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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Keeping up with the Pratts

23 March 2000

It had been a week beyond satire. The private lives of the fabulously rich were in court and the papers were full of it. The Pratt affair knocked the long-running Moran case off Sydney's front pages and it was a delight for the headline writers. It had all the ingredients: a billionaire Melbourne businessman, a pampered mistress, a Greek bagman, a beautiful nanny, a loyal socialite wife, allegations of assault, assignations in a luxury flat at Circular Quay and a mansion on Martin Road. That bullshit artist Cliff Hardy couldn't have conjured a case like this out of his fevered imagination.

Pratt was Australia's third richest man. He had so much money even the Morans looked like paupers by comparison. I have always been interested in money, but lately I have had a nagging feeling that something has changed about it ... that I don't know what it is anymore.

So I did what I always do when big philosophical questions infest my mind: I strolled down to see Old Possum. He lives in a roomy old toolshed at the back of one of the big Federation houses across the road from the park. I entered through the laneway gate and found him sitting in the door soaking up the sunshine.

He went inside and came back with a couple of ciders. His Mac SE was piled around with weighty tomes on economics and history and thick wads of the manuscript he has been working on for so long I have forgotten.

"I don't understand money", I said. "Some marsupial instinct tells me it's changed somehow while I wasn't looking".

Old took a swig from his bottle and pulled a couple of coins from his pocket. "I'm in a state of doubt myself", he said, "But I'll tell you how I see it", and he prodded the coins around his paw.

"Once, the coins of the realm were little bits of real value, bits of universally desirable metal like gold and silver. To save them, you buried them in the backyard; if you travelled, you found they were acceptable anywhere. Inflation happened when the ruler started issuing coins of the old nominal value, but with a lower weight, or adulterated them with base metals.

"Next there came paper money. It had words on it that said if you took it to the central bank they'd give you gold in exchange. Inflation happened if the government printed more paper money without increasing the gold they held in reserve.

"You can't exchange your banknotes for gold any more, and the bulk of transactions take place through electronic signals. It's easy to see a day when coins and banknotes will disappear, and all there'll be is electronic signals. When that day comes, the last trace of an independent store of value -- which is what gold and silver were -- will have disappeared. All that will be left is accounting: an invisible electronic ledger.

"The question is: what will we be adding up and subtracting from in the great ledger? For my money, the only possible answer can be work, labour. It would be valued by some rationale, at more or less units of exchange per hour, but that's what it would be."

"You're saying that money has gone from being a commodity itself, a physical thing that stores value and is taken in exchange for anything, to being ... " I searched for the words, "... a sort of universal electronic rationing system: you work this many hours, you're entitled to this many things".

He put the coins back in his pocket. "Yeah, it's like that already for people who live on wages, but it's still something different if you control a huge lump of it. It's called capital then, and I'm still grappling with what the changed nature of money means for capital. Some people, like Mr Pratt, have money that breeds like rabbits in the dark and others get the stuff in a thin and sickly trickle, however much they contribute."

• • •

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

FREE downloadable PDF booklet.