Vegan Chili

I like vegetarian cooking, but have long had a problem with vegetarian chili, and in particular the texture. Without overcooking the beans and vegetables it’s always seemed like a spicy vegetable and bean soup. A friend suggested blending it a bit with a stick blender. I loved it!

Serves 4 hungry people, or 6 people whose appetites are smaller

Ingredients

  • Oil (I used sunflower oil, but olive oil is good too.)
  • 1 onion (I used a red onion, but a brown onion would be just as good)
  • 1 red capsicum
  • 2 carrots (on the larger size, but not the tree-trunk sized ones)
  • 2 sticks of celery
  • 3 fat cloves of garlic (or three big dollops of already-crushed garlic from a jar)
  • About a heaped pudding spoonful of ground cayenne pepper (be bold; trust me)
  • Ground cumin, more than a teaspoon, less than a tablespoon
  • Ground smoked paprika, about the same amount as the cumin
  • 1 teaspoon mixed Italian herbs (I know, it sounds ridic, but it works)
  • A good heaped tablespoon of cocoa powder (NOT drinking chocolate)
  • 2 400 g cans of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 400 g cans of beans (I used Woolworths Mexican Beans mix, which is a mix of kidney beans, pinto beans, and black beans but you can use any beans you like)
  • 1 400 g can of sweetcorn kernels (or you can use frozen if you have some in the freezer)
  • 400 ml vegetable stock (I used stock powder and an empty tomato can full of hot water)
  • A few drops of Tabasco sauce (enough to put the willies up you a bit, but not so much you’re genuinely afraid)
  • Splash of white wine vinegar

Note: try to get the “no added salt” version of the canned stuff; it’ll taste better.

Method

Chop up the capsicum, carrots and celery and dice the onion. Warm the oil in a big saucepan or pot or casserole or something (I used the 3 litre Ikea 365+ pot, which was a bit snug, and I reckon the 5-litre one would have been better) and toss in the chopped vegetables. Keep the heat low and turn them over in the oil before putting a lid on. Stir them every now and then and after about fifteen minutes they should be tender. If not, leave them a bit longer, but you don’t want them mushy; just tender.

Now turn up the heat and put in the garlic, the spices and the herbs stirring to combine, and then add the cocoa powder. Stir that in too: it will combine with the oil and vegetable juices and go lovely and glossy – that’s when it’s time to add the tomatoes, drained beans, and drained corn, as well as the stock (or water and stock powder). Use the stock too rinse out the tomato cans. Stir it all together and bring it up to a simmer.

Once it’s simmering, turn the heat down so it’s simmering gently and let it cook for about half an hour, stirring occasionally and making sure nothing’s sticking to the bottom.

After half an hour add salt and pepper to taste (if you add salt before you cook the beans they’ll end up tasting of nothing – that’s also why I recommending using cans with no added salt).

Now take it off the heat and leave it to cool down for a couple of minutes. It won’t get cold. Use a stick blender to give it a bit of a whizz – just a couple of pulses, but don’t go crazy: you’re not making soup. If you don’t have a stick blender (and honestly, if you don’t you really should get one, and a decent one – the best you can afford) you can put a couple of ladlefuls into an ordinary blender and whizzy whizzy before adding it back to the pot (and if you don’t have any kind of blender you could put a couple of ladlefuls through a mouli, or go at it with a potato masher, but I really do recommend doing something to get the contrasting textures).

Finally stir in a splash of white wine vinegar, check the seasoning and serve! I put some slices of avocado on top and it was delicious. I often put broken tortilla chips on chili too, and, while I don’t really like it, a lot of people put corriander leaves on the top. A dollop of sour cream and that grated Monterrey Jack cheese is nice if you’re not concerned about it not being vegan

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M People videos, a full rundown

I wrote a short thread on twitter earlier about my thoughts on some M People videos. Here is a full rundown.

Colour My Life

For a first video it’s okay. It’s just the band playing the song in a studio. but it’s well shot. Heather’s outfit is extremely 1991. We have a lady guitarist, which was very progressive back then. The backing vocalists do a bizarre dance that uses only their arms and bobbing up and down a bit. It’s quite endearing. ⭐⭐⭐

How Can I Love You More

More of the same really; just the and performing the song in a studio, but without the backing singers and their dance. Disappointing tbh. ⭐⭐

Someday

A further slide downhill. This is Heather singing alone against a black backdrop with some lighting , interspersed with some live show footage. They’d clearly run out of money by single #3. ⭐

Excited

Excited has two videos! The UK video is Heather dancing in front of interesting backdrops wearing office attire while the boys play pinball, with some shots of Heather wearing a rather gorgeous evening dress on a couch. It’s quite cute! ⭐⭐⭐

The US remake is where we finally get a LOCATION! They’re in the courtyard of a nice house with a stage set up in the middle of the pond (???) singing the song. People dance. They’ve thrown a bit of money at this, but not much. ⭐⭐⭐

One Night In Heaven

They went to Barcelona to film this video. They’re all drunk and/or high and carrying on while being filmed. Heather has two outfits – a lovely, if plain, dress and cardigan (a cardigan in Summer in Barcelona?!), and a horrible checked waistcoat and a shirt with a massive collar combo. The video’s a bit boring, but it’s nice to see them outside. ⭐⭐⭐

Moving On Up

We’re at a party and M People have been booked to perform. Some couples on the dance floor are fighting, Suddenly there is a cat and an iguana for some reason. Heather is wearing a long black dress and a lovely choker with matching earings. The boys are wearing pajamas. It’s all a bit confusing, but it’s fun and extremely 1994. ⭐⭐⭐

Don’t Look Any Further

They sent Heather and Mark to Berlin to film this and apparently left Mike, Paul, and Shovel at home. As such, Heather appears to have stayed sober. They’ve put her in gorgeous makeup with cute little heart earrings. It’s moody and dark. A really solid video actually. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Renaissance

I think this could be San Francisco? We have a few shots of them singing and dancing in a studio that we’re supposed to believe is a hotel or something, and the rest of the video is Heather driving an enormous car around the streets of wherever they are and basically losing control. They must have used up all the budget for this album because we’ve got the dress from Moving on up and the earrings from Don’t Look Any Further. It’s fun, but not all that great. ⭐⭐

Sight For Sore Eyes

We’re back in the studio. There are some car shells and mechanics welding, but the car/mechanic theme is a bit half-arsed, because other than that it’s basically the Colour My Life video. Heather has finally discovered hoop earrings, and she is wearing what is honestly the most horrible jumper I have ever seen; it’s either from C&A or Dior. Paul is starting to look a bit rugged and has CHEEKBONES. Mike has grown a beard and his hair and is clearly starting his mid-life crisis. The only good bit of this video is when the drummer pretends to use spanners instead of drumsticks. ⭐⭐

Open Your Heart

Some solid CGI here. Heather’s in a CGI lift that might be in a hotel ur club or something and different characters & groups get in and out f the lift. Heather has a very lovely East-Asian-inspired dress and a diamond hair band. Paul’s eyes are BLUE. Mike’s mid-life crisis deepens he looks like he hasn’t even washed his hair.  There are gays, there are trans people, there are loads of people of color as well as Heather, there’s a supernatural spooky bit where Heather walks away and her reflection doesn’t until a few seconds later. It’s a bloody amazing video. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Search for the Hero

An abandones warehouse or school or tower block or something. Children throw rocks at windows. The band stands in the middle of it and performs. Suddenly there is fire, and then the sprinklers activate. Another outstanding video that’s worth watching even if you hate the song. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Love Rendezvous

A re-run of Renaissance, but they’re high in Rio instead of Barcelona. There’s a bit more narrative here as we’re also following a couple running through the streets to find each other and then they kiss. There’s some live footage from the tour, and shome travel show type shots of Rio and it’s people. ⭐⭐⭐

Itchycoo Park

Heather’s on the bed in a spotlight dreaming of walking through a country house and its gardens. She levitates. Gorgeous blue velvet dress and ruby choker. The video’s crap but the fashion is excellent. ⭐⭐

Just For You

Heather’s on a couch in a studio while the band play around her. Paul’s finally lost all his hair and has developed the sort of cheekbones that could cut diamond. There’s an orchestra. Oh, and CGI bugs. It looks like they spent a LOT of money on this. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Fantasy Island

In a studio on a spinning platform with some CGI texture going on underneath. It’s extremely boring. ⭐

Angel St

This is mostly live footage and footage from rehearsals, backstage and stuff. It’s pretty good for what it is, but it’s not winning any prizes or anything. ⭐⭐⭐

Testify

ZOMG this video. Heather’s wearing a cloak and wandering through the forest in the snow while the Northern Lights are happening in the sky. She gets to where she’s going, shakes of the cloak and is there singing in the snow in a Warrior Princess outfit made of diamonds. It is amazing. It’s all CGI. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Dreaming

Heather’s walking through the streets of London with a horrible filter applied to the video, like as if someone has gone to town with Snapseed. It is not good. Clearly they threw some money at this, but it was not well spent. ⭐⭐

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

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.