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 victory of spin
It all depends on how you frame the thing

22 June 2007

My anonymous client claimed to be from the Crown Casino and he promised serious money for what he intimated was a case of arson.

“I’ll make myself known to you in the National Gallery of Victoria, Sunday, 1.00 pm sharp, at St George Hare’s ‘The victory of Faith’”, he said, and hung up.

Why not? I thought. I hadn’t been to Melbourne in years.

I discovered a couple of decades of the Thatcherist neo-Keynesian free credit policy had done wonders for Bleak City – at least in terms of glitzy imperial wonders.

A whole high-rise wonderland in the shopping mall triumphalist style had risen, fronting the Yarra at Southbank. There was the vast, spectacularly vulgar Packer casino itself, and a concourse of hotels and restaurants and a graceless cluster of tilted neo-lousy cubes at Federation Square opposite the old Flinders Street station. At last, the Mexicans had something to rival Darling Harbour.

As I wandered through 19th Century galleries at the NGV, the collection struck me as largely made up of “approved” academy painters hurriedly purchased, long ago, to stock the public buildings and stately homes of the new “Athens of the South”.

I found St George Hare's painting without much trouble. A piece of blatant male lesbian fantasy with cross-racial allure, two metres wide and a metre high is hard to miss and somewhat engaging, in a jokey sort of way.

Ostensibly, it depicted two martyrs on the eve of their sacrifice to the lions in the Coliseum and indeed a tiny, almost subliminal, Christian cross could be made out, scratched on the dungeon wall. “The depiction of naked women in chains seemed to hold a special interest for Hare and he returned to this subject frequently” the curator’s notes coyly advised. The work had been purchased at London’s Royal Academy in 1891 and donated anonymously to the gallery in 1905. The frame was the original “… by Chapman Bros., London” ... they're big on frames at the NGV.

By half-past one, my client still hadn’t turned up, and he hadn’t called the mobile. Right. The triumph of faith. Anonymous donor. The joke was on me. Somebody wanted me in Bleak City, or at least, out of Sydney, for reasons that would no doubt become clear with time.

By the time I’d got back to Sydney, John Howard had launched his long-anticipated Federal election wedge tactic and this time the Koories were in the frame.

The efficacy of the Muslim terrorist scare campaign has worn off since the last election. Its usefulness has declined through overuse – and also with the fortunes of the Iraq imbroglio to the point where the Howard pundits now avoid mentioning the war at all costs. Besides, our very own military commitment is such a risibly tiny and transparently insincere one you wouldn’t want to draw attention to it.

So the Great Illusionist needed a fresh new issue to appeal to the redneck prejudices of the idiot ‘aspirationals’ he depends on in the critical marginal seats – the people now doing it tough under Work Choices and interest rate rises. Taking the big stick of ‘tough love’ and martial law to the blacks has obvious appeal here. Howard can be seen to be taking a strong stand about a festering problem; he can bamboozle the black leaders by saying they’ve asked him to do something for years and now he’s doing it; and he can lay blame at the doorstep of the Labor state governments.

In his eagerness not to be an ‘irresponsible’ critic, silly Kevin Rudd backed the Prime Minister and the mainstream media rushed to editorialise in his favour and all forgot that during his terms in office his spin has been that his mob were out there doing “practical reconciliation” by tackling real problems on the ground in Aboriginal communities – not for John Howard the waffly prescriptions of the latte-sipping elites.

Of course, in the few short months before the elections, nothing at all is likely to happen on the ground, just as bugger-all has happened while Howard has been running the shop and selling “practical reconciliation” – eleven years during which he’s had exactly the power and authority he has now, and the problems have been no different.

Howard may well recall Parliament so he can grandstand some more and even bluff through some nasty, repressive racist legislation. In the best possible outcome for him, he might be able to make serious inroads into native title as a property form, close down a swag of communities, and dump their hapless dispossessed inhabitants onto the charities and the state housing departments.

It all reminded me of St George Hare’s painting. It’s wonderful to think of a well-dressed gallery crowd filing past that painting on a Sunday afternoon a hundred years ago, murmuring respectfully. It all depends how you “frame” the issue, as Mark Textor would say. Put a nice gold frame around it, call them Christian martyrs, and sincere naïve folk won’t notice it’s actually a salacious picture of naked ladies.