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 Great Illusionist

30 May 2007

I was walking north along Kent Street when a man of Indian appearance wearing a dark suit approached me humbly, as if he were lost and needed directions. He had a big black Filofax in his hand and I took him for a businessman.

But he said, “I can see you are a kind person and a possum of high intelligence. Do you know I can tell you what the future holds”.

He tore a small piece paper out of a notebook perched on his Filofax, folded it into a tiny square and asked me to hold it tightly in my paw.

Where was this was leading, I wondered, vaguely annoyed.

“Now I will ask you some questions, most becile Sir. What is your favourite colour?”

I looked away and thought about it. Silly question really; so many colours. Then, the little inner voice of cynicism whispered a warning to me. “Mauve” I replied, perversely.

“You are how old?”


“To what country would you most like to travel?”

A toughie, that. I looked away again, as one does when considering a toughie. So many countries, so little time.

“Iceland”, I replied. He was jotting my answers down in his notebook.

“Now, the paper you are holding in your paw. Blow on it like this, and touch it to your forehead.”

I did as he asked.

“Now give me the paper”, he said.

I passed it over. Holding it, he showed me my answers as he’d written them in the notebook and after a bit of business shuffling his notebook and Filofax he opened the folded paper and passed it back to me. Scrawled on it was: Mauve. 58. Iceland.

He moved quickly while he thought I was off balance.

“Now I will tell you your future. You will soon have a promotion with a big rise, and you will live to be very old. I am seeing maybe 100. My happy advice is worth some money please Mr Possum. Ten dollars it is worth”.

“Nothing, it is worth. I hate mauve, I’m actually 57 and Iceland is bottom of my holiday wish-list. Plus, I work for myself. I’m a private dick. Nobody’s gunna give me a promotion and no possum I know ever lived to be 100”, I replied, and proceeded down Kent Street to my appointment.

So how the hell did he do it?

Like most magic tricks, it’s part psychology and part sleight of hand. In the first place he relied on natural goodwill towards strangers to catch me offguard. He offered something we all prize, knowledge of the future, and then distracted me with the folded paper and questions rigmarole. The “tough” questions induced a normal behavioural response, which is to look away or close your eyes while considering your answer. While I did that, he jotted down my responses twice, one copy on a small pre-folded square of paper masked by his notebook cover.

There followed the obscurantist business with the blowing and touching.

And then the paper was unfolded to prove to me that he had already known all about me before we met. But here’s the giveaway: I didn’t unfold the paper, he asked me to give it to him and he unfolded it. Actually what he did was to dispose of the blank piece of paper I’d been holding by simple sleight of hand and substitute the piece on which he’d written my responses.

And then, he moved in for the payoff, hoping to trade a worthless prediction of something wonderful (the promotion) and an unknowable (lifespan), for gratitude expressed in hard cash.

Just remember this tale, when you’re trying to figure out what John Howard is up to, because the man is our finest political prestidigitator.

When he tells a very leaky gathering of his party that this time around he can’t pull a rabbit out of the hat, it might be just another trick.

He first came to power using the old “dog whistle” routine. He suggested to gullible xenophobes that, if they elected him, nobody would ever again “censor” their paranoid views about an “asianisation”of the country favoured by the “politically correct”, “cappuccino-sipping elites” and “chardonnay socialists”. He told the silly buggers he was listening to them. They thought he was saying there’d be no more Asian immigration, but, of course, he’d said nothing of the sort. There never was any way in which, with Australian capitalism utterly dependent on trade with East Asia, he was going on an anti-Asian rampage. What he was going to do was introduce a GST.

He conned his erstwhile supporters, got into power, and then with a flash and a bang, he pulled a hapless Arab Muslim out of his hat and screamed triumphantly: “I’ve gottim, I’ve gottim”. The silly buggers loved it. They never noticed the deft switch. The East Asian migrants kept coming, and a tiny harmless minority, something like 1.5 per cent of the population, became the focus of redneck fear and ignorance.

At the next election he wowed them with the “children overboard” illusion and the one after with the good old “interest rates will rise under Labor” trick. He got back in again, interest rates went up and the suckers got Work Choices.

Among illusionists, the man is a legend.