predict events forthcoming in our new year, and offers this invitation: "Call me an idiot."

Believe me, Peter, I do. Often.

TERROR ERRORS AND A MEDIA FEEDING FRENZY: A piece by me in today’s edition of The Australian, expanding on an earlier posting here about pundits who got their Afghanistan predictions wrong. Complete with references to obscure Australian sports icons and Ken Layne.

BLOG WATCH I, 2002: Your guide to who is saying what, where

Andrew Sullivan: Keepin’ it real, Blog-style; Clinton wusses out of NYT interview; Green Mile so terrible it qualifies as worst movie of last two years; best wishes for the New Year, Sully

Glenn Reynolds: Hitchens raining blows on the Left; silent avoidance of genocide; Kyoto Agreement To End Civilisation not signed by Japan; no mo’ mullahs, say Iranian youth; Crazy Horse charnel house; McDonaldizing mosques; uninvited Googling offends; here’s to hypering throughout 2002, Prof

Natalie Solent: Still cold turkeying; a post-free toast to Mrs S

Matt Welch: Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to Matt and Emmanuelle, currently lost in the land of cheese

Bjorn Staerk: French prisons churning out Islamite lunatics; Non-Government Guiltologists identified; keep doing it Norway, Bjorn

Rand Simberg: Git yer hands offa them levers of power, dern liberals!; write it long and write it loud over the next 12 months, Rand

Virginia Postrel: To our Friend of the Future, may 2002 see the greatest days draw closer

Ken Layne: With a wife like Laura and his writing talents, as if Layne needs any extra New Year cheer. Here’s some anyway, Ken, you Honorary Australian

Shiloh Bucher: New Year, new wisdom from wily Shiloh

Will Vehrs and Tony Adragna: Drunken NYT editors mistakenly print pro-Bush editorial; prediction – pithy Potomac pundits pontificate profusely post present period

Lawrence Haws: A Haws is a Haws, of course, of course, and here’s to him remaining so in 2002

James Lileks: Retail frenzy; parking slowness; gnome-built furnishings; infant lures women; hazelnut terrorists strike; to you and your family, Mr Lileks, our merriest merryings of the New Year

Iain Murray: Argies soon to select President by national lottery; Euro-panic; Theo crushes Rawls; praying to every known deity for at least one England Test victory this year in your honour, sir

Jay L. Zilber: May the New Year bring with it all your dreams and ambitions. And possibly a new Blog mugshot

Bill Quick: Eternal Argentine opposition; strangely, gun crimes somehow increase after gun laws introduced; men pile on in Flight 63 assault; Happy New Year to the guy whose name sounds like a super-efficient debt collection agency

Rallying Point: Post-modern art isn’t; quit that goofy rapping; who is Rallying Point? Only the Shadow knows. And Santa Claus

Christopher Johnson: Wishing for Steyn-like skills; wishing Midwest Conservative editors a wish-fulfilled 2002

Jason Soon: McMahon a loser PM, despite gam-flashing wife; Australians mature Net-users; the Devine Miranda speaks tree truth; sunburnt Aussie Christmas solidarity, brother

I like to Watch Blogs.


STEYN MALIGNED: A few posts below I mentioned the angry response that followed the publication in The Australian of this piece by Mark Steyn. Here’s a typical example, from a local Fisko-Chomskyite:

"I find Mark Steyn's commentary disgusting. The amount of vitriol poured at Fisk and Chomsky is shocking. Perhaps this poisonous attitude has something to do with dear Mark's surname, which is conspicuously Jewish. Perhaps Fisk and Chomsky are vilified only because of Mark's blind hatred towards Arabs and Islam. Anyhow, Mark Steyn, whoever he is, is not worthy to tie shoelaces on Fisk's and Chomsky's shoes."

Imre Salusinszky , a friend of mine despite being another of those "conspicuous Jews", received similar correspondence after several of his columns in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Excuse me, but isn’t racism meant to be wholly owned by the Right? Who do these anti-Semite lefties think they are, mooching in on our turf?

Speaking of hate mail, I anticipate the usual slab of it after The Australian publishes an op-ed by me tomorrow. I’ll put a link up when it’s available.

WHY WAIT UNTIL NEW YEAR’S EVE? Maternity nurses at Wollongong Hospital here in New South Wales have been partying all year long on nitrous oxide.

The nurses – sometimes joined by pill-gobbling doctors – allegedly hooked into nitrous oxide during work hours, in unoccupied birthing rooms. The Sydney Daily Telegraph reports:

"Investigators examining the hospital's drug records are understood to have uncovered unusually high usage of nitrous oxide and temazapam in the maternity ward.

"This supports their belief that the parties have been something of a tradition at the hospital, rather than a one-off incident."

Ten nurses have either been stood down or moved to other duties while the gas accusations are examined. Happy New Year!


MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE: Furious Anita, an Australian living in America, has issues with the US media and fireprone Aussies:

"We've been driven nuts by the US coverage which initially never even tells you which state is having bush fires. Now they're mentioning Sydney, so we know that, but it's a bit maddening to have news reports of massive fires in ‘Australia’. It's like saying somebody flew a couple of jumbo jets into skyscrapers in ‘America’ without further detail.

"I know it's hard to locate firebugs but these particular ones beg to be found and slaughtered, posthaste. Is there a hunt on to find the assholes who are setting fires?"

Yes, there is. Three boys and two men arrested so far. Update to follow on the slaughtering.

BRITISH JAILS A BREEDING GROUND FOR ISLAMIC MALCONTENTS: Richard Reid, the Cobbler Terrorist, is but one of many potential shoe-bombers currently incubating in Britain’s prisons, according to Dr Theodore Dalrymple. He writes in today’s UK Telegraph:

"It came as little surprise to me to learn that Richard Colvin Reid, the would-be bomber of the American Airlines flight 63 between Paris and Miami, seems to have converted to Islam while in a British penal establishment.

"For some years now the strongest evangelical current in British prisons has been that of Islam … The fact is that, for prisoners, Islam kills two birds with one stone.

"It answers their need for transcendence, of course, as any religion would, but it does more than that: it revenges them upon the whole of society … By converting to Islam, the prisoner is expressing his enmity towards the society in which he lives and by which he believes himself to have been grossly maltreated."

"WE MADE IT. LOT OF PEOPLE DIDN’T": Chris Fenyo joined the New York Fire Department – Harlem, Engine 80 – in July. He wasn’t scheduled to work on the morning of September 11, but headed for the World Trade Center from his apartment nearby soon after the first jet hit.

Fenyo spent the next fourteen hours at Ground Zero. Many of the firemen Fenyo worked alongside in the first hour following the attack were killed when the South Tower collapsed; Fenyo narrowly survived, but in the confusion and mayhem his name was mistakenly included on early lists of the dead or missing.

Among the people concerned for his safety was a friend Fenyo had visited during a trip to Australia earlier this year.

On October 30, Fenyo sent his Australian friend this extraordinary account of his ordeal. Incredibly, it was his first fire:

"Hi Jacqui. Alive.

"Good to hear from you. Since I left your hospitality a few months ago it's been a bit of an adventure. But I'll start with the most recent events.

"On August 1 I moved in with my girlfriend to an apartment about six blocks north of the World Trade Center. I was assigned the prior month to a firehouse in Harlem, Engine 80. That morning I wasn't working. I walked Courtney to the subway and went back to the apartment.

"While I was in the elevator the first plane hit. I didn't hear a thing, if you can believe that. There's a firehouse down the street, heard them leave quarters. Then I heard some more sirens. I peeked out the window (I face North, towards mid-town and the Empire State Bldg, not towards the WTC). What I saw were dozens of people in the street, looking up. Figuring there was probably an apartment fire somewhere I took the elevator downstairs and walked to the Greenwich street.

"I turned and saw the North tower with ten floors on fire. I raced upstairs and grabbed my backup gear. I then ran down and out to the street and began sprinting towards the scene. About halfway there I flagged down a Harley and the guy rode me to the staging area that had been set up on West street. I got there soon after the second plane had hit.

"I worked with Engine 39 for about half an hour. We dodged falling glass and falling bodies moving the rigs into position. Then I ran into another member of my company who was also responding off duty. This is maybe 9.30.

"We went to the command post. I'm not sure how much you know of the area, but we were across West street from the towers. From our perspective you could see extensive damage to the North tower, which had been hit first. But the South tower seemed relatively unscathed. It was to prove otherwise, as the entire eastern face was compromised. There were maybe 75 men standing on the ramp of an underground loading area to the building across the street. It was a cavernous loading area, which would prove very valuable to us.

"At about ten minutes to ten the South tower exploded from the center as if it had been set with detonating charges. I was standing about 5 meters down the ramp from the chiefs. Behind me about another 5 meters were 50 men. I turned, with those by my side, and yelled for everyone to run. We all yelled. I saw men planted to the ground in disbelief. We ran into the garage with the sound, like an avalanche, chasing us.

"Most of the chiefs were killed. The entrance of the garage was buried in a mountain of flaming debris. The smoke banked down to the floor and visibility got pretty bad. We were trapped for a few minutes down there and the conditions began to get worse. Most of us had dropped our tools when we ran. Someone found a fire stair case and someone else, good thinker, had put out a search rope. We called out to each other and eventually all got to the stairs.

"Ironically, we were in a fire staircase, trying to get into the building. They are made for opposite egress. All the doors were metal with metal frames, which opened outward. Pretty much impossible to open without a maul and a prying fork. By some miracle there was a facilities man with a key. We got out. What we got out into was a shit storm, though, as the entire area looked like a volcano had erupted. But we made it. Lot of people didn't. We were lucky. Spent the next fourteen hours at the scene before I was recalled to my firehouse. And you know the rest, I suppose.

"That was my first fire.

"Since then I have been to a few other 'jobs.' But anyhow, that's what's going on here.

"We were out of our apartment for two weeks, but all is better now. Lots of funerals we're going to. Got one tomorrow. About seven next week.

"Getting married, though. Great girl, Courtney. Hope the boys are doing well."

Hopefully Chris will be among the NYFD firemen invited to Australia for a vacation next year. He deserves it.

SYDNEY’S DAY OF FEAR: We’re halfway through a terrifying day here, where gigantic heat and huge winds were expected to breathe new life into the 100 or so bush fires still burning throughout New South Wales.

It hasn’t yet turned out that way – in the Blue Mountains, calm weather has allowed firefighters to begin backburning (the planned burning of forests to deny advancing blazes any fuel) in order to protect hundreds of homes.

And we’ve got a new weapon: a fire-quelching Canadian Erickson Air-Crane Helitanker capable of snorking up 9,000 litres of water in 45 seconds. Beware, local scuba-divers, lest you want to become part of urban legend. It’s on its way to Currajong Heights as I write.

We also have new enemies. Five more fires have been deliberately lit in the state’s south. The people responsible deserve to be gassed. With a slow-acting gas, preferably. Something that will produce a useful amount of agonised writhing.

BLOG WATCH 1.5, an update

Bill Quick: Asses fact checked: Paul Krugman’s Argentina mistake; Fisk’s celebration of simple builder-man Osama; Richard Barnes’s terror error

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

Glenn Reynolds: Impeach Bush for winning the war; ignoring Argentina; NYT praises phat-rhymin’ MC West; silent genocide unnoticed by usually-vigilant Chomsky; Blogger dependence; minor Kaus prediction almost accurate

Will Vehrs and Tony Adragna: Musharraf supported; graphic stirring imagery; feast of the intricate cookies; Liddy Dole a Hillaryesque carpetbagger

Christopher Johnson: Liberals unveil their Falwell replicant; Idiot Open contestants blitzed by Rall; Clinton’s legacy is his search for a legacy

Jason Soon: P.J. meets an authentic moron; millionaire film-maker claims "capitalism has destroyed democracy", is gaped at in wonder by stunned Hitchens; antiglobalists identified as "Valley Girl Leftists"

Blogs aplenty, all pre-Watched for your convenience.