Good morning. There’s still a residue of holiday, as one friend described it to me, but the year does feel more or less fully under way – especially if you’re on the road at peak hour. Today though, the birds are singing, the sun is shining (depending on where you are in Australia) and the weekend is here.
Don’t forget that when you do switch back into news mode next week, that you can sign up for twice-daily briefings straight to your inbox: the Morning Mail, or the Afternoon Update. (Or both! Abundance mindset!)
These are five stories that grabbed me this week.
1. ‘Be strong, and be kind’
The New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, made the shock announcement this week that she is stepping down. Much has been said about her legacy of kindness “as a guiding political principle”. But, as Henry Cooke writes in this analysis, her decision leaves the country’s Labour party – currently without another standout figurehead – in a precarious position ahead of the October election. He pays tribute to Ardern’s strengths, but asks compelling questions about the longevity of her vision of social democracy – and our attachment to political cults of personality more generally.
As Cooke writes: “If your plan to win an election hinges so strongly on an individual, you always run the risk of them leaving the field.”
Why should I care about this? From Trump to Lula, all sides of politics seem unable to pull too far from the allure of a main character. Think of how Boris Johnson still has the power to derail most conversations about UK politics.
How long will it take to read: a minute and a half.
2. ‘A very disturbing situation’
Terry Irving, an Aboriginal man from north Queensland, spent four-and-a-half years in prison for a bank robbery he did not commit – after a jury took 10 minutes to find him guilty. Queensland correspondent Ben Smee’s piece on this “case full of holes”, and the chance meeting that catalysed Irving’s 25-year quest for justice, is gripping.
How long will it take to read: five and a half minutes.
Further listening: our Full Story podcast on the malicious prosecution of Irving, and why it’s so hard to pursue justice for a wrongful conviction in Australia.
3. Monstrous maestro
It’s not even out here yet (you still need to wait until Thursday), but the discourse around Todd Field’s cancel culture film has broiled for months. Xan Brooks wades in, asking if Tár’s lack of box office traction has something to do with its unlikeable female protagonist – and its broader ambiguity.
“It’s a discourse on the discourse, like a tennis ball bouncing back and forth, all but daring the viewer to pick a side,” he writes. “Crucially, bracingly, we’re not being told what to think.”
How long will it take to read: a bit over three minutes.
Further reading: someone who’s not unsure about the film is leading British conductor Alice Farnham, who writes rapturously for the Observer about the power of normalising women (problematic or not) on a notoriously male podium.
4. A saltwater salve
Our day at the beach series runs the gamut from shark attacks to secret sex. One that will stay with me longest is Mostafa Rachwani’s meditation on the “crude border” drawn through Sydney (and across its beaches) by the Cronulla riots. In the wake of the violence, he and his friends felt despised by the city – and, as they grew up, ventured back east to reclaim a place on the sand. “Going to the beach became a political act for us,’” he writes. “I remember walking along Bronte beach, blinded to the gorgeous view by the social politics of just being there at all.”
Then, one day in the waves, he felt something within him lighten.
Notable quote: “Underwater, I felt my anger ease, the boiling rage doused by cool swells. I felt free from the politics of my existence for the first time, if only for a moment.”
How long will it take to read: a bit less than two minutes.
5. Dating burnout
Four couples talk about quitting the apps, and reveal how they found love without swiping. Horses for courses: plenty of people meet someone important (or at the very least, diverting) online. But internet dating can also feel, in writer Lizzie Cernik’s words, “soul-destroying, unnerving and transactional”. Those she spoke to found their IRL encounters:
Were less inhibited by dating rules.
Made it easier to gauge someone’s real self, and harder for people to hide bad behaviour.
And (as far as I can see) just generally eased their fatigue and disillusionment with the whole business.
The takeaway: apps can, obviously, be a fun and practical way to meet people. But as some of the interviewees here point out, they can also push users into a sort of shopping-list mode – and away from the unexpected connections that could surprise them in the best way.
How long will it take to read: four or so minutes.
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