Archive for August, 2010|Monthly archive page

ya zaein & firaiha falafel

Two local eateries here in Abu Dhabi have been on my mind since the film festival changed offices a couple of weeks ago and I no longer have regular access to them. (In fact, I no longer have access to any restaurants or shops.) So this is both my first effort at food blogging and remembrance of things past. Strange to feel nostalgia for something when you’re living in a foreign city for only four months. But that’s the way I feel about this place: displacement, occasional amazement, and this weird comfortable homey feeling as if I’ve been here far longer.

Until the move the festival’s offices were located in the Abu Dhabi Film Centre, “opposite the Rosary School,” which is what you would have to tell a taxi driver (or a postman) as there are no numbered addresses here. Most days I would step out for lunch to the nearby shops just off Muroor Road about ten minutes away on foot.

This is not as simple as it sounds — and there’s a reason most of my colleagues didn’t do the same very often. When it’s 116° and humid, such an excursion is more like a workout. But one that I enjoyed — not only do I not mind the insane heat in Abu Dhabi, I kind of love it. Especially after being in an air-conditioned office for hours, I found the blast of heat and light most welcome. There was a sun-baked tranquility to the wide side streets, lined with low-rise schools and media agencies and dusty trees, making me feel I had them all to myself. I would take my time on the long sidewalk by the walled-off boys school, the heat of the sun intensified by the right angles of the sidewalk and wall; it felt like walking in a brick oven. Shards of green broken glass would make a musical sound under my shoes in the quiet of the afternoon. Skinny feral cats would greet me from alcoves. After a few minutes I’d feel like I was evaporating.

Both of my potential destinations were well worth the trouble. In both cases there would be AC, friendly staff, and good Middle Eastern street food waiting for me.

Ya Zaein is a sit-down shop with a big counter and a big oven behind, exactly like a New York pizzeria. They deal in a couple of different kinds of Middle Eastern pastry; I’m not even sure what they’re called. (The English text on the menu simply calls them “pastries.”) These creations are made fresh to order with many different toppings, but being a vegetarian I only considered cheese and vegetables. There are flat ones, resembling soft little pizzas (pizza is a Middle Eastern concept in the first place, of course), and filled pockets that are much like empanadas. I would get the flat pastries with feta, and usually spinach as well. Once I ordered one labelled “mixed vegetables” on the menu, and it came with a dusting of za’atar (the quintessentially Arabic blend of oregano, thyme, and other dried herbs) and fresh mint. You gotta love the Middle East, where mint is a vegetable. Though “mint pizza” is not something that’ll ever top my list, I enjoyed it.

The pocket thingeys are filled with labeneh — the creamy yogurt-cheese that is a staple here and has become one of my favorite things in life. The heat of the oven melts and then cooks the labeneh into something like really soft cream cheese. With tomatoes and spinach added they’re little pockets of heaven, so long as you don’t burn your tongue on the labeneh. I’d let them cool off, and inhale them.

I’d always order a mango juice. Fresh fruit juice is ubiquitous in Abu Dhabi and the quality is stellar across the board — gritty pomegranate juice and pulpy mango nectar that seem gourmet to western palates are made fresh even at humble little eateries like this one. I wasn’t much of a juice drinker until I lived here — but not only is it too good to pass up, I find that in this climate I crave it.

As with most such places in Abu Dhabi the food at Ya Zaein is cheap — two pastries plus a juice comes to AED 25, or about US $6 — and the staff are very accomodating. While waiting for my patries to be baked I’d check out whatever was on the TV. Usually Arabic soap operas or talk shows, but once it was an old black-and-white musical, probably Egyptian; in the scene I caught, a beautiful woman stood at a window facing a river and was serenaded by a man in a boat below. The ballad was lovely and absolutely unclassifiable to me — there’s so much I don’t know about Arabic music.

If there was nothing good on TV, I’d check out the turtle in the shallow tiled fountain out the back (note the Ya Zaein logo in the fountain’s tiles). Another reason to love Abu Dhabi: in New York (and a lot of other places), this turtle — completely open to the elements and passersby — would have been stolen or killed long ago.

My other choice for lunch was a falafel shop around the corner. I didn’t know its name, Firaiha Falafel, until I took this picture of the façade. This place is a little more rundown than Ya Zaein — there’s a small, untidy counter with only one guy working behind it; boxes of supplies are piled haphazardly in every corner; there’s only room for one small table. Invariably the TV hanging in the corner is tuned to a religious channel — I’d always hear a few verses of the Koran recited melodically (with accompanying English subtitles) while I was waiting for my falafel.

And honestly it isn’t the best falafel in Abu Dhabi. But falafel here is like pizza in New York: you really can’t go wrong. And these will do. I would always order one regular and one Arabic falafel. Regular means Lebanese style — note the Cedar of Lebanon on the sign. The falafel balls are smashed up and rolled in soft flatbread like a burrito. (I’ve never seen falafel served whole in a pita here, so I’m not sure if that hails from another Middle Eastern region, or if it’s just a New York thing.) Lettuce, tomato, a bit of tahini sauce, and a bit of hot sauce are the spartan accompaniments. Honestly I found them a bit dry, but I would usually wash them down with laban (buttermilk). The important thing is that the falafel balls, the stars of the show, are served fresh and fresh — often I’d have to wait for the guy to make them — and mixed with sesame seeds, which is something else I never saw until I came here. It makes such a difference.

The Arabic-style falafel (“Arabic” in this case referring to people of the Gulf region, as opposed to Levantine or Mediterranean folk) is pressed flat and fried in something that looks like a Foreman grill. The “Arabic” or Gulf style of anything is to fry it to death. (And serve it with French fries; in fact, I’m pretty sure they serve a French-fry falafel sandwich at this shop). But I like the flat shape and unique texture it gives to the whole package.

Two hearty falafel (with accompanying mixed pickles) and a little carton of laban at Firaiha will run you AED 16 — that’s just over US $4.

Often after I made my order, the counter guy — who didn’t have much English — would smile and offer me a complimentary piece of falafel. This kind of generosity and courtesy is common at Middle Eastern restaurants and cafés in my experience. Along with the bowl of free pickles to munch on while enjoying the oasis of cool air and listening to the ringing, insistent recital on the TV, that’s why I would come here, and that’s what made it so satisfying above and beyond the dry, average falafel. I’ll miss these places.


UAE tilt shift

Fun with the TiltShiftGen app I just got for my iPhone.

inception gold class

I just published a review of Inception over at my other page, Feral Kid. I’m linking it here since there’s a bit of overlap between film writing and the travel and observational stuff — the piece includes a description of the nutty Gold Class cinema experience here in Abu Dhabi.

the freest city

A few days ago, a New York City commission cleared the way for the construction of a mosque and Muslim community center not far from the World Trade Center. The question of whether the city’s government should have let that happen has sparked an intense local and national debate about freedom of religion. Does the painful memory of 9/11 somehow override Muslim Americans’ right to worship in that neighborhood?

This story grabbed my attention not only because I lived in New York for such a long time, but because I’m currently living and working seasonally in the Muslim world — in the United Arab Emirates. I work closely with Muslims. But this is nothing new; I was working closely with Muslims for years in New York. I remember one of my Muslim colleagues telling me about how he was working across the street from the World Trade Center on 9/11. He said it’s still hard to talk about it, but the anniversary is a very important day for him every year. This was a guy who only wanted to talk about football — American football that is; a steak-and-potatoes kind of guy from Brooklyn, about as New York as you get.

What about this paranoid rhetoric about Islam from these sneering, divisive politicians and pundits, who seem to be getting bolder the less sense they make? In a recent entry about turmoil in the Australian government, I claimed I’m not interested in politics. Here I am getting into it again I guess. But can freedom of religion be considered “politics”? Isn’t it more important?

Honestly I don’t know why this is even a conversation. Last I checked, Americans are free to worship as they choose. Period. Well, aren’t they? George Orwell wrote, “In times of crisis repeat the obvious.”

If any Americans are worried about one particular religion and whether it supposedly stands in contrast to all of their ideals — well, that’s probably a trickier issue than most people are willing to admit. If you look closely and read the fine print, every religion is opposed to American consumerism and imperialism, or should be. Like, maybe every Christian should declare a holy war against Halliburton? So maybe we don’t want to go there.

But on a more day-to-day level, it’s not even worth fussing over. All of the hate and panic is not only harmful, it’s silly. Of the 1.5 billion or so Muslims in the world, most of them are just like us — duh. Or they would like to be just like us if they had the economic opportunity. (But maybe that’s another place we don’t want to go.) I’ve spent time in a Muslim country that has a good economy and is at peace — and surely the two go hand in hand. To those who think they hate Muslims without having met any, and assume they’ve all signed up for a jihad against America, I have to say: I’ve met your enemy, and he’s driving a Dodge and pumping Jay-Z on his way to McDonald’s. He wouldn’t want to do away with America — America is where his iPhone was designed and where Inception was produced. (He’s very keen on seeing it this weekend if it’s not sold out again).

Mike Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, staunchly defended the rights of the building’s owners for months against the hurt feelings of some 9/11 victims’ families — as well as some very unsavory characters from the right wing who didn’t care about New York before it became a queasy symbol of terror (and the War on Terror). Considering the emotion in play this might have been considered brave or politically risky. But he stubbornly phrased the debate in the simplest terms of private property and individual liberty — rights that it would be disastrous to compromise no matter how momentous the circumstances, rights that are as American as Mamoun’s Falafel. He also rightly and winningly cited New York as a traditional outpost of tolerance — “the freest city on Earth.” As if to say, “Hey, this is New York. This is how we do things. You don’t like it, get outta here.”

I like Mike. I’ve always been fine with him as mayor. One reason for this is he’s often fought hammer and tong for things I happen to care about. A couple of years ago he pushed hard for a proposal that would have limited private cars on the island of Manhattan — it would have been a bold step forward in making New York more sustainable and pedestrian-friendly. Unfortunately the bill was shot down by shortsighted politicos from upstate who were afraid of offending their fat, SUV-driving constituents. Bloomberg was so furious about this betrayal he couldn’t speak to the media that day. I liked that human touch. It showed again in the debate over the mosque. According to observers he was very passionate and involved, and eagerly sought an opportunity to address the public on the issue.

He got his chance on the day of the commission’s unanimous vote in favor of the mosque. Mayor Mike is often considered an awkward and prickly fellow, and no great orator, but this is widely being hailed as a great speech, probably the finest he’s ever delivered. Apparently he wrote a lot of it himself. It’s not long, not very grandiloquent. It’s beautifully direct, even forceful, but astute; and frames its argument with a sense of history, plenty of emotion, and the noble and urgent concept of unity between faiths.

(You can also read the speech here.)

For those genuinely concerned about how the mosque and those who will worship there fit in with American values, it’s all here, with the Statue of Liberty playing backup. If the Mayor of New York’s reverence for the sacrifice of the policemen and firemen who died that day for the freedom of all won’t convince you, what will?

On September 11, 2001, thousands of first responders heroically rushed to the scene and saved tens of thousands of lives. More than four hundred of those first responders did not make it out alive. In rushing into those burning buildings, not one of them asked “What God do you pray to? What beliefs do you hold?”

The attack was an act of war — and our first responders defended not only our City but also our country and our Constitution. We do not honor their lives by denying the very Constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights — and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked.

Of course, it is fair to ask the organizers of the mosque to show some special sensitivity to the situation — and in fact, their plan envisions reaching beyond their walls and building an interfaith community. By doing so, it is my hope that the mosque will help to bring our city even closer together and help repudiate the false and repugnant idea that the attacks of 9/11 were in any way consistent with Islam. Muslims are as much a part of our city and our country as the people of any faith and they are as welcome to worship in Lower Manhattan as any other group.

For those who are simply bigoted and will remain so anyway, you’ve only got one argument, and it’s not a very good one: Islam = terror.

I’m reading a book about Abraham Lincoln right now — all right, so it’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, but still — and this speech recalls old Abe’s spirit. Not only because of its brevity, deceptive simplicity, and power. This is not a very popular stance Bloomberg is taking; a majority of New Yorkers are opposed to it. But it’s the right stance. Occasionally it’s necessary for politicians and other leaders to make unpopular decisions to uphold the greater good. Lincoln’s whole presidency was defined by this. As Larry Flynt of all people said, “Majority rule only works if you’re also considering individual rights. Because you can’t have five wolves and one sheep voting on what to have for supper.”

One of the villains opposing the mosque repeated the refrain that the World Trade Center is “sacred ground.” Yes, and so is every mosque. And so is Wounded Knee. And so is my grandma’s backyard. All ground is sacred. As Bloomberg says to conclude his speech, “There is no neighborhood in this city that is off limits to God’s love and mercy.” It’s an astonishingly direct affirmation from a modern politician and, along with the way he chokes up while he’s speaking, shows his passion and determination for this “critically important test” of religious tolerance. Good on ya Mike. Blessed are the peacemakers.

AD as it is

This blog’s about to change. It has to. I don’t have time to work on it anymore.

My habit thus far has been to have a good idea for a post, then ponder it for days, wondering how to start. Then write 2000 words. Then agonize over the draft for a few days or even weeks, editing, revising, polishing, more often than not adding instead of cutting. Then finally, when I have the nerve, publish. Then go on reading over it obsessively and revising a little at a time, while other ideas circulate in my head.

At times I’ve made lists of ideas for entries — up to ten or twelve at a time — then stared at the lists helplessly, knowing my work methods would never support such output. And I go about my day, working, running errands, trying to sleep, and the sheer number of thoughts and ideas I have and how little discipline I have in getting them out is a torment. It feels like not being able to breathe.

All the while knowing that’s not how blogs work. I should have an idea, compose a few thoughts around it, provide an interesting link and an image or two, click publish, boom. Hopefully doing this several times a week, so that my constant readers (all six of them) don’t get discouraged and forget to check for updates.

So the end result has been less like a blog, and more like a collection of essays. And I’m sort of happy with it. I’ve even gotten a number of compliments on my writing. But I’ve never been able to avoid the feeling it’s neither here nor there. I’m not a practiced enough writer (yet anyway) to indulge ambition thus. And what I would be good at — thoughts, impressions, connections — I’m not doing. (I’ve always been better at putting things together — whether cutup pictures in a collage or records in a mix — than I am at composition and raw creation.)

All of this was OK when I was between gigs in Sydney and had all day to sit around and freak out about it. But now it’s got to change; I’m in Abu Dhabi working on publications for a film festival; my free time is like water in my hands. Soon I’ll be working night and day every day. The fact that I’ll be writing for work only makes it certain I won’t have much left for me.

So sooner rather than later, this page is going to become what it always should have been — ideas, links, impressions, associations, a stream of information rather than some sculpted object. Whatever I publish I’ll to have to work fast, cut and run, live off the land, take no prisoners.

Meanwhile. I’ve been back in Abu Dhabi for  a few weeks now. Loving it. And whenever I find some free time, especially early in the morning, I’ve been taking walks. Just enjoying the place and the crazy heat. But also looking around and coming up with ideas to shoot a film. (I know — I’m complaining about how hard it is to work on a blog; meanwhile I’d like to make a film. As you can see, something’s got to give.) I’ve been carrying my iPhone with me, though I have no sim card or data plan, and getting snapshots with its built-in camera whenever I’m inspired. Which is often.

When I was here last year, I did what everyone else does when they take pictures of Abu Dhabi (including the government or any entity involved in marketing the place). I would find a nice green garden or a park, frame a cool-looking building in the background, maybe throw in the Persian Gulf, et voilà. A gleaming postmodern Arabic metropolis, an enchanting vision to make my friends and family wonder what they’re missing.

But this year for a number of reasons I’m driven to show what the UAE is really like, how it really feels. Yeah, there’s a nice-looking building or a garden or a mosque in the distance. But between the broken sidewalk where you’re standing and the thing itself is a good deal of sand and dirt. And rubble, and loose bricks, and machinery, and pieces of plastic, and other pieces of infrastructure and debris from the construction projects that are everywhere, in every direction. There might be a lawn or a garden, but right next to it is more sand. And plastic furniture sitting there for no apparent reason. All of it covered with dust. It’s a postmodern cityscape vying with a desert. Sometimes the desert wins.

Everywhere you go there’s lots of leftover space no one’s sure what to do with. The awkward spaces behind and between buildings; the spaces between sidewalks. They’re like gaps between reality and whatever Abu Dhabi is. Abu Dhabi is posh hotels and perfume and Gehry’s Guggenheim and air conditioning; but it’s also rebar and orange plastic construction barriers and broken air-conditioning units sitting in the street.

And it’s a guy, probably from Pakistan, walking across a barren stretch of dirt, wearing green coveralls, with a checkered cloth tied haphazardly around his head to protect it from the sun. Walking slowly, languidly, you’re not sure if he’s ready to collapse from exhaustion or if he’s just taking his time. And where is he going? Is he on a break? Is he walking a mile to the nearest bus stop?

This is not meant to be cynical. I love this place. It’s weird, but I love it. For some reason, even where it’s awkward or ugly, I’m still psyched about it. For me it’s a visual signifier of a whole range of experiences and thoughts over the past couple of years. Not to mention inspiration for a bigger project.

The iPhone’s photographic capabilities have often been justified with the maxim, “The best camera is the one you have with you.” I wish I could claim that — I wish my photos were low-fi in a cool way on purpose. In actuality I’m not a terribly astute photographer and never have been. But I have an eye for… something. And I know it when I see it.

So, for your consideration, a few sketches of Abu Dhabi as it is.

By the way, even this entry is a fabrication, a simulacrum. This is where I was two weeks ago; these photos are from another part of town, another hotel, another state of mind. Now I’m back on the Corniche and I have a tilt-shift generator app for my phone. And I have so many more ideas I feel like smashing something.


So, Australia has a new prime minister. Maybe you’ve heard the news. Actually, maybe you haven’t. In his terrific book In a Sunburned Country (which here in Oz is known by the epically dull title Down Under), Bill Bryson wrote, “Flying into Australia, I realized with a sigh that I had forgotten again who their prime minister is.” He then goes on to admit being bemused to find out that in 1967 Harold Holt, the PM at the time, actually disappeared off the coast of Victoria and was never seen again. “This seemed doubly astounding to me — first that Australia could just lose a prime minister (I mean, come on) and second that news of this had never reached me.”

Well, we’ve lost another one. But Kevin Rudd did not wash out to sea — though he may wish he had. He was cast away in an ocean of politics.

I’m not very happy about it. I won’t go into a lot of detail, because I have no desire to get very political on this page. There’s a reason it’s called outernational. Politics don’t interest me. Peace and justice do, however, as do the vast forces that shape history. And politicians occasionally stumble into having to deal with those things, or at least pretend to deal with them. So in my old age I’ve compromised my natural apolitical or even anarchic leanings to pay a little more attention to what goes on in Babylon.

One of the reasons I wanted to move to Australia was to get away from the obnoxious political scene of the United States — so lurid and crazy it increasingly resembles a comic-book dystopia. (And this is a sad irony considering I think the current President is one of the smartest and classiest we’ve ever had.) I’ve often told friends and acquaintances here that I appreciate Australian politics because it’s so reasonable. Sure the Labor and Liberal (Americans read: conservative) parties might squabble. And it can get ugly, no mistake. But at the end of the day everyone’s still Australian. Probably because it’s a such small, isolated, nation — and a friendly one as I always maintain — they still agree on the fundamentals. The opposing parties do not regularly brand each other traitors, or worse, as happens in the States. Few Aussies would tolerate the distortions and outright lies now standard in American discourse.

For the first few months I lived in Oz, I couldn’t really figure out the politics — could hardly tell one party from the other — and it seemed to me that low-level controversies were always simmering in the news without really amounting to much. Frankly I didn’t pay a lot of attention. After the experience of American politics over the past decade it was a very cozy feeling.

Well imagine my surprise when I woke up one morning to find out that the Prime Minister had been sacked by his own party overnight, and that a new one, Julia Gillard, would presently be sworn in. I had a general idea about how the Westminster system works: that the citizens choose an individual candidate only ostensibly, and what they’re really voting for is a party; that the party can form its own consensus about who should lead it even mid-term; and that an election can be called at any time. But I always considered them quirks of the system and never thought they would come into play. And in fact Australia had not had a prime minister removed from office in over forty years, so I don’t think many Aussies really thought it possible either.

Even more disconcerting were the details of how the decision had been made. The so-called crisis in the party was not a matter of weeks nor even days, but instead hours. The gist of it is that factions in the Labor Party had grown tired of Rudd’s apparently egotistical and heavy-handed approach to both policy and people. He’d bungled negotiations with powerful mining interests over a new tax, looked bad on other issues, and with some lousy polling had compromised the party’s ability to carry the next election. His bad temper and lack of people skills only made things worse. The factions had quickly reached a secret consensus to vote Rudd out one morning. Gillard, Rudd’s deputy prime minister, broke the news to him in a private meeting in the afternoon, more or less giving him an ultimatum. He scrambled to raise support throughout the evening before realizing he had no chance to win the vote. At about nine the next morning he conceded at a press conference, and Gillard took over the nation’s helm.

I saw an online report of the developing story as I was up in the middle of the night watching Australia play and win a crucial match in the World Cup (only to be heartbreakingly eliminated on goal differential anyway), and was absolutely stunned. I just couldn’t believe the seeming capriciousness or even thoughtlessness of it. Later I joked with friends that Whole Foods Market, my old company, takes more time and deliberation to decide on a cheese buyer.

Australia is a small nation in terms of population, and considered a backwater in a lot of American and European minds. Still it’s one of the most stable, wealthy, and significant democracies in the world — certainly in the region — and its government looks after one of the only seven continents on the planet. I simply couldn’t believe that government had decided to sack its duly-elected leader. Because of his personality? Really? The way it stole thunder from the national team’s valiant but futile effort in the Cup that night added insult to injury.

It reminded me of something that would happen in some Balkan republic. I’d like to say it made me feel very American; but that makes no sense considering I’ve already admitted to being glad to leave behind the upheaval and uncertainty there. (This moment in Australia can’t hold a candle to the 2000 election.)

Meanwhile — and this is what’s so nuts about the whole thing — just like that, Australia has its first female prime minister. But can anyone really enjoy it? Talk about an anticlimax. And it wasn’t just me, the confused American, who wondered whether the party was a being a bit hasty, if not actually panicking. As one editorialist put it, Labor wasted a perfectly good PM. There were many letters to the paper from people who pointed out that they had voted for Rudd, not the party, and were taken aback about the swap — common sense and the democratic impulse in defiance of the Westminster bollocks. And the way Gillard basically stabbed Rudd in the back after years of being his deputy is pretty bone-chilling to ponder and put a lot of people off.

But outrage is not how I’d classify the reaction. The attitude of people in dealing with it was interesting to observe. The media was telling me the nation was in shock and glued to the television. But as I ran a couple of errands in my neighborhood on that sunny winter’s afternoon, nothing seemed any different. People weren’t walking around looking anxious about this intra-party coup d’etat, or clustered in groups in the street having heated debates (as I would picture in the above-mentioned nondescript Balkan republic).

Of course, these are Aussies. It would take a lot more than losing a prime minister to get them riled up. They might not be happy with how it happened; and some are pretty cynical about Gillard’s agenda and the state of the party. To be fair a few are mildly pleased about the first woman prime minister. But the general tone is, “Fair enough. Let’s see what you’ve got for us.” Maybe it’s a recognition that politics is just a surface structure and none of it really matters.

I also tend to have a sense of humor about who’s in charge of any particular country I’m living in, whether president or sheikh or queen. They’re all the same at the end of the day; let ’em have their fun. If Gillard manages to hold her own, I’ll be as nonchalant as any Aussie about the whole thing.

But I retain my qualms, especially because I had developed a fondness for Rudd over the past few years, even before I migrated. When he was elected in November of 2007 to finally remove the stodgy John Howard from office with a campaign that emphasized the environment and the multicultural future of Australia, I saw it as a harbinger of the “change” that became such an important idea in the American election the next year. When Obama won in turn exactly one year later, Rudd was one of the first world leaders to publicly congratulate him, with an unabashedly effusive statement that promised a strong partnership between the two nations to tackle the climate crisis. He appointed Peter Garrett, former lead singer of Midnight Oil, to his front bench (Americans read: cabinet). I mean come on, how cool is that? One of the first things he did in office was to issue an official apology to indigenous Australians for the destruction of their society and heritage — something the government had stubbornly refused to do for decades until that moment.

Significantly for me, Rudd is an “out” liberal Christian in a world that seems to have stopped believing in them, and has made it clear that his Christian principles underscore his work for justice, tolerance, and stewardship of the environment. He once referred to “a Christian socialist tradition” as an important component of political discourse.

All of this made me feel good about migrating to Australia. Without being overly enthusiastic — whatever, he’s still a politician and he’s still going to compromise and waffle — I was in my own passive way a Rudd supporter. And the morning he was ousted was a harsh adjustment for me. His openly tearful concession speech only reinforced whatever affection I had for him. Not only was he disarmingly emotional, but he made this extraordinary acknowledgment: “This is probably not the occasion for high statements of theology. But to the great God and creator of us all, I thank him, or her, as well.”

When was the last time a world leader invoked the maternal aspect of the Almighty in a public speech?

Almost immediately after taking office, Gillard showed dismaying signs of backtracking in a number of areas where Rudd had my support. Within days she “compromised” with the mining companies on the tax, vowed to reassess the government’s climate policy, and indicated that asylum seekers would have a tougher time of it. Is it a total sellout to corporate interests and irrational public fear? Stay tuned.

Apologies to Peter Garrett, but I’m pretty disillusioned about the Labor Party at this point – not that I’d be able to get excited about any political party in the first place. If anything, I’m now more interested than ever in the Greens — the Australian version of the Green Party — which I previously didn’t know much about. And I don’t think I’m the only one.

Most of this was written in June, shortly after these events took place, and then stayed on the shelf while I was getting ready for the trip to Abu Dhabi and settling in and starting work here. Since that time, Gillard has made several serious gaffes both in policy and in dealing with the media.(Example: she named East Timor as a possible destination for asylum seekers — without checking first with the government of East Timor to see what they thought of it. Classic.) She’s been unable to reconcile with Rudd, who’s now seen as a bit of a lone wolf; has fallen all over the opposition trying to seem tougher on immigration; and her standing has dropped significantly in the polls (which is why Rudd was sacked in the first place). In general she and her party have made a mess of things and it’s easy both for lukewarm supporters and the opposition to blame an ill-conceived and toxic leadership swap. She’s called an election for later this month, but the fact is that things have gone so far downhill that Labor is now in serious danger of being ousted, which was unthinkable just weeks ago. Absolutely shocking, and their own stupid fault. I’m glad I’m out of the country for the time being, and equally glad that as a resident, not a citizen, I’m not entitled to vote anyway. But hey Australia, good luck with that.