Archive by Author

Political virtue

Don Watson writes an ode to retiring independent MP Tony Windsor over at The Monthly:

A good bloke lost as collateral damage, people are saying. If that is all we can make of it, we will only deepen the folly. You could be the dead-set best bloke in history and be no loss at all. What matters is that you were a good politician: good enough to be the measure of what’s missing in modern politics.

I mean the qualities that the media no longer much values or, in its more extreme and youthful forms, even recognises, and which the major parties only sometimes reward. Not “the vision thing” – though I suspect you have one – but the dependable, intelligent, worldly, unbreakable, character thing, on which democratic politics and our faith in it depend. This is more than “good blokeism” – or “good sheilaism”. It is having good judgement, including the judgement of others’ character. It means hearing and representing the people, but neither aping them nor manipulating them; nor being only for them, whatever the broader interest; nor telling them only what they want to hear, or only the messages that your spin doctors reckon they must hear to the exclusion of both the demands of intellect and the refinements of civilised discourse.

Good character and good judgment. If politics is the way we resolve our differences and find some way to live with one another, what else can it come down than this? The focus-group-driven machine ‘politics’ we all know and loathe doesn’t deserve the name. Surely it’s about time we reclaimed its proper meaning.

Mind the Gap

What can public transport tell us about a city’s character? Danu makes an unlikely comparison of the public transport experiences in Melbourne and Singapore and thinks through how to make sense of the differences.

Melbourne-Singapore Transport

I have what many would consider to be a peculiar fondness for public transport. Sometimes I will catch trains and buses just to see where they go. The logic and layout of a city’s public transport network, it seems to me, reveals a lot about the character of a place. Thus, whenever I find myself in a new city, I make a point of getting to grips with its public transport system.

In the course of my travels I asked myself an innocent question. Why is it that in Singapore (one of my favourite cities) I can get from the airport to anywhere in the entire city in a clean and comfortable train that leaves every 6 minutes, for less than $2, while in Melbourne (also one of my favourite cities, and where I live) I have to get a $17 bus that connects to an unreliable, expensive and often filthy train network where I have to spend another $3.70 using a different ticket that may or may not work? Melbourne is, after all, the second most populous city in one of the richest countries in the world. Singapore is now a rich and developed country also, but this is a comparatively recent development. To put the comparison another way, Melbourne’s last new suburban train line (Glen Waverley) opened in 1930. The last major work was the city loop, completed in 1985, whereas Singapore’s entire 150km island-wide rail network was constructed since then.

Without quite doing so consciously, I now realise I have spent a considerable amount of time and effort trying to find good ways to make sense of this. Among other things, this has included taking a course in contemporary planning issues as part of my postgraduate policy studies, as well as relocating to Singapore and working for a time as a researcher inside the country’s Land Transport Authority to get an inside perspective. Not to mention a lot of time riding road and rail in both places.

A large part of this search for answers has consisted in deciding what terms of understanding are appropriate to the situation. Many people would reject a comparison between Melbourne and Singapore out of hand, given that one is a city and one is a nation in its own right, or on the basis that one is a liberal democracy while the other is perceived as an authoritarian state. Would it not make more sense to compare Melbourne to somewhere like Berlin?

Rather than rejecting the comparison on such a basis, this to me seems an excellent reason to pursue the question. What if the different political arrangements are not merely incidental factors, but part of the explanation? What would be the implications of this? In any event, the comparison I want to make is based on experience and conceptual rationality rather than demographics, so I have deliberately chosen Singapore as an extreme, or limiting, case. That is to say, I am mostly interested in what it is like to experience public transport in Melbourne and Singapore as someone who uses it, and how the city’s respective attitudes towards public transport result in that kind of experience. Continue Reading →

Why would a religious scholar write a book about a religious figure?

From Buzzfeed:

Reza Aslan, a religious scholar with a Ph.D. in the sociology of religions from the University of California and author of the new book, “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,” went on FoxNews.com’s online show Spirited Debate to promote his book only to be prodded about why a Muslim would write a historical book about Jesus.

This video is amazing. Most people, after asking a thoughtless baiting question and receiving an unfazed reply refuting the basis for asking it, would back off, or at least change tack. But this ‘journalist’ is not to be deterred. She just keeps going. And going. It’s awful but I couldn’t stop watching it.

Review: The Penguin and the Leviathan: How Cooperation Triumphs over Self-Interest

The Penguin and the Leviathan: How Cooperation Triumphs over Self-Interest
The Penguin and the Leviathan: How Cooperation Triumphs over Self-Interest by Yochai Benkler

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Yochai Benkler’s brief and approachable book takes issue with the founding premises of many of our institutions that humans are in general not to be trusted and that we need strong authority and incentives to keep us in line lest we run amok. He seeks to show us that our basic nature, though far from perfect, is far more cooperative and altruistic than is commonly thought.

Benkler makes his case using a range of detailed examples, many of which will be familiar to readers of other work of this nature. In fact, The Penguin and the Leviathan can be regarded as something of a synthesis of Michael Sandel’s ‘What Money Can’t Buy’, Jonathan Haidt’s ‘The Righteous Mind’ and Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe’s ‘Practical Wisdom.’ In my opinion these are all better books in their own right, but the value of Benkler’s offering is that it puts together many of their disparate insights in a sustained and focused way. That this book is coming from a business/economics/technology background in itself makes this a worthwhile and encouraging contribution.

Benkler seems alive too to the darker side of cooperative behaviour, though this is not sufficiently developed in my view. Overall though, The Penguin and the Leviathan provides a measured, accessible and persuasive take on the age-old problem of how to design organisational systems that bring out the best in humanity. It’s a great, up-to-date starting place for anyone with an interest in this question.



View all my reviews

Toxic promise

Over at The Guardian, David Marr has taken a similar line on asylum seekers to my off-the-cuff piece from the weekend:

The shame goes way back. But Kevin Rudd has taken Australia lower than it has ever gone before. He had the relentless encouragement of Tony Abbott. But then beating up on boat people has always been a bipartisan business.

From the time that first boat arrived – the Kein Giang with five Vietnamese men on board – in April 1976, both sides of politics have made the same promise to the nation: to stop the boats, every single boat. There are too many coming now. Too many people are dying on the way. But we are not going to get anywhere while that toxic promise stays on the table.

It has licensed brutality towards boat people for nearly 40 years. When all this began, there was a constituency in this country for dealing decently with asylum seekers who came by sea. But the White Australia policy was barely cold in its grave. The fearful demanded fresh reassurance. So the decision was taken on both sides of politics to play to fear.

Food for thought.

✱ The exception that proves the rule

I don’t often take an explicit position on this blog, but let me be absolutely clear on this point — Australia’s asylum seeker policy is shameful, illegal and offensive and I condemn Kevin Rudd’s latest update to it in the strongest terms.

Rudd announced on Friday that any asylum seeker who arrives by boat will have ‘no chance’ of being settled in Australia and will instead be resettled in Papua New Guinea as part of a new arrangement with that country.

This puts the capstone on a policy story that has been building since the Howard years. The story is that people coming by boat are a threat to Australia’s borders and so we need to stop them coming. All subsequent policy has been understood through this frame — Rudd has simply taken it one step further and simplified it. No chance. Get lost.

I’m not going to discuss the policies here — plenty of other people have done a better job of that already. I’m not going to rail against the politics of it or the politicians themselves either. They are of course disgusting, but this situation is Australia’s fault, not just that of our leaders.

How does a story like this get traction at all? It’s easily provable by fact that asylum seekers arriving by boat pose no threat whatsoever to Australia, but this is about the story rather than the facts. Nevertheless, even the facts of the story are easily disproved. There is no queue to be jumped. The arrivals are not illegal. It doesn’t matter how they arrive. Categories like ‘economic migrant’ and ‘asylum seeker’ are themselves constructions of language so that we can avoid calling such people ‘refugees’, because that classification carries legal responsibilities which we would prefer to shirk and foist onto our poorer neighbours instead. More than 9 out of 10 of the people we detain end up being classified as refugees eventually anyway.

But the facts don’t matter. Neither does the cost, which is astronomical. At a time when the rest of what passes for political debate is focussed on budget deficits and we are prepared to cut funding to public services to return the budget to surplus, the cost of asylum seeker policy is somehow exempt. It is apparently so imperative that we lock up people fleeing for their lives, so great is the imagined threat to our borders, that we say hang the cost. The human cost certainly does not matter. The people who have the misfortune to become caught up in this story will be crushed, no matter what the personal cost, to maintain its fidelity.

The story speaks to a deep and ugly paranoia and entitlement that has been part of Australia’s national culture since it became a nation. We have always been concerned about equality and a fair-go, but equality for who and of what? Originally it was about equality for white men, as these were the only ‘Australians’ who mattered. In practice this meant ‘protecting’ Australian life from threats to this equality. Accordingly, the first Act passed by the Australian parliament in 1901 was the White Australia Policy. The Bulletin magazine told this story in very simple terms on its masthead every week until 1961:

Australia for the White Man

After World War II, the focus shifted to ‘protecting’ ourselves through population. We have always seen ourselves as a vulnerable outpost, and now the imperative became to ‘populate or perish’. In practice this meant stuffing ourselves with immigrants, in line with the still-existing White Australia Policy, whose very existence would deter the forces of communism. We simultaneously extended our pragmatic idea of the fair-go by helping good Australians attain a lifestyle represented by affordable suburban housing and access to motor cars. In the spirit of ‘equality’, everyone’s house, everyone’s values and everyone’s lives looked the same.

The bland conformity, unreflective pride and dulled sensitivity to the situation of the rest of the world has continued in one form or another through to today. We don’t know anything much about what happens outside our borders but we don’t much care because we love our country thank you very much and if you don’t then you can leave. The language of our national pride still masks a deep and abiding fear of inadequacy — we doth protest too much. This is particularly sad given that Australia does have much to be proud of, we’re just not aware enough of the world or our place in it to comprehend our real achievements or why we should be proud of them.

Given that we are unprepared to engage seriously with the rest of the world, and in particular the geographical facts about our place in it, it should not be surprising that we resent deeply the intrusion of the realities of the world onto our shores. We should be the ones who decide what we have to bother ourselves with and in what manner we choose to be bothered. The naive entitlement and petulant unreality of this attitude towards the outside world are all evident in John Howard’s phrasing of this sentiment, which resonated so strongly with many Australians.

The people on the boats themselves are not even really part of the story. They simply represent an inconvenient reality that we don’t want to know about. These people don’t have faces, or lives, or families, or any humanity, and the more we keep it that way the easier it will be for us to do nasty and inhuman things to them without having their humanity intrude upon our consciousness in any manner at all.

The humanity of people seeking asylum, and the unwelcome reality they represent, have both of course become increasingly difficult to ignore in recent years, which is why we have had to resort to more and more inventive (read: morally degrading) ways to hold our hands over our ears and shout LALALALALALALA!

The politics of this are ugly indeed, and frightening. They are the politics of exception.

States of exception are a well-known but rarely talked-about phenomenon in legal and political theory. They happen when a ruling authority declares a suspension of the rule of law. That sounds like a simple explanation, but what authority is there but the law, or an authority who is above it? States of exception are ways of getting around laws we don’t wish to be accountable to, and they are available only to those who have the most power to be dangerous when unconstrained by law. They should make us very uncomfortable.

After the burning down of the Reichstag in 1933, Hitler famously declared a state of national emergency, invoking special powers under the constitution which gave him power to take any action deemed necessary for public safety without first consulting the legislature. Civil liberties were suspended immediately, including freedom of expression, freedom of the press, free association and habeas corpus. The national government assumed the powers of the states, privacy was abolished and death penalties were introduced for acts such as setting fire to public buildings. Much of what followed in Hitler’s dictatorship was possible only in this ‘exceptional’, legal climate of emergency.

Though Nazi Germany remains the paradigm example of this phenomenon, we need look no further than our own times for troubling instances of states of exception. Indeed, one of the characteristic features of the post-9/11 world is the politics of exception as normal practice.

The US detains people without trial in Guantanamo Bay in a legal state of exception that would not be possible on its own soil (or so we hope). The Bush Administration suspended the prohibition against torture because, well, it found it wanted to torture certain people. The language of euphemism — ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’, ‘enemy combatants’ — was deployed to make the unpleasantries of what was actually happening go away. The Bush Administration also made extensive use of ‘executive orders’ that grant the executive branch of government discretionary powers — that is, the power to do what it wants. Bush signed more of these executive orders in his term as President than all Presidents before him combined. Obama looks set to beat that record. Indeed, his Administration has taken things further by engaging in a program of regular remote assassinations of people it considers a threat, another little exception to the way things are supposed to be done.

This is all made possible because of the ‘war on terror’, a story that has allowed an unspecified emergency to become an ongoing everyday occurrence. The little rooms that exist in airports all over the world are states of exception where the rule of law does not apply. We need those rooms, we are told (if we are told at all), to fight the good fight. We may accept that, but gods help you if you ever find yourself in one of those rooms.

There are countless tiny examples too of how exceptions and exemptions are used to legally do things that the very law to which the exception is granted was designed to prevent. Exemptions to the Equal Opportunity Act in Victoria allow the legal discrimination by religious groups against people they don’t want to employ for reasons of character. Exemptions to Victoria’s Human Rights charter allow police to legally violate young people’s right to freedom of movement and the presumption of innocence. Let’s of course not forget the little exception we made to ‘suspend’ the Racial Discrimination Act so we could ‘intervene’ in the Northern Territory.

Eyebrows were raised last year when Australia made the creative decision to exclude the entire mainland from its migration zone. Normally, if you are a non-citizen, you must have a valid entry visa to enter the migration zone. Several Australian territories have been exceptions to this, meaning that ‘unathorised’ arrivals to these places can be lawfully detained. By making the entire continent an exception, we gained the ability to detain anyone who arrived ‘unauthorised’. This was apparently done to send a message that there would be ‘no advantage’ in sailing boats directly to the mainland rather than the various island territories. In other words, we’ll lock you away no matter where you wash up. It was progress.

This all made perfect sense, provided nobody thought about it for more than a few seconds or pointed out the fact we were breaking international law. But what Rudd has now done is simply make a further exception, this time to international law.

Australia signed the Refugee Convention back in 1951. World War II was an intrusion of world reality that even Australia couldn’t ignore, and in its aftermath it became possible to imagine that we too might become refugees one day, through no fault of our own. In such a situation, it would be nice to think that good people elsewhere might give us a guarantee of survival and a chance at a new life. Perhaps even a welcome. Such values seemed self-evidently worthwhile. So we signed the Convention.

But after a few decades it turns out it’s not us, and most of us today live safe in the unthinking confidence that it never will be. So fuck ‘em.

That we are prepared at last to tear up the symbol and guarantee of goodwill of a world shaken by a conflict that killed some 60 million people, and that we are prepared to turn our backs on such hard-won wisdom for the sake of what amounts to nothing more than an imagined inconvenience, is a breathtaking display of our character as a nation. Our reputation may never recover, but this is of course precisely what we will celebrate. We have finally sent the message we’ve always wanted. Don’t come.

Of course, it’s only temporary, we’ll be told. Until the emergency is over and things go back to normal. But all we’ve done is show that we live in a world where it’s normal to simply make exceptions to the rules we don’t want to follow and to the moral commitments we find too bothersome to uphold.

It is an utter disgrace. The story may have a happy ending for the Australians, but who are they exactly? Whatever Australia we imagine we’re ‘protecting’ by doing this, I want no part of. ◾

What to do with taboo

Daniel Barenboim at the New York Review has written a thoughtful piece on Wagner as a Jewish taboo. That Wagner was a vociferous anti-Semite is well-attested. Hitler regarded him as a great German prophet and a personal hero. Nazi ideology borrowed liberally from Wagner’s mythology.

Nevertheless, Barenboim goes there:

Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement, who as a successful journalist was confronted by increasing anti-Semitism in Austria and France, was initially in favor of complete assimilation of the Jews. Interestingly, Herzl’s choice of words was not fundamentally different from Wagner’s in describing the situation of Jews in German society. In 1893 he wrote that “to cure the evil” the Jews would have to “rid themselves of the peculiarities for which they are rightly reproached.” One would have to “baptize the Jewboys” in order to spare them excessively difficult lives. “Untertauchen im Volk!”—disappear among the people—was his appeal to the Jewish population.

Richard Wagner also spoke of Untergang, or sinking: “consider that only one thing can be the deliverance from the curse that weighs on you: the deliverance of Ahasver,—sinking [der Untergang]!” Wagner’s conclusion about the Jew- ish problem was not only verbally similar to Herzl’s; both Wagner and Herzl favored the emigration of the German Jews. It was Herzl’s preoccupation with European anti-Semitism that spurred him to want to found a Jewish state. His vision of a Jewish state was influenced by the tradition of European liberalism. In the novel Altneuland (1902), he describes what the settled Jewish community in Palestine might look like; Arabic residents and other non-Jews would have equal political rights.

In other words, Herzl had not overlooked the fact that Arabs were living in Palestine when he developed the idea for an independent state for the European Jews. In 1921, at the Twelfth Zionist conference in Karlsbad, Martin Buber warned that politics would have to take on the “Arab question”:

Our national desire to renew the life of the people of Israel in their ancient homeland however is not aimed against any other people. As we enter the sphere of world history once more, and become once more the standard bearers of our own fate, the Jewish people, who have constituted a persecuted minority in all the countries of the world for two thousand years, reject with abhorrence the methods of nationalistic domination, under which they themselves have so long suffered. We do not aspire to return to the land of Israel with which we have inseparable historical and spiritual ties in order to suppress another people or to dominate them.

The Israeli declaration of independence of May 14, 1948, also says that the state of Israel

will devote itself to the development of the country to the good of all its residents. It will be based on freedom, justice, and peace according to the visions of the prophets of Israel. It will guarantee all its citizens social and political equality regardless of religion, race and gender. It will ensure religious and intellectual freedom, freedom of speech, education and culture.

The reality, as we all know, looks different today.

Even today, many Israelis see the refusal of Palestinians to recognize the state of Israel as a continuation of European pre-war anti-Semitism. It is, however, not anti-Semitism that determines the relationship of Palestinians to Israel, but rather resistance against the division of Palestine at the time when Israel was founded, and against the withholding of equal rights today, for example the right to an independent state. Palestine was simply not an empty country (as Israeli nationalistic legend has it); it could in fact have been described at the time as it was by two rabbis who visited the land to survey it as a potential Jewish state: “the bride is beautiful, but she is already married.” To this day it is still a taboo in Israeli society to make clear the fact that the state of Israel was founded at the cost of another people.

Barenboim caused a stink when he performed some of Wagner’s music with a German orchestra in 2001:

The pieces were played as an encore following a forty-minute discussion with the audience. I suggested to the people who wanted to leave that they do so. Only twenty to thirty people who did not want to hear Wagner’s music left the hall. The remainder applauded the orchestra so enthusiastically that I had the feeling we had done something positive. Only the next day did the dispute erupt when politicians called the performance a scandal, although they had not been present themselves.

Whether or not such a move constitutes something positive is a fascinating question. How do you heal deep, ugly wounds? Is it just a matter of time, as the old adage would have it? A look at race relations in the United States, or indeed Australia, would suggest we have some while to wait yet if so. Barenboim’s thoughts on this are worthy of some reflection:

The entire Wagner debate in Israel is linked to the fact that steps toward a Jewish Israeli identity have not been taken. All concerned continue to cling to past associations that were absolutely understandable and justified at the time. It is as if they wanted, by so doing, to remind themselves of their own Judaism. Perhaps this is the same fact that does not allow many Israelis to see the Palestinians as citizens with equal rights.

When one continues to uphold the Wagner taboo today in Israel, it means, in a certain respect, that we are giving Hitler the last word, that we are acknowledging that Wagner was indeed a prophet and predecessor of Nazi anti-Semitism, and that he can be held accountable, even if only indirectly, for the final solution.

This view is unworthy of Jewish listeners. They should rather be influenced by such great Jewish thinkers as Spinoza, Maimonides, and Martin Buber than by half-baked dogmas.

Perhaps finding identity in a negative leads to a hollowing out that is ultimately self-defeating. This certainly seems true of fundamentalist Christians whose entire Christian identity appears to consist in being against gays and government. Or those Whitlam supporters who are still maintaining the rage over the Dismissal rather than identifying with the merits of social democracy. Or, lest it need to be said, those whose entire defence of voting for the ALP is that it can’t possibly be as bad as voting for Tony Abbott.

It’s an easy trap. Until quite recently, I was someone who Doesn’t Like Sport, unreflectively (and happily) finding a part of my identity in that. Sport had always been an enemy of sorts — a source of hurt for a gangly intellectual, both personally and because of the fact of it itself and the resources it draws from pursuits that I care about. But as I came to be more satisfied with the positive identity developments in my gangly intellectual life, it occurred to me that to adopt such a position about sport is not only pointless, but silly. New worlds have opened up to me since.

But if such personal hurt and blindness over something relatively trivial is difficult to notice and overcome, how much harder is it to address the legitimate hurt of entire peoples? For all its flaws and controversy, South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Australia’s Apology to the Stolen Generations were genuine attempts at this, with some measure of success. It certainly suggests that such things are best talked about than left in darkness, even if the talking is only a necessary first step to be followed up through ethical action, and not as a replacement for it. Perhaps it is insensitive to draw such comparisons as I have at all. But surely it is better that we talk about that than to nurture pain that we don’t talk about at all.

Shaking it up

Guy Rundle has a good article over at The Monthly on the new Wikileaks party set to contest this year’s senate election:

What position will WikiLeaks take on industrial relations, macroeconomics, social policy? Asked about this, Samantha Castro, the party’s Melbourne campaign manager and co-founder, has said that the party will develop a full slate of policies over time, rather than simply bud them off pro forma. That is wise, but it may also lead to complexity in the future: although Assange is seen by many as a standard-issue anti-American under false cover, he is no knee-jerk leftist. His distrust of the state is so great as to ill dispose him to the large corporate–state entities that make left-ish social programs possible. After all, WikiLeaks sprang out of the “cypherpunks” group – the mailing list and network of ’90s hackers, alarmed by an increasingly surveilled global state – and more than a few of those have seen their cyber-anarchism lead them towards the right. The WikiLeaks Party’s campaign director is Greg Barns, a one-time John Howard staffer, who in 2002 was disendorsed by the Liberals in Tasmania over his views on asylum-seeker policy. Barns’s position on social issues has always been left-liberal, but he remains oriented to laissez-faire policies in matters economic. Yet the majority of those who have flocked to join the WikiLeaks Party come from groups like the Occupy movement, whose leftism is undoubted. Should the party fall short at the election, all of this will be a dead letter. Success will bring with it some interesting conversations.

The Wikileaks perspective doesn’t really have any representation in our current political makeup, which is what makes it worth paying attention to. In the end it may end up posing the largest threat to the Greens. And we could certainly do with some more interesting conversations. Like this one, as Rundle points out:

In June 2012, foreign minister Bob Carr went out of his way to deny that Assange was under any threat of prosecution by the US, despite journalist Philip Dorling having revealed statements by the Australian embassy in Washington that indicated media reports of a secret grand jury charged with considering indictments against Assange were “likely true”. Should the returns on the night of [the election] produce a Senator-elect Assange, then such blithe evasions will no longer suffice. Any threats made will be against an elected representative of the Australian people: the insult will not be to one individual, but to our sovereignty.

I guess we’ll wait and see.

And it didn’t know it

Brian Rees at The Daily Beast discusses automatic poetry:

Sampsa Nuotio, a former tech entrepreneur living in Finland, stumbled upon the beauty of machine-generated poetics late last year. He had been mid–Google query when the phone rang, leaving “Am I a …” sitting there in the search box as he answered the phone. When he returned to the screen, ready to complete the search, the machine had created the following quasi-lyrical text:

am i an alcoholic
am i fit to drive
am i allergic to dogs
tell me, Andrew, am i

“It was like a really bad and funny poem,” Nuotio says. Immediately, he wanted more. The 37-year-old tested different lines, generated more poems, and, eventually, collected his favorites on Facebook, where they were met with enthusiasm. He also put together a Tumblr blog titled Google Poetics.

We seem to have a great need to humanise technology. Except Clippy the Paperclip. Screw that guy.

Then it’s agreed: she won’t be allowed near the phone again

Jonathan Green, assessing the new election contest, is on the money as usual:

Some strange sense of normalcy has been restored; it is has a lot to do, as Katharine Murphy observed yesterday in The Guardian, with an almost subconscious sense that an office left neglected through the Gillard years has been refilled.

The incumbency factor is what psephologist Peter Brent is always going on about — he has always said the 2010 election was fought between two Opposition leaders, without the authority of an incumbent government. I’m inclined to agree with that.

With irony turned up to eleven, Green observes the change in the political climate since Rudd came back:

Somehow it lifts the tone; it takes personal denigration and demeaning abuse out of the equation. It is days now since anyone called our prime minister a bitch or a witch; criticised the prime ministerial dress sense, or body shape; drew obscene caricatures; wished anyone drowned in a chaff bag; sniggered at her “big red box”; or pondered her dead father’s lingering sense of shame.

Much has changed: misogyny has done its worst and the big-arsed bitch is silenced; pure vengeful politics has had its day too and the numbers have tumbled toward Rudd, in self-preserving rush for electoral survival and hope.

Meanwhile, everything is back to normal:

There were “Kochie’s angels” on the Channel Seven morning show, the lissom sidekicks of our fish-eyed host presenting a segment featuring Laura Bush and Michelle Obama titled “Women on top”, because, hey, how could you talk about women of dignity and accomplishment without wrapping the whole thing in entendre?

Onya Straya, we bloody love ya.