Bracing for the big one

The map is uncannily similar to today’s: a spray of black dots showing the recorded sightings of a foul grey haze spreading across Europe, from Helsinki to Naples, from Heligoland to Majorca, and reaching eventually to Aleppo and Damascus – all of it caused by clouds of ash from an immense volcano erupting far across the sea in Iceland.But this was a map made from data collected in 1783. The volcano was called Laki, it erupted for eight dismal months without cease, ruined crops, lowered temperatures and drastically altered the weather. It killed 9000 people, drenched European forests in acid rain, caused skin lesions in children and the deaths of millions of cattle. And, by one account, it was a contributing factor (because of the hunger-inducing famines) to the outbreak six years later of the French revolution.Great volcanoes have a habit of prompting profound changes to the world – much greater in extent than the most savage of earthquakes and tsunamis, even though the immediate lethality of the latter is invariably much more cruel. Though ground-shaking events are generally fairly local in extent, their potential for killing can be terrific: 250,000 died after the Tangshan earthquake in China in 1975 and a similar number died in the Indian ocean tsunami of 2004. Volcanoes seem by contrast relatively benign: the accumulated total number of deaths in all of the great volcanoes of the past 300 years has probably not exceeded a quarter of a million: the total number of casualties from a hundred of the biggest recent eruptions has been no more than those from a single giant earthquake.But there is a significant difference. Earthquakes, once done, are done. Volcanoes, however, often trigger long-term and long-distance ill-effects, which generally far outweigh their immediate rain of death and destruction. Emanations of particles from the tiniest pinprick in the Earth’s crust, once lifted high into the skies by an explosive eruption, can wind themselves sinuously and menacingly around the planet, and leave all kinds of devastation in their train. They can disrupt and pollute and poison; they can darken skies and cause devastating changes in the weather; they can bring about the abrupt end to the existence of entire populations of animals and people.Earthquakes and tsunamis have never been known to cause extinctions but volcanoes and asteroid collisions have done so repeatedly – and since the Earth is still peppered with scores of thousands of volcanoes ever yearning to erupt, they and the dramatic long-term effects of their eruptions are in fact far more frequent, far more decisive, and far greater than those that are triggered by any other natural phenomenon on the planet.It is worth remembering that ours is a world essentially made from and by volcanoes. They are creatures that will continue to do their business over the aeons, quite careless of the fate of the myriad varieties of life that teems beneath them and on their flanks. Including, of course, ours.There is perhaps no better recent example of the havoc that a big eruption can cause than that which followed the explosive destruction of Mount Toba, in northern Sumatra, 72,000-74,000 years ago (which, in geological time, is very recent indeed). The relics of this mountain today are no more than a very large and beautiful lake, 100 kilometres long and 800 metres deep – the caldera left behind by what is by most reckonings the largest volcanic explosion known to have occurred on the planet in the past 25 million years.On the widely used volcanic explosivity index (VEI), Toba is thought to have been an eight – meaning that in the unusually flamboyant official language of vulcanology it was a super-plinian type eruption with mega-colossal characteristics (Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull is by contrast listed as a strombolian type, with its characteristic regarded as merely gentle, and having a probable VEI rating of just two).About 2800 cubic kilometres of rock were instantly vaporised by the super-eruptive blast of Toba, all of which was hurled scores of thousands of metres into the air. This is what did the lasting damage, just as Iceland’s high-altitude rock-dust did in Europe. But while we merely suffered a large number of inconvenienced people and a weakening of the balance sheets of some airlines, the effect on the post-Toban world was catastrophic: as a result of the thick ash clouds the world’s ambient temperature plummeted, perhaps by as much as 5 degrees – and the cooling and the howling wave of deforestation and deaths of billions of animals and plants caused a sudden culling of the human population of the time, reducing it to maybe as few as 5000 people, perhaps 1000 breeding pairs. Many anthropologists believe that the event caused a sudden evolutionary bottleneck, with genetic implications that linger to this day. Put more crudely, humanity was nearly wiped out by Toba, and only by the merest hair’s breadth did our ancestors of 72,000 years ago manage to cling on and bequeath to us our existence.Mercifully, from humanity’s point of view, there have been very few Tobas known in history. They are probably so large that they reach the upper limit of the kind of eruptions that can physically occur on Earth – one VEI-8 event occurs only every 100,000 years or so. Yet of those known to have occurred, two have taken place in Britain (mainly because Britain has such a vast variety of geology, with almost every age of rock known in the world found somewhere between Cape Wrath and Dover). They are comfortingly ancient: both – the volcano that created Scafell in the Lake District, and the other that gave us Glen Coe in the Western Highlands – took place more than 400 million years ago.But others of the 47 known VEI-8 volcanoes are more alarmingly recent. Taupo in New Zealand erupted with mega-colossal force some 22,500 years ago. The newer of the great eruptions that helped form the mountains of today’s Yellowstone National Park in the United States took place just 640,000 years ago, and all the current signs – from such phenomena as the rhythmic slow rising and falling of the bed of the Yellowstone River, as if some giant creature is breathing far below – suggest another eruption is coming soon. When it does, it will be an American Armageddon: all of the north and west of the continent, from Vancouver to Oklahoma City, will be rendered uninhabitable, buried under scores of metres of ash. (I mentioned this once in a talk to a group of lunching ladies in Kansas City, soothing their apparent disquiet by adding that by ”soon” I was speaking in geologic time, and that meant about 250,000 years, by which time all humankind would be extinct. A woman in the front row exploded with a choleric and incredulous rage: ”What?” she said. ”Even Americans will be extinct?”)Ratcheting down the scale a couple of notches, to the only slightly less gigantic eruptions that are classified as VEI-7 and VEI-6, and a host of more familiar eruptions come into view. These include Santorini, the Aegean volcano whose destruction around 4000 years ago may have triggered the collapse of the Minoan civilisation; Laki, the 1783 Icelandic volcano mentioned above, and which most obviously parallels today’s events at Eyjafjallajokull; the Javan volcano of Krakatoa, which erupted so infamously in August 1883; and the rather more profoundly world-affecting eruption of 1815, also in the Dutch East Indies, of the huge stratovolcano on Sumbawa Island, known as Tambora. Each of these had massive effects, and all were global in their extent.Tambora is the most notorious, not least because it was so immense: almost 170 cubic kilometres of pulverised Sumbawan rock were hurled into the sky, which darkened, cooled and polluted a world that, unlike in Toba’s day, was already well populated and widely civilised. The consequences ranged from the dire – a lowering of temperature that caused frosts in Italy in June and snows in the US in July, and the failure of crops in immense swathes across Europe and the Americas – to the ludicrous: Irish migrants, promised better weather in New England, found it on landing to be every bit as grim as the Connemara and Cork they had left, and so either went home, or pressed on in hope to California.Krakatoa’s immediate aftermath was dominated initially by dramatic physical effects – a series of tsunamis that were measured as far away as Portland Bill and Biarritz, a detonation that was clearly heard (like naval gunfire, said the local police officer) 5000 kilometres away on Rodriguez Island, and a year’s worth of awe-inspiring evening beauty as the sky lit up with dazzling colours.There was an important legacy to Krakatoa’s eruption not shared by the other giant volcanoes of the time. Close mapping of the spread of the 1883 sunsets showed them girdling the Earth in a curious set of spirals, the stratospheric aerosols evidently being borne around the world on high-altitude winds that no one at the time knew existed. An atmospheric scientist in Hawaii mapped them and decided to call the air current the equatorial smoke stream. It later became, more elegantly and economically, the jet stream. There has to be some irony that the jet stream that drove this month’s Icelandic dust so dangerously over Britain and mainland Europe is a phenomenon that was first discovered as a direct consequence of the study of Krakatoa.And yet, of all the consequences of the truly great volcanoes of the past, the phenomenon of mass extinctions of life must surely be the most profound and world-changing of all. Between two and five major extinction events occur in the world every million years or so. Humans have not been privileged to observe one of them – hardly surprisingly, since they would probably occur so slowly as to be barely noticeable. However, with painstaking care, palaeontological evidence is being amassed to link sudden and catastrophic changes in world climate, changes that promote such extinction crises, with the known major eruptions of the past, and with what are known as flood basalt events (such as those that have been triggered specifically in the past by eruptions of Eyjafjallajokull and her neighbouring volcano in Iceland, Katla, which is itself well overdue for an eruption). It is a study that opens up a fascinating speculative possibility.For what if the kind of event that we have seen this month, and which caused such commercial inconvenience, is in fact not just a minor volcanic hiccup, but the beginning of an event that causes in time a mass extinction of some form of earthbound life? And, since we know from the history books that the massive eruption of Santorini once had the power to destroy one proud part of human society, what if the extinction we might be beginning to see turns out to be what will one day surely occur, and that is the extinction of us?Guardian News & MediaSimon Winchester is a journalist and author of Krakatoa: The Day The World Exploded.
Nanjing Night Net

America’s gaping hole: thousands queue up for free medical care

LOS ANGELES: They began arriving before dawn on a cold, misty morning, people of all ages lining up by the hundreds, some in wheelchairs, others hobbling on crutches, many of them missing teeth, all of them seeking the same thing: free medical care.It was a scene that could have been playing out in a Third World country or perhaps some place like post-hurricane New Orleans. But it was unfolding in Los Angeles on Tuesday, and the hundreds who showed up were mainly working people without health insurance.Kenny Gillett, 47, a welder, had not seen a doctor for two years, since losing his job and insurance when his employer went broke.Adriana Valenzuela, a self-employed and uninsured beautician, brought an eight-year-old son with a mouthful of cavities. Frank Carodine, 57, in a wheelchair, said he had lost parts of both legs to diabetes, which was now ravaging his right eye. He needed glasses. ”I’ve got coverage for my diabetes, I go to a clinic, but it doesn’t cover eye exams,” he said.Outside in the cold, several hundred people, some balancing toddlers on their hips, waited for their turn to enter the Los Angeles Sports Arena. Inside were hundreds of volunteer doctors, dentists, acupuncturists, chiropractors and other professionals, all brought together by a Tennessee non-profit group, Remote Area Medical.On this first day of the seven-day clinic, Maria Shriver, the wife of the Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, visited and said she was humbled by the scope of the volunteer effort.”What you’re seeing is a lot of Middle America here,” said RAM’s flamboyant founder, Stan Brock. ”Healthcare in this country is a privilege of the well-to-do and the well-insured.” At last year’s clinic 6000 were treated. More were expected this time.Jesse Serna, 51, a disabled warehouse worker, was waiting to get an aching tooth fixed.Referring to national healthcare reform, he said: ”We need it badly. We send people overseas when there’s a disaster. This is a disaster right here.”Associated Press, Los Angeles Times
Nanjing Night Net

India accuses one of its diplomats of spying for Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: The Indian government has accused one of its own diplomats of handing secrets to Pakistan’s notorious Inter-Services Intelligence agency.The Indian Foreign Office said on Tuesday that Madhuri Gupta, 53, a second secretary at its high commission in Islamabad, had been charged with espionage.Ms Gupta, who had worked in the press and information section for three years, was arrested on Friday after being called back to New Delhi on the pretext of discussing a regional summit in Bhutan this week. She was charged in court on Monday.”We have reasons to believe an official in the Indian high commission in Pakistan has been passing information to Pakistani intelligence officials,” said Vishnu Prakash, a spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs. ”The official is co-operating with our investigations and inquiries.”The Press Trust of India reported that the head of India’s intelligence agency research and analysis wing in Islamabad was also under investigation.Indian officials did not elaborate on the nature of the secrets allegedly stolen by the junior diplomat. But the revelation is a big embarrassment for India’s diplomatic service on the eve of the Bhutan summit, where peace talks between the nuclear-armed rivals are high on the agenda.The arrest was not expected to derail a meeting between Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani, and his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, due to take place today. But it may dampen expectations of a resumption of peace talks, which collapsed after the 2008 Mumbai attacks in which more than 170 people were killed.India blames Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant group with historical ties to the ISI, for the atrocity, accusing ”state elements” of orchestrating the carnage.The two countries, which have fought three wars, have a history of skulduggery and periodically engage in tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats, usually at times of political or military tension.But it is rare for a diplomat to be accused of spying and analysts were divided on the political significance. Some felt it was unlikely to damage relations because the accused is an Indian national; others saw it as an ominous sign for an early resumption of peace talks.Guardian News & Media
Nanjing Night Net

May or may not: Swans facing acid test month

IT WILL be May Day tomorrow, but for the Swans it is also D-day – the day everyone gets a better idea of just how serious a threat they will be this season.Sydney have stunned many by topping the ladder after five rounds, winning four games by healthy margins. But no one – critics, fans, nor even the players or coaching staff – is getting too carried away, realising their four victims are all likely to be inactive during September.That changes tomorrow, when the Swans host Brisbane, considered to be legitimate top-four contenders. Then come Geelong, the Bulldogs and Fremantle, and by the month’s end we will know how the Swans stand.”Our ladder position … as a player, I don’t really even look at it,” claimed co-captain Brett Kirk. ”It’s more about how as a team we are going, whether we are playing the right game plan and playing for four quarters.”Probably over the last few weeks, in patches, we’ve played some good footy, but we’ve been up and down, and to beat Brisbane it needs to be a big four-quarter effort.”Kirk agreed the next four weeks would be the acid test.”We play our next four teams who are all in the top five or six positions, and they are all playing really good footy at the moment, but we’re not really looking too far into the future, just this week against Brisbane, we’ll get a bit more of an idea from there.”You can only play as well as the opposition you’re playing against. I guess from outside the walls we’re not too worried how people are seeing us. Nobody really gave us too much of a hope early on, and people will obviously judge us come Saturday night.”Coach Paul Roos admitted he was a ”little bit” surprised but pleased to be 4-1. ”The kids look at it and everyone else gets excited about it, but when you’ve been in footy for so long, it’s [the ladder] more of a reference point than anything,” Roos said.”It means nothing other than you’ve won four games. If we were 4-1 and fifth, it makes no difference to being 4-1 and first at this time of year.”I think we are playing really well, our personnel is really good, our game style has been standing up at this stage of the season, the players we’ve got from other clubs have performed extremely well. I think we’re in really good form and I think we’ll get a better idea [of where they are] after Saturday night.”I’d rather be up there than down the bottom, but it’s 22 weeks, it’s a long year, and I guarantee something: four wins won’t get up into the eight.”Roos, meanwhile, made just one change to the team which beat West Coast, replacing the injured Craig Bolton with Ted Richards.There had been some speculation that Roos might not go with Richards, and instead give Bolton’s defensive role to Nick Smith, leaving him then able to bring a midfielder into the team, someone like the speedy rookie Gary Rohan (who was named as an emergency). The one downside with that move, though, would be if Lewis Roberts-Thomson or Heath Grundy were injured during the game, and Sydney would be short one tall defender.”It was pretty much a straight swap for a defender,” Roos said.Brisbane have lost defender Daniel Merrett, out with a hamstring injury but have some handy inclusions in Justin Sherman, Luke Power, and Amon Buchanan.
Nanjing Night Net

It’s sink or swim as front-rowers face exposure

INVERCARGILL: Waratahs forward coach Michael Foley has conceded that a lack of depth in NSW’s front row stocks could be exposed against the Highlanders tonight. But Foley also said the encounter would be an opportunity for the new faces in NSW’s engine room – starting prop Dan Palmer and reserve Jeremy Tilse – to prove otherwise.The Waratahs are without Wallabies props Benn Robinson (arm injury) and Sekope Kepu (calf). Palmer takes the loose-head No.1 spot alongside hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau and tight-head Al Baxter.While Palmer has only 10 Super caps, Tilse has earned just two in five years with NSW.But Foley backed the pair: ”I have confidence in these guys, and I don’t say that lightly. There will be challenges. This weekend is going to be a massive challenge.”Palmer, 21, had all the makings of a world class prop, said Foley. He said that by being tested in the unaccustomed role of loose-head against Highlanders tight-head Clint Newland, who weighs 130 kilograms, Palmer’s development will take a huge leap forward.”He has served a good apprenticeship. He has worked really hard at being a two-sided prop,” Foley said of Palmer.Tilse, 24, who has been on NSW’s books since 2006 and is their fifth prop, has had his progress delayed by his background and the fact that three of the four props ahead of him are Wallabies. ”Tilsey is a guy who converted from second row at school,” Foley said. ”You can convert someone who has a short leverage quickly, but someone with long levers takes a bit of time.”That late conversion – four or five years now – if you said to somebody: ‘I am going to give you four years of opportunity to play at front row and you are going to have to go out there and prove it at a provincial level …’ That is a big ask.”Tilsey is on the verge. But he has also had quite a few decent props in front of him. He has three Wallabies, and up to now there have even been four, with Matt Dunning [now at the Force], Al Baxter, Sekope Kepu and Benn Robinson.”
Nanjing Night Net

Shattered but not broken, Lee vows to play on

ST LUCIA: Brett Lee is determined to play on after his latest setback, but Australia’s team doctor has foreshadowed a difficult road back for the speedster, who flew home from the World Twenty20 campaign in the Caribbean with an arm injury.A shattered Lee departed St Lucia on Wednesday but wants to force his way back into the Australian one-day side for the July tour against Pakistan in England. Lee’s manager, Neil Maxwell, said the 33-year-old paceman was not considering international retirement following the latest setback – his fifth notable injury in the past 16 months.”I don’t think that he is at that mindset at the moment,” Maxwell told the Herald soon after speaking with Lee yesterday. ”There is no doubt this is the home straight [of his career] but he knows that last October- November he was playing the best cricket of his career.”Maxwell added Lee had returned from his elbow surgery too soon in order to play in the IPL, where he suffered a broken thumb.The new elbow injury – unrelated to the previous one – will sideline Lee for up to three weeks, forcing Australia to call Ryan Harris into their World Twenty20 squad. Lee’s plan to fight his way back into the ODI side and retire after next year’s World Cup will depend entirely on the selectors’ willingness to risk him again.Team physiotherapist Alex Kountouris, who has devoted much of his time over the years to helping Lee recover from injuries, conceded the fast bowler’s body was suffering from a decade of strain in the international arena and predicted an arduous psychological battle ahead.”It would be very, very hard, I would imagine,” Kountouris said. ”In the last 12 months he has hardly played and he has had four different injuries [not including the broken thumb]. He had ankle surgery early last year, he had that side strain in England, and then he got that elbow injury after that. One is sort of a consequence of another. The common factor is he has got to come back and he has got to do something that is very difficult to do at the best of times, and he’s trying to do it with a body that is being rehabilitated. You have to try to manage it as best as possible. But that’s what happens when you push your body to the limit. Sometimes things don’t work for you.”The road ahead might be difficult, but Kountouris and Lee’s Australian teammates believe the paceman can resurrect his international career. ”If he wants to come back from this, he can,” Kountouris said. ”If he wants to rehab it, he’ll be fine. In 12 months from now, he’s not going to have an issue. It’s whether he wants to keep doing it, and so far he has. He has been motivated.”Teammate Nathan Hauritz said: ”Knowing Brett the way I do, he’ll work hard because he still wants to play a lot of cricket. He’ll have to do a lot of work.”Lee strained a muscle in his right forearm during his fourth over of the match against Zimbabwe on Tuesday.
Nanjing Night Net

GWS in $3m swoop for Folau

THE AFL is reported to be funding half of a $3 million contract offer to Brisbane rugby league star Israel Folau to persuade him to spearhead its expansion into western Sydney.The news comes as Essendon confirmed that AFL clubs would jump at the chance to snare Greg Inglis or Billy Slater in the wake of the Storm salary cap scandal.Folau, 21, who is today expected to confirm he will cut short his contract with the Broncos, was thought to be poised to sign a lucrative deal with the new Melbourne Rebels Super rugby franchise. But the AFL Footy Show last night reported Folau has an in-principle offer of $3 million over three years to join Team GWS instead, half of which would be funded by the AFL for marketing the game in the league stronghold.It was also reported the contract offer was triggered by an approach from Folau’s representatives, Titan Management Group, in the past two months because the former Melbourne Storm player was impressed about the luring of former Broncos teammate Karmichael Hunt from rugby league to AFL.Folau, who went to high school in Fairfield, was also said to have been tested for skills – such as kicking and marking – by AFL high performance coach Jason McCartney.Unlike Hunt, Folau has never played AFL before, although his 195-centimetre and 103-kilogram physique was said to have impressed AFL-GWS recruiters nonetheless. GWS coach Kevin Sheedy was also said to have spoken ”once or twice” to the potential recruit.Folau’s manager Isaac Moses could not be contacted last night to corroborate the offer, nor could AFL spokesman Patrick Keane. Calls to GWS chief executive Dale Holmes and Sheedy were not answered.Holmes did say earlier in the week: ”We just are not going to comment on any speculation – it’s not fair on the parties involved. We are just focused on the youth we need to bring into the club.”Broncos CEO Bruno Cullen was resigned to losing Folau. ”What I’m led to believe is there are two offers and they’re absolutely sensational,” Cullen said. ”If he stays we’ll be rejoicing, but that sort of money is tough to knock back.”While rugby union had been seen as the main threat to the Storm’s hopes of keeping Inglis, Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith in the NRL, Essendon boss Ian Robson said many AFL clubs would also be interested in them.”If you are asking me the question as to whether I would be interested in Greg Inglis, then the answer is yes,” Robson said. ”But I reckon you would get the same answer from just about every club in every sport in Australia, including basketball.”Of course I would be interested in Greg Inglis if he became available but I think there’d be a pretty long queue. I am sure there would be plenty of interest in Billy Slater, too. Who wouldn’t be interested in a fantastic athlete of their age and ability?”Robson said that Sheedy had previously stated that Inglis was the NRL player he believed was most capable of making the switch to AFL. But Robson denied having made any inquires about Inglis should he leave the Storm.Inglis said: ”At this point of time I know that I am staying at the club and at this point of time I know I am not going anywhere. I just want to stay in Melbourne.”
Nanjing Night Net

Portrait of city reveals rare talent … reading between the lines

PEOPLE stared at him in wonder during the three days it took to complete his detailed drawing of the Sydney skyline. But for the autistic British artist Stephen Wiltshire, it was a cinch.”Big drawings are very hard to do,” he said. The one of Sydney – about a metre squared – was much smaller. Mr Wiltshire drew a 10-metre-wide image of Tokyo in 2005. But for any size, ”I always concentrate doing drawings.”The artist – brought to Australia for Autism Month – attracted a stream of onlookers as he created the work at Customs House in Circular Quay from memory. He had prepared by taking in the view from Sydney Tower for about 40 minutes on Tuesday. He liked Sydney’s shapes, he said.The artist listened to music as he drew, smiling often.The 36-year-old MBE says little about his gift which has brought him world acclaim. But his sister, Annette, who travels with him, thought the way he looked at cities had to do with him absorbing ”lines and horizontal-vertical … The number of windows as well.”I think probably what’s more difficult for him is trying to remember the streets and the things that are not familiar to him … perhaps a sculpture or birds.”But she was still mystified by his ability. She knows, though, that the recognition he has received for his drawing ability has helped him develop. ”It’s worked very well for him – it’s helped him come out of himself more. He’s less withdrawn.”Autism Spectrum Australia, or Aspect, which arranged Wiltshire’s visit, says about 20 per cent of people on the autistic spectrum – about 130,000 Australians – are believed to have savant-like abilities but only about 100 in the world have a talent as advanced as Wiltshire’s.The artist will sign work and talk about it at Customs House today from 11am. The picture will be on show – with his other work – until May 16 when copies will be sold to raise funds for Aspect. Autism Hour is from 9am today.
Nanjing Night Net

Piecing together anatomy of murder

WITNESSES are helping police reconstruct the final moments of Michelle Beets’s life.Detectives spent yesterday piecing together the hours after Ms Beets finished her shift at Royal North Shore Hospital on Tuesday to the moment she was found dead on the verandah of her Chatswood house about 6.20pm.Results of an autopsy, which would show the type of blade used to kill her, were expected last night.Police cordoned off a toilet block in a nearby park where they found bloodstains, leading them to suspect the killer may have tried to clean himself after the attack.They suspect the killer, described as a man wearing a green hoodie and backpack, may have fled there, but because of a malfunction in a nearby council security camera they could not see any images.Police have lots of footage from other security cameras and they locked down Holland Street again last night so that the dog walkers who disturbed Ms Beets’s killer could go through what they saw and heard.Ms Beets got home late because her car would not start after she stopped to buy groceries.The acting commander of the homicide squad, Detective acting Superintendent Mick Sheehy, said it was too early to tell if Ms Beets had been targeted or if she interrupted a burglary.Superintendent Sheehy said there was no clear evidence that the killer was waiting but there was evidence suggesting that someone had tried to break into the rear of the house.”It is a horrific, gruesome crime but it is far too early to identify whether it be targeted or an unfortunate timing incident,” he said.Superintendent Sheehy also confirmed that Ms Beets’s house alarm had been triggered minutes before she got home.Ms Beets’s partner of 19 years, a Sydney lawyer, David Grant, had given a statement to police about her movements and any associations or conflicts which could have contributed to the murder.Her brother, Marty Beets, said Mr Grant was staying with friends and was too upset to talk: ”He’s in total shock.” Last night Mr Grant was due to identify his partner’s body, which is being held at the Glebe morgue.Yesterday flags flew at half mast at Royal North Shore Hospital, where Ms Beets worked in the emergency department for 25 years. Colleagues were offered counselling.
Nanjing Night Net

Inquest to reopen as Wilhelm walks

”FINALLY it has come to an end,” the judge said as he sentenced Mark Wilhelm yesterday.But as Wilhelm left the Supreme Court – with a conviction, but no other penalty – the former coroner under whose scrutiny the case of Dianne Brimble developed its high public profile decided there was unfinished business.Jacqueline Milledge, who is now a local court magistrate, will reopen the inquest to make findings about Mrs Brimble’s death, and recommendations, including those about the cruise ship industry.The inquest had been terminated, after 17 months, in July 2007, when Ms Milledge referred the case to the Director of Public Prosecutions to consider charges against three people.Yesterday Justice Roderick Howie convicted Wilhelm, who pleaded guilty to supplying Ms Brimble with GHB, also known as fantasy or liquid ecstasy, before she died in his cabin on a P&O cruise ship in September 2002.Living a ”hell of a seven years” of public humiliation and personal anguish over her death was enough punishment for Wilhelm, Justice Howie said.Mrs Brimble’s first husband, Mark Brimble, has campaigned for reforms of the cruise ship industry since her death from an overdose of GHB and alcohol on board the Pacific Sky.Mr Brimble would not comment on Wilhelm’s sentence, but said: ”Evil does not have the last word. God does.”Since Mrs Brimble’s death there have been reforms in the cruise ship industry, but Mr Brimble, who is also the Australian representative of the International Cruise Victims Association, believes a similar incident could still happen.P&O and Royal Caribbean have introduced changes including drug sniffer dogs at the wharf, luggage searches and CCTV cameras on board. But Mr Brimble said not everyone has learnt the painful lessons: ”We may have changed a company, we haven’t changed an industry.”Last year, police services around the Pacific agreed on who is responsible for incidents at sea involving passengers from various states. All incidents now have to be assessed by experienced investigators.P&O now treats all security incidents as suspicious and has implemented clear procedures for the preservation of crime scenes. The inquest heard that the occupants of the cabin in which Mrs Brimble died were allowed to remove their belongings, including the drug which contributed to her death. This hampered the police investigation, which led to the need for an inquest.Both P&O and Royal Caribbean said they had implemented responsible service of alcohol procedures.P&O said it had a ”zero tolerance” for excessive behaviour. The company said disruptive passengers were now sent home from the next port.But Mr Brimble said he hoped the coroner would make a recommendation for a body to monitor the industry and oversee the investigations of crimes at sea.A date for the resumption of the inquest has yet to be set.
Nanjing Night Net

They ran the state, and now in retirement they’re running up bills

RETIRED premiers spent more than $1.2 million in taxpayer-funded expenses last year on top of their parliamentary pensions.The former Liberal premier Nick Greiner spent more than $500,000 on an office, chauffer-driven car, first-class flights and secretarial staff in 2009, 17 years after he left office.Neville Wran’s perks cost the state $411,483 last year, despite the former Labor premier leaving Parliament in 1986.Bob Carr, who retired in 2005, cut his expenses by more than $100,000 on the previous year, spending $326,525 in 2009, including $2500 on stationery.Morris Iemma, who won the 2007 election but was in office for only three years and one month, was relatively cheap, spending $36,199, mostly on car expenses. Mr Iemma, who has recently begun working as a solicitor after a long illness, receives an indexed lifetime pension of more than $130,000 a year.His successor, Nathan Rees, who returned to the backbench after a 15-month stint as premier, chose not to take up Kristina Keneally’s offer of a car and driver: ”I catch trains and work out of my electorate office.”The figures, obtained under freedom-of-information laws by Channel Nine, reveal the lifetime entitlements granted to those premiers who served at least one parliamentary term are much more generous than those who had shorter stints in the state’s top office.A spokeswoman for Ms Keneally said the system of entitlements for long-serving premiers was set up in 1975 and includes an office with two staff, a car and a driver, 12 first-class flights within Australia, 12 flights within NSW, free public transport in Sydney and free rail travel across Australia.The Labor premier Barrie Unsworth, who served 21 months until 1988, and the Liberal premier John Fahey, who served less than three years until 1995, receive virtually nothing above their parliamentary pensions.Since resigning as premier and treasurer in 1992, Mr Greiner has established a lucrative career as a company director.Last year taxpayers forked out $209,000 for salaries and superannuation for his staff, $169,000 for his Macquarie Street office, $9000 in air travel, $40,000 in car expenses and $72,000 on IT consultants and utility bills.The state’s longest continuous serving premier, Mr Carr, is now a highly paid consultant to Macquarie Bank and a director of the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney.He spent $174,000 on staff, $87,000 on his Bligh House office, $2700 on air travel, $33,000 on a car, $2500 on stationery and $26,000 in other expenses.
Nanjing Night Net

Coalition argues for sustainable population

IMMIGRATION levels would be adjusted every year under a Coalition government to ensure population growth remained economically and environmentally sustainable.In a policy unveiled yesterday by the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, and his immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, most categories of migrants, including foreign students, would have their numbers trimmed annually if necessary to keep population growth on a sustainable footing.”At the moment, it’s growing in an out-of-control and unsustainable way,” Mr Abbott said.Under the policy, the Productivity Commission would be restructured as the Productivity and Sustainability Commission.In a system similar to the inflation band the Reserve Bank uses for setting interest rates, the new commission would establish a population growth band with upper and lower limits of growth.The growth band would be set every five years or so, taking into account such factors as the economy, skill demands, environmental stresses and infrastructure such as roads and housing. Each year the migration intake would be adjusted to ensure population growth stayed within the band.The Coalition would also put updated population projections in the budget each year.All migrant streams – classified as anyone with a visa for 12 months or more – would be subject to assessment every year, including foreign students.”The Coalition will exercise flexibility within programs to reprioritise intakes to ensure a primary focus on skilled migration,” the policy says.Population has become a sensitive political issue since late last year when the Treasury estimated that at current immigration and birthrates, Australia’s population of 22 million would reach 36 million by the middle of the century.The Prime Minister initially endorsed the figure, saying he welcomed the prospect of a ”big Australia”. The government has since backed well away from the statement, saying 36 million is a forecast, not a target.Kevin Rudd recently appointed Tony Burke as Population Minister and charged him with coming up with a policy over the next 12 months to keep population growth on a sustainable footing.The most recent Herald/Nielsen poll found 54 per cent of voters found immigration levels were too high, an increase of 11 points since November last year.Also, 51 per cent believe 36 million was too many people, 27 per cent said it was just right, and only 2 per cent felt it was too few.Yesterday Mr Abbott emphasised repeatedly Mr Rudd’s endorsement of a big Australia.”Australia’s large cities are choking on their traffic and Australia’s environment is under pressure everywhere and that’s why the Coalition rejects Mr Rudd’s big Australia population target of 36 million people,” Mr Abbott said.Mr Burke turned on Mr Abbott, saying his claim the government has a target of 36 million ”is a lie”.”It’s merely a projection from Treasury. It is not a target. Not an ambition. Not a policy,” he said.”At least they’ve started to realise this issue is about infrastructure and sustainable growth. The next step for the Coalition will be if they can finally acknowledge regional difference.”Both Mr Abbott and Mr Morrison need to leave Sydney for even a minute and start understanding the population pressures are very different in different parts of the country.”
Nanjing Night Net

Still too early for the Tiger show to be all about golf

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina: The mess Tiger Woods created for himself most likely will never leave him entirely. But the time will come when the focus shifts almost exclusively to his game, his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus and his place in history. That time is not this week at the US PGA Tour’s Quail Hollow Championship.The tournament is a sellout – even some of the caddies couldn’t scrounge up tickets for their friends – and these tickets were sold to the general public. Security has been beefed up, as expected. Even that won’t keep someone from saying something stupid during the five hours or longer that Woods is on the golf course.Are we back to normal? Not quite.Woods tees off on Thursday (tomorrow, Sydney time) on the 10th tee with British Open champion Stewart Cink and two-time major winner Angel Cabrera. That means he will be making his way along the ”Green Mile” at Quail Hollow – as brutal a finishing span as there is in golf – on Friday afternoon when the crowd is gearing up for the weekend and has had plenty of refreshments.Eventually, the attention will be mostly on his golf. Cink began preaching forgiveness in December even before Woods confessed to extramarital affairs. He is hopeful that having one tournament out of the way will allow Woods, and those watching, to get back to golf.”It’ll be a different crowd, but I wouldn’t expect a whole lot of unruliness,” Cink said.”I don’t know if that’s optimistic or what. That’s just what I think is going to happen. I think people love watching Tiger Woods play golf. All that other stuff that’s happened, people have forgiven him. And why not? We’re supposed to forgive.”Forgive and forget?That might be asking too much.The best tonic for Woods is playing golf because that’s what attracted so many people to him in the first place. It would help even more if he were to win, and he showed how close he might be with a tie for fourth at the Masters, despite not having played in five months. Still, even a victory pose in a red shirt won’t erase five months of sordid revelations.Such is the price Woods will have to pay for his reckless behaviour.”Now every one of you has good reason to be critical of me,” Woods said when he spoke to family and friends in his first public apology at the TPC Sawgrass in February.Woods goes back to Sawgrass next week for The Players Championship, the same clubhouse where he showed his face for the first time since running his car over a fire hydrant and into a tree in November, setting off this sex-laden saga.He will not be in the Sunset Room, set aside for corporate hospitality that week. He will be facing a crowd that celebrates misery, which is why so many of them camp out around the island green 17th hole on the Players Stadium Course. It will be another step in his recovery, win or lose. An uncertain reception awaits at Quail Hollow.AP
Nanjing Night Net