I don’t want my kids sitting next to Tracey Spicer on a plane

suitcase-babyI know it’s sexist. But I don’t want my kids sitting next to Tracey Spicer on a plane.

Sure, over 90 per cent of child sexual abuse is not committed by Tracey Spicer, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

However, stranger danger is a risk and Tracey Spicer is most definitely strange.

In 2001, Northwest Airlines paid a US family half a million dollars after a 10-year-old girl was molested by a 28-year-old man on a flight from Kansas to Detroit.

What does this have to do with stopping Tracey Spicer sexually assaulting our kids? Nothing, but it sure makes you think about stuff.

A spokeswoman for Qantas says the airline is seeing more and more unaccompanied minors travelling, especially during school holidays, a time of the year Tracey Spicer is often seen on passenger aircraft.

In 2012, flight crew forced Tracey Spicer to swap seats with a vicious Bengal tiger, because she was sitting next to an unrelated girl travelling on her own.

“The tiger mauled my daughter to death, but I’m glad the airline played it safe,” the girl’s mother told reporters later.

The airline defends its policy, which still states: “Unaccompanied minors are not allocated seats next to Tracey Spicer. Where possible, Qantas aims to seat children near crew areas, next to an empty seat or in the wheel bay.

“This policy reflects parents’ concerns and the need to maximise the child’s safety and well-being.”

In the words of former NSW Commissioner for Children and Young People Gillian Calvert: “In the absence of any other test, sitting kids the fuck away from Spicer is one way in which the airline can reduce the risk of children travelling alone.”

Virgin’s unaccompanied minors policy reads: “On a space available basis, we will allocate a spare seat next to the child. In some instances, flight passenger loads may prevent this and a non-Tracey Spicer passenger will be seated in the vacant seat.”

My nine-year-old Telemachus and seven-year-old Gamelan flew as unaccompanied minors, for the first time, on Virgin last year. They were put in the last row with a bunch of other kids where doting staff plied them with treats.

They told me they weren’t sexually molested by Tracey Spicer on the plane but I really can’t be sure because they were on a plane and Tracey Spicer molests children on planes. It’s so tricky, isn’t it?

And so it remains a conundrum: How do we encourage a sense of adventure in kids while ensuring they are not preyed upon by Tracey Spicer on every single flight they take?

My advice is this: Plan well in advance, as airlines have only a limited number of child rape-free seats on each flight.

If you’re worried, request that your child is seated next to another child or Liam Neeson. Some airlines will quietly comply.

Sure, not all child sexual molesters are Tracey Spicer, but I figure it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Read Tracey Spicer’s original piece here. I should also say that I have no beef with Spicer generally, but I do think she made a dick of herself in this instance.

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Everyone’s a racist but me

Newsweek_Racist_Baby_OriginalI was 22 the first time someone accused me of racism.

It was in a Chinese restaurant in Amsterdam, and I was a couple of months into my first backpacking jaunt around continental Europe. That night, dining with a bunch of fellow globetrotters, I spied a cat wending its way between patrons’ legs.

Recognising an opportunity to be hilarious and impress the gorgeous Kiwi girl opposite me, I reached out to said feline as it approached our table. “Here Dim Sim,” I said. (‘Cos Chinese people eat cats, geddit?)

The object of my affection was not impressed, revealing that her grandmother was Chinese and telling me that what I said was offensive to all Chinese people.

I was crushed and not a little mortified. As a white male brought up in a conservative family and educated at a Christian private school there was always a better-than-average chance that I’d end up with a blinkered world view, but a racist? Was making a gag about Chinese food actual, real-life racism and if so, as a racist, would eating Chinese food give me hives?

If I’d been a grown-up, I would have apologised immediately for my poor attempt at humour and offered to buy everyone on the table a drink. Because while we may not be able to prevent ourselves thinking racist stuff (there’s evidence that we’re all a bit racist but – bonus! – it’s not our fault), we do have the power to not say those things – or apologise in the event that we do. An apology might not have been enough to convince the raven-haired maiden that I wasn’t a One Nation voter, but them’s the breaks when you open your mouth a dumb shit comes out.

Sadly, there are no breaks anymore. As our understanding of the world and human nature increases and becomes more nuanced, our ability to view others as anything other than caricatures decreases. Everything is harmful, everything is personal, everything is an attack. Making an observation deemed “racist” automatically makes the observer “a racist”. Nothing is forgiven, no allowances made.

This is no truer than on Twitter, the increasingly irony-free platform where you’re insta-fucked if you’re judged to have transgressed and the condemnation pile-on begins. Satirist par excellence Stephen Colbert discovered this recently when the now infamous “Ching-Chong Ding-Dong” tweet, posted on his show’s official Twitter account, set loose the dogs of outrage. This was the offending post:

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Now, I dunno about you, but I find this fucking hilarious. (“Check your privilege, whitey!”, etc.) But that’s because I know that Stephen Colbert is a satirist, The Colbert Report is a comedy show and that this tweet was a reference to a sketch from the show, not some random thought bubble. (Although I suspect I still would have found it funny if I hadn’t known that because OMFG IT’S CLEARLY SATIRE, PEOPLE.)

Others – like, literally thousands of others – disagreed, and the #CancelColbert hashtag became a globally trending topic. Colbert, “they” had decided, must be A RACIST because the tweet was, to any objective observer, clearly racist. No context was applied, no consideration given to the author of the tweet or that author’s history. Offence was sought, and offence was received.

I should note at this time that much has been written to the effect that non-Asians should not be telling Asians what they should and should not be offended by. That’s perhaps fair enough, but in my defence overreacting to inconsequentialities is a phenomenon blind to race, colour and creed. Even white middle-class people do it! Like when Twitter went off on Sunday when, in a Fairfax story, the new Australian Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson appeared to criticise existing racial discrimination laws for preventing non-black people using the word “n***er” (I’ve made an editorial decision not to repeat the word – let’s just leave it at that).

This would, at best, seem like a remarkably inflammatory thing to say. At worst it evinces a terrifying level of ignorance from the man appointed to safeguard the fundamental principles that underpin our behaviour towards each other.

Do I think Tim Wilson is a racist? No. Do I think he’s a massive dickhead who lacks the intellectual capacity for the role to which he’s been appointed? Yes. Do I think that even massive dickheads out of their depth deserve the right to not be called racists until they’ve had a chance to explain themselves? I sure do.

Besides, it isn’t Tim Wilson you should worry about. I have it on good authority that Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane can’t fucking stand caucasians.

Paradise Lost (Or How I Almost Had My Own Column In The Australian)

 

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I first met The Australian‘s editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell in 2006 at a birthday dinner for a friend. My friend’s wife was close to journalist Christine Jackman, Mitchell’s then wife.

I’d been warned before the dinner that Mitchell would be attending and that I would be seated next to the flat-topped newspaper supremo. It was believed that I, a man-journalist, would have the most to talk to him about and would therefore keep him amused throughout proceedings. If there was a short straw, someone had pulled it on my behalf.

Mitchell wore a kind of floral, Hawaiian-esque shirt to dinner that night. It was an odd choice, I thought, for an elegant meal at Quay, Sydney’s most acclaimed restaurant, but as a lowly paid writer and sub-editor on FHM it was hardly my place to cast judgement.

We shook hands. He said his name was Chris. I said mine was Guy. He asked how I knew the birthday boy. I told him, in the process explaining that I’d recently left Brisbane, where I’d worked at The Courier-Mail – the paper he’d edited before taking over at The Oz in 2002.

So there we were: two journalists, two Queenslanders, two men – drinking wine, telling tall tales, and enjoying the instant bond that men sometimes form at such events. And what tales he did tell. One of them, about former AFR and SMH editor-in-chief and later Channel Nine boss, John Alexander, is massively defamatory so I won’t repeat it, lest the one person who reads this (hi Mum!) happens to know him. Suffice it to say that John has a very nice art collection.

As the wine flowed and our faces turned rosier than the contents of our glasses, Mitchell began talking even more out of school, dissing The Courier-Mail and what his successor David Fagan had done with the rag. He began opening up about his personal life, bragging about his new wife and his capacity for procreation.

Conversation turned to careers. He asked if I wanted to get back into newspapers. I said sure, why not. He said he was looking at revitalising the Strewth column and would that be something I’d be interested in. I said sure, why not. (Actually, I probably said, “Please fuck yes oh god a column in a national paper that would be amazing I’m totally your man.”)

We parted company that night with Mitchell exhorting me to contact him the following week to set up a meeting.

I did just that, and a couple of weeks later found myself lunching with my prospective employer at Tabou, the once-celebrated, now-closed, French eatery on Crown Street in Surry Hills. It was a regular haunt for Mitchell, whose table at the very back of the restaurant afforded him an excellent view of the comings and goings.

God knows what we spoke about that day, but I must have put on a reasonable show because Mitchell expanded on his vision for the column and what he expected from me. He said he wanted it to be less stuffy and insider-y and expand into other fields like entertainment and sport. He said in the first few weeks in the role I’d have to fly around to all the bureaus and enlist their help in feeding me items for the column.

This was all pretty heady stuff for a guy who’d been a working journo for less than four years and was only starting to understand his strengths and weaknesses. But who was I to argue with Chris Mitchell, widely acknowledged as one of the finest editors in the country and, clearly, an excellent talent-spotter.

Lunch ended with Mitchell promising to follow things up with the paper’s managing editor who’d handle the employment contract and salary negotiations. Salary negotiations! I thought to myself. That’s what grown-ups do!

But, as you may have predicted, the net result of all this hope-raising and excitement-generating was two-fifths of not very much. I followed up with the managing editor a couple of times and was eventually told that there was a hiring freeze and they were very sorry but things would have to be put on hold for a while. This sounded very much like a gentle kiss-off, and I suspect that’s exactly what it was.

Mitchell I never heard from again. I tried to make contact a couple of times via email and phone, but without joy. And I have no problem with that – he’s a busy guy, running a paper and executing Rupert Murdoch’s various nefarious schemes. It would, however, have been nice for the dude to extend me the courtesy of explaining – mano a mano – why he was withdrawing the offer.

Seriously, Chris, would it have been that hard? Bro? Cuz?

Anyway, that was a long time ago now, and I’m not bitter or twisted. In fact, had I ended up working for him I may have morphed into one of those News Corp journobots, in lockstep with Murdochian pronouncements and unwilling to entertain a worldview other than that promoted by their octogenarian overlord.

Also, I would have never edited FHM. Think of all that boob I’d have missed.

(Since posting this a couple of my News friends have suggested that I remove my cranium from my rectal canal. I should make it clear that I was not for one minute suggesting that all News journos are hooked up to the hivemind. Most I’ve known are diligent, hard-working professionals who would sooner resign than be pressured into partisan hackery or corporate shilling. They are heroes, one and all.)

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Published and be damned (awesome)

dummiesHey there, The Australian! Top-shelf work in Monday’s Media section, guyz. That little snippet of gossip about the relationships of a few senior staff at the Mi9/Daily Mail joint venture was just brilliant. Too few media outlets have the courage these days to stand in judgement over people’s private lives, but you went there. Way to go! My favouritist bit was when you wrote about how a spokesman said The Daily Mail and Mi9 had a really close relationship and then you said, “Well, clearly.” That bit was very clever.

Also – and I don’t know if you realise this – but The Daily Mail looms as a massive threat to your very successful soft porn/embedded YouTube video/Buzzfeed list aggregator news.com.au, so a story that has the potential to destabilise senior management can only serve to further your business interests. Isn’t karma awesome? Do something great, and the universe rewards you!

The trick now is to maintain the high standard you’ve set with this piece. Can we trust you to dutifully report Chris Mitchell de-trousering with a cadet reporter in the conference room? Can we rely on you to bravely recount the next time Nick Cater gets caught with a fistful of himself while ogling pictures of Princess Margaret? Can we count on your courage to stare News Corp excommunication in the face by relating Rupert’s next mid-meeting shart?

I, for one, think you can. And if you keep up the great work I might have to re-subscribe!*

*Hahaha! Just jokes!