In this tumultuous political year, the latest sharp surprises come from the far reaches of the Anglosphere -- Alaska and Australia.
These were lands to which Capt. James Cook voyaged even as the seaboard Atlantic colonists were rebelling against king and Parliament in London. Cook's charts of the southern coast of Australia are still in use, and he sailed from there to Hawaii and then through the Bering Strait to the ice-choked Arctic Sea. You can see splendid murals of his voyages in the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage.
Australia joined the Anglosphere when the British established a convict settlement there in 1788, and Alaska joined when Secretary of State William Seward purchased it from Russia in 1867.
Today they are commonwealths with economies thriving on mining and oil. Australia's 22 million people have a massive export trade with China; Alaska's 700,000 people, as Sarah Palin accurately noted, live in a state that has boundaries with Canada and Russia.
Both the Aug. 21 federal election in Australia and the Aug. 24 primary in Alaska were not supposed to produce surprises. One reason: Both have economies relatively untroubled by the financial crisis and recession.
In Australia, the Labor government headed by Julia Gillard (after the intra-party ouster two months before of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd) was expected to cruise to victory, as Australian parties have after one term in government since 1930. The new leader of the conservative Liberal Party, Tony Abbott, was considered too extremist to win.
In Alaska, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski was expected to be easily renominated over Fairbanks lawyer and political newcomer Joe Miller.
But the voters had other ideas.
In Australia, the Liberals and Labor are both short of the 76-seat majority in Parliament. Postal and provisional ballots are still being counted, as both parties seek the votes of five Independents, while Labor has the support of the one Green candidate elected.
In Alaska, Miller's narrow lead of 1,668 votes may vanish as at least 7,600 absentee and mail ballots are counted.
Whatever the final outcomes, there are lessons to be learned. One is that the current unpopularity of left parties in the Anglosphere (Republicans lead Democrats by a record margin in polls on voting for the U.S. House) are not just a reaction to bad economic times.
Australia's Labor Party was hurt by its attempt to slap a 30 percent tax on the mining industry. Voters evidently understood that soaking the rich would hurt just about everyone.
And Labor's attempt to put burdens on carbon use, rejected in the Australian Senate, was a liability, even in the country with the world's highest incidence of skin cancer.