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 discipline problem

19 October 2000

I was laid low by a terrible relapse of Possum Creek Fever last week. Joadja phoned Dr Gupta, the vet, who made one of her rare house call and prescribed many drugs, some of them in doses large enough to kill a polar bear.

I did all that a possum can do when this thing strikes -- I waited it out in misery. I scratched through the papers and watched a bit of TV and drifted off into a shallow hallucinatory sleep from time to time.

It was a bad week for capitalism. Wall Street dropped sickeningly, the price of oil hit $36 again and many people panicked about the Middle East situation. But not me. I have lived a long time and seen all this before. Many times. It is how they do "negotiations" in the Middle East.

It's a question of form. Having only 40,000 rifles the Palestinians habitually negotiate by throwing stones. With the fourth largest army in the world, the Israelis usually negotiate by shooting stone-throwers dead from halfway down the street -- or invading Lebanon. These things are fairly acceptable to "public opinion" in the US of A (meaning primarily, to the various politicians, mainstream commentators and other sheepdogs). You can get away with something like a hundred of these killings at a time and nobody will turn a hair. The downside is, it can drag on for years, seriously divide and disrupt your society, and make you look nasty and repressive -- but that is a long-term thing.

On the Palestinian side, they walk a media gauntlet which is narrower and more treacherous. Burning tyres, throwing stones, and carrying the dead and injured back past the TV crews is considered fine, but throwing captured Israeli soldiers out of police station windows and kicking them to death is definitely bad form, and can bring the whole Western media down on top of you, even if your police tried to stop it.

It is a distinction lost on the average Arab, and indeed, most of the Third World, where people are less sophisticated than in the West and generally fail to understand the fine moral distinction between delivering bombs by car and dropping them from a plane.

On Sunday I rose from the near-dead and mooched downstairs to the office. On the answering machine there was a message from Dave at the insurance company that keeps me on a retainer, and a faxed news clipping from the Sunday Telegraph headlined "SHAMED". There was trouble at Trinity Grammar, the exclusive Anglican private school at Summer Hill. Four boys stood accused of assaulting something like fifteen of their school mates over a period of months.

I phoned the insurance mob back.

"We want you to find out what sort of anti-bullying protocols were in place", Dave said.

"What's the problem?" I asked. "I thought this sort of thing was in the finest tradition of Eton and Harrow, or the parachute batallion, RAR, for that matter? If the lads don't know how to dish out a bit of private discipline, or cop a beating in silence now and again, how are they ever going to rule the lower orders?"

"You're a flippant marsupial, Nick. Today's nouveau riche parents don't understand those old verities -- they get all self-righteous and sue for millions. Do you want the job or not?"

I told him I'd take it and hung up.

It's no wonder the ruling classes are going to the dogs, I thought. Look at St Ming's down in Canberra: first there was the problem about the chief prefect's phone card, and then they made Michael "Fatty" Wooldridge the sick-bay monitor. The next thing they knew he'd got his hands on the keys to the tuck-shop and he and his mates scoffed $35,000 worth of scallopini di vitello ripiene, chocolate truffles and Grange Hermitage. Lower middle class headmasters like John Howard really have no idea about maintaining discipline.

• • •

INCLUDED in Whispers from the mean streets -- Best of 2000

FREE downloadable PDF booklet.