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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A massacre in the marketplace

4 August 1999

"According to this, Mark Barton's neighbour said: 'He was just a typical American family man. He wasn't particularly friendly, but he seemed like a nice enough man'", Old Possum said.

We were sitting outside the café in the brittle winter sun, drinking cider, reading the papers, and chewing over the latest mass murder in the US of A.

It was one of those disturbing events where all the great irrationalities intersect in a moment of mad synergy -- a grim metaphor for the inevitable end of the bubble economy.

Barton was a scoutmaster who took his family to church every Sunday. He had chucked in his trade as a chemist to get rich quick in the on-line share trading revolution sweeping America.

He was also mad. The day before he rampaged through two on-line trading rooms he battered his estranged wife to death and killed his two children. He had probably murdered his first wife and her mother six years before, according to police.

In Atlanta, talking heads stood in front of cameras and gibbered things like "... the daunting task of sorting order from the chaos" and "Americans are asking how it could happen", but elsewhere in the world people made cruel jokes about the dead speculators. Like the parson's egg they said, some parts of the tragedy were really quite palatable.

"On-line trading means there'll be a lot more of this", I said. "It'll be a worse problem than on-line gambling. Where people at the margins have 24-hour access to instant bankruptcy, many will crack up and they'll take a lot of people with them. And the spread of 'people's capitalism' will bankrupt millions when the bubble bursts."

"On-line trading isn't a new phenomena, it's a dangerous extension of an old one", said Old Possum. "One of the things that triggered the crash of '29 was that during the late '20s, while the blue-chip stocks were on their dizzy climb to disaster, there was an influx of hundreds of thousands of small players. Brokerage offices opened in little towns all over America and even on ocean liners. Hundreds of thousands of people were playing the market and when they all panicked at once it was like a tidal wave."

"And all this stuff about the internet being the 'Second Industrial Revolution'?" I asked, passing him another cider.

"People are missing two things. The first is that all new technologies are hyped by those who have a stake in them. Remember radio? It's a bit player among today's media, but in the 1920s it was going to totally change our whole way of life. Radio Corporation was Wall Street's glamour stock. In March 1929 it peaked at $114. But even before the worst day of the crash, it had tricked downhill to $60 and by 1932 it was worth just $2.50. Then, after the war, radio was pushed into the background by TV. For all we know, the internet's bull run might already have peaked."

"But you said there were two things."

"The second is a lot more subversive. New technologies always lead us in unsuspected directions. Remember Gutenburg. Around 1450, he perfected metal type and the printing press. His first print job was a couple of hundred copies of the Bible. To the establishment it must have seemed an innocent endeavour, even a boon, but it wasn't long before secular knowledge spread by cheap printed books shook the foundations of the old order."

"So how's that related to the internet?" I asked.

"Well the only real alternative to the Great God Market would be the distribution of goods and services by some sort of universal rationing system, but until now there just hasn't been a communications network that was open to all and instantaneous enough to make it work well. If the internet is linked to the databases of industry, everybody could have access to everything there is to know about supply and demand and we could control it rationally."

"But first the internet will help burst the bubble", I said. And that was where we left it.