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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Hate and wait
An epitome of the Phonecard Affair

9 November 2000

Bulli Pass lookout commands a sweeping view over Wollongong and the Tasman Sea. Joadja, Old Possum and I stopped there last Thursday morning on our way down to Port Kembla, where I had to do a bit of snooping and needed a couple of companions to establish a cover story. Officially, we were birdwatchers, doing a census of pelagic seabirds.

It was stormy and overcast, but it was not an oppressive sky. The cloud cover was high and you could see far out to sea. The clouds were a misty blue-grey, the sea was a flat blue-grey, and the horizon was masked by long skeins of rain. Three big coal ships rode at anchor, eerily suspended in the blue-grey void.

"But what gets me about Peter Reith and the phonecard affair is this: He gets away with murder in the waterfront 'reform' affair and then his whole career comes a cropper over a piss-ant bit of stupidity like Phonecard", I said, pouring a coffee from the thermos and musing over a topic we had touched on briefly during the drive down.

"Yeah, a few people have remarked on that. Poor old Robert Manne was particularly perplexed. He wrote that he just didn't understand Australian politics", Joadja remarked.

"Oh, I don't have any trouble understanding it", said Old, who had been peering at the ocean through his battered old 7x50s, hoping to spot a whale. "Half of society -- let's say, roughly speaking, the people who vote Labor, or Greens or even the Democrats -- instinctively hate Reith's guts. They feel in their guts that his interests and his values aren't theirs.

"Which is just the class struggle. It's like nature. It goes on on many levels and it ain't about to go away. Workers fight for more pay and shorter hours. Capitalists fight for lower wages and longer hours. Little capitalists fight against being oppressed by bigger ones (especially the banks) ..."

"And public schools get shafted by a government which would rather see them gone, while the richest private schools walk away with millions," said Joadja.

"Well the point is that all this continuous struggle is a spontaneous thing", Old possum continued doggedly (for he hates being interrupted when he's on a pedagogic roll). "It goes on all the time and on many levels, but the people who have the ultimate power, the power of ownership and money, set the terms in which social debate is conducted by the mainstream media, and it just isn't permissible to explain all this trouble and discontent in class terms. Journalists don't have the freedom to talk that way -- not if they want to keep their jobs.

"But if smashing the unions and enforcing individual contracts -- are acceptable, taking a box of pens home from the office is a no-no. So people 'hate and wait', and the class struggle gets fought out in the media in the only terms that can't be easily suppressed by the ruling class ... and that's 'scandal'. There's stuff like getting caught with your hand in the till, rorting your travel allowance, failure to pay your tax."

"In the old days, being a homosexual or an adulterer or an atheist were pretty good ones too. That stuff still works in places like Malaysia and the USA", Joadja remarked.

We all agreed, as we drove on down to Port Kembla, that the phonecard uproar epitomised a malaise of intellectual evasion that wasn't going to be cured quickly. When we arrived, the old main street was a melancholy sight. There were three pubs and a tattoo joint and some fine old buildings, but most of the shops were boarded up and the place had an air of struggling poverty. No doubt the life had been sucked out of it, many years ago, by some massive new shopping mall nearby.

• • •

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

FREE downloadable PDF booklet.