An estimated 400 homes destroyed, many more damaged

Power to 25% of the Australian Capital Territory gone.

Four people confirmed dead....   This number was three when I began writing this...


For the last week or so, fires have been burning in the Snowy Mountains, Australia's winter playground. Terrain that has not seen fire for many years, has been blazing in a line reaching from Canberra to Victoria (for those of you not familiar with my country, we're talking a few hundred kilometers).

Last week, I'd get up in the morning, go out the back, and look at the plume of smoke rising in the distance, as these fires raged out of control. This is some of the most rugged terrain in the country, there was nothing that could be done to fight the fires in most places - even waterbombing helicopters were useless - after all, you need to be able to see the fire through the smoke to be able to do anything even vaguely effective.

For a few days last week, the wind direction changed, so that the smoke from these fires was blown over Canberra, blanketing the city with smoke. This was really the first indication to most people of the severity of the fires burning, how huge they really were. Still, I know that I still felt safe, I didn't sense any panic from people I spoke to. The fires were still distant, the danger still remote. The 'wow' factor was there, the thought that the city itself was in danger wasn't.

Yesterday, the 18th of January, 2003, that all changed.


1.30pm

I'm sitting online, browsing through e2 (of course!!). I'd been typing, then realised that it was becoming difficult to see the keyboard keys. I look outside, and realise how dim it is - the smoke is getting much thicker, almost obscuring the sun. Outside, there's an eerie orange light, as the sun struggles to shine through the smoke. I head back inside, and turn on the light.

2.00pm

I'm still browsing e2, and haven't looked outside for a while. For some reason, I do. I wasn't expecting to see what I did...the only words that managed to escape my lips, directed towards my housemate, sitting reading in the lounge room: "Holy fuck..."

Day has turned into night. The streetlights have come on, and cars are forced to drive with headlights on. The sun won't set for another 4 hours or so..

I decide to drive to a higher vantage point, so I can see what's going on. So I head up the base of a mountain near my home, where I know I'll be able to see the mountain range that runs down Canberra's western flank. I'm not the only one there - many people are looking to see just what's going on. When I get up there, I can barely believe what I'm seeing. Fire has come over the top of the mountains, and is flowing downwards, ever closer to the city. Burnt debris is falling everywhere - not just leaves, but bark, at least 30cm long, is being deposited kilometers from the fire front. Plumes of fire are shooting into the air - the flares look massive from where I'm standing, at least 10km away.

Imagine, an image of a solar flare, stretching out into space. It seems so massive, as you wonder what type of force could create something containing so much energy, so much force. Yesterday, I witnessed solar flare type flame, heading towards my city.

After taking some photos, which I don't think will turn out so well in the dim light, with the fires getting closer all the time, I decide it's time to head back home. Back in the car, I head down the hill. A couple of minutes later, I look back towards the mountain I've been standing at the base of. It's on fire.

Time loses meaning right now...

I get home, and my housemate's telling me that our suburb is in extreme danger. Residents are being advised to fill gutters with water, remove fuel from the premises, fill bathtubs with water, soak towels to stuff under the cracks underneath doors. And I can't believe this is happening here. Not that long ago, I wrote something here - Protecting your home from bushfire. I didn't ever in my wildest dreams believe that I'd need to use this information at the house I live in now. Not in the midst of suburbia - its people who live in the bush fringes who need to worry about that type of thing, isn't it? Apparently, the answer is a resounding no.

And the next hour or so is a flurry of filled bathtubs, downpipes blocked and gutters filled, rubbish moved from around the house, sprinkler systems turned on for the first time in months (to top it off, there's a drought, and water restrictions apply...just not now), curtains pulled down, and hosing down the house of the old lady who lives just behind ours. All the time, debris falls...burnt leaves, bark, ash everywhere, that stings your eyes, and sometimes makes it difficult to breathe. Standing under the pergola out the back, it sounds as though it's raining. About this time, the electricity goes out...

We're out on the street, talking to neighbors that we rarely see, sharing this experience, and any information that we have, when I see the most incredible sight. There's a hill a kilometer or so from out house, mainly grassland, and scattered trees. You often see Kangaroos grazing on its slopes, leading down to a line of large houses, at its base. And it's burning.

Imagine if you could fill a bucket with fire. And you carried that bucket to the side of a grassy, dry hill. Draw that bucket back, and toss its contents across the hill's side. Watch as that fire flew across the hill, seemingly faster that is possible. This is how the fire spread across this hill. The speed of the fire spreading is something that I will never forget...something that I would not have credited as possible, had I not seen it myself.

Later that night

We survived. Houses in my part of Kambah have managed to survive...although many homes in my suburb have been destroyed. The entire mountain range is burning, spreading all the way to the city. It is the most incredible thing I have ever seen... Spots of red, surrounded by pools of black. Trees glowing, for kilometers in all directions. Standing on the roof of a friend's house, I can turn 360 degrees, and see fires burning in almost all directions.

Today

I wake early today, to a city covered in smoke. Things are much calmer, and it's time to assess the situation, and consolidate. Fire crews are creating a fire break, stretching around the entire ACT. Smoke fills the air, and the sound of helicopters is almost constant - either carrying out spotting duties, or waterbombing. Police have the opportunity to enter the suburbs that have been hardest hit, and see just what is left. In some suburbs, it's not very much. Entire streets have been wiped out, nothing but ash remains.

So far today, another two bodies have been found.

Canberra's sewerage system is out - by tomorrow afternoon, the holding pond will be full, and effluent will overflow into a river system. Electricity is coming back slowly - power came back here a couple of hours ago, after more than 24 hours out. It could be days before it's restored in some areas.

It has been estimated that Canberra would have needed over 800 fire tankers to adequately deal with this fire. Canberra has 12. Most of the fire fighting has been carried out by residents, armed with garden hoses and buckets. Many firefighters are saying that they have never seen a fire like this.

This is without a doubt the worst fire in Canberra's history. Many are saying that this is the worst bushfire ever seen in Australia. It's the only one I've ever been in the middle of - I can't imagine that it could be much worse than this. 350,000 people call this city home...I've not spoken to anyone who doesn't know someone who has lost their home.


Today has been a day of relative calm. Tomorrow is forecast for a top of 37oC (close to 100oF), and the danger is by no means past.


21 January, 2003 - Yesterday was another day of calm. Temperatures were kept down - ironically, the amount of smoke covering the ACT has become our saviour, as the sun's impact is muted. Winds were almost non-existant, and fire crews were able to build containment lines. Some areas that are still at risk have had a four lane highway sized firebreak bulldozed around them.

Today, suburbs in Canberra's North-West are on alert once again - strong winds are again predicted, and the temperature is supposed to reach 35oC. Once again, we sit, and hope that the predictions prove to be wrong..

Today, according to server time, is TOday.

That may look like saying "Today is Today", but in actuality it is "TO day". TO stands for Tikun Olam, which is Hebrew for "repairing the world." It's a regional program run by my youth group, and it's all the way across the state this year...

I'll be travelling 3 hours to Syracuse to go and help people out. Wahoo! I'm really excited; we get to raise money for charity, and have a dance-a-thon (to raise more money), work in soup kitchens, and generally doing good deeds around the city. It goes all the way into monday, and it's going to be a blast.

My thoughts are, why does it only have to be me and my group of 100 or so other people who are participating in this program who do good deeds?

My challenge to you is: go out and do one random act of kindness today. It doesn't matter how big it is, or how expensive, or how time-consuming, but the fact that you helped to make the world a better place. Go out, and help someone out. Go out and set up to do some volunteer hours at the local library. Go out and donate some clothes to the Salvation Army. Go outside and pick up some trash at the local park. Drop off a few dollars (or your currency of choice) in the Ronald McDonald House box at McDonald's when you go get a bite to eat.

Whatever you do, make a positive difference in somebody else's life.

... and then come here and tell us about what you did to help the world.

BYU (Brigham Young University) - Model United Nations.

Today the Model United Nations kicked off a tournament at BYU, Brigham Young University. Having little sleep the previous night, and being one pissed off grumpy and mean guy, I was about ready to do some damage. I did just that with my delegation on the World Summit on Sustainable Development. My research I had done to write my policy paper, see Model United Nations ‘my node’ to read an example of this. Please also read MUN parliamentary procedure to understand what the entire tournament was running off of. The funniest thing about the tournament was that since each country is represented by a delegation of two from a high school, you don't always get fully educated people on the topic. Iraq and the U.S.A. signed a working paper together, with the same pen, with smiling faces, and expecting everyone else to agree. - We of course did not, both countries did not role play. Anyway, one fun-loving person, Whitney, decided she was going to warm me up inside the heart and I began to receive a smile. I did just that. Whitney is my partner for my delegation. She is a 4.0 student with straight H’s. One bright human being. She helped me do my best in our committee, and we did.

There are six committees. My delegation, The best, the Russian Federation from Woods Cross, placed in the top, that is - in the top of the top. We placed top three in the WSSD, and top eighteen over all out of 700. Because they don’t give specific places, it is safe to say that we got first in my committee. I only say this because we owned the entire thing. Every waking moment our name was on the Speakers’ List. Every time possible we smooched the judges. But most importantly, my working paper became a resolution. In fact, my resolution 1.1 was the only one that passed. It passed with a vote of 30 for, 22 against, and 3 abstaining. That may not be much on the positive side, but all the other resolutions sucked and got less than 30% positive. Whitney and I went home happy to have taken a paper home stating what we had partaken in and won.

Many schools go to MUN tournaments. The Utah program is ran by Mrs. Brooke Gregg, my teacher, Woods Cross high school. We only took 2nd this time at BYU, but we have taken state every year since 1995. That is really good. Our school is really fun to be apart of, it is has one of the best speech and debate classes in the state, if not the best. At least our school as a whole got more than just a silly paper stating what we won. A glass trophy, if you will.


Please see MUN parliamentary procedure, parliamentary procedure, Brigham Young University, Writing MUN Policy, and Model United Nations, to find more information about this topic. See January 18, 2002 to read about the Friday night preparing for the tournament.

Step One: Push button.

Step Two: Receive bacon.

Step Three: Enjoy!

I saw this written on a hand dryer in a public restroom. Written over the daigrams outlining the accepted procedure for drying hands at the inefficient machine, the artist commented on the bacon-like appearance of the squiggly air lines. The second illustration did look remarkably similar to a pauper graciously receiving his Communion of fried pig.

I left the restroom and got in the car. My friend dropped me off at the dorm room of another. Three of us watched hockey and drank until midnight. I began the solitary journey home through the barren campus and noticed few footprints in the snow. I glanced back twice when I was in sight of my building.

She kissed me.

Here I was, wondering how I was going to find an opportunity to try to kiss Eun Jung for the first time, and she beat me to it. So much for everything I thought I knew about Korean girls. Here's how it happened:

Friday night, I called her up at 9:30, and asked her if she wanted to meet me. She did. We decided to go to our usual place, a bar called Elvis. She showed up a little after ten, with her older sister, as usual.

After one beer at Elvis, the girls announced that they were hungry. Some of my friends at Elvis had announced that they were about to go to the soju tent next door for some soju and something to eat, so we decided to go with them. There were five of us. Two foreigners who can't speak Korean, two Koreans who can't speak English, and me. Needless to say, I was doing lots of translating. During a lull in the conversation, though, Eun Jung's sister suddenly decides to put me on the spot. Just straight out asks me what my feelings are for her sister. I'm a little taken aback, but eventually tell them that, yes, I want to be more than friends with Eun Jung. I want to be her boyfriend. That seems to satisfy the two of them, and conversation went back to something more normal.

Much later in the night, we're back at Elvis, drinking too much beer, and eventually we decide it's about time to leave. This creep David comes over and starts hitting on the two girls. I'm not too happy about this, since one is the girl I'm interested in and the other is engaged to be married. Due to the language barrier, they don't realize that that's what he's doing. I warn them about him, which I can do right in front of him, since he doesn't speak Korean. He invites us all to go back to the soju tent for a little more soju before calling it a night. The girls ask me if we should refuse. Some other, decent, people are going too, though, so I say that we can accept.

Anyway, the soju hit me really hard after all the beer I'd been drinking, and I was quickly completely wasted. I guess being in the soju tent again made me remember her sister's sudden question, because I started trying to apologize for possibly seeming awkward and taken aback earlier, and tried to explain that, back in Canada, people's sisters don't normally put you on the spot like that. I must have been babbling, because she decided to shut me up by kissing me.

So I guess we're official, now. It didn't happen quite like I expected it to, and I guess I wish it hadn't been catalyzed by me being a drunken fool, but overall, I'm very happy. :)

I recently checked my PO Box and received a strange letter from an alleged Epistolary Gigolo. Apparently he has written to other noders...

It contains two typed letters and another page saying to respond and/or pay money. "Don't respond and I won't write you again." Then, turning it over, it says:
"Finally, and irrespective of how you view your contribution, be duly informed that now is the time to act. Before the moon has risen twice more, either deposit something in the mail for to let your eager gigolo know of your desire, or do not: as you wish."

I am slightly offended that it was typed and not handwritten. How impersonal. Also offensive, I don't know who he is. His address isn't listed in emar and he doesn't use his noder name.

Dad, I'm sorry. I'm sorry that your cinematography career didn't work out. I'm sorry you ended up a used car dealer. I'm sorry your family didn't work out as planned. I'm sorry that my mom is a depressed, lonely woman who is frustrated by life. I'm sorry my sister is a brat, but she isn't old enough to realize it yet. I'm sorry my brother is also a brat and refuses to realize it, and I'm sorry he's in a wheelchair, too. I'm sorry that I am not what you wanted out of your oldest child. I'm sorry that I didn't turn out to be the smart, educated, religious man that you had always dreamed of. I'm sorry that instead of a son you were proud of, I became an athiest, and hate school. Oh, and I'm sorry I'm stoned right now. I'm sorry that I'm always gone when you visit, and I'm sorry it's so hard for me to talk to you. I'm sorry that I'm not embracing Islam and my Egyptian roots, and I'm sorry that your daughter and other son don't respect you. I'm sorry that your current family is less than comfortable because of us. I wish we could have turned out the way you wanted, I really do, because I'm sorry that your life didn't turn out the way you thought it would. I'm sorry that at 50, you are a used car dealer, dealing with trashy welfare-moms, crackheads, and gangbangers every day just for a buck to send back to our bloodsucking family. You always told me when I was younger that I would look back on things and realize that you were always right when I thought you were a mean overbearing hardass. You weren't right on everything, but you were damn close. I look back on our relationship and curse my unknowingly selfish self. I'm sorry for him, too.

I really wish that Columbus still had a public access cable station (Community 21 got shut down a couple of years ago due to a combination of mismanagement and budget cuts -- see http://www.comm21.org/ for part of the story).

Because I have an idea for a weekly show that would be perfect for this city. You know the PBS series "This Old House"?

I propose:

This Crappy Apartment

Columbus, Ohio abounds in run-down and mismanaged rentals and apartment complexes, partly due to the vast student slum surrounding The Ohio State University, but not entirely. For instance, my housemates and I live well away from OSU, but our complex is just a few steps away from becoming the 'Hood (to the latest management's defense, they are trying to fix things; they're just not succeeding very well).

Even the nice, expensive complexes in town are plagued by bad maintenance and indifferent management. A lot of the problem, I think, is that Ohio state laws provide very little in the way of protection for tenants -- everything is skewed towards the landlords.

For instance, when I lived in Indiana, landlords were required to provide up-to-date fire extinguishers in the kitchens, smoke detectors, and were required to inspect the heating system every year for malfunction and carbon monoxide emissions. Here in Ohio? Fuggedaboutit. If something catastrophic happens -- say, your roommate's bedroom ceiling springs an enormous leak -- you have to notify the landlord in writing of the problem. And then they have 30 days to fix it. If they don't fix it, you can put your rent in escrow. You're not legally protected if you just call your landlord about a problem. And they still have a month to fix something that can render an apartment partially or fully unusable.

Most landlords try a bit harder than that to keep tenants safe and happy, but only a bit. And there's the issue of rent. If you're late on rent in most states, you might get a phone call or a note at first. Here in Columbus, if you're past deadline, most apartment complexes automatically send you an eviction notice. According to the law, to stage an eviction due to nonpayment, they have to give 6 weeks notice, so many landlords include an eviction notice automatically with their late notice. It's quite disconcerting to get one of these the first time.

So, anyhow, Columbus complexes are not particularly friendly to tenants. You can expect maintenance crews to be very slow to respond to non-emergency requests.

Thus, if you want your rental home to be a nice place, you will end up having to fix some stuff yourself.

And so "This Crappy Apartment" would be perfect. In the series, we'd have shows like:

  • "Baby, It's Cold Outside: Cheaply insulating your apartment"
  • "Are your walls screwed? Patching wall damage for move-out inspections"
  • "Grokking Legalese: What the fine print in a rental agreement means to you"
  • "Holding your ground: Finding a lawyer to fight an unfair eviction"
  • "Should I clean my carpet, or just find a new apartment?"
  • "Cheap Digs: Apartment Best Buys around the city"
  • "Dogs and Cats: which complexes offer the best deals for pet owners"

It'd be cool. But alas, Community 21 is no more ....

My thoughts today linger on cell phones they are in my top 10 pet peeves in life.

My telephone controlled my life in my 20's. Phone would ring 20 or 30 times a day and for some reason I thought I had to answer it? I have since learned that it's a tool for my convience and not something that can or should control my life.

At the current time I don't even OWN a telephone, that's how little they now control MY life.

This rant is not to diss cell phone users, trust me on that. Had it not been for a life altering experiences years ago, today I most likely would put all cell phone users to shame - talking on one in each ear AT the same time and a 3rd for 'emegency calls'.

But now I have NO phone, by choice and yet telephones have begun to effect my life everywhere I go. People everywhere on cell phones. I'm living in an Alfred Hitchcock movie "the phones". We all lived just fine 20 years ago without the need to take a phone with us to the bathroom, to the movies, to the park. I doubt I'd be hard pressed to find someone who's taken their cell phone on their honeymoon!

I see so many parents in the car talking on cell phones. Since most parents now have so little time with their kids, IF they can talk/think and drive at the same time, this would be a good time to teach your kids something, to talk to them about the things you see while driving. To talk to them about the future and anything you might enjoy discussing with them. About places you've been and things you wish your momma would have told you.

I work part-time (for exercise) at a fast food resturant - can't tell you HOW many times a day someone pulls up to the order window and continues to chat on the phone. They are chatting about the fact that they have to let them go, because they are in the drive-thru. They then go on to discuss when they will call back and so on. There are 6 or 8 cars behind them in line waiting and ready to order, what makes them think they have the right to hold all these other people up? Don't they get irritated when someone holds them up?

Walking down the street, everywhere you turn there are people on cell phones. In the store, on the bus. You just can't escape it. It bothers me personally not only because of the times it inconviences me and others, but because I care about people. And I really am concerned about this turn of events in society. I worry about the price our society will pay for this new gadget.

The last few times I went to visit a friend, they were on the cell phone when I got there... on the cell phone several times during our visit... and grabbing their cell phone when I left.

I'm not anti-technology - I have four computers in my room as I type this. I just hate to even imagine the amount of wasted hours in a day we as a society now spend on the cell phone. Hours that could be better spent in so many other ways.

Banging head on keyboard, why, why, why, ouch, ouch, ouch!! Ok I'm done!

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