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In the 1943 thriller I read on the flight to Phuket, the hero/narrator casts a cynical eye on the citizens of a Californian town on the skids: “Haggard landladies bicker with shifty tenants …and old men sit staring at nothing on wide cool porches with faces like lost battles”. Raymond Chandler the pen, Phillip Marlowe the voice. Fly cops with granite faces and unwavering eyes mingle with people who look like nothing in particular and know it. And then a phrase that nails my crowd: “worn intellectuals with cigarette coughs and no money in the bank”. I down another shot of in-flight gin and try to feel hard bitten. Was it worth it after all, our dagger words, the midnight arguments, our pamphlets, our rants, our taunting of the Bush-appeasers who condone blood-spilling without contrition, who wreck nature without regret?

I mean, how many Western chauvinists read our pesky blogs and cry, “Okay, okay, I was wrong to look away while the coalition trashed Iraq. Tomorrow I’ll join the Greens.” The reason most people are looking away is because they’re looking after their family, their future. Too busy to research, too in debt to rock the boat.

Prior to the flight, I was asked to address a Sydney salon of worn intellectuals with marijuana coughs and no retirement fund. The group meets monthly. I love salons, or at least the idea of salons, because one day there’ll be a fiery speech – of the kind now banned under Australia’s new terror-panic laws – and we’ll surround Parliament with a load of hand-me-down ideas and first rate designer drugs, chanting “wind power to the people”. During my closing riff, I said that responsibility for the bloodbath of Iraq belongs to the invaders, just as the blame for a fire which destroys a town falls on those who lit the match. The Australian Prime Minister is one of the instigators, which makes all of us, to a degree, complicit in his crimes. “That’s not true”, yelled an unworn student , spoiling my big finish, “I didn’t vote for John Howard.”


It’s a mystery that our Prime Minister ever got elected, because no-one admits to voting for him. But maybe the interjection was valid. That by not casting a vote for a politician who commits a crime, and dutifully going about your everyday life, watching bad movies, applying moisturiser, talk’n about the footy, etc, is enough to absolve you from a sense of guilt when the whole world wakes up to what’s really been going on in our secret gulags, and about bloody time, little thanks to mainstream media. Abu Ghraib was hors d’oeuvres. Don’t worry, I’m not going to bang on about it anymore, in this my last rave for the year, hopefully my last ever about the war. (Yes, fingers crossed! Now can you fix the garden furniture? Wife.) You can be sure that the West will be held to account, however long it takes, and new generations in scores of nations will ask, echoing Nuremberg, how did you let your leaders do it? What will we say? I didn’t know it was happening. I didn’t vote for them. I was watching Big Brother.

There is a scene in the Speilberg movie, Schindler's List (1993), which catches the essence of the holocaust, in all its insouciant depravity. The concentration camp boss sits on a veranda with a rifle on his knee, entertaining guests (I think), as the doomed inmates trudge about their duties. Every so often, he picks up the gun and shoots a Jew. For no reason other than malice and target practice. A similar scene has been playing out on the road to Baghdad airport, courtesy of our coalition’s mercenaries. Here’s the video-link. Watch it and ask, what have we become?


John Howard hitched our wagon to falling star. By siding with the global bully, he stained our soul and stirred up demons. We are unique in the West for refusing to condemn the Guantanamo Inquisitions. We turn a blind eye to systemic sadism, banned weapons, targeted assassinations (often of the innocent). We trumpet the nobility of our own military and cloak its unsavoury deeds in secrecy. Our Department of Immigration is driven by a culture of cruelty masquerading as incompetence, for which its instigator is promoted to Attorney General. Now he is laying the foundations of a police state, as MurdochWorld™ applauds. Howard keeps claiming the two Bali bombings are unrelated to our role in the terror wars, because the first attack, October 2002, preceded our invasion of Iraq. But it FOLLOWED our October 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.

Deep down, Howard must know that his playing of deputy to an ignoble sheriff has helped inflame terror in our region, cost tens of thousands of innocent lives and may well land him in the international criminal court. His political strategy is to heighten fear, pump up patriotism, glorify war, trash the academy. Are today’s race riots on the beaches such a surprise? His famous snub to refugees, “we decide who comes to Australia”, was meant to scare the heartland, conjuring barbarians at the gate. Never mind that it flouted international law. And sure, hooning Lebanese Aussie adolescents can be obnoxious and frightening, as can Anglo Aussie meatheads who think they’re Anzacs on the sands of Gallipoli. Howard has helped turn us into a bunch of self congratulating flag waving materialist pisspots singing our own praises, oy oy oy, yob yob yob, screaming ‘death to the wog wog wog’. At heart, these are his people, the only constituency he ever cared about, the ones he sucks up to on the shock jock airways, the biffos who love his military parades, his anti intellectuality, his climate change denial, his medieval mindset, his taking us from a lucky, plucky, good natured land to an Ugly Oz in a single backflip, vomiting as we light our farts on Reality TV.

The day I arrive in Thailand, thankfully not aboard a CIA torture flight, King Bhumibol Adulyadej is sitting on a massive golden throne, delivering his annual birthday speech. It looks like a pompous Royal ceremony, all show and no substance, until I check out what he’s saying. The King’s speech is utterly without guile and spin. It is self effacing, it is healing. It stands up for the right to dissent. It offers a rebuke to the Thai Prime Minister for trying to silence his critics with lawsuits. It unfolds a vision of a sustainable, efficient Thailand , one powered entirely by renewable energy (much of it palm oil, which he is developing). The King is candid about his short-comings. His words are a window to an eccentric, subtle and compassionate mind. It is not a speech that a Bush, a Blair or a Howard could ever conceive, much less deliver. It is a reminder that the measure of a nation is not the measure of its GDP. A country’s true wealth is derived from its values. When these values are enshrined in the actions of those at the top, then mutual respect becomes the intangible currency that empowers the population. The morning after the Kings’ speech the Prime Minister, Mr Thaksin, publicly withdrew all lawsuits against his critics.

Happy Xmas, everyone. There’ll be bilious sermons, a vile effusion of plastic crap under plastic trees. Carols that make the blood curdle. There’ll be gongs for timid public servants who kept their traps shut. Military chaplains will reassure the troops of their sacred duty to keep dropping bombs from midnight skies on “restive” Iraqi villages, and never make it public. All this and more, praise the Lord. Our collective stupor will persist to Australia Day. Sure, I’ll drink a schooner of booze under the Southern Cross and propose a toast to all the worn out intellectuals of the world, a toast to feisty bloggers and threadbare idealists stretching from Bangkok to Baghdad to Byron Bay and beyond, to all the NGOs, the human rights guerrillas, the ABC truth seekers, the haggard Pilger, Fisk, Monbiot, Dahr Jamail, even the bewildered plane spotters who provided proof of the CIA’s numerous torture flights to many more, to the latecomer peaceniks, multiplying by the minute, to all opinion shapers not funded by corporations or fearful of Murdoch, to everyone, everywhere, whose role is to slide the peas under fatcat mattresses, to keep the liars tossing and turning at night, worrying about how much we know and why we won’t shut up, and to remind them …. we are everywhere.

Related Links: Plane spotters:,12271,1664149,00.html,

From Bangkok:

From Baghdad:

The BBC’s correspondent says Goodbye to Baghdad

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Richard Neville has been a practicing futurist since 1963, when he launched the countercultural magazine, Oz, which widened the boundaries of free speech on two continents. He has written several books, including Playpower (71), the bio of a global (more...)
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