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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Twenty minutes into the digital future

31 August 2000

The new Sydney Morning Herald is mostly a lightweight thing. It's full of lifestyle stories, moral homilies culled from old Christian Brothers readers, and pages of little snippets -- print FM radio, really -- but on Saturday I was pleased to see that my weeks of investigating the affairs of The Hon Eddie Obeid, MP had payed off in a fine expose by Kate McClymont.

I went down to clear the letterbox in case my cheque had come through. I have one of those Wilderness Society stickers that say "No Junk Mail", but it makes no difference. It is always stuffed full of crap and on Saturday morning much of it was trying to sell me a clear mind and body.

There was a handout on cheap paper from the Falun Gong people which promised to "elevate and purify mind and body" and a pamphlet entitled "CLEAR BODY CLEAR MIND" bearing the signature of the Scientology founder, L Ron Hubbard. Which was a curious thing. The old science fiction hack died many years ago, and here he was, still apparently writing books and signing brochures.

I was pondering this on Monday morning when Anton rang from the Media, Arts and Entertainment Alliance.

"We've been hearing this rumour for a few months now. We dismissed it at first, but it's persisting and getting stronger. The story is that Murdoch and Fairfax are going to start replacing journalists with software. We'd like you to get to the bottom of it".

"Gee that's scary stuff", I replied. "One moment you see the first virtual newsreader and now this. A lot of jobs are going to disappear".

"We're worried about the professional implications too. Already, there's not much about what's new in the news. The TV and radio bods stopped looking for what's new years ago ... they just shoehorn everything into a few well-understood cliches ... now it's spreading to the prints. The media is getting like one of those streets with mirror-glass buildings on both sides reflecting each other."

"Yeah, always easier to tell people what they think they know", I said, promising to do my best for $250 a day plus expenses.

Oddly enough I could see the proprietors' point. It costs a motza to keep a handful of pundits and star journalists in the manner to which they have become accustomed and 'market forces' don't seem capable of controlling the problem. Paul McGeough, the Herald editor, might be costing Fairfax as much as $250,000 a year. He owns a fine place overlooking Elizabeth Bay with his partner, Pam Williams, a senior journalist with the Financial Review, who couldn't possibly be earning less than $100,000. There had to be a cheaper way.

Then it came to me like a flash: the software thing would explain why Jonathan Shier, John Howard's new ABC chief, keeps insisting that his senior staff must pass through "psychological testing" before they can stay in their jobs. I had thought of this as a civil liberties issue -- like the mania for random drug-testing in the private schools -- or a dumb insult designed to secure resignations, but maybe I was wrong.

What if this was part of the software solution? It made sense. Pick their brains and get it down in code ... digital journalists managed by virtual programmers, plugged into ratings monitors or circulation figures or even directly into McKenzie Wark's subconscious.

I picked up the Scientology leaflet and squinted at the fine print. "Services relating to Scientology religious philosophy are delivered throughout the world exclusively by licencees of the Church of Scientology with the permission of Religious Technology Centre ..." who also owned the rights to the L Ron Hubbard signature. Maybe it's the wave of the future.