From under the linoleum
Old newspapers show Mussolini's imperialism looked a lot like today's

I sat on the floor and picked through the tragedy of the country we now call Ethiopia laid out on the yellowing pages. It was eerily reminiscent of the current Iraq adventure.

A tale for our times
The December 1934 assassination of Sergei Kirov

Seventy years on, the killing of Sergei Kirov casts an eerie light on the events of 11 September 2001, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the “war on Terror” and the state-sponsored hysteria surrounding the shadowy figures of Osama bin Ladin and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Ninety-three years of bombing the Arabs
It was the Italians, hell-bent on acquiring an African empire, who got the ball rolling. In 1911 the Libyan Arab tribes opposed an Italian invasion. Their civilians were the first people in the world to be bombed from the air.

Dispossessed all over again
After spending nearly two months in the West Bank the pull towards my village was growing stronger, especially after being detained twice and threatened with deportation … an Australian Palestinian returns to her ancestral home.

The tragic inevitability of a forlorn hope
Australia slides further into the Iraq quagmire
Cabinet documents recently released under the 50-year rule show that, in 1954, Liberal (conservative) Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, and key figures in his Cabinet were extremely gloomy about the prospects for success in an American war against nationalists in Indochina. But eventually they went to the Vietnam War anyway.

Bombing King David
One man’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist

Some historians date the beginning of modern terrorism from the 1946 bombing by Zionist terrorists of the British military HQ in Jerusalem.

Don’t loiter near the exit
Military debacle and economic decline haunt the Bush regime

When I was just a young possum in the school cadet corps there was a hoary old war story that we all knew. It was almost certainly apocryphal, but it ruefully expressed a nasty historic truth about the US role in the demise of the British Empire.


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Brushtail Graphics

Making hagiography
Après Bob le déluge

4 February 1999

It was early on Saturday morning when I ran into a dead-end in my search for further Sydney links in the Romero bribery scandal. I rang Jose, my contact man at El Mundo, to tell him the bad news. The editor had gone home, he said.

"Keep hacking away, Nick", he urged. "If, if, this guy got away with it in Barcelona, how likely is it that nothing happened in Sydney? Have you talked to your Senor Baird? He's obviously anxious to tell what he knows. Perhaps nobody has asked him about Senor Romero?"

"I'll have to get somebody else to ask him. My relations with Bruce haven't been the best since my investigations into the Sydney tollways", I replied. I promised to keep trying, and hung up.

It was sordidly humid, overcast, and threatening to rain when I dropped into the Werrong Newsagent and bought a Sydney Morning Herald on my way to the café for breakfast.

They were running the Romero allegations on page one. In the end, I reflected, Malcolm Fraser had got his wish: sport was back on the front pages – almost constantly – but not, of course, in the way he wanted. Even in mid 70s Malcolm's idea of sport as gentlemanly, honourable, healthy, apolitical fun was hopelessly nostalgic. Nowadays, to get to first base, you needed endless corporate sponsorship, government subsidised "sports institutes", relentless product sales, and a major pharmaceutical industry.

I lugged the paper to the café and laid it carefully on my favourite table by the window. You can't toss the Saturday Herald around recklessly. It is one of the nation's great environmental disasters. It's three or four centimetres thick and sometimes weighs in at nearly half a kilo– equivalent to a full ream of paper. Every Saturday 150,000 people throw away half of it without a glance.

Even though the state elections are scheduled for 27 March it was hard to find any actual politics in the paper, but there was a very gentle interview with Bob Carr by Craig McGregor. The kind where the interviewee gets to indulge in their fondest view of themselves.

Craig is the master of this style of journalism. Most people believed that Kim Beazley was another cynical number-cruncher from the ALP Right until Craig revealed that he was just a gentle modest Christian.

Okay, there's too much competition in sport these days but it doesn't have to be this easy. Craig bowled up a bunch of slow simple ones and Bob hit them all over the paddock. He was the intellectual statesman, striding the wilderness, pondering the big issues. The man with the long vision. This was his land; these were his people.

He had always felt that being a Labor MP was "the noblest profession"; he was the "arbitrator" of a "robust quick-moving democracy" – courageously eschewing populism and demagoguery but closely in touch with popular opinion; the sort of Premier who chats with his hairdresser, the butcher and the taxi driver about the heroin issue; an intellectual at home with Bill Clinton, Gore Vidal, Paul Erlich, and especially Norman Mailer (James Ellroy seems to have dropped off the list).

Craig's central assertion is that Bob Carr isn't a natural politician. Oh please. Consider the following exchange:

Do you feel you could have made more radical decisions in your time as Premier? – When it comes to change we've pushed the social reform agenda as much as any state government. I'm satisfied with what we've done.

Too many compromises? –-You have to have a measure of compromise for things to work. The alternative to compromise is either rule by a dictator, or civil war.

It's no revelation that Bob has pushed what passes for a 'social reform' agenda as far as Liberal premiers like Jeff Kennett or Richard Court, but I had never realised that Bob was the only thing standing between us and dictatorship or civil war for these last four years. Après Bob le déluge. What a ham.

• • •

INCLUDED in Whispers from the mean streets -- Best of 1999

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