21st January 2003


Local journalists are having a field day reporting the bushfires around Canberra that have destroyed over 400 houses.  Canberra is Australia's national capital, has a population exceeding 100,000 and is located about 150 kilometers inland.  Weather reports indicate that further bushfires are likely today.

The nation's Prime Minister John Howard is described as doing & saying appropriate things, and has canceled a meeting with Kissinger.

Many ordinary Australians are angry with the environmentalists, who are seen as the pressure group that has stopped reduction of bushfire risk by preventing land clearing, fuel disposal and the clearing of fire trails.

The NSW Premier is keeping a very low profile.  He must face an election in March and he is leading the polls.  He is no doubt keeping a low profile because he was hugely responsible for favoring environmental group aspirations, by (for instance) punishing the Electricity corporations for clearing a fire break around their power lines.

So nothing long term will be done to reduce fire risk.  This is because the only options are:

  1. eradicate the influence of environmentalists from the issue of land clearing permits & control of volunteer firefighting committees & let farmers clear their own land & let volunteer fire groups create whatever firebreaks they deem necessary.  (The environmentalists would go troppo)
  2. raise a huge new tax and have an army of government employees permanently assigned to managing the risk. (the taxpayers would go troppo)
For the 50,000 years before the coming of Captain Cook, Australian aboriginal caretaking of the land consisted of regularly setting the bush alight as a lazy man's way of hunting.  This procedure generates deserts, because the humus (the collective noun for the living organisms that bind the topsoil) is killed by the heat, and then the wind and rain erode vital trace elements out to sea.  Australian native scrub has adapted to the low levels of trace elements present, and many varieties of native plants require a bushfire as part of the germination process.

Australian farmers have attempted to reverse the damage to the land caused by Aboriginals by clearing the scrub and planting introduced grasses and by returning trace elements (such as molybdenum) to the soil.  Unfortunately most introduced grasses are from high rainfall regions and are suited to heavy grazing.  When a drought comes, those grasses dry out and become fuel.

Grassland is preferable to scrub.  A grass fire burns rapidly, and is less hazardous to homes and humans than a scrub fire.

What is really needed is a grass that has extreme drought resistance, requires fewer trace elements, and does not turn to fuel as quickly as present grasses do when soil moisture is reduced.


Below are extracts from TIME magazine at

America's Ultra-Secret Weapon


Posted Sunday, January 19, 2003; 10:31 a.m. EST
Every war has its wonder weapon. In Afghanistan, it was the Predator, the unmanned drone that would loiter, invisibly, over the battlefield before unleashing a Hellfire missile on an unsuspecting target. The Gulf War marked the debut of precision-guided munitions, and in Vietnam helicopters came of age. World War II gave us the horror of nuclear weapons, and World War I introduced the tank. If there's a second Gulf War, get ready to meet the high-power microwave. ...

... HPMs can unleash in a flash as much electrical power—2 billion watts or more—as the Hoover Dam generates in 24 hours.

That is all very nice to know Mark.  From the Hoover Dam site I obtained the information that "The plant has a nameplate capacity of 2,074,000 kilowatts." which is about 2 billion watts.  But what is this add-on-phrase "in 24 hours".

The amount of energy generated by the Hoover Dam in 24 hours is 2 x 10^9 x 24 x 60 x 60 Joules (= 1.7 x 10^14 Joules, or 173 terajoules), and if that much energy were released "in a flash" there would be a substantial explosion. (we are probably talking in thousands of tons of TNT)*.  It is also extremely improbable that any capacitor smaller than a small skyscraper could contain that much energy.

Did TIME criticize Matt Drudge for inaccuracy?  Perhaps TIME journalists should talk to a competent engineer before shooting off their mouths with engineering "facts".

*Lets see, diesel has about 40 MJ/kg energy content, so assume the same value for TNT, then the explosion would be equal to 173 E12 / 40 E 6 = 4,325,000 Kg of TNT, which is the same size as a small (4 kiloton) nuclear device.