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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Men behaving atrociously

6 January 2000

New Year's Eve, New Year's Day, and the day after stretched out cool, grey and rainy. There was nothing worth watching on TV. The ABC and Channel 9 filled the airwaves with endless images of night-time cities and fireworks and squares packed with loons who thought it was the end of the millennium.

The ABC's coverage looked like it had been lashed together on the run with about 24 hours notice. Everybody had gone to Bali or Noosa apparently, and only George Negus could be lured in -- no doubt with the promise of a huge bonus -- to anchor an ad-hoc coverage of the greatest hype since Windows 95.

George soldiered on, in a bemused sort of way, helped out occasionally by Roy and HG, and Maxine McHugh. This sort of thing is not George's forte. The producer kept plugging in live feeds from places even George couldn't identify after a lifetime on the road.

In fact the whole ABC team looked like their hearts weren't in it, and who could blame them: it wasn't 2000 years since the actual birth of Christ, it wasn't 2000 years since the traditionally accepted date, and it was just a round number of no significance to several billion Arabs, Indians and Chinamen.

We took the only sensible course of action and sat up in bed with Christmas leftovers, six-packs of cider and a stack of Jo's videotapes of comedy classics.

"Have you ever noticed how much modern comedy is about boys flatting?" Joadja asked, as we rewound one of the early episodes of Men Behaving Badly.

"Think about it: Red Dwarf, Lano and Woodley, The Young Ones, Men Behaving Badly, Father Ted, all of them are really about boys flatting."

She was right. "And there's Ab Fab". I replied. "It's really about boys flatting, except the boys are girls. And if you go back a bit further there's Abbott and Costello, Hogan's Heroes, Porridge, Steptoe and Son, Sergeant Bilko, Gomer Pyle MC, McHale's Navy."

"And even further back there's Laurel and Hardy and the Marx Brothers. The point is, in comedy, the dysfunctional is the normal. Even if a comedy is about a family, the abnormal or dysfunctional family is the norm: Till Death do us Part, The Simpsons".

Jo brushed some sticky flakes of baklava from the blanket and pulled it up over her nipples before going on. "There's a mostly American school of wholesome comedy about 'nice' families: Bill Cosby, Leave it to Beaver and The Brady Bunch, but, if you think about it, comedies about 'normal' nuclear or extended families are pretty rare and for every one of them there's a take-off like Kingswood Country, The Simpsons, The Addams Family, or The Jetstones".

"It expresses both a subversive reality and a yearning. The subversive bit is that the idealised nuclear family is rather less common and less admired by most people than Howard, Beazley and Co. would have us believe. On one level, when we laugh at the irresponsible antics of dysfunctional families and boys flatting we're laughing at our real selves."

Yeah, I thought, three decades as a private eye tells me that's correct.

"And then also, many people yearn for the single life, or at any rate the unencumbered life. The terrific appeal of waking up on Saturday morning with no duties to anybody and lots of wonderful things you could do or maybe you could just do nothing at all, and nobody would care. And communities of the disparate and the ill-matched have a powerful appeal to our sense of adventure and our innate love of mayhem."

"You could extend that a bit", I said. "Look at Sea Change. You could say that just about everybody there was flatting, in the sense that the only 'normal' nuclear family is Bob Jelly's mob ... the standing joke is that Bob's the pillar of respectability and the local developer and he's a fairly seedy character. But why is it almost always about boys flatting?"

Jo shrugged. "I guess the received wisdom is that girls are well-socialised, responsible, organised, sensible, in a word, boring. It's a bit true, but mostly bunk. That's one reason why Ab Fab was so spectacularly successful. Women acting like boys flatting made it twice as outrageous."

"Now that you've cracked the formula, why don't you write a series yourself?", I asked.

"Actually, I do have a quote unquote concept There's this share house in Newtown with Gerard Henderson, Piers Ackerman, Mike Carlton, Paddy McGuinness "

"And Alan Jones "

"You guessed it, and Stan Zemanek "

" As the token wog, and Bettina Arendt as the token woman "

"And Bob Ellis as the sex interest."

"Ghastly!", I said. "No wonder more and more women are turning to possums".

• • •

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

FREE downloadable PDF booklet.