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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Mainstream politics is a chronic relapse condition

26 May 1999

There are days when it's hard to know whether Bob Carr just does what David Humphries writes in the Herald or if David Humphries writes what Bob Carr thinks. This thought struck me as I scanned through reports on the outcome of the much-vaunted Drug Summit.

Joadja and I were dawdling over dinner in the Bar Muda in Australia Street, celebrating my big cheque from the Bob Ellis paternity investigation and watching the Saturday night traffic drift past across Newtown Bridge. We had simple enjoyment, but out there in dark corners of Sydney, a handful of winners were cleaning up and others were despairing, succumbing, retching, sweating and dying.

It had been a week of winners and losers in politics too. John Howard was a big loser. His mean little vision of the GST as a millionaires' relief tax was dying wretchedly like some junkie in a back lane in Fairfield -- until Meg Lees gave it a big shot in the heart.

Bob Carr was a big winner. He had lived dangerously again and survived. At the end of the day the drugs status quo prevailed, in a practical sense, and he got good notices and nice pix in the Herald. It must have been a huge rush.

But the biggest winners were the drug barons. If they bothered to read about the summit at all, they would have felt they could sustain an almost endless war of attrition with the police -- assuming Peter Ryan had the stomach for the casualties. On the wild frontiers of globalisation there were plenty of keen and dumb recruits.

"Decriminalisation of marijuana for personal use! That's the defacto position now", Joadja snorted. "When was the last time you heard of the police aggressively raiding a party and dragging people off for smoking dope? The only time they bust somebody is if they want them for something else. It's an opportunist tool for muscling working class youths -- and even with this, Carr says he's not personally in favour. There are plenty of opportunities for the idea to be swallowed up by the quicksands of politics.

"And then there's 'safe injecting rooms'. I'll be surprised if many of those get set up. Carr's way out will be to roll over to local government objections -- all very democratic. The 'shooting galleries' might not have been hygienic but they were defacto legal too, until the tabloids and the talk-back nazis waged a campaign against them a few months ago.

"Ah, but Carr's spun his way through it and thanks to the Herald he's looking good again. He's a minor genius in the petty craft of politics. It'll be a few weeks before the Tony Triminghams and Bev Bakers and Ian Websters realise they've been done. These people are babes in the woods of politics. The generalissimos of the Salvation Army know they've held the line against the reformers but they'll cover their profound relief by ranting about how Bob has surrendered to the forces of the devil and that's how politics is conducted". She lapsed into silence and pushed a chickpea around the huge white plate.

"But I detected a more sinister thing in the outcome", I said. "See how far we've come from the early ideals of the labor movement, the ideals of equality and a full life for all. Listen to what Bob Carr says here: 'life is an inherently disappointing experience for most human beings, some people can't cope with that. My view is that this comprises the problem: a propensity of human beings to compensate for the mediocrity of their existence and that it [he means illicit drugs] is there, it is available'."

I made a mental note to check what 'propensity' meant in the dictionary.

"It's a question of where you stand," I went on, "of how you make your living, of how secure you are. A businessman, judge, politician, currency dealer -- or for that matter a middle-level drug dealer -- on $150,000-plus a year tends to see things differently from you and I.

"As Carr sees it, most people's lives are pretty mediocre compared to his. They're basically a bunch of losers. In his brave new world, a Millennium of plenty and prosperity arrives through dog-eat-dog competition, privatisation, temporary employment, downsizing. There has to be insecurity to drive the lazy masses forward and overcome their dissatisfaction at the mediocrity of their existence. If we don't get the business, then the Koreans will, or the Indonesians, or the Chinese, or even Jeff Kennett.

"If some fall by the wayside, well, as Mr Justice Wood so charmingly puts it here (I riffled through the Herald till I found the place): 'There is no means of inoculating people against the life circumstances and social events that lead to their cycle of substance abuse and criminality and we should not pretend there is'."

"The fact is," Joadja said, "people know more nowadays, they have higher expectations, but the Laborites have all but given up on the hope and belief that society can be organised so that inequality is minimised. What we're left with is a grim caricature of 19th century Social Darwinism."

I had to make an early start in the morning on a missing person investigation -- the curious case of Cheryl Kernot. We paid our bill and strolled to the station through the Saturday night bustle.
Justice Wood's quote from SMH Friday 21 May 99, Bob Carr's quote from SMH Saturday 22 May 99.

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

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