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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They call it merchant banking

18 August 1999

"You're a slack fucking possum", Joadja said, prodding me at seven on Saturday morning. She was surveying the junk stacked round the dusty ceiling. "Why don't you ring up The Bower and get them to take away all those old chairs and the clothes horse and that ghastly bric-a-brac. Somebody will love it, but you need to make a fresh start. You mightn't mind climbing up the old ladder to go to bed -- it's a cultural thing I suppose -- but I'm sick of it. Why don't you buy one of these prefab spiral staircases."

I sat up in bed and peered into the dark recesses. There were three bright patches in the gloom: the big skylight I'd installed years ago in a fit of enthusiasm; the hatch leading down to my office below; and the ancient standard lamp on Jo's side of the mattress, whose light fell ominously on a pile of home restoration magazines littering the bed. I was trapped.

Jo was right, of course. You can let things slide for years, but in the end you just have to do them. Besides, I enjoy carpentry when I get started.

The Australian Securities and Investment Commission had sent me a fat cheque for some contract surveillance work I'd done for the Simon Hannes insider-trading case, so I decided to go shopping for staircases at a showroom in Willoughby.

Saturday morning was clear and bright, but by one o'clock, when I came back across the Harbour Bridge on the train, a cold wind was blowing in from the Snowy and the sky was a place of drama.

Charcoal clouds reared like spectral mountains in a blue sky, underlined with a luminous black that faded to green at the horizon. Long skeins of pale grey rain drifted down thousands of feet towards Drummoyne and Hunters Hill. A white 747 glinted against the grey backdrop as it headed in to Mascot. Sydney was dappled in patches of bright sunshine and deep shadow and there were pearly-pink clouds to the east, over the ocean.

As I walked back to Werrong Lane through the park a flurry of cold sleety rain caught me from behind, and I turned up my trench coat collar. Simon Hannes was a sailor, so he would have paid attention to the sky. He'll have a lot of time to study it in the next few years. The Macquarie Bank director will meet some interesting and violent characters from less privileged backgrounds while he's inside, but they will probably be in awe of him. He's sure to be given a cushy accounting job, his family will visit regularly and what is jocularly called "the banking community" will close quietly around him when he gets out.

On Saturday evening a couple of the investigators from ASIC dropped into the café for a celebration. They got stuck into the piss and fought the case over again. Thrice they tracked down Hannes, and thrice they slapped the cuffs on him. They slapped me on the back and stepped on my tail and preening themselves mightily. They had fought the good fight and upheld the standards of capitalism.

Hannes did a very silly thing. If you're going to pull off a market scam, make sure it's an enormous one, not some pissy little bit of insider trading. Go for something really big, say, half-a-billion dollars big. Handle a privatisation, an infrastructure deal or a big internet float for example. Make sure you get seen with John Howard, or Jeff Kennett or Bob Carr, and cultivate a journalist or two from the business pages and the re-write bimbos from "Money". And if the deal turns sour, and the cashflow looks crook, and the creditors get restive, talk it up and raise some more equity. What the hell. There's safety in numbers and the bubble will just keep getting bigger and there'll never be another crash like 1929.

Make it really big and it has to be legal. They call it merchant banking.

• • •

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

FREE downloadable PDF booklet.