Monday, November 16, 2015

On Religion

I have some thoughts about religion. They are just thoughts, and I believe they are reasonably good thoughts, or I would not be writing them down. But they are still just thoughts, and I don't want them to be attacks, or even defences - if they are not expressed as well as I hope, I apologise in advance. It's not easy to find the right words, it's not easy to be the person one wishes to be at the best of times - anyone who says otherwise is lying to you. But the reason I write these thoughts down is not to campaign or argue or call anyone or anything out - I'm writing them down because it's frustrating to keep them inside, and I'm writing them down because it makes it clearer to me what they actually are.

I am not a fan of religions. I don't think there's any good reason to believe their stories, and I don't often think very kindly of their impact on the real world.

But that real world is one I live in, and it's a world full of religion, and full of religious people, and I know a lot of those religious people, and no matter how nuts I might think their various religions are, it'd be incredibly foolish of me to place their religious beliefs ahead of who they are, what they do, the imprint they leave on the world.

And the fact is mostly they're good, and they're kind, and even when they're not all that good or kind they're usually just ordinary blundering humans like we all are. And they surely think my total lack of belief in any gods is as mad or madder than I think their beliefs are.

So I can't follow any line of argument that says the way to judge a person's character is to ask them which holy book they invest their faith in. Even if there are bits of that holy book that horrify you.

But what I do believe, and I've gradually come to this belief over a lifetime of observation, is that a person's religion is not a club they join, it's a belief - or an identity - they carry inside themselves, and every religious person is committed to their own, often intensely personal, version of the faith.

In other words, you can never assume that you know what someone believes because they give their religion the same name as someone else whose beliefs you've looked into.

You could ask Fred Nile what a Christian is, and listen to all he has to say, and accept that what he told you was true, and the next time you met someone who called himself a Christian you would be almost totally wrong about what he believed.

Sometimes that argument is put in terms of "who's the REAL Christian?" Is Fred Nile the true Christian, or was Pastor Fred Phelps, or is Father Bob McGuire, Mother Teresa, Ann Coulter, Tim Costello, Kanye West?

Who among them follows the true Christianity?

Maybe they all do. We speak of "extremists", "militants" and "moderates", as if everyone under the same religious label is following the same religion, and the only difference between them is how strong their belief is.

But what if that's not the difference? What if the difference is that they're not members of the same religion in the first place? What if Fred Nile and Father Bob McGuire are both passionate, devout, committed Christians, but they are devout in two different faiths that happen to share a name?

This is actually not that difficult for we westerners to grasp, because we're quite used to thinking of Christianity in terms of different denominations. We don't expect a Catholic to think the same way as a Methodist, or an Anglican to think the same way as a Baptist, on everything, because we already have different names for the different sects. So it's not a huge leap to think of different Christians as belonging to different religions, or to put it another way, to different "versions" of religion.

Here in the west we don't have that same understanding of Islam: we're used to thinking of it as a monolith, and we tend to swallow the message that Islam is a religion with strict uniformity of belief.

And so when "extremists" tell us that they are being good Muslims by killing, and "moderates" tell us that Islam is a religion of peace, we who are not Muslims feel we need to make a choice of who to believe. So we see a passage from the Koran that seems to suggest killing is justified and we say aha! Islam must be a religion of violence. Then we see another passage from the Koran that seems to suggest killing is forbidden, and we say aha! Islam must be a religion of peace.

We get nowhere, because the reality is: Islam isn't A religion at all; Islam, like Christianity, is a whole bunch of religions, and some of them are so far apart from each other that they're barely even cousins.

I know Muslims. You probably do too. I know for a fact they don't belong to a religion that endorses terror and murder - I'm sure I would have noticed if they were going around doing that sort of thing.

And when I see people doing horrific things and claiming their religion endorses it, yes, I believe them. To think that the violence of the world is due only to religion would be absurd: to think religion is not involved at all would be just as absurd.

So who's the true Muslim?

Frankly, how should I know? I don't believe in their god, so I'm hardly in a position to opine on who he's smiling on. And it doesn't much matter to me.

But more importantly, I don't believe they're worshipping the same god at all. You can give your god the same name as someone else's god, and you can give the name of the religion based on that god the same name as someone else's religion, but saying that a god who wants you to slaughter and destroy is also a god who wants you to commit your life to love and generosity is, to my mind, ridiculous.

If I said, I believe in the god Bob, who wants me to shoot everyone I see in the face; and you said, I believe in the god Alf, who wants me to help the poor and extend the hand of friendship to all people; it's fairly obvious we are talking about two TOTALLY different gods.

Why would we think any different, just because the two gods had the same name?

This is why I'm troubled by talk of "moderates" and "extremists". It seems easy to alienate a person by telling them their faith is "moderate", because they believe in peace and acceptance. I know Muslims whose commitment to Islam is fierce and full-blooded, and completely compatible with a love of diversity, equality and freedom.

In short, the "moderates" do not differ from the "extremists" by the intensity of their belief, but by the very nature of their faith. And we who are not religious do not get anywhere useful by seeing Islam as a single religion in which believers are distinguished by greater or lesser commitment.

Instead, it's worth recognising that Islam, the religion practised by the Muslims we know and and love and live among and value as friends and colleagues, quite simply is not the same thing as Islam, the religion practised by the Muslims who gun down innocents and blow themselves up and behead their enemies.

You'll often see the repetition of a line that goes something like, "ISIS represents all Muslims the way the Westboro Baptist Church represents all Christians". It's true, but not because there is a neat line we can draw between "true" Christians and Muslims, and "false" Christians and Muslims. It's simply because knowing whose religion shares the name of another's tells us nothing about what their beliefs are, and how their beliefs influence their behaviour.

That a person's religion could be so hateful and diseased that it would inspire murder is a horrible thing. But I can tell if a religion is hateful by the way the person who follows it behaves. Likewise, if you want to know what any person's faith is like, don't ask them what it's called: get to know them - what they believe will be illuminated by the person they are.

In summary: I remain no fan of religions. I am saddened by the horrors done in their names. But if we allow ourselves to be fooled into thinking good people are not good people, just because of what their religion is called, rather than what their religion IS, we can only worsen divisions, and forget who our friends are.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Hard Questions

US Presidential candidate and political WAGAB (Wives And Girlfriends And Brothers) Jeb Bush - seen here informing the press of the ideal size for a sandwich - has made headlines with a bold claim.

'Hell yeah I would!' the up-and-coming Bush replied to the question of whether he would, given the chance, go back in time and kill Baby Hitler (by which the interviewer meant, Hitler when he was a baby, as opposed to an infant version of Hitler who ruled a nation of babies with an iron fist).

The reason this is an important question is simply that presidential elections are, as former president Michael Douglas said, entirely about character. And when you're trying to determine a man's character, it's vital to know just how committed he is to his convictions. It's all very easy to SAY that you're anti-Nazis, but are you willing to LIVE that principle? Do you have the integrity to follow through, to actually jump in that Delorean, head back to the late 1800s, and blow that infant's brains out? And if you don't, why the HELL should anyone vote for you?

But let's not pretend that killing baby Hitler is all you need from an aspiring commander-in-chief. There are plenty of other complex moral dilemmas that a president needs to be ready to tackle. Here are some other questions the American press might want to throw at the hopefuls.

1. Would you travel back in time and abort Foetus Hitler?

2. Would you travel back in time and trap Sperm Hitler in a condom?

3. Would you travel back in time and give Hitler's dad a vasectomy?

4. Would you travel back in time and make Hitler's mum fall in love with you instead of Hitler's dad, even knowing that it was possible your son would turn out to be Hitler anyway?

5. Would you travel back in time and kill baby Stalin?

6. Would you travel back in time and kill adult Stalin?

7. What if he had a gun?

8. Would you travel back in time and prevent the evolution of mammals, thus saving the world from every bad person ever?

9. Would you travel back in time and kill Martin Scorsese? Why/why not?

10. Would you travel back in time, if you knew that a side-effect of time travel was that you would become incapable of killing babies?

11. Would you shoot Saddam Hussein in the head, even though he's already dead?

12. Would you shoot Bashar Al-Assad in the head, if you knew the bullet would pass through his head and hit the Pope?

13. Would you go back in time to kill the baby Pope?

14. Would you go back in time to kill yourself to prevent yourself going back in time to kill the baby Pope?

15. Would you go back in time to kill Vincent van Gogh, if you suspected he was doing some pretty bad stuff when he wasn't busy painting?

16. Would you go back in time to kill Bill Cosby?

17. Would you go back in time to destroy the tapes of Bill Cosby's instrumental jazz-funk album, Badfoot Brown and the Bunions Bradford Funeral Marching Band?

18. Would you go back in time to kill baby Kyle Sandilands?

19. Don't you think Kyle Sandilands looks a bit like a giant baby anyway?

20. Would you feel bad if you went back in time and killed baby Kyle Sandilands and then found out you hadn't gone back in time at all and you'd just killed adult Kyle Sandilands because you thought he was a giant baby?

21. Would you go back in time and kill the giant baby from Honey I Blew Up The Kid?

22. Would you go back in time and kill the guy who invented hunger?

23. Would you go back in time and kill climate change?

24. Would you go back in time and kill Ronald McDonald?

25. Would you go back in time to kill all the other presidental candidates as babies? If not why not?

26. Would you go back in time to kill all the other presidential candidates as five-year-olds who are in the middle of singing the Alphabet?

27. Would you go back in time to kill five-year-old Hitler in the middle of singing the Alphabet, bearing in mind he'd be singing it in German?

28. Would you go back in time to kill baby Pol Pot?

29. Would you go back in time to kill baby Vlad the Impaler?

30. Would you go back in time to kill baby Ike Turner?

31. If there was a train speeding toward a fork in the track, and on one track there is your mother, and on the other track is a schoolbus full of children you've never met, and you can pull a lever to switch the train onto the other track, but if you don't pull the lever the train hits your mother, but your mother is currently pregnant with baby Hitler, but she is seriously considering an abortion, but she also has strong Catholic beliefs that still exert a pull on her so it's not certain, but on the other hand the schoolbus contains Baby Gandhi, but you just read a biography of Gandhi that paints him in a less flattering light, BUT also you have no arms, so to pull the lever you have to travel back in time and save yourself from the train accident that took your arms off, but doing that would cause the train to hit a pram containing baby Nelson Mandela, which member of your workplace would you eat first on a lifeboat?

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


Ideally, suicide would not be so frequent a topic of my thoughts. It's an exhausting thing to think about: wondering whether you should, wondering what would happen if you did, and much, much worse - wondering why your friends have.

The fact that I am unlikely to go more than a few days without reflecting deeply on the logistics and advisability of self-destruction is something I've come to accept as part of the normal round. Much of my thinking is quite detached in nature: I'm just thinking about suicide, not thinking ABOUT suicide...if you get me.

And even on those occasions when I'm actually considering it, I don't think I ever will. Partly this is cowardice. Partly it's FOMO - I just want to see what's going to happen. Partly it's a sort of fear of hurting my family that in my more optimistic moments I could call selflessness.

Because of course suicide is terribly selfish. This is well-known. Putting your own petty desire for oblivion ahead of the happiness of your loved ones? Ugh, who wants to be THAT guy?

It's true - killing yourself is not a nice thing to do to those people who don't want you to kill yourself. At my very very lowest, it may have been my ability to stay dimly aware of that fact that saved me - convinced as I have been that my family would be better off without me, the knowledge that at least in the short term they'd be pretty upset has held me back.

Because I don't want to be seen as selfish. Which is, in itself, a selfish reason to not do something, but if my particular kind of selfishness happens to produce the same outcome as genuine selflessness, I guess that's a win.

Of course, when I'm dead I won't know whether people are calling me selfish or not, so I'm still not sure why it matters to me. Maybe I subconsciously fear the existence of an afterlife.

But even if I am quite the selfish fellow, at least I am not as selfish as people who tell me not to commit suicide. Because God, THOSE people...

Why do you want me to stay alive? Because you'd miss me? You'd be sad? Perhaps you could stop thinking about yourself for a minute.

Maybe you could think about this: I suffer depression and anxiety - days when absolutely everything seems pointless, when I can't see any glimmer of hope anywhere and I'm positive that everything I do fails and everyone I care about hates me. Nights when an invisible boulder sits on my chest, an invisible rope tightens around my neck and an invisible adviser whispers to me that I'm going to die right here and right now.

Other times...things are OK. Some days I'm happy. Some days I can see the good things I have and the good things I do. Some days I can believe I have friends, even. Some nights I go to bed smiling and without a breathless fight or flight response urging me to throw myself onto the rocks.

But every day and night I get through feeling fine, I know the next subterranean low and the next blind panic is that little bit closer. One of the most important things to remember when you're suffering is that it will pass, things will get better. But any honest appraisal of reality will illustrate that it works just as well in reverse: when I'm feeling good, "this too will pass".

So if I've got to live my life like this, knowing I'm going to be pummelled by this over and over and over again, for no good reason, for however many decades I've got selfish are you to tell me I have to endure?

It's not like an assessment of the world I live in gives me much external cause to rejoice in the value of life. This is a stupid, cruel, vicious world in which suffering is the rule and joy is the exception, and I'm unable either to ignore the nightmare that is humanity, or to do anything to improve it. There is murder and torture and tragedy filling the world to the brim every day, and it seems a hell of a lot more delusional to think there's cause for hope than to abandon it.

So, if a desire to leave this world is understandable...and if I, personally, spend most of my life either in pain or in the anticipation of pain...where does anyone get the idea that suicide is not a reasonable response to circumstances?

To quit my life now would be selfish. To tell me that I mustn't is surely at least AS selfish.

Not that I will. I'm still a coward, after all.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

What's the point?

Why don't you blog more often, Ben?

It's a good question: is it because I'm too busy? Is it because I'm too lazy? Is it because I forgot my password?'s just because I get discouraged when I see other bloggers hit heights of analysis that I know I can't reach.

The fact is that when I blog, I want to reach for the stars. I want to climb to the top of the ladder. As a blogger I aspire to absolute excellence, and I can't help but wonder, what's the point, when I see a blog post like this one by Tim Blair.

Yes, that post, titled "Transitioning" (and the perfection of that title alone is enough to make this a great example to show students in a How to Blog Better class) is so good, so pithy, wise and comprehensive in its summary of contemporary societal challenges and the drawing together of the many disparate threads of community concern and political consciousness, that there just seems very little point in a neophyte blogger like me even trying to improve his work - no matter how good I get, I'll never be "Transitioning by Tim Blair good". To illustrate my point, I quote:

Clementine Ford appears to be growing a moustache.
 And that says it all, really, doesn't it?

Like Alexander, I weep - not because there are no more worlds to conquer, but because that which I sought to conquer belongs to another. Time, perhaps, to give up blogging and simply expend my energies on paying homage to the man who clearly is, was and will be ever more my master: Tim "Women With Moustaches" Blair.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Diary of an ABC Producer

(Note: This was originally published on Junkee: I'm putting it up here after Junkee saw fit to remove it from their site)

25th June, 2015
9am: Arrive at work. All staff gather in onsite mosque for daily Pledge of Allegiance. Reaffirming our commitment to the Prophet always energises one for the day ahead.
9.15am: Go through emails. Several from concerned Australians asking polite and reasonable questions about ensuring their tax dollars are spent efficiently and wisely. Forward these to all staff with obscene commentary. Look up senders’ personal details and pass on to ABC’s Punishment Division. Also one email from Malcolm Turnbull. Photoshop his head onto nude model, send to all staff.
10am: Pray to Allah for the strength to smite the infidels no matter where I may find them and no matter how much they might want to keep Australians safe.
10.30am: Bump into Tony Jones in corridor. Have a good laugh about the last meeting of our cell. Help him carry some bags of fertiliser to his car.
11am: Pray to Allah for the strength to not let Gerard Henderson have his own show.
11.30am: We have received a memo from managing director Mark Scott, reads as follows:
As-salamu alaykum,
All ABC staff are reminded that tomorrow morning is the Weakening Borders Workshop in the larger tearoom. Attendance is voluntary, but attending is likely to enhance all employees’ ability to translate their broadcasting skills into real results in making the borders of our country more porous.
It has also come to my attention that some employees have been coming to work without their flags. Please be notified that it is a condition of employment with the national broadcaster that while on the premises we all wear ISIS flags, or ISIS-branded caps or bandannas, as a measure of solidarity and our commitment to the principle of public broadcasting.
Finally, congratulations to all involved with this week’s episode of Q&A, which brought us closer than ever to our target of 50 percent of safe seats being occupied by jihadists by 2021. Well done everyone.
Mark Scott, Managing Director

12pm: Pray to Allah for the strength to write unfair questions for Leigh Sales to ask Joe Hockey.
12.30pm: Production meeting for Lateline. Brainstorm ways in which we can more creatively obscure good news about the government’s agenda for repairing the budget.
1.15pm: Long phone call with Bill Shorten. He pitches new proposal for inserting subliminal socialist propaganda into Giggle and Hoot. I’m excited about the idea, tell him I’ll lobby hard for its inclusion. The same technique worked well on Play School – 60 percent of Play School viewers now become lesbians. Bill tells me he has new orders from Damascus – the imams wish us to repeat Please Like Me more often to sap the country’s moral fibre. We agreed to meet early next week to discuss plans for new Chaser series Pissing On Anzac Graves, as devised at last ALP Conference.
2pm: Pray to Allah for the strength to promote unnatural lifestyles to young people.
2.30pm: An awkward meeting. I had Wil Anderson come in to go over the outline for episode one of our new reality show Jihad Idol. We were pondering whether the beheading skills segment would work better with mannequins or watermelons, but we kept getting interrupted by the noise from next door. Grand Mufti Scott was in the next office tearing strips off Jon Faine – apparently Jon conducted an entire interview with Julie Bishop this morning without mentioning her internalised misogyny. Rookie mistake – it’s not like Jon doesn’t know the ABC Charter.
3pm: Rehearsals with Zaky Mallah for his upcoming guest stint hosting The Weekly. He’s a natural on camera, but a little concerned that his approach is a little too low-key. Advised him to watch some tapes of Charlie Pickering to learn how to really sell the idea of global caliphate with conviction.
4pm: Pray to Allah for the strength to wear sandals at all times.
4.15pm: Finish editing fake Scott Morrison sex tape.
4.30pm: Call ISIS headquarters to find out how many operatives entered the country as a direct result of this week’s Four Corners. Eight hundred! A good week! I ask if they need me to find them all jobs, but they’ve already started work at Crikey.
5pm: Pack up, although the day’s not over yet. When I get home will be doing prep for tomorrow’s first script meeting for new sitcom, At Home With Tony. Production team still unsure whether it should be kittens or bunnies whose necks Tony breaks in opening scene. Planning to suggest a compromise of ducklings. Also have to nut out question of whether Tony should wear Speedos in every scene, or alternate with SS uniform. I’m excited about the project – it looks like a winner, Insha’Allah.

10.30pm: Bed. Thank Allah for another day being on the Right Side.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Masterchef Recap: Small Things Amuse Small Minds

"It's important for me to try to do as well as I can," says Matthew, finally having grasped the concept of competition. He is at Masterchef headquarters seeking immunity with Jessica and Jacqui. Shannon says today is the day an immunity pin is given away, but we have little evidence for the proposition that Shannon knows anything about anything.

Round One of the immunity challenge is about plating up, that delicate art that doesn't actually matter to anyone. Jessica considers plating up a strength, or in other words, she considers making food taste good a weakness.

"We're looking for a plate of food that we can eat with our eyes," says George, and knowing his table manners, he probably means it literally. The contestants only have four minutes, which is an incredibly short amount of time to put things on a plate.

Jessica is getting flustered because her beef is on the wrong side of the plate, proof of the terrible toll that pressure and a background in feng shui can take on the mind. With only a few seconds left, all three contestants are striving as hard as they can to put things on a plate. Disaster strikes Jacqui, who has put some things on a plate, but failed to put some other things on a plate. Shame rains upon her family like napalm.

The four minutes are up. George shows the contestants how he would have plated up. Rose finds this incredibly thrilling, but then she would. After this astonishingly dull interlude, which proves that yes indeed, George is capable of putting things on plates, the judges tell Jacqui that her plating is terrible and she should feel very bad about herself. Matthew's plating is outstanding, but he's forgotten the crispy onions, like some kind of idiot. The tension is unbearable: will Matthew do the honourable thing and hurl himself off a bridge, rather than letting his family live as pariahs forever more?

Jessica wins the challenge, despite choosing the wrong plate, because the non-existent sin of wrong plate choice is less egregious than the non-existent sin of non-onion placement. And so she will cook off for immunity against...

Nick Holloway!

Yes! THE Nick Holloway! The Nick Holloway who made his name as a cooker of food for people, and who has made numerous meals that have been eaten in various places. Nick Holloway is one of those legendary chefs who are so famous that they actually pass through the barrier of fame and return to complete obscurity, which is why you've never heard of him.

Jessica must choose between small ingredients - quail eggs, baby carrots, human zygotes and so forth - or big ingredients, like ostrich eggs, rib-eye steak, and Matt Preston. Jessica chooses the small table, because her forte is leaving people unsatisfied.

Up on the balcony, all the female spectators are giggling coquettishly at Nick's witty quips and incongruously-coloured beard. Nick is definitely the most gusset-dampening guest chef of the season so far, and likely to remain so till Stephanie Alexander shows up.

Meanwhile Jessica is deconstructing her quail as an act of violence against notions of decency.

Nick is teaching the balcony about pairing up proteins with the things they would eat. Rose is learning a lot, but to be honest it seems a bit advanced for her. Nick is cooking his grapes on a spectrum, to demonstrate the life-cycle of a grape. He is educational as well as sexy.

Rose continues to comment on proceedings as if we don't know exactly what she's like.

Jessica is getting flustered, and with good reason - she's burnt her carrots, and the look of disappointment in Shannon's eyes could make strong men weep. She can get more carrots, but there are no more mandarins, and as any gourmand knows, a baby carrot without mandarin juice might as well be a decomposing mouse head. Luckily, Nick pops around in an act of classic self-sabotage and gives Jessica one of his mandarins. "This is what cooking is all about," he says, incorrectly.

Time is up. Jessica is happy. Nick knows he's put his heart and soul, and bits of his beard, into the dish.

The judges eat. Jessica's dish is delicious, despite having carrots and pumpkin in it. There is a certain amount of disagreement between Matt and his tiny friends, though - Mr Preston agrees it's a delicious dish, but believes it could theoretically have been better, had it not been for the Fall of Man.

Nick's dish comes out. Gary suggests it might be Jessica's dish, because producers have noticed that we all know the judges always know whose dish they're tasting. Nick's dish looks like a small basket of weeds, but apparently it tastes excellent - he's got the happy knack of not overpowering the quail, which is difficult when you consider how small and feeble quails are.

"Who's taken those teeny tiny ingredients to make the biggest impression?" says Gary, in a tribute to the skills of the Masterchef writing staff. He seems to think it was Jessica - he's given her ten out of ten, which I find difficult to believe. George scores her nine, which probably would've sounded more impressive if Gary hadn't already given her ten - he sounds kind of mean now. Matt also gives her nine out of ten - Jessica looks more and more like the Gough Whitlam of Masterchef. Not physically.

Twenty-eight out of thirty. Is it enough to win? Has Nick's focus on arousing the women on the balcony cost him?

No! Amazingly, Gary also gives Nick ten out of ten! Gary is so drunk! George gives him a nine. OH EM GEE it is so close! Does meaningless semi-competitive cooking get more tense? Matt gives Nick...

Ten! Oh dear Jessica has lost! It almost seems unfair given Nick doesn't really care one way or another, but on the other hand seeing Jessica's disappointment is extremely entertaining. So the real us.

Tomorrow: Italians!

Nick and Jessica locked in mortal combat

Monday, June 8, 2015

Masterchef Recap: Copping A Veal

Previously, on Masterchef Australia...

Ashleigh screwed over "two of her closest friends", pitching her, Anna and Billie into a pressure test which the narrator tells us will "push them right to the edge", thus disappointingly spoiling the episode by revealing that they won't be going over the edge.

As tonight's episode begins, Ashleigh is stricken with overwhelming guilt, her voice cracking with emotion, or possibly just cracking with whatever it is that makes her voice crack every time she speaks.

"We didn't think we'd see you three standing together in an elimination," says Gary, who has short term memory loss and so doesn't remember how they were put into this elimination just yesterday.

"You're not competing against the person next to you," says George, "you're competing to win this competition." Presumably Ten is running a phone-in contest to see who can correctly identify what this means. It's amazing that seven seasons in, Masterchef is still pushing itself to reach new heights of incomprehensibility.

We could spend hours pondering the question of how one competes to win a competition without competing against the other competitors in the competition, but no time, we have to move on to a man with a beard called Marcus Wareing who, in theory, we have heard of. He demands the three losers cook veal - "My Veal", he adds portentously, implying it was cut from his own body. The dish has all kinds of disgusting bits in it, so it's real haute cuisine.

The dish has three types of veal in it, but Billie is starting with the loin - I hear that's always the way with her. The key with cutting up veal is to cut off the bits you don't want and keep the bits you do want. Fascinating.

Meanwhile Ashleigh is struggling to butcher her meat, because she's unfortunately been given a piece of veal that isn't an ice-cream cake, so she's way out of her depth.

Marcus suggests they all step up the pace, in an unnecessarily rude way. Billie is already onto her kidney. "Removing the fat from the kidney is what cooking is all about!" Billie exclaims, because she is a psychopath. "What cooking is all about" for Billie also apparently involves "getting your hands dirty", which should raise some red flags for the state health inspector.

After a quick ad break featuring a family who contract diarrhoea while living in a disastrously all-white house, Anna explains the premise of the pressure test, and then realises she's been wasting her time banging away at the kidney fat when she only needed a small amount to sous vide or something I don't know all the stuff about kidneys and fat and sous vide is very boring and really not worth paying much attention to - it's just cooking crap. Slightly more interesting is a montage wherein Anna reveals that she is a student who likes to cook, information that really helps our understanding of why she goes around cooking all the time.

Marcus thinks Billie is doing the best of the three cooks, probably because he's been listening to the commentary.

Ashleigh has struggle with her confidence for as long as she can remember, a revelation which is illustrated by a photograph of her patting a kangaroo. Cooking has made her more confident, but her confidence has really been shaken today by the shock news that some foods aren't dessert.

"You've got this Anna," calls a liar from the balcony.

Billie is moving on to the tuile, which is a thin wafer placed on dishes to let the diner know that you're pretentious enough to add pointless garbage all over the plate.

Meanwhile Ashleigh is suffering a nervous breakdown, tipping a gallon of dishwater into a pot of pumpkin soup for reasons unknown. She's crying all over her tuile and getting them soggy. She's also crying in her to-camera pieces, so probably she's the one who loses.

"You're looking good, Ash!" calls a voice from the balcony, probably the voice of the liar from earlier. "You've got this, Ash!" several others shout, in cruelly satirical fashion. "You can do this," Marcus chimes in, joining the taunting. "All these people are rooting for you," he adds, which if true is really unfair on Billie and Anna, especially considering it's Ashleigh's fault they're here in the first place.

Anna has problems of her own though: she's overwhelmed by the size of her bench. Not Masterchef material surely.

Billie is flying - she's got her loin out of the brine and can therefore concentrate on cooking.

This is a good time to note that a veal kidney is a VERY unpleasant looking object.

Ashleigh is feeling slightly better because "it's nearly over" - suicidal ideation is a common consequence of Masterchef participation. "It's like she's a new person," Georgia says, obliquely hinting at substance abuse. Meanwhile Amy keeps asking Anna questions, having never heard the aphorism, "when on the Masterchef balcony, shut up you wanker". Sara is delivering culinary lectures as if she's some kind of expert, it's very distasteful.

With fifteen minutes to go, Anna doesn't have time to put her kidney in the oven, which is a common problem for modern women who try to "have it all". In contrast, Billie seems to have everything under control, so either Masterchef is playing a big joke on us, or it's going to be between Anna's poor time management and Ashleigh's disintegrating mind for the elimination.

Anna's kidney is completely undercooked. She can't serve raw kidney, but on the other hand she shouldn't serve kidney at all - nobody should. So maybe this challenge was like a trick question, where the winner is the person who realises there shouldn't be any kidney in it.

Anna has burnt her crackling due to focusing too much on her raw kidney. Ironic, in a way. In another way, not ironic at all.

Time is nearly up and Billie is forced to plate up without a glaze, like some kind of prehistoric cave beast. Meanwhile Ashleigh's hope has disappeared, but she can take heart from the fact Anna is a complete mess.

Ashleigh has taken her onions too far. They refuse to talk to her. Anna has left it too late to do her nectarines properly. This is a really messed-up dish, isn't it.

Time is up. Anna and Ashleigh both sob over how terrible they are at cooking gross stuff. Billie smiles serenely over how great she is.

In the judging room, Marcus says all three women have been really courageous, demonstrating his low standards. Billie serves her veal first, and cries for no particular reason. Especially when it turns out her dish is delicious - the judges haven't tasted the other two but you can tell they already think they're crap.

"Is that one of the hardest days you've ever had?" George asks Anna. Objection! Leading the witness. He questions Anna about her education and about why she'd cry over a stupid plate of food. It's because food is the only thing that makes her happy. This sounds like some kind of disorder, but the judges seem to think it's quite a good thing.

Anna's dish doesn't look like Marcus's, but it doesn't disrespect it either, according to George, who doesn't know how to do words.

"Do you still doubt yourself?" Matt asks Ashleigh, just before illustrating why she is right to. Marcus has never seen a cook dig as deep as Ashleigh did today, probably because all the cooks he work with are capable of staying calm under pressure and are competent enough to not need to "dig deep" to create something edible.

Judging time. "Masterchef is a unique and liberating experience," says Gary, which is a bit weird. He may have been drinking. He talks for a while about limits and pushing and dreams and stuff, basically trying his best to get all three women to cry some more.

Unsurprisingly, the best dish of the day is the one cooked by Billie, the one which was good. The other two dishes, which were not good, are not dish of the day. But which was the Anti-Dish, the Dish of the Beast?

In a complete reversal from George's earlier assertion that they weren't competing against each other, someone now has to be eliminated. Anna failed to produce as many net litres of tears as Ashleigh, so she has to leave. She cries heavily, but it's a bit late now - she should have cried in the kitchen.

As Anna leaves, all the other contestants also cry, because as always they are under the impression that losing contestants are murdered outside the kitchen. On the contrary though, Anna is, we are told, concentrating on her passion for food writing, and "staging pop-up dining events"; which could be a good thing, or could just mean she's breaking into people's houses and throwing stew on them.

Tomorrow: time!

Anna reacts emotionally to her elimination