Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Wrong equation

It's understandable that Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd should be disgusted, like any ordinary observer, to think that bushfires might have been lit deliberately by arsonists. But it's too early to accuse potential culprits, if indeed they exist, and it's unfortunate that Rudd's use of the expression "mass murder" has been quoted everywhere in the international press.

In evoking the notion of evil Australians in a desperate attempt to explain this tragedy, Rudd is trying to solve the wrong equation.

He's also tackling the wrong equation when he talks about rebuilding homes and towns by means of financial resources allocated towards the planetary economic crisis. Instead of reacting to the bushfire tragedy in the style of a clear-thinking statesman, the prime minister has let himself be carried away by his emotions... in a style reminiscent of that of his predecessor, John Howard, who once suggested that Steve Irwin should be given a state funeral. Clearly, our Aussie leaders are most emotional chaps, swayed by the force of chance happenings.

The true equation is well known. Its main variables concern the Australian habit of residing in the vicinity of trees and shrubs that are transformed into tinder by stretches of dry weather. Visitors to Australia are struck by the way in which suburban and rural houses are often integrated into magnificent landscapes of native vegetation. Personally, I've always envisaged such splendid environments as a wonderful reaction to the stupid behavior of agricultural pioneers, once upon a time, for whom trees were enemies, to be destroyed, because they consumed the nourishment in the soil that might be used to grow grass to feed sheep and cattle. It would be sad, of course, to see Australian houses located in bare fields, like outback bungalows on the stark slopes of dusty hills. But maybe there's a midway solution to the landscape equation that would consist of being surrounded by just enough low vegetation to avoid the rugby field effect, but not enough to create a suicidal Joan of Arc setting whenever the weather happens to be exceptionally dry. Meanwhile, the naive idea of attempting to find and neutralize arsonists, branded as home-grown terrorists, reminds me of the regrettable Dubya and his alleged "axis of evil".

BREAKING NEWS: Queen Elizabeth has just donated an unspecified sum of money to the Victorian Bushfire Fund, and French president Nicolas Sarkozy has offered material assistance that could be flown into Australia from New Caledonia. Meanwhile, various observers (including BBC journalists and a Queensland university expert) persist in evoking the existence of arsonists, and even rambling on about their psychology and motivations... although little evidence has been made public yet to support this hypothesis. There's an obvious danger that all this talk about the "enemy within" could end up generating a national psychosis, causing people to become suspicious of certain neighbors... particularly if the neighbors' property happened to escape destruction by the flames. I simply cannot understand the logic (?) of spreading rumors about arson prior to the actual capture of a significant number of suspects.

RELEVANT ARTICLE: Concerning the obvious fire danger of houses surrounded by trees, an informative article by Asa Wahlquist in today's The Australian is entitled Council ignored warning over trees before Victoria bushfires [display].

NOT ARSON: The Sydney Morning Herald has just revealed that the deadly Kinglake fire was not caused by arsonists [access].

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