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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

political ambiguity « Previous | |Next »
November 26, 2007

David Burchell in an op-ed in The Australian strikes a cautionary note. He says:

Over 2007 Rudd has been very effective in distancing Labor from the politics of noisy minority interest groups. But in government Australians will expect positive policy directions as well, and Rudd has been hazy about these so far. Broadband internet access is not a substitute for schooling or innovation policies. Rescuing the lives of Australians in remote Aboriginal communities will require policy boldness, not the timidity Rudd evinced during the final days of the campaign. Labor has laid the ghosts of the recent past. It now faces the much bigger task of moving beyond the slogan of "New Leadership" to actual policy leadership. It's not yet clear whether it has Now sufficient political resources to do so.

By 'noisy minority interest' Burchell is referring to those inner city professionals who identify with a set of social and moral values that they take Labor to have embodied since the '70s; as opposed to the mainstream suburban battlers where people still own Hills hoists, and where they still mow their lawns on Saturday mornings, much as their parents did. The latter vote to protect the futures of themselves and their families.

Geoff Pryor

Burchell does say that at Labor has returned to the mainstream---western Sydney working families--- and that it's even more important that the party moves on. Though ordinary Australian families are concerned about their mortgages and their working conditions, they also expect the new government to take the lead on issues of national significance. He says that these issues are schooling, innovation policies and improving the lives of Australians in remote Aboriginal communities.

However, it is unclear that Burchell is now acknowledging the importance of shifting to a more sustainable economic life in the warmed up world of climate change? If he is now indicating that he understands that the market is about meaning, values and culture, as much as it is about utilitarian interests, then changing the way we understand the economy is crucially important. We live in a market society as well as a market economy.

Moreover, the urban and rural economy depends upon ecological life support systems (rivers and waters) and on energy efficiency. What we don't need are more coal-fired power stations being build to provide the power to run the McMansions in Sydney. If climate change has moved towards the top of the international political agenda, then in Australia the gap between evidence and policy still remains wide. Will the Rudd Government’s approach to climate change be too heavily influenced by the Garnaut report, expected in the middle of 2008?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 5:48 AM | | Comments (26)


We should see the end of the self-styled "greenhouse mafia" [the fossil fuel lobbyists] who had become so accustomed to pulling the strings on energy policy in Australia, and even being consulted on every contentious point at international negotiations on climate change.

Can never understand why the blokes doing the cartoonists corner on Insiders never acknowledge Pryor's work.
On the other issue, timidity is the factor this writer fears most with New Labor,too.

Burchell-type arguments are quickly becoming irrelevant, if they're not irrelevant already. He'd be doing himself a service if he understood that assuming people with Hills Hoists don't care about bleeding heart issues is a disservice to so-called ordinary Australians.

I'm amazed at the number of otherwise intelligent commentators who missed how much of Rudd's campaign was aimed at them. I guess they were too certain of their ability to see through the gloss that they missed it.

The powerful people in politics who were inclined to make use of these divisions are out of power and, if the past couple of days are any indication, don't plan to be back anytime soon. The powerful people in the media inclined to harp on about these divisions are pissing into the wind.

As you point out, the focus has shifted to issues that affect us all. I can't help being disappointed that Burchell's continuing down this road. I'm probably a rarity as one of the cultural studies types who supported a lot of what he said, if not how he said it. Either I was wrong to assume that he used the 'latte etc' rhetoric to draw attention to his main arguments, or he has misunderstood where ownership of that rhetoric was properly located.

Re the schooling,
I am wondering at the logistics of supplying every year 10,11 and 12 a computer to use at school. Now I am assuming that they wont be lap tops because they would be too easy to steal.
At my local High School there is 600 kids in this group so if you were to put 30 computers in each room it would take 20 rooms. I don't think its going to leave much space in the room to do much else that doesn't involve computers.
It seems a bit of an over supply to me.

find out about the '3rd world laptop' recently developed by a group at mit. there was a segment about it on lehrer newshour recently. it should make you more cheerful about the cost of bringing lts to oz kids.

A lot of Burchell's argument is a defensive reaction to the effects of globalisation and the negative impact it--including competition policy--- had on blue collar workers. Adelaide for instance was very hard hit.

But a defence of working families in a global world involves upskilling them so they can work in a knowledge-intensive economies and an information society.

Why the battler working class don't require energy efficient houses, computers for the kids is beyond me, work/family balance or access to water is beyond me. Why these are deemed moral issues is beyond me.

Burchell reckons the heart of the modern ALP is the blue collar worker. That is a long way from reality.

I don't think the $150 lap tops would be good enough in our school system because they don't have the windows operating system or one that is comparable.
The $400 ones would but would most likely be $500 plus before they arrive here if they do at all. The schools can pick up a box loaded with vista and office 2007 for 600 or so I would expect and they already have most of the other stuff required.

My point was not about the cost but more about the floor space required to house them and whether they would actually get the use. Perhaps at any given time only half would be being used.

I just read that year 9's will be getting one too so I will have to add another 200 to the equation.
Whoops no indoor basketball this year kiddies we need the space to set up your new computers.

The notion that moral issues don't impact on what passes for consciousness out in Kath and Kim land collapsed this time around,as the public began to feel the "pain" of "moral" outrages like arbitrary mortgage rate increases.
The government attempted to Baxterise the wider public, via NoChoices and welfare to work via the refugee and NT "intervention" models for an intrusion-based micromanaging wave of welfare "reform" across wider society. The wilful abdication of control of interest rates via neoliberal theology must have in particular, galled the mortgage belt
What the howardists forgot was, that unlike the minorities and refugees, the wider public votes en masse at elections.
So civil liberties/ "moral"isssues DO impact, even on a bloc as thick as the mortgage belt, when these themselves become victims of perversely applied lazy, slippery slope legislative injustices.
BTW, RIP Bernie Banton.
Will Hellicar turn up with a bouquet of flowers at the funeral?
"Lest we forget"!

Peter Martin says in the Canberra Times that:

As it happens, a US study of 9500 students in Years 1, 4 and 6 has found they do little better with computers than without. In Singapore, a study of 657 university students found that in aggregate, those using online learning tools do no better than those that do not.

That's not really the point. The point is enable them to be digitally literate so that they can work creatively in the digital world of the information society.

That requires everyone having a computer (desktop) and the schools being connected to high speed broadband. Then the kids can read the political blogs, explore Wikepedia, play around with Flickr and start creating and writing.

Burchell assume the same view as the Liberals: that the goal of material comfort reigned supreme for the western Sydney battlers. All they really cared about was keeping the good times rolling.

All the other stuff is attributed to values: people careing about achieving a reasonable balance between work and life; and wanting our leaders to uphold reasonable standards of honesty and decency in public life.

Burchell speaks like a conservative Liberal politician talking about the Tory working class.

I recently went to a meet the teachers for my son's school. He is starting high school at the local state school next year.
I was talking to the Head of Maths and asked him if I should get a Laptop for my son to bring to school. He said no it wasn't necessary as they had plenty of computers. No kids bring Laptops to school he said. The kids all need portable storage devices which cost about $30 so they can download school stuff and upload it at home and vice versa. If the kids don't have computers at home they can use them here in free periods lunch and after school till 5pm he said.

So to me the statement by King Kon Kevin doesn't ring true that every kid should have a new computer for his own personal use. Apart from the enormous space that it would require as I have already pointed out it works on the premise that kids need to spend their whole school day in front of a screen or they wont learn which is silly. A 1/4 or 1/3 is better and the rest in front of a teacher.
Kids do other things at school too that do not require computers. Trade stuff, cooking, life skills, experiments, art, group projects, drama, sport...and so on.


This has been bothering me since Gary put this post up. I've been wrong about something somewhere along the line and it's been annoying me. The lawn got a particularly vicious mow today as a result. Push mowers are great for that sort of thing.

I've come to the same conclusion as you - that he makes the common mistake of confusing postcodes with moral values as if he's been inhaling Essence of Albrechtson. This is ok because I still get to agree with him that the left abandoned its working class roots for a while.

On your last observation I'm beginning to suspect that for all his apparent sympathy, he likes his battling Westies exactly where they are in struggle street. It's a disturbing thought.

Gary points out that battlers are concerned with bleeding heart issues, which leaves Burchell where? Whatever will he do if his battlers start installing water tanks and solar panels, getting New Matilda with their new broadband and expressing concern for remote Aborigines over their lattes?

when you defended Burchell did you defend the other bits of the social conservative battlers that swung over to Howard after 1996---practical reconciliation, mutual obligation, high immigration and tough border protection with detention, welfare reform, firm national security laws with review mechanisms to guard civil liberties, education standards that reject postmodernism and demand objective testing, strong support for families and for individual choice.

I appreciate that this is largely an affirmation of Howard's agenda---but that's what Burchell tacitly embraced isn't it?He just hide the on nation stuff and taalked about protecting working class families of western Sydney. Economics and culture when together in the late 1990s. Howard realized that.

I'm just curious about what it was you were defending re the working class roots of the ALP, which the left had abandoned for a while-in the1190sa when they embraced an open market economy.

the blue collar working class have already taken to cafe lattees.

I was at Cibo's in the city of Adelaide the other morning when in Adelaide. Cibo's is an upmaket Italian coffee place much favoured by a clientiel of policy wonks, lawyers and people on computers making good use of the free wireless. This Saturday it was filled with blue collar building/construction workers knocking back Italian coffees, munching on friands, and talking about their kids being on the web and networking through Facebook.

A sight to behold. Times have changed. Burchell is definitely yesterdays man.


Thinking back to the 80s and 90s when the economy went global and working class manufacturing jobs started disappearing at a rate of knots. There wasn't an awful lot done to help those people make the transition to the global economy. I think that's when it started. The left were painted as being more concerned with multiculturalism than with blue collar constituents.

Who to blame was a bit fuzzy until Hanson came along and Howard took advantage of that. The left, broadly defined, was as wedged by those issues as the ALP I think. I can't recall one prominent spokesperson
of the left outside of politics or unions who drew attention to the economic concerns of the battlers in the past 10 years.

Of course, class isn't fashionable anymore but that's essentially what Rudd was talking about with the working families thing. Until then the left was successfully painted as the elite end of town, and they reinforced that every time somebody complained about the treatment of asylum seekers, the inference being that asylum seekers are more important than working families.

So I agree with Burchell that the left largely abandoned the working class, but I'm surprised and disappointed that he turns out to have been sucked into the culture wars and is continuing to play that game.

To answer your original question I don't believe the battlers are as socially conservative as they've been made out to be. I think their tendency to lean that way has had more to do with a sense of insecurity than social conservatism per se. Perhaps some cultural insecurity as well, as the pie munching Aussie bloke morphs into Nan's cosmopolitan broadband fans.

There are vast numbers of Kath and Kim types out there (been to the Gold Coast lately? It's seething with them) who I suspect are wannabe urbane elites. The thing I find most disturbing about Burchell now, is that he seems to prefer them in their battler phase. Some sociologist.


That's a heart warming picture and you're right about Burchell I think.

Before the election there was a lot of talk at supermarket checkouts and such about how the Gold Coast has missed out on a lot because it's so safely Liberal. Didn't stop them from voting that way, apart from Forde which is full of sole parents, but at least they were thinking and talking about it.

I just don't accept your argument as bluntly as you state it. You say that:

Thinking back to the 80s and 90s when the economy went global and working class manufacturing jobs started disappearing at a rate of knots. There wasn't an awful lot done to help those people make the transition to the global economy. I think that's when it started. The left were painted as being more concerned with multiculturalism than with blue collar constituents...So I agree with Burchell that the left largely abandoned the working class

What in heavens name was Keating's Working Nation? Wasn't it a set of labour programs aimed at the unemployed? The Bleeding Hearts were all about upskilling those thrown out of work. They could even go to university. Working Nation was designed to retrain the long-term unemployed with the skills the country would need when good times returned.

But the Howard Government scrapped the labour programs. It introduced work for the dole on the cheap as a program with no training; its participants saw little improvement in their job prospects.

After 1996 the Beazley ALP turned away from Keating's economic reforms re the global economy and competition policy to a defence of the working class against the market. Roll back of GST, privatisation etc was the mantra.

So it is unclear what is meant by the left largely abandoned the working class. Who is this 'left' you and Burchell are referring to?

Yes the blue collar workers have changed. No longer are they satisfied to live the football meat pies kangaroos and holden cars lifestyle.
Evolution is truly a marvelous thing. Tell me Nan. Can they eat banana's in public now or is that still a social fopar?


I'll answer you backwards.

The left other than the ALP and unions. The left commentators, public intellectuals, arts undergraduates and civil libertarians. People who looked at Mapplethorpe's work and saw art. The left designated as such by the culture warriors. The left who are disappointed that Rudd isn't as progressive as they'd like. And the left that doesn't really exist as an undifferentiated lump in the same way that the conservative mainstream doesn't really exist. The left hand side of the public sphere.

I'm not articulating this very well, I know. I should do a post on it.

As you point out, Working Nation wasn't given a chance. I recall the business startup funding was very popular with young entrepreneurial types and Keating was very excited about the knowledge economy and turning the country into an IT hub. It all went to custard under the combination of economic rationalism and what was called social conservatism, but was actually the politics of fear, playing on people's insecurities.

I'm not saying the ALP and unions abandoned the working class at all, rather they couldn't cut through the sludge of the culture wars which I think covered a lot more territory issues-wise than analysis has permitted so far.

Must admit on reading the above I must agree overwhelming with Lyn's comments.
It wasn't the "situationalist" bona fide left that betrayed Australia, it was Howard. But the latte "identity" left, devoid of a workable critique, was so dumb and painfully self- absorbed and surely well outflanked by the Hansonists and Howardists.
I notice mention is made of the bluecollars not embracing latte-left accedence to increased assaults on labor disguised under the aegis of "labor reform" on the one hand, and "humanitarian concerns" on the other.
Instead, blue collars expressed suspicion of refugees when recognising these as a foot in the door for more divide and conquer involving increased migration as a lever to more stinking labor market so-called "reform". In failing to heed blue collar concerns, the lattes did the refugees, their cause celebre, a terrible injustice. Their unwillingness to have labor reform including population increase and resource wastage occur IN CONCERT ONLY WITH, social and ecological reform, for fear of thwarting both idiotic "micro economic reform" (unlike the true left), and the refugee cause, made them unwitting allies of Howard. .
Blue collars knew full well the middle class left had tacitly embraced welfare and labor so-called "reform" and the old alliance was broken.
It was as poor for lattes to lazily succumb to the easy out of labelling blue collar concerns as "racist" as convenient for them to ignore ecology and social equity in favour of the market fetishes.
The vicious wedge politics of the government and its think tanks in turning locals against newcomers worked because the lattes were too concerned with wittering about "multi culturalism", "economic reform" and "globalisation", over a cheeky chardonay or ten during their interminable long lunches instead of returning to less-glamorous equity/ situational concerns.
Neoliberalist "reform" (upchuck!!) based on inequality, the weakening of government and the inability of communities to defend themselves against the curse of "developer" exploiters divides the civil society and is an affront tologic and compassion,yet the best the middle cals left coul,d do was attack the bluecollar masses as "racist". How sterile!
Political parties had not the guts to ignore the big end of town and prepare the country FOR increased population, by instead seeing to underlying ecological and infrastructure considerations needed to sustain all to follow FIRST. Big business, hungry for new middle class and corporate welfare strategies at the expense of genuine innovation and productivity, was happy to see the Howard government encourage mouthpeices like Alan Jones to incite racism, but throughout the entire ugly Howard decade Labor stuck stubbornly to its adopted mantra of me too "reform"( repression )with an occasinal sneer about worker "racism" from the comfort of their hotel balconies.
So, when the lattes dropped their concern for environmentalism, Aborigines, Welfare equity and work safety and security in favour of "reform" and embraced the vanguard neolib policy of labor "reform" employing refugees as catspaws, it is little wonder that those insecure in the system felt betrayed.
It's true that the bourgeois left anticipated the danger arising from ill-treatment of refugees as a template for eventual universal maltreatment of all working class people. To their credit, they also sense the phoniness of the McCarthyite "terrist" bogey and proclaimed it in its true light as a means for corruption of the justice/ legal system in concert with other repressive policies.
And finally, in the stale ugliness of things like the NT Aboriginal intervention and Dr.Haneef, coupled with the reality-inducing slaps in the face of carelessly raised interest rates and NoChoices, there was finally a meeting of minds from all sections of the public not right wing.
ButI write all of the above because I observe Gary; seemingly a typical academic , wants still to peddle outrageous guff concerning economic "reform" in a new thread, rather than leaving eco rationalist "reform" finally buried in its deserved grave ,after being proven for a generation to be a misnomer and a repressive failure.
Mercifully, Howard stuffed up his final term, which should have seen the final undoing of democracy in this country, but luck might not aways be on the side of this careless, lucky country.
The next years are so important.
Did Labor learn its lesson, or will it capitulate to the grasping universalist neolib impulse to subjugation masked as coercionist "reform" rather than revive Civil Society and Social Reform?
What a typically despicable prostitution of the meaning of a word to its diametric inversionary opposite, by the Right and what a redolently stench ridden dead cat of an idea pleading for the retention of its interment.

Paul has corrected my inept stumblings in this debate. I couldn't figure out how to squash my honours research into this little space, but there he has it.

The insecurities of the blue collar suburban were already pretty stretched when Howard and Hanson gave them the green light to blame wogs and reffos for everything. So they did. The cosmopolitan left failed to understand that stuff like the Cronulla riots came about because of fear. No matter how demonstrably irrational that fear was/is, fear is fear.

From a cultural angle I'm trying to find an old article from Ghassan Hage which puts it in a nutshell. On top of their other insecurities blue collar suburbans were losing their iconic Aussie status to a bunch of urbane, multilingual, global types. Or that's how they saw it anyway. And the lefty audiences of Kath and Kim openly ridiculing them couldn't have helped much.

I loathed Howard and Hanson as much as the next latte swiller and have been ashamed of what my country has done in the past decade. But I understand that support for the riot was driven by fear, even if I personally don't share that fear.

Okay, so it is about what happened after 1996, not before.

I thought that some of Mapplethorpe's work was art so I'm one of the latte liberal left who are one of the bearers of the 'political correctness' of the cultural warriers of the Right. Culture cannot be reduced to class.

Why should I defend the cultural conservatism of reading novelists and poets selected by a Howard appointed committee of literary grandees just because those who held this said they spoke for the common sense of the blue collar working class. What a joke. They were conservatives who loathed liberalism.

Why should I defend working class parents who rejected education as learning to think critically for education reduced to the three R's? The latter was not going to equip their kids to land good jobs in the new economy.

Why should I accept the One Nation conservatism of the blue collar working class that sided with Howard; accept a one nation based on whiteness and assimilation just because it was held by the blue collar working class?

The blue collar working class sided with Howard because of culture as well as economics.

As for the economics opening up the Australian economy was the right policy move. The right policy for the negative downside of those reforms ---ie., blue collar unemployed in the rustbelt-- was retraining and access to higher education so they could acquire the skills to be able to work in the new economy that was forming. It certainly wasn't propping up the rustbelt industries the blue collar workers worked in through subsidies, tarrifs etc.

Gary, I suppose you are one of these parents who won't give their kid a smack if the throw a whammy in the supermarket?
It's true that all I said was that Howard played wedge and suggest how he did that. Yes, ok so Aussies are lazy and complicit, as well as "victims".It still took skill to tap into the baser instincts evenif this happened happened at the expense of Australia's ability to function in the real world.
For that alone, Howard utterly warranted his thrashing and should receive no pity.
Lyn, it is true that "fools never differ". Yet it may, indeed, also be true that; "Great minds think alike". It is true, that even on the writer's third post-professorial dissertation, he still can empathise with mere honours grads. A genial wave to ALL Moomins...
Now, note comments re Apology elsewhere. Utterly stunned when Nelson came out with this. For several days it seemed that the libs had at last seen the light and were on route to recovery, but Nelson quashed any hopes of that.
Tony Wright, I think (Grattan?), put out the explanation in "Age", a little later. Senate leader Munchkin again playing sinister emminence-gris behind the scenes to lure the WA conservatives away from Turncow to Nelson, on condition that he espouse extreme Falangism.
Annoys me. Seriously. If the Hard Right want to makes issues out of things why don't they have the guts to get up and stnd for leader themselves, instead of hangiing about in the shadows pulling the strings of idiot marionettes. Instead of succumbing to Byzantine, Jesuitical and Stendhal-esque manouverings behind the scenes the libs should have seized the opportunity offered by Hockey and Turnbull and forced the ajar door wide open, allowing a nineteenth century entity to, for the first time ever, see the light of twenty-first century day. Instead the OAS types put the Liberal party back half a dozen years and denied the country an Opposition willing to live and able to operate constructively in, the new century.
Instead, they obdurately avoid this century in search of those of the sixteenth, where they must feel more at home.

on your first big comment where you start by agreeing overwhelming with Lyn's comments. You say:

The vicious wedge politics of the government and its think tanks in turning locals against newcomers worked because the lattes were too concerned with wittering about "multi -culturalism", "economic reform" and "globalisation", over a cheeky chardonay or ten during their interminable long lunches instead of returning to less-glamorous equity/ situational concerns.

I would make a distinction between market reform --eg., opening up the economy--- and market fundamentalism (classical economic liberalism). One can being favour of the former whilst being deeply critical of the latter.

Secondly, under Hawke Keating Kelty up to 1996 the unions anbd blue collars not forgotten. The unions were negotiating wage outcomes consistent with low inflation and encouraging higher productivity. Disputation had fallen dramatically and the minimum wage increases they sought for those left behind were not excessive.

Thirddly, the criticism of the latte left appears to be a criticism of the social liberal belief in individual freedom and the willingness to fight for small-l liberal values by opposing racism, endorsing multiculturalism, standing up to bureaucratic bullying, welcoming refugees and fighting for liberty.

Gary, what the naff are you doing up at 5 in the morning?
Is you surname Gillard?
What a dreadful example new Labor has set. Instead of sitting back a bit and relaxing after the election, thus sending a reassuring message to the electorate that it too can at last relax, these gloomy Calvinist aesthetes perform apeculiar ritual of extreme workhours flagellistic calisthenics, working and doing today what they ought to do tomorrow or perhaps better still,never at all.
Its as though we got rid of Charles 1 Stuart only to find Cromwell in charge of the "growth" economy instead.
"No rest for the wicked" and
"the devil finds work for idle hands".
Seriously, why?
why don't they just give themselves and everyone else a break and chill out for a bit after all the trials and tribulations of last year.
Now, to the point.
You mention that in one of my "long" posts ( you haven't seen one of my "long" posts, yet!)
I attack the lattes as social liberals.
Well, no!
I pointed out in my post the lost of interest by above in serious issues like ecology, aborigines (poor beggars!!), workplace conditions, media corruption dismissed as " audience complicity " of the bluecollers by lattes, and evaporated concern victims of welfare "reform" in this country. In fact, blue collars have borne the brunt of a concerted attack by out of touch and employed middle class soc.liberals for decades now.
Believe me, I remember it from my own time at uni.
It is sad to be represented as one, who because he reacts with suspicion to what Eagleton refers to as "selfish individualism", seen to be attacking "individual freedom".
No, all I said was, pity the lattes hadn't stuck with their environmentalist and social liberal concerns and fought to have the country in some shape FIRST, to receive additional population, rather than heading off Quixotically tilting at windmills and capitulating to American libertarianist neolib "growth" theology.
A perfect example, to me, is Clive Hamiliton.
As I said above, Refugees was Howard's policy, not the spooked blue collars.
And what created the refugee problem?
US imperialism.
So whose responsibility was it first and foremost to thus make amends to millions of refugees?
The Bush government and its filthy rich profiteers?
Instead, sceptical blue collars already facing system-created problems of their own, were excoriated by the lattes for not wishing to then also unilaterally have imposed on themselves exclusively, burden of responsibility belonging to others, that others incidentally themselves made sure they avoided.
However, wounded in spirit by the "cruel slings and arrows of fate" the writer now slopes off to face a dreary Xmass Jerusalem exile, ostracised from the gay and innocent revelrying of the festive season enjoyed by the many.
Twas not always so.
Bah humbug....

Hey Gary, hope you have a good holiday down at Wilson's Promentory.
Exactly the sort of place I'd like.
"Public Opinion" has been a great site for interesting discussion despite or perhaps because, it is not swamped with reems of comments from all and sundry.
Am less grumpy ab't likes of Hamilton and Ridout after watching "Difference of Opinion" and learning that Ridout, who used to soar high on my demonology list, actually avoided supporting No Choices as well as being willing to offer a conciliatory line on change on "Difference of Opinion".
Will attempt amazing feat of less verbosity and hyperbole in new year.