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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Brushtail Graphics

Where do we get these people?

26 June 2008

The temperature had plunged overnight and a grim slate-grey sky hung over the city as I crossed the lane to the Brushtail Café, looking for light and warmth and a decent vegetarian breakfast.

A flurry of cold sleety rain came down and I wondered if my name was in Belinda Neal’s freezer. Hell, maybe she’d thrown the whole Sydney White Pages in there.

These days, more and more commuters are filtering down Werrong Lane towards the station. A year ago, these folk used to drive to work, but they can’t afford to any more, so they drive to any unrestricted parking they can find and walk to the station, where the platforms are now as crowded as Roslyn Oxley’s gallery after the Henson raids.

Ah yes, the nude kiddie pics affair entertained everybody for a brief shining moment before the petrol crisis forced its gloomy way back onto the front pages. In the first three months of this year, petrol sales fell by more than 5 per cent. That means traffic is down by the same amount. If that trend continues, traffic will be down by 20 per cent in a full year.

The political class has really stuffed up this time. Coming generations will look back in dismay at the stupidity of successive governments. They’ll scratch their heads over the FuelWatch fracas, when the government and opposition squabbled for a week over a possible saving of four cents a litre and by the time that blew over, the price had gone up by twice as much.

Never underestimate the extent to which abundant cheap oil transformed politics and politicians. Before the Second World War our cities and economies needed big organizations to get people and goods around. There were huge rail and tram networks and most of it was run, of necessity, by the government. It was a time when you had to pay attention to the details.

But then a flood of cheap oil was unleashed on the Western world. A private car for every family suddenly became possible. The freedom of movement offered by the car bolstered the shallow market ideology of individualism. Politicians were seduced by the ease with which they could freeze, minimise and dismantle the big social systems of transport in favour of an atomised cottage industry of car sales yards, servos and repairers.

Of course few looked too closely at the inevitable downside: if every family owned a car – let alone two or three – parking, pollution and the necessary road space were going to transform our cities for the worst.

And then came the freeway, carving destructive swathes through the old inner cities and pushing outwards to create vast sprawling car-dependent suburbs. The more freeways they built, the quicker they filled up, because traffic expands to fill the road space available, at least in peak periods.

Many grumbled about traffic but few asked the really fundamental question: what will happen when this flexible, super cheap, source of energy inevitably goes into decline?

The neo-classical economists’ complacent response was most fatuously stated by Dr Brian Fisher of the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics. "If the price is high enough, even roosters will lay eggs", he said, when asked about peak oil.

Even for an economist, that’s a dumb response, because roosters can’t lay eggs. But if the price was huge, and the rooster somehow responded, most people wouldn’t be able to afford the eggs anyway.

The current generation of mainstream Australian politicians have only the barest shadow of a race-memory of crisis. The idea of the system that’s ticked over all their lives suddenly collapsing into shortages, rationing and social chaos, is alien to their thinking.

Let’s look at the crises in Australian history. There was a depression in the 1890s, but the country was rich and expanding, so it was quickly forgotten. We lost a lot of men in the First World War but unlike Europe, the country was never invaded or trashed.

A decade after the Great War came the Great Depression. Now that was a nasty shock, but it didn’t come to a country already devastated by war.

After the depression came WWII. Well, from September 1939 until December 1941 it was just a distant show to which we were sending troops. It got a bit nasty after Pearl Harbour, but by the time the Japs got to New Guinea, they were literally at the end of their tether. Apart from Darwin – an outpost with a few weatherboard houses flattened by air raids – the country wasn’t trashed by the war.

And after WWII it’s been easy street just about all the way. We’ve had a couple of generations of politicians who can’t even imagine anything going radically wrong. This bunch of energy illiterates think the market can magically supply some cheap new energy source. In NSW at least, they’re blithely pushing on with schemes for the biggest, most expensive, freeway projects ever. Nuts, absolutely nuts.