The ferries that ply the river west of Sydney Harbour bear the names of Australia's world champion sportswomen. They include the Olympic swimming gold-medalists Dawn Fraser and Shane Gould, and runners Betty Cuthbert and Marjorie Jackson.
This is a story of two letters and two Britains. The first letter was written by Sebastian Coe, the former athlete who chairs the London Olympics Organising Committee. He is now called Lord Coe. In the New Statesman of June 21, I reported an urgent appeal to Coe by the Vietnam Women's Union that he and his IOC colleagues reconsider their decision to accept sponsorship from Dow Chemical, one of the companies that manufactured dioxin, a poison used against the population of Vietnam. See also
Australia is the world’s first murdochracy. US citizen Rupert Murdoch controls 70% of the metropolitan press. He has monopolies in state capitals and provincial centres. The only national newspaper is his. He is a dominant force online and in pay-TV and publishing. Known fearfully as “Rupert”, he is the Chief Mate.
Arriving in a village in southern Vietnam, I caught sight of two children who bore witness to the longest war of the 20th century. Their terrible deformities were familiar. All along the Mekong river, where the forests were petrified and silent, small human mutations lived as best they could. Today, at the Tu Du paediatrics hospital in Saigon, a former operating theatre is known as the "collection room" and, unofficially, as the "room of horrors". It has shelves of large bottles containing grotesque foetuses.
Rupert Murdoch is a bad man. His son James is also bad. Rebekah Brooks is allegedly bad. The News of the World was very bad; it hacked phones and pilloried people. British prime ministers grovelled before this iniquity. David Cameron even sent text messages to Brooks signed "LoL", and they all had parties in the Cotswolds with Jeremy Clarkson. Nods and winks were duly exchanged on the BSkyB deal. Shock, horror. Offering glimpses of the power and petty gangsterism of the British tabloid press, the inquiry conducted by Lord Leveson has, I suspect, shocked few people.
On May 30, Britain's Supreme Court turned down the final appeal of Julian Assange against his extradition to Sweden. In an unprecedented move, the court gave the defence team of the WikiLeaks editor permission to “re-apply” to the court in two weeks' time. On the eve of the judgement, Sweden's leading morning newspaper Dagens Nyheter interviewed investigative journalist John Pilger, who has closely followed the Assange case. The following is the complete text of the interview, of which only a fraction was published in Sweden. See also
In the week Barack Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, he ordered bombing attacks on Yemen, killing a reported 63 people, 28 of them children. When Obama recently announced he supported same-sex marriage, American planes had not long blown 14 Afghan civilians to bits. In both cases, the mass murder was barely news. What mattered were the cynical vacuities of a political celebrity, the product of a zeitgeist driven by the forces of consumerism and the media with the aim of diverting the struggle for social and economic justice.
You are all potential terrorists. It matters not that you live in Britain, the United States, Australia or the Middle East. Citizenship is effectively abolished. Turn on your computer and the US Department of Homeland Security's National Operations Centre may monitor whether you are typing not merely "al-Qaeda", but "exercise", "drill", "wave", "initiative" and "organisation": all proscribed words. The British government's announcement that it intends to spy on every email and phone call is old hat. The satellite vacuum cleaner known as Echelon has been doing this for years.
One of my first jobs as a junior reporter was to meet flights bringing famous people to Australia. Growing up in a country far from everywhere (except, as my father would say, "where you come from"), I was led to believe that Australia's honour was at risk unless a well-known person from Over There said something flattering about us, preferably the moment they arrived at Sydney airport.
War by media, says current military doctrine, is as important as the battlefield. This is because the real enemy is the public at home, whose manipulation and deception is essential for starting an unpopular colonial war. Like the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, attacks on Iran and Syria require a steady drip-effect on readers' and viewers' consciousness. This is the essence of a propaganda that rarely speaks its name.
In 1963, a senior Australian government official, A R Taysom, deliberated on the wisdom of deploying women as trade representatives. “Such an appointee would not stay young and attractive for ever [because a] spinster lady can, and very often does, turn into something of a battleaxe with the passing years [whereas] a man usually mellows.” On International Women’s Day 2012, such primitive views are worth recalling; but what has happened to modern feminism? Why is it so bereft of its political, indeed socialist roots, that any woman who “achieves” within an immoral system is to be admired?
When the early morning fog rises and drifting skeins from wood fires carry the sweet smell of India, the joggers arrive in Lodi Gardens. Past the tomb of Mohammed Shah, the 15th century Mughal ruler, across a landscape manicured in the 1930s by Lady Willingdon, wife of the governor-general, recently acquired trainers stride out from ample figures in smart saris and white cotton dhotis.
In the kabuki theatre of British parliamentary politics, great crimes do not happen and criminals go free. It is theatre after all; the pirouettes matter, not actions taken at remove in distance and culture from their consequences. It is a secure arrangement guarded by cast and critics alike. The farewell speech of one of the most artful, Tony Blair, had "a sense of moral conviction running through it", effused the television presenter Jon Snow, as if Blair's appeal to kabuki devotees was mystical. That he was a war criminal was irrelevant.
The Supreme Court hearing in the Julian Assange case has profound meaning for the preservation of basic freedoms in Western democracies. This is Assange’s final appeal against his extradition to Sweden to face allegations of sexual misconduct that were originally dismissed by the chief prosecutor in Stockholm and constitute no crime in Britain.
Lisette Talate died the other day. I remember a wiry, fiercely intelligent woman who masked her grief with a determination that was a presence. She was the embodiment of people’s resistance to the war on democracy. I first glimpsed her in a 1950s Colonial Office film about the Chagos Islanders, a tiny creole nation living midway between Africa and Asia in the Indian Ocean. The camera panned across thriving villages, a church, a school, a hospital, set in a phenomenon of natural beauty and peace. Lisette remembers the producer saying to her and her teenage friends: “Keep smiling girls.”
On 22 May 2007, the British Guardian's front page announced: Iran's secret plan for summer offensive to force US out of Iraq. The writer, Simon Tisdall, claimed that Iran had secret plans to defeat United States' troops in Iraq, which included "forging ties with al-Qaeda elements". The coming "showdown" was an Iranian plot to influence a vote in the US Congress.