More than a good bloke

Don’t worry, I’m not after a date or anything. I won’t be stalking you round the hills of New England. It’s more the sort of crush I had on James Stewart after I saw The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, or Yves Montand whenever he played a resistance fighter. It’s a political kind of crush.

Don Watson mourns Tony Windsor’s exit from politics in the latest Monthly. It’s a lovely tribute dressed up as a letter.

I share his sentiments. Windsor was one of the few politicians I was happy to listen to. He spoke plainly and reasonably, did his own thinking and tried to civilise politics rather than play on discord. None of them qualities we’re over endowed with just now.

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.

Gillard pre and post

Like many, I was puzzled by the transformation in Gillard’s public persona post-2010.

The warmth, humour and sparkle she’d often displayed in parliament and elsewhere vanished. What remained was wooden, distant, usually dull and often irritating.

Judith Brett recently made some comments, almost in passing, that might just explain why.

Her projected image as prime minister was of someone who was assured, confident and tough. It was as if she had decided that this was how to be the strong leader the system demanded.

Brett suggests this assumed persona “sat awkwardly with her renowned skills in negotiation and the personal warmth reported by all who worked with her. The resulting public image was confusing, making it hard for people to build a coherent sense of her as a person, to feel they knew who she was. So some decided she was a fraud, others turned off, and a minority gave her the benefit of the doubt”.

Perhaps it wasn’t even conscious. At some level, she may have felt the need to submerge all playfulness, rein in her spontaneity and maintain a rigid control. If so, it was a grievous error, both politically and personally.

For a reminder of the pre-Julia (and of what parliament could be like in more civil days), consider this video from November 2009.

‘Neither Heroes, Nor Villains’

Of everything I’ve read or heard about Egypt lately, nothing has felt quite as useful in lifting my (no doubt continuing) veil of ignorance as a recent lengthy interview with Talal Asad.

He views things with a dry clarity.

But I am much more concerned here about the fact that a particular kind of alliance has been constructed in which some people (that is, the beneficiaries of the Mubarak regime, including the army) are much clearer about what they want, and others (the pro-democracy movement) who are not so clear. At any rate, to the extent that they are clear about what they want, they are certainly not very clear about how to achieve it. They remain largely at the level of slogans because their efforts are invested largely in the media. The trouble, as I see it, is that the pro-democracy movement has not thought critically enough about how the grand alliance against Morsi has come about and how the aims of that alliance conflict with their own aims. They seem to take it for granted that, having been on the winning side in the conflict with the Morsi government, they can now successfully confront the army and its civilian allies (i.e., big business, the media, the judiciary, etc.).

The Muslim Brotherhood (and Morsi) seem to him as much sinned against as sinning.

Their incompetence has often been cited in relation to their inability to restore law and order, to run a modern economy, to prosecute the military for its crimes (i.e., the murder of protesters, their arrest, and torture) during the transitional period after Mubarak’s fall.

But I would argue that many of these criticisms are ill-conceived: there are so many forces already arrayed against them that there was not much scope for the Morsi government for independent action. Morsi could have tried military officers for crimes? You must be joking. Continue reading

Something truly new may be afoot

Luddites have been with us from the start and always been proven wrong. New types of jobs invariably emerged to make up for those lost through technology, and our standard of living climbed ever higher. No surprise, really. Markets, providing they’re relatively unhindered, are tailor-made to take care of coordination problems of this sort.

Question is, are we justified in expecting a similar outcome today or is something qualitatively different unfolding?

For markets to work, the income flowing to households must be sufficient to enable them to consume the final fruits of the productive process while also saving enough to fund the investment necessary for its continued growth. As automation and robotics move up (and for that matter down) the value chain, and more and more jobs simply vanish, Continue reading

‘Becks in Paris’

Can’t remember who first pointed me to ‘Becks in Paris‘. Whoever it was, I’m grateful.

[The] blog imagines Beckham’s internal monologue as he collides with the Parisian intellectual tradition – the glittering surface of a footballing icon cracked open by existentialism. Golden boy deconstructed.

The man responsible is a lecturer in French philosophy at the University of Cambridge. The blog has, it seems, become a cult hit of sorts with Andy Martin now travelling about giving talks on ‘Becksistentialism’. All very British.

Here’s the second half of entry #8, ‘In the café’:

‘Sartre has this phrase,’ says Eric. Voué à l’échec. Doomed to failure. Nous sommes tous voués à l’échec.’

I stared into my coffee. It looked brown and sludgy like the Seine on a bad day. I had a suspicion Eric was never going to get a job working for the Samaritans. To be fair, he must have troubles of his own.

‘And yet,’ he said – I reckon he must have noticed I was looking a bit off-colour right then – ‘this failure, it is liberating, non? For the very idea of success – this is the illusion. Continue reading

‘Can Edward Snowden Be Deterred?’ | TomDispatch

In a fine piece, Engelhardt considers the deeper meaning of the US government’s pursuit of Snowden. Its willingness to ignore both convention and world opinion doesn’t bode well.

The message is this: nowhere will you be safe from us if you breach U.S. secrecy. Snowden’s will surely be a case study in how far the new global security state is willing to go. And the answer is already in: far indeed. We just don’t yet know exactly how far.

Quite a show

Hugh White on Rudd and foreign policy:

All this should make Rudd overwhelmingly the better choice as Prime Minister as far as foreign policy is concerned. But with Rudd nothing is ever that simple. Back in 2007 he came to office with lots of fresh ideas about how to position Australia in Asia, but after four years in office, as Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Rudd had done very little. Some modest achievements on marginal issues were overshadowed by major failures on things that really matter.

Rudd’s foreign policy went wrong for the same reasons that caused his government as a whole to fail. There were too many initiatives, too little preparation and too little follow-through, turbo-charged by a slightly deranged egocentricity that fed an illusion that he belonged at centre stage on every issue, no matter what he actually had to contribute.

Above all, the genuine policy thinker and hyperactive egoist also turned out to be a very timid politician.

White’s reservations may be a useful corrective in the face of Rudd’s exceptional display in the last two weeks. He’s taken control of the political agenda, apparently effortlessly. Certainly far more so than I had expected. Continue reading