Monday, 26 May 2014

"I've decided to become a woman" - interview with my transgender friend.

Andi Mac - my transgender friend.
Did you know that there are between 140 and 350 million transgender human beings on this
If the numbers surprise you, you're not alone.
I likewise had no idea it such a large number.
However I paper I found at the Transgender Law Society, tells us this: "An estimated 2 to 5% of the population is transgender".
There are seven billion of us crammed onto this world, and so 140-350 million are transgender.
I had a vague mental image of..., actually, I'm not sure what I thought, but I didn't think the number was so vast.
Anyway, this all started with a phone call in January this year from my old uni friend Andrew.
I had recently reconnected with him after a near thirty year absence, and we picked up again quickly, and began speaking on the phone most weekends as if the past thirty odd year absence didn't exist.
Then late last (2013)  year I didn't hear from Andrew for a while.
I did send him some texts, but got no answer.
However I put it down to the run up to Christmas, and him being busy with family matters and didn't think too much more about it.
Then in Late January, my phone rang, and I saw Andrew's name on the Caller ID screen.
So I answered and we chatted somewhat desultorily for a little while.
Then he said, "I suppose we better talk about the elephant in the room."
I replied, "Er, you mean why I haven't heard from you for a while?"
He said "Yes", then went on to say, "well I've been busy, seeing some doctors."
My heart jumped into my throat, hoping I wasn't about to hear a cancer diagnosis, or something otherly sinister.
But then I was relieved mightily when Andrew said, "Er, well, strap yourself in Lachy, er, but I've decided to become a woman."
[Thus from here on in in this article I will refer to Andi, his new name, with female pronouns.]
I was shocked, but I don't really like that word, as it seems to have negative connotations. Surprised?
Renee Richards
Well that doesn't work either, as it seems a bit trivial.
Whatever, we worked through it, and so I'd like to support my friend in this process, and so am writing this.
So first a bit of history.
This allowed me to do some research my favourite thing these days, and also to bring in The Simpsons, my even more favourite thing.
The first and most controversial transgender case occurred in the United States and involved a man named Richard Raskind.
He had gender reassignment surgery in 1975, and was henceforth known as Renee Richards.
The controversy started when Renee began to enter professional tennis tournaments in the women's draw.
Opponents screamed stridently that this was unfair as she had the muscles of a man.
However, she hardly set the world alight, and the best she ever achieved was the doubles final in the US Open in 1977, defeated by Martina Navratilova and Betty Stove.
At her peak she was rated 20th.
Tennis is a game where strength is handy, but clearly not an overarching tool for winning.
However, the controversy, largely press-fuelled, had ongoing ramifications for transgender people from then on.
For it was deemed that people have the gender reassignment surgery for some hidden agenda, usually to do with money.
In the case of Renee, winning tournaments.
Other examples are men becoming women and then becoming six-feet-tall models.
But as Andi pointed out to me over the phone, these are hardly widely accurate examples, and anyone who makes the commitment to do this, is always doing it for deeply felt psychological reasons, not just to win a tennis match, or have some career, making a paltry sum of money.
This was best evidenced in Andi's case when she went out on the weekend last to a club.
After some time it was time to go to the bathroom.
She entered the women's facility, and immediately had trouble with a woman in there, who claimed she had no right to be there.
She (in Andi's opinion) thought she had "dressed up" as a woman, and had hormone shots leading to incipient breasts, all so she could go into the women's bathroom and perve on the women in there.
So Andi stood her ground and pointed out that she(Andi) was going to the bathroom in a closed cubicle, as where all the women in there, and so wouldn't be looking at anyone else's private parts.
Andi also mentioned that a guy tried to crack onto him that evening in the club.
She spent some time batting him away, and it was only when the guy in question got very personal, and began a bit of groping that the state of Andi's sexuality became clear, and he left with a somewhat surprised look on his face.
A compliment to Andi's new dress sense if ever there was one.
All of the above though, highlights the controversial nature of Andi's upcoming life.
Krusty was happy with the boobs.
There will be challenges to be met and overcome, but not greater than those faced by us all, simply different.
And so to The Simpsons.
In an episode where Krusty the clown owes money to the mob for gambling debts, he, in an attempt to hide, had plastic surgery to change his face, total non-recognitive surgery as it's called.
However there is a mix up with the paper work and Krusty instead of having his face changed, is given the boob job that Mayor Quimby paid for to enhance his secretary's chest area.
After the bandages are removed from his face, post-operation, Krusty yells at the doctor: "You moron, I look exactly the same!"
The surgeon answers, "Yes, but I did a lovely job on the boobs."
To which Krusty replies: "Do you hear me complaining about the breasts?"
This episode had curious humourous overtones with Andi's story.
He is 48 year's old as I write, has just begun developing female secondary sexual characteristics and was saying to me over the phone that by the time he is seventy, he will have the rack of a twenty-year-old woman.
Pictures to follow, if he acquiesces.
So it's a fascinating story.
I asked Andi some questions that I was curious about, and he added some, and answers, of his own.

Andi, what is transgender?

I don’t want to hold myself out as an expert on the subject, but , from what I have gathered, transgender is a sort of umbrella term that people use to describe a less common gender type than the more common gender type where physical and psychological characteristics of gender seem more aligned (FYI - this more common gender type is often referred to as cis-gender). For example, I am transgender because my physical and psychological gender traits are less common than cis-males or cis-females. Under this broader term are groupings. For example, I call myself a transgender woman because I identify as a female whilst having a male body. Also, because I am transitioning physically, through hormone replacement therapy (HRT), I sometimes use the term male-to-female (MTF) transgender.     

Is transgender the same as gay?

I suppose the answer to this question depends on what you mean by “same as” but, if I am assuming you are asking whether being transgender always means that you are gay, the answer is no. Some transgender people are gay in the same  way that some non-transgender people are gay. Gay, like lesbian, straight, celibate, etc is a term that talks to a person’s sexuality whereas transgender is a term that is meant to describe a more holistic sense of identity that includes an expression of sexuality as one of it’s key characteristics. You could say the same thing about many of the other characteristics we share as humans in that some trans* people are tall, some still have a record player, some are good at maths, some hate the smell of petrol, some always get caught telling little white lies, etc, etc.

When did you have the first inklings you wanted to be a woman?

I can’t really pinpoint an exact time and, because I was not aware of any people living as transgender until maybe my early teens, I would say mid to late teens was the time I started to “listen” more to my gender. However, I was still quite young and I did not really start to get a functioning understanding of any of this until the recent past. In saying that though, my internal drive to be truer to myself gender-wise has been there in one shape or form for a long time.

Where are you at with relationships now? Attracted to women, men,
neither, both?

Well, I am attracted to intelligence and a sense of adventure so it doesn’t really matter to me which container that package is delivered in. In the meantime, I have a wonderful family and loving friends. That duo combined with surfing is getting me by. Anything else that comes along is gravy. 
[Editor's note: Quite frankly I think we would all do well to answer that question the same way.]
So finally I would say that for me, this process that Andi is undergoing is confronting.
However Andi is my friend and I certainly owe him for all the times he brought my wayward, alcohol-fuelled head back into the middle ground when we were at uni particularly. 
And there is no boofier, heterosexual bloke than me in this country, and if I can support Andi in this, then so can anyone.
And finally finally, when all this started over the phone with Andi, I was almost immediately reminded of one of my favourite Discworld characters, Rincewind.
Rincewind, via the author Terry Pratchett summed up nicely what I think about prejudice, which is what I'd like to think I'm not these days and hope the world is moving toward being not as well.
Rincewind was a sorely put-upon Wizzard(sic) who was constantly being yanked by magical means to far distant corners of the planet and there hexed, shot at, cursed, trampled, had swords waved at him and all the rest.
He was constantly required to save the Discworld though as he said, "I don't know why you're always asking me to do these things. I'm not dependable. I don't depend on me, and I'm me."
Anyway, at one point after some perennial last ditch escape from horrendous death done down by the creatures of the dark dimension, Rincewind retires to a nearby stump and ruminates: "Rincewind could honestly say he was without prejudice. He didn't care what sex you were, what colour you were, what species you were.
"He didn't care what organs you used for sexual or magical reproduction. He didn't care how much money you had, or how much you didn't.
No, in the end the only thing Rincewind cared about was that you weren't shooting at him."

Read more at Andi's blog: Andi Mac's MtF Transition

Monday, 19 May 2014

It's not soft porn, it's a historical reference.

Kate giving it everything in Babushka.
The title of this post is paraphrasically linked in my mind to the scene in Back to the Future III, when they hijack the train.
Marty and the professor jump onto the running plate of the steam loco, with bandannas over their faces and point their guns at the driver.
The driver stares at them saucer-eyed and says, "Is this a hold up?"
To which Marty and the prof reply in unison, "No, it's a science experiment!"
Well likewise this trailing-smoke-and-flames-hot picture of Kate Bush is a pageview experiment.
Occasionally I talk with my work colleague Scott about increasing pageviews, which is needed to eventually try to make some money out of my writing.
Scott's suggestion has always been to put porn on the site.
Now to be fair to Scott, he is being ironic, he has two daughters and he, like another friend Sandy, has some very pungent thoughts about pornography and its effects on society, and particularly the women involved.
So we're not doing porn on the website.
But as it happened, the subject of Kate Bush bubbled to the top of the melting pot of my consciousness, and I was kind able to meet in the middle ground.
The picture shows Kate in her video clip for her single Babushka, which came out in 1980, when I was 15, in the midst of my pubertic-rush.
I remember back to that time, looking at this videoclip and a stampede of confusing thoughts came rampaging into my hormone-riddled adolescent mind.
I stared transfixed at it, thinking a lot of thoughts, but mostly, "I HAVE GOT TO BUY THIS SONG, IT'S THE GREATEST EVER!".
First chance I got, I went out and bought the single at our local music store, Stop 'n' Rock, and I wasn't alone, I can tell you.
Babushka was the twentieth most popular single of that year in Australia.
Looking back I feel that Kate's single was the first overtly sexual video clip - the first video clip that used a paltry excuse to have a near naked, scantily clad woman on the screen to sell units.
I say paltry in the case of Babushka for this reason.
My work colleague Susannah is Czech, and I asked her if they have the same word, and they have a close analogue, Babichka, which also means 'grandmother', which is the meaning of 'Babushka' in Russian.
The song is about a woman, recently married, who decides to test her husband's fidelity.
So she writes to the husband and asks him to have an affair with her.
"It's a science experiment!"
He signifies his acceptance, and so she dresses, (and I guess, undressed in the dark) in disguise, meets him and has sex with him.
Then he spends the rest of his married life confused as to why his wife suddenly freezes on him.
Okay, so that's the scenario, but why the song was called Babushka is less than clear, it refers to the nom de plume the wife adopts to write to the husband.
But that doesn't make much sense either, maybe it's just me, but if I got a letter from someone saying "it's granny here, how about a shag?", I'd be thinking twice I can tell you.
In the end, as I further discussed with Susannnah, when we were both 'sposed to be working I might add, it seems that in the eighties the record companies suddenly twigged to tapping the market of adolescent boys by putting near naked women on the screen to sell singles.
The Babushka song and clip was followed the next year by Duran Duran's Girls on Film.
This was an even more axis-rocking romp for teenage boys.
[BTW: Duran Duran are so called for a character in the sci-fi vamp movie, 'Barbarella'. In case you were wondering.]
Anyway Girls on Film, as you can see in the pic, went another nine-yards toward being soft core pornography.
What's more, this marked another shift in the music business.
Babushka, as discussed, seemingly had no connection with Kate dressed like a female B&D prostitute, but Girls On Film was actually written so they could make a film clip with naked women in it.
And I might add, when reading up on this, I discovered that there were a few version of this clip for Girls on Film, and the one I saw on Countdown at 7pm on a Sunday night was heavily censored apparently.
Since the censored clip sent a multitude of teenage boys immediately to the shower where they stayed for 45 minutes, I couldn't imagine what the uncensored version was like.
And thus the flood gates opened.
Now when I go to the gym, every single bloody film clip is soft-core porn.
However, this has had a curious reversing effect - on me at least.
Which is: if I see a clip come on without naked women in it, my logic is that the record company realized that the song is good enough to attract attention without the porn, so I tend to stop and pay some attention.
Then again, if a song comes on that does have porn, I tend to stop and examine that so I am adequately briefed to be able to complain about it here.
You can watch the actual film clip of Babushka down at the end of this post and relive the throbbing sexual magnetism that so affected me in that winter of 1980.
Anyway, so what brought on all this talk of Kate Bush, and thus the paltry excuse to have a near naked woman on the blog?
Well recently I have had a few hits to my writer's self-esteem.
I entered the blog awards and wasn't short-listed, not even long-listed.
Out of 1100 entries I sank to obscurity down the bottom of the list.
But what would those F%^&-ing ARSEHOLES know about good writing, HUH???!!!
Obviously a load a small-dicked, bullied at school wannabes were judging the damn things, and so didn't feel I was worth a mention.
Then over the last six months I have had my first book, and first novel rejected by four different publishing houses.
Likewise those god-damned bucking lame excuses for talent scouts at Allen&Unwin and all the rest failed to see an incipient James Joyce when it was served up to them in electronic form.
Anyway, Kate Bush's most famous song was Wuthering Heights, in which she dealt musically with the most inconically tempestuous relationship in English literature.
At one point she sings, "Ooohhhh, it gets dark, it gets lonely, on the other side from you."
That resonated with me, as I feel at this time, and almost certainly forever, I am on the other side of the publishing door.
It's dark and lonely I can tell you.
However, I have this blog, and knew that even in rejection you can't just give up.
To be a writer, or perhaps more accurately, a published writer, you have to show persistence.
The most famous case was Frederick Forsyth, who had to hawk the manuscript for Day of the Jackal around fifty different publishers before he got a nibble.
Today he has sold many millions of books.
Also, U2, perhaps the world's biggest band, were saying in 1984 that they wrote the song, I Fall Down, describing when things weren't good for the band.
And we know where that story went.
So all I can do is persist, keep writing in the lonely dark, and one day I may convince someone somewhere that this is more than electronic whingeing on the web.
So it continues dark and lonely on the other side of the publishing door, but at least it's given me the opportunity to relive that spazonklifying time when Kate Bush was romping around on the television, bringing a breath of the exotic to my rustic home town in rural Australia in the (as usual) freezing winter of 1980.

Man, these guys are fantastic!

Elsewhere the above reference to staring wild-eyed, hormone-throbbingly at the screen and saying "I've got to buy this song", reminded me of one of my favourite shows, and so I'll mention it here.
The show was Police Squad, it was where Lesley Nielsen, most famous is the doctor in Flying High (Airplane for my north American readers), came to prominence.
Police Squad was a send up of the cop shows of the seventies and eighties.
Oh, it was a different world then, the criminal was always caught and there wasn't a corrupt cop in sight.
And it was the genesis for the "only-one-maverick-cop-who-breaks-all-the-rules" can solve it genre that Cannon, Kojak, Columbo, Lou Grant, The Streets of San Francisco, and so many others followed.
Anyway, Police Squad was a brilliant spoof of these rubbish shows.
One of the things that the Zucker brothers, who produced and directed Police Squad and then Flying High, did so well was have things going on in the background.
That's why you could watch their shows, both movies and TV, over and over again and always see something you hadn't noticed before.
If you look at the picture you will see the character in the background trying to use a phone with no cord.
This character, Pete, was a  running gag and appeared in each episode doing something in the background.
The episode I'm thinking of was about heroin.
Lesley Nielsen's character, Frank Drebbyn, and his boss Ed, nab some ne'er-do-well with a bag of heroin.
Frank opens the bag, sticks his finger in it and has a microscopic taste.
Then he spits it out and says in a hard voice, "Yes, that's heroin all right."
Then he hands the bag to Pete and says, "What do you make of this Pete?"
Pete has a little taste and agrees with Drebbyn.
Then the episode moves on, but Pete is in the background of every shot.
He is carrying the bag and every scene he is taking another taste.
By the end of the episode he is off his fucking Nana on the gear and the final shot shows him staring bug-eyed at a radio playing some lame arse song, and Pete opens up his eyes even wider and says, "MAN, THESE GUYS ARE FANTASTIC!!!!"
Well it was the same for me watching Kate prance around in her skimpy outfit, that was for sure.

Australian politics and the budget.

Elsewhere a little contest has started among me and my friends, trying to workout who is the biggest arsehole in the Australian government.
So for my north American readers, things become distinctly antipodean from here on, so you may wish to go elsewhere, as there is no topic of less interest on the world stage than Australia.
[This is true. I first noticed this when I went overseas, the only references to Australia were bushfires or when some tourist was brought undone by some of our ferocious wildlife, sharks or crocs mainly]
[Also, the lack of interest and knowledge of Australia's politics and the epicentre of this, Canberra, was best demonstrated as uninteresting when the US 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire' asked the first up question, "What is the capital of Australia?"
The contestant answered 'Sydney' and was off the show.
Apparently this is the only time that anyone has ever got the first, perennially easy, question wrong.]
Anyway, this all started with a phone call with my friend Darren (Daz) in London.
Daz was opining that from what he could see the biggest nob currently lacing up the political boots in Canberra was Scott Morrison, the Federal Minister for Killing Anyone Who Arrives in a Boat.
I nodded my head judiciously and agreed that he had many claims to the Top Arsehole Position.
I then countered with, "Yeah, Daz, but what about that fat loathsome toad, George Brandis, the Attorney general?"
Brandis is the guy who said, in parliament no less, "that people have a right to be bigots".
[NB: George please note, no they fucking don't. We as a race have spent thousands of years getting people to not be bigots.]
Daz, then likewise nodded his head in agreement and that then led to the discussion that I am now inviting you to take part in.
Another friend, Stokesy over the phone,  then weighed in and nominated Christopher Pyne.
Stokesy then making a very valid case for Pyne being allowed to enter four times in the Arsehole list, due to four things he had done that deserved mention.
My friend Michael also leaned toward Pyne, saying, "That guy is really a worry".
Michael's dad, Eric, couldn't nail it down, and favoured all of the current government being entered.
I would also add, the Minister for Destroying the Environment, Greg Hunt, is another very worthy entrant.
He is the Planet-Neptune-sized mongrel who wishes to dump three million tonnes of dredge spoil in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
So the list seems inclusive rather than the opposite, so then it behooved me to try to find someone in the Federal Government who isn't a total and utter excreta releasing sphincter.
The best I can offer is Peter Dutton.
Yes, exactly.
Dutton is the health minister and is so nondescript that he was once present at a cabinet meeting for twenty minutes before anyone noticed he was there.
However if in the end the only person I can offer who is not an Arsehole is offered because no one has ever heard of him, then that does kind of show us the sheer size of the problem.
A very telling picture, Credlin leading, the Prime Minister following.
But then I'm sure most of you are already planning to stab down a comment and say, "Lachlan, surely the answer is Tony Abbott, the leader of this pack of gluteus maximally located faeces dispensers?"
Well that is a valid claim, but even here it's not clear, and here's why.
Australia is not actually run by Tony Abbott, but by this woman, Peta Credlin.
She is listed as his press secretary, but she is far more than that. [An Incredible-Hulk-sized bitch mostly.]
The word I have from my various sources round the traps is that she tells Tony Abbott what to say.
This is evidenced by how slow he speaks these days.
When he was head of the opposition, railing against Julia Gillard, he was reasonably articulate, but now he speaks as slow as the tide rising on the timbers of a pier.
What is going on is that when asked a question by a journalist he has to stop and think 'what did Peta tell me to say?'
And this is what leads to him giving it the 'uh..., uh...., uh,   yes, Madame speaker" sort of speech.
Now I didn't see Peta Credlin's name on the ballot paper, so think it's pretty rich that she is now running the country of which I am a voter.
So in the end, she gets onto the ballot paper of the vote I am running, Biggest Arsehole.
You can vote for her any time you like.

I did try to avoid it but since it's germane to this particular strand of discourse, I'll bring it up: the budget.
Now if I ever wanted to get my pageviews going down, if I wanted to have readers turn away in droves, then this is a topic I could use.
But this time, it has had quite the reverse effect.
This budget has been so universally unpopular, so unthought through, that it has done more for the Labor party and Bill Shorten, the leader of same, than bringing Gough Whitlam out of retirement.
So where do I start?
Well it's a classic conservative budget.
The rich get looked after and the poor get labelled "dole bludger" and get kicked radically in the teeth.
Probably the most mystifying thing of all is the $7 co-payment to see a doctor.
No one, not even it seems Joe Hockey, the Federal treasurer, (feel free to nominate him, by all means) seems to understand how this will work.
My friend Mick, a family man, with two children and a full time job was telling me that each time he sees the doctor what he pays seems to change with no readily apparent reason surfacing for this.
The doctor sends him back to the desk and sometimes he pays 'X' and gets 'Y' back on Medicare.
Other times he pays 'Z' and gets nothing back from Medicare.
Will the seven dollars be taken out at the Medicare stage?
Will you have to search through your wallet and find some gold coins to pay it over the counter?
Will your local GP have to install a till and eftpos machine on the counter by the receptionist?
No one seems to know.
This truly disturbing picture from GetUp! highlights the horrendous nature of this sick, both literal and metaphoric, tax.
Will we see the appalling day when a parent gets their child to the GP, but realizes they have left their wallet at home, and then have to race back home with a sick and vomiting child to get the $7?
God help us all if that days ever dawns.
Also, here are just two of the hypocritical, let's-hack-the-poor-'cos-we-don't-like-them things in this budget.
Prevailing thought has it that those poorest who need medical attention, will go to Accident and Emergency at their local hospital, instead of the GP.
This must be blowing the exasperated-minds of those medical staff who work at A&E.
The reason being that these staff have spent a long period, a decade maybe, training people to not got to A&E for trivial things, but to see their GP instead.
One example I read was a patient who showed to A&E and wanted someone there to put their eyedrops in.
Another was someone who was too scared to pull a bandage off because of the pain, so wanted the A&E staff to inject a local anaesthetic before removing the bandage.
With this $7 co-payment, suddenly all that hard work will be reversed and the hordes will restampede to the A&E departments across the country.
Then there's Aboriginal health, and the 'Closing-the-Gap' plans.
This was brought in by the Howard government to bring Aboriginal standards of living up to equivalency with white Australians.
Well the representative of the Aboriginal Medical Service I heard on the radio this morning was saying that Aboriginal patients, already living in third world poverty, will never be able to raise $7 for a doctor's visit, and so all that 'Closing-the-gap' talk will be as nothing, and the standard of health for Aboriginal people in Australia will go back downhill.
However before we all get too down and start planning to march on Canberra and burn the Liberal Party offices down, this truly lunatic budget has shown the populace the true face of the Abbott government.
The polls out this week show that Tony Abbott (AKA: Peta Credlin's mouthpiece) is now as popular is a dose of syphilis.
Bill Shorten has moved into the lead as preferred Prime Minister.
Seventy five per cent of Australians who responded to the Neilsen poll said they felt they would be worse off because of this budget.
The Labor party has moved ahead in the poll as preferred government and if an election was held today, the Abbott Government would lose.
In the end, as one commentator said on Outsiders on Radio National on Sunday, "This budget was just what the Labor Party doctor ordered."
What's more, Tony Abbott still continues to believe that people love him.
He threatened an election if the budget measures were not passed by the other parties in the senate.
To which I can truly say with uttermost vehemence: "Bring it the fuck on Tony. BRING IT ON".

The men we once were.

I normally close with some nice shots of the sunset over Byron Bay, but since this week's blog has dealt with things too frightening to name, AKA the budget and the members of the Abbott government, I thought I'd throw in some photos too scary to be seen.
The one on the top is me, taken after I had been pitched into the mud of Queensland Uni's soccer fields, our team having just won the uni championship, and me being the non-playing manager.
I couldn't play due to a torn knee ligament, and in retrospect, like Charlie Brown, that was probably why we won.
Gruesome as this tash is, it pales into insignificance compared with the photo below.
I even jumped when the photo downloaded onto my screen.
This is me with my soccer team in 1990, aged 25, old enough to know better, one would have thought, but clearly not.
And finally, the photo below that, of this handsome guy is my friend from Vancouver, Darren Sears.
Darren you may recall was the man with whom I first drank pints in Canada, followed by some shots of vodka, and then some overproof Bundy Rum back at his flat.
I described that dark day in this post, Whale song Rings out in triumph.
Anyway, Darren happened to notice his name somewhere on the web and saw with astonishment my blog relating the events of that oh-so-drunken night all those years ago.
He then contacted me through the email link and it's been great to catch up with him.
On the soccer field Darren was an immensely hard man, famous for tackling people like he wanted to remove them from the historical record.
When I asked him for a pic, and he sent that one, I was immediately struck by the hard-man nature of his visage.
So that part hasn't changed, and what's more Darren didn't need to grow a moustache to look tough.
A lesson I could have well done with learning all those years ago, and saved the world from having to look at mine.


The film clip that sent millions of teenage boys to the shower for 45 minutes.

Monday, 12 May 2014

C'mon everybody, it's time for Peppa Pig!

I have started watching a children's show on the ABC called Peppa Pig.
So what's lead to this latest manifestation of my lunacy?
Well, as usual it started with one of my inchoate rages against commercial TV, in this case, channel- f$%$ing-Ten.
Channel Ten realized that they had the legal means, and the lack of shame, to put promos in the corner of the screen full-time during their shows.
The show that is most germane to this argument is Modern Family.
This brilliantly written American sitcom, describes the lives of three generations of the Pritchett family of Los Angeles, and includes their partners.
It shows the modern pressures on the regular family well, and is as far from the seventies version, The Brady Bunch, as Earth is from Alpha Centaurus.
I love the show and have done ever since one of my trusted advisers on what to watch, Evo, told me about it.
I enjoyed each episode when new, and here's the rub, also when the repeats came on, as they are now on Ten at 6 in the evening.
I don't think that watching repeats eternally is an overly good thing to do, but I have only seen the ModFam eps two or three times, contrast with The Simpsons, some episodes of which I have seen possibly ten times.
Anyway, I like repeat episodes because they bring no surprises, most notably for instance, horrendously violent shows can often set off the complex machinery of dysfunction inside my head and lead to a bout of depression.
However Modern Family fits the bill perfectly, cleverly written shows like this, can often provide extra entertainment as you notice something you didn't see the first time around.
But mainly, shows I have seen before provide me with a comforting background level of audio, so I can relax and tend the perennially ship-on-a-stormy-sea state of the inside of my head.


Enter the promos.

But then one night recently I was watching ModFam and a promo for Masterchef came on in the corner of the screen.
Normally, or at least hitherto, these promos would dissolve after a minute and I could return to uninterrupted viewing.
However, this night, the promo stayed on the screen for the whole segment of the show.
The we went to an ad break, and upon return to the show, the promo reappeared, and likewise stayed on screen for the entirety of Modern Family.
To say I was enraged barely hints at the scale of my fury.
Even if it had been a promo for a show I do like, say The Simpsons, I would still have
disagreed with this practise.
However, because it was Masterchef, a show I loathe and detest, my rage knew no bounds.
I tried a workaround.
I used the pause-play-info function of my set top box to cover the promo, as shown in the pics, but in the end, I was just too frustrated for words.
Then a Facebook contact replied to one of my furious comments on the channel ten FB page, and said "Lachlan, I think you'll just have to stop watching it."
At first I argued, but then realised that he was right, and I had to lodge the only form of protest viable to me, not watching.
It was a wrench, and my friend Clint confirmed this in conversation, saying, "Yeah, but if you like the show, it's a drag not to be able to watch it."
Which is all too true.
Now previous to this current lash at Ten I was part of a Net voice that gained some traction with the network by complaining loudly about these promos, and last time they listened.
But this time our complaints fell on deaf ears.
Channel Ten are on the verge of bankruptcy, and Masterchef was their last gasp at survival.
So their logic seemed to be, 'let's promote MC all out.
Cam sorted me out quick smart
Even if we piss off all our other viewers, it will be worth it to save the network.'
However, in my fury I did try a few things on Ten's Facebook page.
I went to the Ratings website, got the figures for Masterchef, and posted them on Ten's Facebook page, showing, to my unholy glee, that no one is watching Masterchef.
However, it did no good, and the promos stayed infuriatingly on the screen.
However in the end I was able to stage a protest that allowed me to watch Modern Family without promos.
I went down to my friendly local DVD store, Late Nite Video and saw Cam, the very knowledgeable counter staffer and rented a copy of Modern Family.
Now each evening at six I press play and for 80c an episode, I get to see my program free of interruptions.
In closing, I would just add that I continue mystified by Ten's attitude.
They are pissing off their viewers by infiltrating other shows with these promos, leading to viewer dissatisfaction, and ultimately desertion of the network.
And I might add, I made my protest in legal form, by getting a DVD available legally at my local store, but many that I know, don't even do this.
They simply download the show in question illegally from the Internet.
This was best shown by the recent controversy over Game of Thrones, as this story at Mumbrella attests.
The problem here was that most viewers felt that Foxtel were charging infinitely too much for the show.
So rather than buy a whole Foxtel premium package, many just downloaded it illegally.
A genuine case of pricing yourself out of the market.
And Ten don't seem to understand that they can't just do what they like.
Previously there were no alternatives for viewers to watch a show that was owned exclusively by one network.
But as this story shows, many like me, unhappy with the treatment they are receiving from Ten will just get their show from the net and watch it without paying, and, (Ten please note), without any of the ads that the network wants us to see.
So Ten are indulging in the ultimate case of shooting themselves in the damn foot from point blank range.

Peppa and her appeal

Anyway, enough of Ten, how did a small pink cartoon pig oink her way into my heart?
Well, while I was on the ratings website, looking with undisguised glee at the Masterchef viewers dropping away, my eye ran down the page, and I noticed an entry that at first I thought said 2 million viewers.
I looked closer, and realised it wasn't two mill, but two hundred thousand, but that's still a high rating show.
You can see from the confused jumble of figures within the page how I made my initial error.
Anyway, I don't know why, but Peppa, fifth in the children's section, jumped out at me.
I think because I had seen her entry on the program guide when checking for what to watch.
Anyway, I then noticed that this small porcine cutey was on twice a day, and garnered a quarter of a million viewers per episode, nearly half a million viewers on each diurnal cycle.
To put that in context, Peppa and family are therefore, if the two shows figures are combined, 16th on the daily viewing figures for all shows.
So I decided to add to my protest of Ten by watching Peppa Pig.
She comes on at about twenty to six in the evening, and not that Ten gave a rat's arse what I watch, but it gives me a certain innate pleasure to be watching Peppa, rather than suffering the damn promos.
And I'm happy to say I am thoroughly enjoying the antics of Peppa and her family.
In last night's episode, Peppa's father has forgotten to mow the lawn, and so when Peppa and her family go down to the garden to play with a ball, the cry of "lost ball" so redolent of my memories of street cricket, went up after thirty seconds.
So the Pig family have a conference and they decide Daddy Pig had better mow the lawn.
Daddy pig gets out his mower, but it has not been serviced for a while, and falls apart almost immediately.
That resonated with me straight away, as the state of my gardening equipment is similar.
"Man," I said, "Where can I get one of those!!"
But with now a defunct mower, the family have another conference and decide to call Grandpa Pig, and he agrees to come over and mow the lawn, and gets aboard his ride-on mower.
And here the story really grabbed my gardener's heart.
For Grandpa Pig's mower looked like the sort of ordnance that the yanks used to blast Falugia back to the stone age.
I thought to myself that if I had a mower like Grandpa Pig's, then I could have my whole fortnightly gardening round done in a morning.
So Grandpa Pig comes over and lays waste to the Pig family's grass in seconds, and even finds the lost ball in the process.
Then the episode ends with the whole extended Pig family falling down laughing, which according to my friend Michael, is the standard ending.
So why do I like it?
I felt from the start that Peppa and family provided me with the ultimate in stress free viewing.
Also, now that I think about it, it shows a family life that was sadly stolen from me as a boy.
The Pig family talk with each other.
Daddy pig isn't sitting on the couch watching TV and working his way through a slab of beer.
Mommy Pig isn't chained in the kitchen, involved in an endless round of housework, with no time for the kids.
It's unrealistic of course, no family behave like this, but I found it immensely comforting, and felt that at least it showed a family life that if not representative of the wider community, was one worth aspiring to.
Anyway, after the Grass Cutting episode I hied me round to Ongmac Rural Machinery dealership and asked if they could get me a mower like Grandpa Pig's.
Needless to say they couldn't help me, and all moved in the general direction of away.

Workplace stress

Also, the watching of Peppa reminded me of an incident that occurred when working for Greenpeace in the early nineties.
Greenpeace was my first "real" or "proper" job.
And like all proper jobs, it involved stress.
For the first time in my life, I knew what workplace stress was all about.
To background that, I began work for Greenpeace in Vancouver, Canada, in 1989.
I initially worked in the Vancouver office as Canvass Director.
This meant I was responsible for those annoying people who come to your door while you're eating your evening meal and ask for money.
Sorry, for all those who were disturbed.
Anyway, after a year or so at Vancouver, I was shipped out to run the office in Victoria, on Vancouver Island, off the coast of British Columbia.
Victoria is one of the few places that puts even Vancouver in the shade for beauty.
Victoria, on the shores of the Georgia Strait, it doesn't get much better than this.
After six months there, it was time for me to return home, and I returned to Sydney to take over the canvass office for Greenpeace NSW.
Now while I had been in Canada, Greenpeace had undergone a major corporitzation process.
The logic being that since we are fighting major, slickly-publicized corporate machines, then we need to be one ourselves.
This caused a lot of friction with the older, mung-bean munching hippy-types, many of whom had founded the organisation, but in my opinion, it was a good thing.
The year I last worked for Greenpeace in north America, we raised somewhere a round fifty million dollars door-to-door, to fight for the environment.
So my arrival at Greenpeace Sydney, situated as it was in a cockroach infested third floor, laughably titled "office", in a building near central station came as a severe corporate shock for me.
Seated on the macramé rug smoking bongs at ten am was the canvass department, all six of them.
[Sidebar: Actually, they weren't smoking bongs when I arrived, but to borrow slightly from P.G.Wodehouse, "If not actually smoking bongs, they gave every sign that if you turned your back for a second, they would start".]
This canvass team were driven out to the suburbs each night in two vans looked like they had come "out" of the wrecker's yard.
In one of these vehicles you could see the drive train spinning between the driver and passenger seats.
I took one look at this lot, and like Napoleon contemplating the map of Europe at the start of the nineteenth century, said, "This will never do".
So as an arrogant young man, I set out to shake things up a bit.
It needed to be done, but I was hopelessly naive about workplace politics.
I trampled all over every finger and mental toe that got in my way.
Heedless of people's feelings I reorganised the canvass department, and by the end of my first year was employing fifty summer staff, and we had raised a million dollars, as opposed to two hundred thousand the year before I arrived.
But, in my mad stampede to improve things, I hurt a lot of people's feelings, and this eventually led to me being sacked.
At the same time that I came to work there, Greenpeace Australia also had a new CEO, an American named Steve McDowell.
He likewise had the remit to professionalise Greenpeace Australia, but was a much more canny corporate operator.
He knew you had to negotiate with other staff members, not just order them about.
I got on very well with Steve, and used to go down to the main office once a week to keep him updated on what was going on at the canvass department.
One afternoon, when the stress was optimal for me, I asked Steve, "what do you do to relieve stress?", and he answered, "I interact with my children. I make time when I get home to play with them with their blocks and dolls."
Steve was a family man, and I didn't get the point at the time, but I think my watching of Peppa taps into this sentiment he advocates.
Even with all the stresses that went with running a national quasi-political organisation like Greenpeace Australia, he made it a point to go home and make some time to interact with his children.
Playing with them with their toys on the living room floor.
Again, I didn't understand back then as of course the lessons of my own childhood were that parents only interact with kids to scream with rage at them.
So to hear this from Steve was major change in thinking.
I think that's why I didn't understand how this could "reduce" stress.
But then I was still a few years from learning that not all childhoods are alike.
My friend Mike for instance, with two children, one seven and one aged three, pointed out to me at lunch, that when it's your own kids, there is massive reward involved.
To background that: I was talking with him in that instance of my time as a teacher, a process that only brought me to loathe and detest children, of course, they were other people's children.
So Mike has his busy life, but gains the reward from interacting with his own children.
Steve found that playing on the floor with blocks helped him focus on what was really important.
And in the end, I feel I am getting some of this same benefit by proxy from the antics of a small oinking cartoon pig.
So C'mon everybody, sit down, it's time for Peppa Pig!

Monday, 5 May 2014

Well that's what you get for calling tech support!

I was watching Futurama the other night when I was amused by the consequences of calling tech support at Mom's friendly robot company.
Bender, the robot in the show, worries he is defective, and so calls Mom's to get some help with his wiring.
Mom, the viciously autocratic matriarch of the corporation, incensed by this temerity, calls down a missile strike on the phone booth from which Bender is calling.
A different explosion, but part of the same show.
Hermes walks out of the smoke and
flames. Bender watching on.
It lands, and blows Bender out of the booth and he comes to a rolling, smoking halt at the feet of his friend Hermes, who is helping him with his campaign to find out if he is defective.
The smoke and flames clear and Hermes says to Bender, "Who'd you call dial-a-bomb?"
I mention all that because I have no doubt most of you who are reading this have at one time or another been humiliated beyond belief by the 14-year-old who answers the phone in the tech support section when you call to get help with your computer.
Quite frankly, I think dial-a-bomb is a bloody good idea, and I'd like it to be "other-end-of-the-phone-call" capable.
"I don't know if I've got service pack four, you f$%^ing arseholes!"
So when the 14-year-old says, "Is your computer a 5-Omicron-Xe?", and you don't know and he clicks his tongue in exasperation at your ignorance, you can hit the missile symbol on your phone pad and have an inbound strike take out the source of your exasperation at the other end of the line.
So I thought it would be an opportune time to mention the two most famous stories from tech support, and one of my own, from my days teaching computers.
The best known is about the coffee cup holder.
The story goes that someone rings up tech support and says, "I wonder if you can help me? I can't get my coffee cup holder to come out."
The guy at tech support then goes bemusedly through things with the caller until he eventually realizes that the caller is talking about his CD-ROM drive.
This comes out of a slot when you press the button on the front of the computer.
Apparently the caller would press the button and then rest his coffee on it.
However, I am certain this is an urban myth, I certainly haven't been able to find any reliable attestation to it, but it's a good story.
The reason I'm sure it's untrue is that if you are silly enough to do this, your coffee cup will fall off due to the inadequate support for such a weight.
Do not put your coffee cup here!

The next one is a guy rings tech support, and asks for help as he can't get his computer to turn on.
The tech support staffer then asks a range of questions, he says. "have you integrated your power supply at source? [This is computer speak for "is it plugged in?"]
The caller says "yes".
Then the staffer asks more questions, "is the green light on the front of the computer glowing?" and the caller says. "no".
So they move on trying various things.
Eventually the tech support staffer asks the caller to check the cords at the back of the computer to make sure they haven't been knocked out, or are in any other way out of kilter, to which the caller replies, "I can't really check that, it's real dark back there, because currently my building is blacked out."
Then (apparently) the tech support staffer says, "O--o--kayy".
"What you need to do is get your computer and pack it back in the box it came in and send it back to the manufacturer."
The caller then says, "Oh, will they be able to fix it?"
And the tech support staffer says, "no, but if you're so fucking stupid that you tried to turn it on during a blackout then you don't deserve to have one."
Again, I'm not sure if this is true, but it's so unlikely, that there's every chance.

And so to my time teaching computers.
When back in the IT world I took a job teaching this subject in Sydney's west.
They were one-off classes to help people with no knowledge get started.
To say these people were terrified barely hints at the scale of their fear.
Most like this think they are going to break the computer, or do something piffling that leads to catastrophic consequences when they call the fourteen-year-old at tech support.
Anyway, in one of my classes was an older Polish lady.
She wanted to learn to use email so she could keep in touch with her family back in Europe.
She definitely fitted the "I've-got-no-knowledge" category.
So I began and I leaned over the computer and said, "Okay, what I'd like you to do is bring your mouse over this email icon".
I pointed to the icon on the screen.
So she picked up her mouse off the desk and placed it on the screen, as I've demonstrated in the picture.
Immediately I realized two things: firstly, she had done absolutely what I'd asked her, no question.
My student had done exactly as instructed!
And second, I was in for a long day.
However, I'd like to think that I have a great empathy for people who are terrified, as I've mentioned ad nauseum, I spent the first fifteen years of my life in terror.
So I went to work with her, and by the end of the class, we had got her to the point where she sent her first email to a grandchild back in Poland.
She went away from the class with a list of instructions as long as her arm, and I'd like to think she enjoyed much eCommunication from then on.

And just before we leave the world of computers, I think you can see from the above story why people like my Polish elderly lady student are so vulnerable to internet scams.
Those of us who are vastly experienced in the area can spot the scam, but for people like my student, it seems all to plausible.
When the email arrives from Nigeria asking for help to get ten million dollars out of the country, we can spot it, but people who are new to the world of the net, particularly the elderly, can be easily taken in.
And not just the elderly.
I saw on the British investigative journalism show, Mackintyre undercover, a heart rending story about an English couple in the early forties, who were taken in by these slick Nigerians to the tune of ₤60,000!
They agreed to be interviewed for the Mackintyre show, and told the camera, "It was just so slick and so plausible. First they asked for small amounts, ₤500 to buy a new computer, ₤1,000 to get net access to the bank. all things they needed to get things moving, our finder's fee of ₤1,000,000 for helping them was always just a week away."
"We just kept thinking it has to happen soon, but in the end we had to face the horrible truth that we had been scammed, done like a dinner."
So we all have to be on watch, the rule of thumb from the cyber-police fraud squad is, "If it seems to good to be true, then it almost certainly is."
Also, the story above about the tech support staffer who said "send back your computer, 'cause you're too fucking stupid to have one", reminded me, sort of, of a story told to me by my friend Sean when living back in Canada.
Sean's younger brother Todd, aged 16, was working at their local McDonald's in Toronto.
One Saturday he and another 16-year-old, Sam, were on lock down shift.
This meant that they waited for all the customers to leave, midnight was the closing time, and then put all the food away, cleaned up, then locked the doors and left.
Well one Saturday things were as normal, they had sent the last customers out, locked the doors and then turned to face the cleaning job.
At this point something clicked in Sam's head and he went nuts.
He just couldn't face another Saturday night cleaning up, so instead, he went bezerk and got all the food and began hurling it with vicious intent all around the restaurant.
Fries, burgers, buns, muffins, oil from the fry cookers, it all went in a kaleidoscopic spray around the place.
He squirted the shakes out of the dispenser into cups and then threw them everywhere.
Within minutes the place, said Sean, relating Todd's story, looked like a machine gun had been packed with food and then fired at the walls, floor and roof.
Then, Sam, spent, stopped, and turned a wild-eyed look at Todd and then ran off into the night divesting himself of his McDonald's uniform as he went.
So now Todd was alone in a trashed restaurant at just past midnight on a Saturday.
This Maccas is clean compared with the one Sam trashed.
He took a few minutes to contemplate the vista, then began to think "what to do?"
After a bit of thought he decided he better ring the boss.
So he called up the franchisee and said, "Hey Rob, Sam just went mad and trashed the place. He's thrown food everywhere, there's shit on the walls, on the floors and on the ceiling, it's every-f$%^king-where."
It's not known what Rob, the franchisee said when he took this call, presumably in his bed, but before he got a chance to utter, Todd realized something else.
The most likely outcome of this call would be that Rob would ask him to clean it all up, with or without overtime, and with or without Rob's help.
So then Todd added, "Oh yeah, and I quit".
Then he put down the phone and ran off into the night as Sam had done before him.

Now that's a guy who can make an instant decision.

Mad Checker's Disease.

Over recent weeks I have been mentioning my checking disorder, particularly in this particular post, Stuttering badly, but thinking of Hank, and since then, in conversations I have realized that the problem is far more widespread than I thought.
Mad Checker's Disease, or perhaps less derisively, Multiple Checking Disorder is most manifest for me when leaving the house in the morning.
I check that my appliances are switched off and no taps are running, sometimes forty of fifty times.
A clear symptom of disorder.
We seem to have reached a consensus that five checks is okay.
A bit over the top, but in the non-nutty range.
Anything more than that and we are talking debilitating.
Anyway, Paula the Wonder Horse, sent me a youtube link to a psychiatrist called Schwartz.
In this Schwartz outlines the problem and comes up with the solution of meditating.
Now I was sceptical (to say the least), it all sounded like a bunch of tree-loving hippy crap to me.
However I was in no position to argue, and so decided to give it a try.
So each night now when I am relaxed, I sit for a few moments and rehearse my checks for the next day.
And in my head, I only do the check once, then get in the car and drive away.
It does seem to be working, and Paula tells me that I am creating neuro-plasticity in my brain, and rewiring it away from the constant short-circuiting that goes on with MCD.
Saturday, I was able to wrench myself away from the front door after only ten minutes of checking, which is a great victory, as half an hour or 45 minutes was common for me.
However, here are some other people's fears/checks.
I have a friend who particularly fears when he is going away on holidays.
He checks that everything is switched off and the house is locked multiple times.
Then it takes him half an hour of driving before those insidious fears stop creeping into his mind, saying, "Have you really locked the house?"
Another friend lives down a longish driveway, he was saying that when he wants to come down to the coffee shop, he sometimes has to return from halfway down the driveway three or four times before he can bring focus, and confirm to himself that the door is locked.
Two female friends both have issues with the iron.
Even though the iron has a light to show if it's on, both of these friends have to, like me, unplug  the thing before they can get enough peace of mind to leave the house.
Of course, the obvious solution to that is to stop ironing your clothes and walk around like a badly dressed scarecrow, but that only seems to work for males.
One of the above also has an issue with candles, she does like the soft gentle light of the candle at night, but that peace is transferred to stress the next morning when she has to frantically check they're all out before she can even get the iron check, then leave the house.
A friend of pharmacist Fleur has the "checking the door is locked" thing, and the list goes on.
It does seem to be age related.
No one I've met under forty has MCD to debilitating levels.
So if you have this, the only thing I can suggest is try the meditation, any meditation.
With the ongoing lowering of general levels of anxiety that meditation brings, it may help you check less and live more.

"He certainly wasn't gruntled about it."

And finally, since we mentioned dressing, well and badly above, it reminds me of another topic that came up during the past week: words that only have the negative variant still extant.
Probably the most famous occurrence of these, for those of a literary bent, is in P.G. Wodehouse.
One evening Bertie is saying:
"I could tell by the soupy way Jeeves said 'well, sir', that he wasn't happy about this. I'm not sure if I would go so far to say he was disgruntled, but he certainly wasn't gruntled about it."
Like most I thought 'gruntled' wasn't a word, and this was just an amusing word play by Wodehouse, however to my considerable surprise I discovered that 'gruntled' IS a word.
It's a diminutive of grunt.

As for dressing, we commonly hear of people who are 'dishevelled', but rarely do we see a guy in a three-piece suit described as 'shevelled'.
And so below, with thanks to Carl R Brush, is a list of words in which only the negative is still with us.

Reckless (Ever done something “reck?”)

Feckless (Who ever acts “Feckly”?)

Inept (I have read of a person having some ept, but not on a daily basis.)

Inebriated (Why do we say “sober” instead of “ebriated”?)
insipid inevitable

ruthless - ruth is a word, but most commonly known to scholars of older English. It exists most commonly these days as a female name.
unkempt - likewise 'kempt' has rare usage, mostly to do with gardens, as in a well-kempt lawn.

uncouth -yes, you can say someone is 'couth'.

Simon Marnie on the Weekend show on ABC local has started using the word 'coolth', which also belongs here as we commonly use the word 'warmth', yet 'coolth', seems to have never existed.

Also, 'nonplussed', a witty female wordsmith on the radio said "my husband was plussed".

So there you go another load of fertilizer from me, see you next week for another go round of garbage.
I'll finish with some shots of the Bay, hoping that it inspires more of you to come visit.