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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Knee-deep in shit, but free to be proud

13 April 1999

It was another grim week. In the Balkans the bombing and ethnic cleansing rolled on in a wave of mutual rhetoric while refugee Kosovars piled up on the borders. Integrationist thugs hacked people to death in an East Timor church. And then the toilets backed up.

"If it's what I think ...", said Boris the plumber, "The big s-bend, it's collapse, just near where it join the main sewer. He cost you four thousand, or maybe just a coupla thou, if you dig it up for me yoursel".

So Joadja and I got to work. It rained from time to time but by Sunday midday we had dug down through nearly two metres of muddy soil, prising out lumps of sandstone and old bricks.

Jo went over to the cafe and came back with some lunch. She brought the Saturday Herald.

"Did you see that Les Murray's rewritten his draft preamble? Says there hasn't been a split with John Howard, but he reckons their first effort was 'rather baggy'", she remarked.

"Yeah, just the other day I wrote one of my rare letters to John, warning him about Les", I replied.

"I'd been trying to figure out what that weird bit actually meant -- you know, about 'equal dignity' never being invoked against 'achievement' -- but now he's changed 'achievement' to 'merit'. Anyway, I got the Macquarie Dictionary out and substituted the definitions of the key words in Murray's new draft and this is what I came up with ..."

She flourished a closely-written sheet of paper, cleared her throat, took a deep breath, and continued:

"Australia's democratic federal system of government exists under law to preserve each person in an equal nobility of manner or style, stateliness, gravity, nobleness or elevation of mind, worthiness, honourable place or elevated rank, degree of excellence, (either in estimation or in the order of nature), or relative standing or rank, which may never be violated or transgressed, encroached or trespassed upon by an unfavourable opinion or feeling formed beforehand, or without knowledge, thought or reason, or disadvantaged as a result of some judgement or action of another, or by conventional usage in dress, manners, etc., especially of polite society or conformity to it, or by a body of doctrine or myth, or the symbols of any social movement, institution, class or large group, nor called for with earnest desire, made supplication for, or prayed for, or appealed to, called for, or conjured against, any claim to commendation, excellence, or worth, or anything which entitles to reward or commendation or that which is deserved, whether good or bad."

"Holy Mother of Darwin, that's a lawyers' picnic", I said. "If this gets through there'll be years of endless fun when the lawyers start interpreting the intention of the Re-founding Fathers by weighing the implications of that gibberish".

I scanned through the words. "Just for a start it means you can't trespass upon somebody's "honourable place or elevated rank" with an "unfavourable opinion" or even a "feeling". The pollies and business tycoons will love it", I said.

"And he's left in the stuff about how Australians will be "free to be proud of their country and heritage", but there's nothing about whether somebody will be free to be ashamed, if that's how they feel. I think it's dangerous, because the right to dissent is the only real test of freedom", Jo observed.

There was something ominous about digging a trench in the rain, listening to high-flown hokum like "hope in God" and "proud of their country and heritage", as well as the latest news from the Balkans on the radio – something unsettling about the cycles of history. The Serbs had closed ranks around Milosevic, muttering about "honour", the "heavenly kingdom of death" and the "Field of Blackbirds", which was an obscure battle they lost in 1389. The Russians had re-targeted all their nuclear missiles towards Nato countries in what was flippantly dismissed by Western commentators as a meaningless gesture.

I scraped away the last of the soggy earth around the s-bend. Sure enough, the old clay fitting had shattered into pieces and collapsed under the weight of the soil above it, blocking the sewage pipe. It had clearly been like that for a long time.

There was a sordid odour of urine and watery sewage seeped out of the crumbled mess. I prised out the biggest chunk. Suddenly, months of accumulated shit surged out of the pipe and filled the trench around my legs.

There was some sort of moral there, if only I could see it.

• • •

INCLUDED in Whispers from the mean streets -- Best of 1999

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