A morning walk

Every morning on my walk to work from the station I pass an elderly couple walking into town. They walk quite slowly; it probably takes them an hour or more to get into town so it doesn’t matter which train I get on or how early or late I’m running; I always pass them.

They are old. So old. Certainly in their eighties at least. I’d guess they have half a lifetime of memories in India, shared. And they walk together, side-by-side, always in silence, and always very slowly.

They are always immaculately dressed, beautiful clothes, clean and pressed. Sandals even in winter. Long, flowing, and brightly colored fabric, probably decades old. And the smell of beautifully scented soaps and lotions fills the air as I walk by them,

It’s actually been a couple of weeks since I’ve seen them. We’ve never interacted, so I haven’t noticed that I haven’t seen them, I haven’t missed them — except yesterday I wondered about them as I walked past the tree where I would sometimes have to give way to them if we arrived there at the same time because the footpath isn’t wide enough. But it didn’t dwell on my mind.

Until today as I was walking to work from the station I passed him in the street. He was walking a little faster than normal. Alone. Wearing pajamas and slippers. Smelling slightly stale. I said hello; he didn’t answer me. I could see the pain on his face.

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Handwritten draft of the text
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Anger

[This is part one of a short series on emotional abuse in domestic relationships. This piece discusses anger, aggression, emotional control and manipulation.]

“You’re a good influence on him. He’s more mellow with you. I love his bitterness, and you mellow him. You’re good for him.”

She told you that, and she was right. She’s known him longer than you have, and she knows how angry he can get. His angry outbursts. He gets angry quite a lot.

“That must be awful for you.”

Not really, right? He gets angry quite a lot, but only at other people. His anger is never directed at you. People piss him off a lot. Hell, it seems everybody pisses him off, people cross him and he gets angry. But his anger is never directed at you. He speaks to you calmly, never angrily. With you he is mellow. He tells you that you calm him down. His friends notice you calm him down. It’s so good that you met him: you’re the only person who he never gets angry at; he’s so lucky to have found you.

He’s manipulating you. This is emotional abuse. Emotional abuse that is directed at you, and you haven’t noticed. He’s tricking you into being afraid of him whilst believing you trust him.

No, you’re not afraid of him! You do trust him!

You’re not afraid that at some point his anger will be directed at you? That he’ll become aggressive towards you the way he is aggressive towards other people who piss him off? No, of course you’re not, because, see, he only gets angry and aggressive towards people who piss him off. All you have to do is never piss him off. All you have to do to avoid is anger is to simply not fuck up. You’ve got this. You can do this. Avoiding his aggression is something you are responsible for: just don’t fuck up.

And there. He’s got you. He’s controlling you. He’s manipulating your emotions; controlling your behavior. By withholding his anger he’s making you believe that you are in control of his anger and that if he ever does become aggressive towards you, it will have been your fault.

And one day he does lose his temper at you. You knew it would come eventually. You’ve seen how he gets with other people, just flies off the handle at any little thing that pisses him off, and you knew you couldn’t stay on his good side forever. You knew you’d fuck up at some point. But it was only a little fuck-up. And that’s just how he is. You can use this as a learning experience. Keep on his good side. Keep him mellow.

You’re the one who calms him down. He only gets angry at you sometimes, and it’s not like it’s for major things. It’s only for things that are inconsequential, so it doesn’t really matter. I mean, obviously you fucked up here, and he’s got every right to be angry. Anyone would be angry.

And, look, sometimes he gets angry and aggressive towards you for things that were not your fault, but that’s just how he is. You know him: anger is how he deals with things. He gets frustrated and aggression is just the way his frustration erupts out of him. All of this was out of your control, you didn’t do anything wrong here; he’s just upset. Anyone would be upset; you can’t hold that against him because anyone would be upset, so of course he’s angry. Of course he is angry.

And, look, you’re a team, right? You love him and he loves you. You trust him because he doesn’t get angry at you except when he does. You absorb his anger, that’s what you do. And he trusts you to. You calm him; you mellow him. And he trusts you enough to let himself show his anger to you. He trusts you to stay when he is angry because you calm him. Anyone else he is aggressive to runs away, but not you. He trusts you not to. His anger towards you is different from his anger towards other people. To you his anger is an expression of love. His aggression is an expression of trust.

You know that anger is his default emotion. This is the way he expresses himself. He needs a release. It’s good that he allows his emotions to show. It’s not really aggression as such; he’s just sharing his emotions with you. You have this emotional connection: trust going both ways. It’s despair and he needs to get it out, and you’re the one who makes things better. You have to be there for him.

You have to be there. He needs an outlet for his emotions. His anger and aggression is just an outlet for his emotions. And really, if you think about it, it’s better that his anger and aggression is directed at you instead of being directed at other people. Like, at least you know how to handle him. Other people don’t know how to handle him when he’s angry, but you do. You calm him when he is angry, so although he gets angry quite a lot, it’s never at other people. His anger is only directed at you. People piss him off a lot. Hell, it seems everybody pisses him off, people cross him and he gets angry. But his anger is only directed at you.

 

Witches, evil faries, and wicked queens

The worst fairy story is Cinderella because there is no witch or demon or anything; the baddies are just ordinary humans being intolerable cunts, and that is *not* the basis for a Force of Evil in a fairy tale. What I’m looking for in a fairy tale antagonist is some magical being who is smart — and maybe *too* smart. The absolute best fairy story villains go about their cruel schemes because of petty grudges rather than an attempt at amassing wealth or status.

Cinderella fails on all counts. The villain is a wicked stepmother, but she has no magic powers; she just has political power. She and her daughters treat Cinderella cruelly, but it’s simply because they are horrible people.

The best fairy tale (and not just for, but mainly for its villain) is Sleeping Beauty. In all its incarnations the evil fairy is spectacular, but I think Disney’s Maleficent is particularly good. This is the story of an evil fairy who cooks up an elaborate plan to kill a child out of pure spite. The sole motivation for her murderous plot is her not being invited to a party, and she spends nearly two decades dwelling on this petty grudge, allowing it to consume her. She’s magic; she’s evil; and, although she could have done the job with a single shot when she gatecrashed the party, she implements the most outrageously elaborate scheme to put a family through sixteen years of anguish before striking the fatal blow. Her demise is entirely because of this over-the-top scheme: it all gets too big for her. She is a victim of her own genius.

Hansel and Gretel is alright, but just alright. We start with the wicked stepmother who is just a dick because she doesn’t like children, but we move past this quite quickly into the main setting with the witch in the wood. Witches are great; I like witches, but overall this witch is a bit disappointing. Sure, she’s capable of doing magic (gingerbread houses have got to be magic, right?), but apart from that she is a basic bitch witch. Of all the possibilities in the world, she captures children because she wants to eat them — and even more dull, she physically catches them and locks them in a cage, and plans to cook them in an oven. Yawn. And quite the opposite of Sleeping Beauty’s wicked fairy who is a genius, Hansel and Gretel’s witch is a moron who is tricked by a chicken bone.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is quite good, but it spends way too much time on the Dwarfs (like, honestly, who cares?). The Wicked Queen is a solid villain: she uses magic, she’s a child killer, she lives her whole life consumed with outrageous vanity, she holds an utterly pointless grudge. In short, she’s my ideal villain. There are lots of incarnations of this story, with various demises for the Wicked Queen, and mostly they are good: she almost always falls victim to her own clever scheme. The Disney version where she falls off a cliff is rubbish, but other versions have wonderful endings for this baddie: as John points out, the version where the Queen is forced to dance to death in red hot iron shoes is wonderful for the ballet, but my favorite ending is the one where every mirror she looks into turns black and she is driven to insanity by never being able to gaze upon her own reflection ever again.

Roses are red

Every single Valentine’s day we have to argue over where to place boundaries when dividing a continuous spectrum into discrete sections, but human language adds boundaries progressively as time advances and violets are blue except in languages that have words for purple.

Roses aren’t red either, but red is such a linguistically ancient concept that it tends not to get divided up as quickly as other color concepts. The points at which red stops being red are much further from the center of red than the points at which blue stops being blue are from the center of blue. But excluding the violets that are white, we can say two things for certain:

  1. Violets are definitely blue.
  2. Violets are definitely not blue.

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Poker machines: why do we even have them?

I’m loath to refer to this as a piece in support of poker machines (electronic gaming machines, slot machines, fruit machines, pokies, call them what you will), but this will largely be interpreted as such because it’s not a scathing criticism. However, it’s more a collection of thoughts and things to think about when composing scathing criticisms of poker machines. So here goes.

(And before we start, full disclosure: I am employed by a large club in Sydney, my knowledge of gaming and gaming machines is technical and extensive, and I have worked in the gambling industry (in clubs and casinos in Australia and overseas) since 2005.).

First I’ll acknowledge that problem gambling exists and is a problem, and I don’t think anyone is doing enough to tackle it, and a lot of harm can be attributed to problem gambling involving poker machines. A huge amount of money goes through poker machines in NSW, and very few players win in the short-term – even fewer in the long-term.

All of that said, it’s important that we have legal and regulated gambling. We have to – both from a personal liberty perspective (people should be allowed to do whatever the like with their own money), and from a harm minimization perspective (the alternative to legal, regulated gambling is illegal, unregulated gambling – underground casinos, dog fights and cock fights, underground poker games bankrolled by loan sharks). We can’t totally prevent problem gambling and the harm that comes from it, but we can try to minimize it, which is why regulation is important.

Regulation and monitoring

Poker machines are easy to regulate and easy to monitor. Really easy. Every legally operated poker machine in NSW has a unique serial number; the regulator knows where every single one is, who is operating it and what software is installed on it. The software goes through an approval process. Every legally-operated poker machine in NSW is connected to the Central Monitoring System (CMS) and has to be by law – if there are any problems with communication to the CMS, the machine can’t be operated until communication is restored. Whether the regulation is good enough, the enforcement is good enough, compliance is good enough are other issues, but that they are so so simple to regulate and monitor makes them really attractive to gambling regulators.

Because of the process of getting poker machine software from development to market, poker machines are really difficult to compromise. In short you can’t bribe a poker machine. You can’t cheat. Unlike in casinos and bookmakers, staff can’t be bribed or assist with cheating, payouts can’t be miscalculated. Everything is legit. So they are attractive to operators, players, and regulators, all of whom can trust them.

Low-risk gambling

With the usual acknowledgement that some people’s lives are destroyed through gambling, for most people poker machines provide access to gambling (a legitimate leisure activity) in a low-risk and low-cost way. People who set and stick to limits don’t lose more than they can afford, and the range of machines and games available mean that even very low limits can provide genuine entertainment value, decent time playing, and the thrill of a potential win. And poker machines combine three things that other forms of leisure gambling can’t: low entry price, high prize potential, instant win. Some examples:

  • Casino games offer instant wins and high prize potentials, but the entry prices are high – most people cannot afford to play casino games.
  • Racing and sports betting offer the potential of instant wins with a low entry price, but large prize potentials don’t exist without large bets.
  • Lotteries offer large prizes at a low entry price, but generally can’t offer instant wins.

I’m sure many people consider this a bad thing; I don’t. I just consider it a thing. Lots of people want to experience the thrill of gambling, the potential to win a large prize with an instant payoff, and at a low entry price, and poker machines offer that. I am certainly not going to tell people that that should not be on offer to them.

Harm minimization

Like for regulation, poker machines are easy to monitor for problem gambling as well as for potential money laundering. (Despite what is often said, it’s very difficult to launder money through a poker machine if strict transaction monitoring and player identification procedures are adhered to). Players can monitor their own play if they want to, and get detailed and accurate statements on their play and spend, things that are much more difficult with casino gaming, racing and sports betting, and lotteries, for example. These are not necessarily good or bad things, but they are things that make poker machines attractive to operators and regulators.

Staff exposure is quite important here too: this is anecdotal, but I’ve had far fewer colleagues develop gambling problems in venues with only poker machines compared with casinos that offer table games with live dealers. I have been a dealer myself, and even I can sit at a blackjack table, or stand at a craps table as a player and think that I somehow have an advantage because I know the game inside out.

And it’s worth mentioning that, unlike racing, there are no animal welfare issues with poker machines (other than, perhaps, say, problem gamblers neglecting their pets).

Social exclusion reduction

There are better venues for social interaction than gaming rooms in clubs and hotels. Of course there are. But still, we live in the world we live in, and for quite a lot of people (especially elderly people living alone) a couple of hours playing the pokies once, twice, or a couple more times a week is valuable social interaction with others. I won’t spin it as a good thing, and I am more than aware that this can be spun as pokie dens preying on vulnerable people. But it’s a thing that exists and happens. Social services for elderly and lonely people should be better – of course they should – but they aren’t, and as long as people who get their social interaction from playing poker machines would otherwise be sitting at home alone, a social exclusion reduction argument can be made.

Physical poker machines in regulated venues also function as an alternative to online gambling. Online casinos and online poker machines. Those things can’t be regulated (we’ve tried!) and they are genuinely solitary. Again, it’s not ideal, but having poker machines in relatively safe environments with amenities and other people is a more attractive offering to players and regulators than people sitting at home alone playing the same games but with unregulated operators with no guarantee of wins being honored and withdrawals being possible, and with no protection if things do go wrong.

Money

Of course one of the main reasons they are attractive to operators is that poker machines can generate quite large amounts of revenue, and they are attractive to governments because they generate quite large amounts of tax. There’s a lot of financial and political leverage that goes both ways. A lot of people spend small amounts of money playing poker machines, and a small number of people spend large amounts of money playing poker machines, and this is the basis of most criticism of poker machines: money. (And this criticism is valid.)

All forms of gambling come with the risk of harm from problem gambling and problems related to problem gambling, and poker machines are not a special case. I won’t argue that poker machines are a benevolent source of social virtue providing employment and delivering social change through charitable giving (though both things are true/there are good arguments why these things are, indeed, bullshit: make up your own mind), but poker machines and the industry as a whole (despite some thoroughly rotten operators) are not a pure force of evil. They are simply, as a form of legal and regulated gambling, attractive.

Kedgeree with smoked herrings

Kedgeree is great. It’s a breakfast dish but you can have it any time. It’s quick and easy and a very good recipe for one, but it is also good when you have an overnight guest who you want to impress with breakfast, and because my version mostly uses tinned ingredients, it’s an ideal camping dish.

This recipe serves one.

Ingredients

  • 200 g can of smoked herrings (in brine, please; not tomato sauce)
  • 60 ml basmati rice (or any long-grain rice, but I insist on basmati)
  • half an onion, diced (I use already diced frozen onions)
  • half a small can of mushrooms (I like the ones in butter sauce)
  • One hard boiled egg, roughly chopped
  • A big pinch of curry powder (I use Clive of India Hot curry powder – this is an outrageous colonial dish after all!)
  • About half a teaspoon of turmeric, for color
  • Salt and pepper
  • Butter

Method

In a small-ish frying pan over a medium heat, fry the onion in butter until it is soft and slightly brown, then turn the heat up to high. Stir in the curry powder and the turmeric until it’s combined with the butter and coated the onions, then add the rice to the pan. You want to toast the rice for about a minute, and keep it moving so that the rice picks up the color and flavor of the curry powder.

Once everything is a lovely orange color and nicely fragrant, pour in 180 ml water and bring to the boil. Once it’s boiling, cover the pan (if you haven’t got a lid that fits, just use foil), turn the heat right down and let it barely simmer for about fifteen minutes, or until the water has been absorbed and the rice is cooked.

In the meantime, pour yourself a glass of wine (if you are making this for lunch or dinner) or champagne (if you are making this for breakfast) and take some photos of the cooking process for your Instagram.

Once the rice is cooked, fluff it up a bit with a wooden fork (I had trouble finding a wooden fork in Sydney when I first moved here, and was even told by a shop assistant in a cookware shop that they did not exist and I had conjured up the concept of a wooden fork in my head, but it turns out that someone at Ikea also conjured up the concept of a wooden fork in their head, so you can get one there). Use the wooden fork to break up the herring fillets (which you have drained, of course!) a bit, but not too much because you want chunks rather than flakes, and stir the into the rice, along with the chopped egg and the mushrooms. Do it gently otherwise you’ll break up the fish and egg too much and you’ll end up with mush. Just turn it over with the fork until everything is combined and heated through. Season with salt and pepper. I’m an absolute fiend for salt, but you probably won’t need that much because of the herrings.

If you’re doing this for Instagram, and are particularly interested in likes and comments, then this looks nice sprinkled with some cayenne pepper (I don’t do this because I don’t like the flavor) and some parsley arranged on the top (you could use coriander, of course, which might be a better flavor combination, but wouldn’t be in the spirit of colonial cuisine).

Then, of course, you eat it.

Notes

If you want a vegetarian version, leave out the fish and double the mushrooms, and you could maybe use some lentils or some smoked firm tofu or tempeh or something that will have a bit of a bite and a smoky or smoke-adjacent flavor. If you want a vegan version do that and leave out the egg (and use some kind of vegetable oil or other instead of the butter).

If you’re making this for more than one person (which you probably are if, as suggested, you’re making this for breakfast to impress last night’s shag your overnight guest), then increase the quantities of everything accordingly (use a 1:3 ratio of rice to water), and serve it on a platter, rather than individually, so people can help themselves.

follow me on twitter @supercroup 

 

 

 

A celebration of queer rights in Australia

In Australia we’re in the middle of a campaign for a government survey on whether the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry. The going is really tough, and a lot of us are feeling really shitty: the attacks are coming strong from the No campaign.

But: some positivity. Despite marriage equality not yet having arrived in Australia, we do have a lot of rights, and rights that are worth celebrating. And importantly rights that prove that our equality does not have terrible consequences for society.

Let’s celebrate these rights, and use their existence to argue for further extension of our civil and human rights.

The right to exist

Fundamentally, in Australia, we have the right to exist. The law doesn’t prohibit our existence. For all the hatred we face, the abuse, the violence, our right to exist is protected. Around the world, not all LGBT people have that right protected.

The right to fuck

Sexuality and sex is a core part of [most of] our existence. In Australia we have the right to fuck anyone who can and does consent. Some people engage in sexual violence against people asserting that right. Some put acid in lube dispensers in gay saunas. But none of that removes the right we have to fuck anyone who can and does consent. Around the world, not all LGBT people have that right protected.

The right to form domestic partnerships

Australia is pretty good when it comes to recognizing de facto partnerships — including those between same-sex couples. We’ve established over the pervious weeks that they are not identical to marriages but even so, de facto couples are afforded most of the rights and benefits that married couples are. It’s not perfect, but we do have some of the most progressive de facto rights and protections in the world.

The right to migrate

Spousal migration to Australia is easy. I know: I’ve done it. Admittedly as a white man, but the right to migrate to Australia as the spouse (de jure or de facto) of an Australian citizen or permanent resident is protected, and dependent on (almost) nothing except the status of the relationship. Migration law recognizes the status of de facto relationships where cohabitation hasn’t occurred because of the illegality of the relationship where the couple previously lived.

In practice it can be hard, expensive, and complicated, but the right to migrate with our spouses exists. Few other countries offer this.

The right to employment

Discrimination against a person on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, or marital relationship status is against the law in Australia. Employers are not allowed to discriminate against us.

They do, of course. But they don’t have the right to do so. And our right is to be protected by law against such discrimination.

The right to transition

Unlike in many places in the world, trans people in Australia have the right to transition. Socially, medically, and administratively. This is not to suggest it is straightforward or that the process of transition isn’t riddled with gatekeeping bullshit, but trans people have the right to live in whatever gender role(s) suit, according to each person’s own determination.

Trans people have the right to receive support to transition, the right to a name change on official documentation, the right to change gender markers on official documentation (including to X if neither male nor female is appropriate). Around the world not all trans people have these rights.

The right to celebrate

These — and other — rights come along with the right to exist openly and freely. The right to celebrate. We have bars and clubs that are not hideaways, but open and public venues that SCREAM queer. We have Mardi Gras in Sydney every year, and politicians incessantly turn up for photo opportunities. There are plenty of problems in the queer party scene, including racism, sexism, and transphobia, and we need to work on that. But we have the right to work on it because we have the right to celebrate.

The right to marry

Coming soon.

The right to marry is an addition to our existing rights, wide-ranging rights that in Australia are surprisingly progressive. It’s right and good that we demand access to marriage, but let’s do so in the context of celebration of our existing rights, and how much these rights add to society.

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