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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The Bob Carr question: is stupidity genetic?

21 April 1999

I was on a vast and smoking field at the end of a great battle ... bright sunlight ... bodies scattered everywhere ... a riderless horse galloping in terror through the smoke ... ragged ranks of white-trousered soldiers in black shakoes ... waving their muskets in the air ... cheering wildly ... "Vive l' Empereur! Vive l' Empereur!"

I turned in the direction they were looking and the Emperor came cantering towards me in slow motion on a white horse ... thin face with a high forehead and gimletty eyes ...

A gravely wounded soldier beside me staggered to his feet, waving his shakoe aloft ... "Now we have won this great victory, you will see, l' Empereur he will give us the fruits of our sacrifice" ... blood seeped through his coat and he fell to the ground again.

The Emperor was beside me now ... little darting eyes but somehow vacant, fish-like. And the mouth! He looked coldly over the scene and the mouth moved just a little ... "I accept the victory you have given me with great humility", he said ... the soldiers cheered wildly ... The Emperor turned to me with a sneering air ... "I will tolerate no more this rabble of nations and babble of factions ... And now the soldiers must march on Moscow". He wheeled his horse and cantered away ... the ground trembled violently ...

And then I woke up. Joadja was shaking me gently by the shoulder.

"You've been having one of those Bob Carr dreams again".

They had been ruining my sleep for days. Dr Gupta the vet had warned me about this. It is a symptom of Possum Creek Fever. Even after you recover from the first episode you can be visited indefinitely by terrible nightmares.

"What is it about Bob Carr?" Joadja asked in exasperation the next day.

The café was closed but we were having a cider with Old Possum after Jo had finished doing the books. "Is it possible he really believes his own rhetoric? All these paens of praise to the franchised McDonalds economy and the shopping mall culture – a shining vision of a temporary, part-time, low-wage, open-seven-days, contracted-out workforce? The American culture of relentless hard work with high risks? The myth of the heroic little entrepreneur? Only a simpleton or a man who had never run or worked in a small business could really believe that humbug. Most small businesses fail in the first year. In reality we're talking about people so exhausted they seldom have time to devote to the service of their community or see past immediate self-interest."

"Yep. In reality we're talking about a politician's paradise", I said.

Old Possum shook his head with the sad resignation of a marsupial who had seen it all before. "You can forget the idea that there's a left-wing Bob in there somewhere, previously terrorised by a wafter-thin parliamentary majority; a social reformer cautiously waiting for the moment to emerge. Bob's just told us that it's going to be three more years of the same: more privatisation, more prisons, more prisoners, more cops, more grovelling to the big end of town. And it'll be more of the same on the drugs front too."

And if there was anything that got Jo riled it was this.

"Everybody knows that Bob's brother died of a drug overdose", she said, "Perhaps it's time to get personal on this. Normally we don't put the spotlight on our politicians' private lives, and that's as it should be, but when a man choses to say that the tragedies suffered by thousands of families are basically the result of the stupidity of individuals he ought to have the courage to apply that explanation to his own family.

"Bob reckons he's a journalist. We should ask him to write a full account of the tragedy from his point of view. How did it start? what personal or family circumstances might have contributed to it? did his family – or even Bob himself – go wrong in trying to deal with it? was his brother just a stupid person who wanted to inject a poisonous addictive substance into his veins or were there other powerful factors? why was he so stupid? was it genetic? Because if the primary problem is the stupidity of individuals there's nothing much to learn and nothing that can be done about it really. We might as well let them go if they're that dumb. A neat social darwinian solution".

"And if that's what he believes he ought to stand up and say straight out 'Look, I know what I'm talking about. My brother died of a drug overdose, and what could we do? he was just stupid. You can't protect people from themselves'".

The discussion ambled on until the small hours but we finally agreed it would be intrusive and unfair to go public and ask Bob to answer difficult and personal questions.

• • •

INCLUDED in Whispers from the mean streets -- Best of 1999
FREE downloadable PDF booklet.