January 19, 2017

Horse 2213 - Dear Mazda, Less Sanity & More Bonkers, Please!

Dear Mazda,

Ever since the end of the RX-8, you've been faffing about by presenting show cars and concepts at motor shows that will never ever see the light of day.
Mazda North America president Masahiro Moro, made remarks last year that the reason why the Mazdaspeed and MPS badges were removed was that the company didn't want to be seen as "childish". I suspect though, that the real reason why was because after the divorce with Ford, you lost access to the Ford and Volvo parts bin and with it, access to the bonkers mental fun stuff that produces the Focus RS, Fiesta ST and the Volvo T5 Polestar. This is despite the fact that in just about every Zoom Zoom magazine which you put out, you like to harken back to that one moment when the Mazda 787B became the only Japanese car to win the Le Mans 24 Hours. It was painted in one of the most delightfully ridiculous liveries to ever appear on a race car.

I can help.

If I look around the car park in just about every shopping mall and supermarket in the land, all I see are acres and acres of silver and grey econoboxes. Hatchbacks are practical and for some hitherto unknown reason, people seem to think that SUVs are cool even though they are just jacked up station wagons. Very occasionally you will see the odd red or blue car out there because these people like a bit of fun but generally, the outlook is bleak and grey. Every motor manufacturer can build yet another boring machine but we get as much joy from them as we do from the washing machine, refrigerator or other household appliances. Is this why you don't want to be seen as "childish" because you like this world of grey?

Forget some notion about not wanting to appear childish because every motoring enthusiast in the world is really just a nine year old who happened to get taller. A motor vehicle after it is all said and done, is nothing more than a box on wheels which moves people and stuff around. Companies like Google know this and they're intent on taking away all of the fun in motoring by handing the job of driving over to computers and having cars move around autonomously. This is a future to which the nine year old child inside of me jumps up and down and stamps on the floor; yelling "no, no; no!" at.

With the exception of NSU, you Mazda are the only manufacturer to really bother with rotary engines. My little Mazda 2 kind of hints at this in its styling because it is obvious to anyone who knows, that the shape of that grille is based on the shape of the Flying Dorito at the heart of every rotary engine. You need to double down on that. Give us the wail of the Flying Dorito again and make us all jump up and down like the nine year old children that we still are. Put that rotary in a Mazda 2.

I think that the current DJ 2 is a better and funner car to drive than the ND Miata but I realise that I am in the minority. If you took the Mazda 2 sedan and turned that into a coupé by rescupltuing the roof line (and then turning it into a lift back), then you'd already have a wee little ripper that'd be more fun than ice cream on a bouncy castle. If you then put the Renesis 13B into that coupé, you'd then have the sort of bonkers mental fun stuff that you lost after the divorce with Ford. It would even be an appropriate machine upon which the Cosmo badge could be resurrected and applied to. You would have a small sports car, with the Flying Dorito under the hood, and all of us tall nine year old children would think it was Christmas morning again.

In the race to build supercars and hypercars, many manufacturers including you Mazda, appear to have forgotten that the reason why so many cars grew legends around them at all. Toyota tries to invoke memories with its 86GT but forgets that the original AE86 was a Corolla. BMW with its M division forgets that the M3 was once a nameplate on the littlest car that it made. Ford hasn't forgotten what it is and hence the reason why the Fiesta ST is still a reasonably accessible motor car. The RX-7 went from being a relatively cheap and fun car with the SA22, to being a thing which forgot what it was. The RX-8 which followed, was an entirely civilised machine; which was polished to the point of soullessness. Mazda, you are the company who dared to do the insane where nobody else would, for you to turn as grey as the rest of the cars in the parking lot is like watching the last of the flowers die at the end of the summer.

I know that other car makers want to build halo cars, such as Nissan's GTR, the truth is that you're more likely to build a legend if you make something which is accessible to the people. The Mini Cooper S, the Volkswagen Golf GTI and the Subaru Impress WRX, were all within reach of the masses. A rotary Mazda 2 coupé would be a thing which people didn't know that they wanted but I bet that if you built it, they would come; if only you would dare to be bonkers crazy mental again, Mazda.

Zoom zoom,

PS: If you do build the new Cosmo, can I have one for coming up with the idea?

January 18, 2017

Horse 2212 - The Hardest Of All Hard Brexits

Owing to historical accident, I having been specifically bred through a process of hundreds of years to live in a perpetual rainstorm, have ended up in a continent which is about three quarters of a mile away from the sun and where we hurl ourselves into the ocean at every opportunity that we get. Simultaneously, I also have the rather helpful inability to be able to swim and instead of getting sunburnt, I just spontaneously catch on fire.
Because I live in Australia, I am constantly about eleven hours ahead anything that I want to watch on television such as football, motor racing or cricket in Europe and the UK. The 'late' game in England begins at 4am in Sydney, which is about as useful as having ten thousand spoons when what you need is a torque wrench.
Thankfully, because 2016 was the UN declared International Year Of The Howling Moron, not only have the people of the United States elected the world's biggest nine year old child to be in charge of the nuclear button but the people of the United Kingdom have voted for their independence from sanity and have yelled 'Brexit!' without having any sort of plan whatsoever or having a clue what Brexit actually is.

I believe that I have the greatest plan in the history of plans and you're going to be so bigly impressed by it that you'll elect me as President Of Ideas forever. It's going to be great. You'll love it.
My idea is:

Tow Britain into the Southern Ocean.

Not quite 230 years ago, the British Government thought that it would be a jolly good to dump their criminal riff-raff on an island which they'd found seven years earlier, without nary a thought for who might be there. That didn't matter either because the legal doctrine of Terra Nullius would eventually declare that there was nobody here in the first place and you can't very well steal countries through the cunning use of flags it there are no people to steal it from, now can you? America had already decided that it had had enough and had already racked off before this.
Britain built up an empire by stealing countries from lots of different people and then as empires always do, it collapsed in a giant heap. Two world wars and one world cup doo-dah later, and Britain entered the EEC, which became the EU, and in 2016 they voted to leave the EU by taking a giant leap into the dark. Maybe it would help it Britain stole itself.

If Britain really wants to leave Europe with the hardest of hard hard Brexits, on the scale of hardness along with Martin Skrtel, then why not leave metaphorically, emotionally and geographically? Yes it will cost untold billions and trillions of pounds and is even more unfeasible than President Elect Donald Trump making Mexico pay for a wall, but in an age of post-truth and presumably post-sense, that shouldn't really be an issue.

How hard would it be to tow Britain away anyway? Ireland has already been chipped off and is floating away into the Atlantic Ocean and provided you could do the tricky twisty maneuver around the Cape Of Good Hope, then anyone with an HGV licence and the ability to rear park an artic should find it easy. Britain would have to be turned around so that Scotland was pointing towards Antarctica but the Scots are used to the cold; so that won't be a problem either.
I'm pretty sure that Britain has a bunch of leftover Trident nuclear missiles that aren't doing much. If they could all be sunk into the sea floor, then Britain would break off and we could hire a bunch of ships to start towing it away. If that doesn't work, then just give the job to Donald Trump because I'm sure that he's got the greatest people in the world who could work on the problem.

After Britain is finally in place, then London would only be about as far west as Adelaide is. The Premier League would begin in the late afternoon, county cricket matches wouldn't be at stupid o'clock anymore and we could even organise some brilliant trade zone between Australia, Britain and New Zealand. It wouldn't take twenty hours just to get there any more and if we're lucky, we'd be able to pick up BBC Radio 4 on long wave. It would be ace.
It might have the added complication that suddenly things like the six nations rugby and the European Champions League would become a bit more of a logistical nightmare but if Australia can be part of the Eurovision Song Contest without being in Europe, then surely this can be sorted out. If Dubai can build an artificial ski slope in the middle of a desert, then why can't someone come up with a flying football pitch. Just weld a bunch of A380s together; it'll be fine. You won't end up with very much of a crowd but when tickets already cost an insane amount already, then it isn't that much of a loss. Besides which, if it means that I can pop over to Knockhill or Oulton Park for the weekend to watch the British Touring Car Championship then that's a bonus.

On the upside, the IRA, or the Real IRA, or the People's Judean IRA or whatever they want to call themselves this week, would be so far away from Britain that they'd find doing their business difficult. We could give most of South Australia to what will be ex-Northern Ireland. We're not really doing anything with it and we could easily shoo away those two headed kangaroos near Woomera and Maralinga.

Yes, the colossal expense would more than likely be greater than the GDP of the entire recorded history of the world combined and the net benefit would be minimal at best, but it's still not as daft as asking the people a simple yes/no question with regards the future of their country for at least two generations; with no idea how to go about achieving the outcome that the question was asking. The whole Brexit question was like playing chess with a pigeon in that it didn't understand the rules, pooped all over the board, knocked over the pieces, declared itself the winner and then flew away.
My idea to tow Britain into the Southern Ocean purely for my benefit is selfish, daft and undeniably ridiculous but still more sane than Brexit.

January 15, 2017

Horse 2211 - What Housing Affordability Crisis?

Apparently we have a housing affordability crisis in Sydney.  Ha ha ha ha, hee hee hee hee, hoo hoo hoo hoo, ha!
Oh, tell me when it's all over. That's so funny that my sides have split and I'm going to need surgery to stitch it all back together. Housing affordability crisis in Sydney. Yeah right.

Time for a basic economics lesson.

You can survey everyone in a market and work out how much of a particular good or service that they are willing to buy at a particular price. I probably am willing to buy a Mars Bar for $1, I might even buy two if they were 75 cents a piece; I'm almost certain not to buy one at all for $2 and although you'd think I might buy three if they were only 50 cents each, I can't eat three Mars Bars at once. If you were to take a million people who are sort of like me but with slightly different preferences on quantity of price and number demanded, then you can graph all of everyone's preferences and you'll get a curve that slopes downwards from left to right.
Likewise, if you take all of the various businesses who sell similar or identical products or services, in this case Mars, Titan, Moro, Milky Way from the USA etc. then you can also graph the preferences on quantity and price supplied and that curve slopes upwards from left to right.
The intersection of where the two curves meet is where the price and quantity demanded and supplied are in agreement and when you have somewhere where a buyer and seller agree with each other, a deal is done. We call this an equilibrium point because economists like to sound more impressive than they really are and numbers makes it sound more scientific even though deals between people are often irrational and nonsensical.

It would make sense therefore if you want to radically alter the price price of a good or a service, then either you need to do something which is radically going to push either the supply or demand curves around. The demand curve for ice cream is markedly different from winter to summer as just about everyone wants ice cream at the same time in summer but nobody really does in winter. You can radically alter the supply curve for something by inventing some new technological process to make it, like automating your production line or finding a workforce who will work for a fraction of what you pay your current workers (hence the reason why cars will no longer be built in Australia beyond October) or you can radically change the kinds of suppliers to the marketplace (think Über and its entry into the taxi industry by flaunting regulations and abrogating responsibility to their workers).

So it goes with housing affordability and rental costs. The rental market is very much linked to the cost of housing and what we've seen, especially in the last few years is what I think is a deliberate shift away from the provision of public housing, specifically so that rental yields will rise and landlords will make more money.

Just like any market for goods and services, if you want to radically alter the price price of a good or a service, then either you need to do something which is radically going to push either the supply or demand curves around and in this case, the NSW State Government is intent on vastly cutting the supply with it currently brings to the market.

If we compare the figures from 2013 to 2016, then something stark is revealed:
About 214,000 people are currently living in public housing in NSW, with a further 120,000 people – or 55,000 households or applicants – on the waiting list.
- Sydney Morning Herald, 31st Jul 2013.

The majority of the 140,000 NSW residents who live in social housing – either managed by the government or by community providers – pay 25 per cent of their income in rent.
- Sydney Morning Herald, 28th Nov 2016.

The number of people living in public housing fell from 214,000 to 140,000; which is roughly a 34% decrease. In any other market, a 34% decrease in the supply of that good would be cause for serious concern and in some sensitive markets, might even result in government intervention. Public housing though appears to be different.

Where did those public housing tenants go? Well, if you are the NSW State Government, who cares? Please go away; preferably die so that we don't have to house you any more.

"The most effective way we can tackle housing affordability is to increase supply," NSW Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian has said on numerous occasions, including in a statement to Fairfax Media this week.
- Sydney Morning Herald, 5th Sep 2016.

I would agree with that statement by NSW Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian. It's just a pity that the government that she is part of, has made a concerted effort to do precisely the opposite.

The NSW government has demolished or sold about 6000 properties in the past four years, as its bill for repairs rises towards half a billion dollars.
In the same period, the number of new homes the government builds each year has more than halved,  to 440 in the past financial year.
- Sydney Morning Herald, 15th Nov 2014.

How pray tell do you increase the supply of public housing by demolishing or selling public housing? At the same time, the plan is to effectively privatise public housing in the same way that the NSW State Government seems bent of privatising everything else in this ungrateful state.

The government would fund a boost in social housing by selling estate land to private developers, who would turn sites into mixed communities with a 70:30 ratio of private residents to social housing tenants.
- Sydney Morning Herald, 5th Sep 2016.

I also ask you, how does selling estate land to private developers guarantee any increase in the supply of affordable housing? Forgive me if I'm being terribly naive here but aren't private developers mainly concerned with turning a profit? Isn't the whole point of providing public housing to give people somewhere to live because the rents are too high and at the same time, undercut the market rate of housing so that the entire market is pulled down in an effort to compete? When governments intervene in the housing market by providing housing at cheaper rates, landlords in an effort to complete will charge lower rents but if the government steps out of that market, which it appears to be doing, then the incentive for private developers and landlords to provide cheaper housing disappears.

The Premier, Mike Baird, is the Member for Manly. The Treasurer, Gladys Berejiklian, is the Member for Willoughby. The Minister for Social Housing, Brad Hazzard, is the Member for Wakehurst. To be honest, I seriously doubt if any of these people has even met anyone who lives in public housing. These people live in electorates where the average house price is all over $1.5 million and the average income is over $150,000. Their electorates do not, can not and refuse to sympathise or empathise with the housing affordability problem and that very much explains why the NSW State Government doesn't either. Why should it? The issue won't get the re-elected.

There's a housing affordability crisis? What housing affordability crisis? Housing is not the problem, it's all those stinking poor people that need to be housed that are the problem.

January 11, 2017

Horse 2210 - Pigs Do Fly, And They Make "Impulse Purchases" Of $750,000 Apartments

I don't know about you but the nearest that when it comes to most of us making an "impulse purchase", is looking at a Triple Choc Mars Bar or that can of Red Bull as they pass through the checkout at the supermarket. I don't know in what world the purchase of an $700,000 apartment "was not planned nor anticipated".
I don'y know what kind of halfwits and idiots that Sussan Ley takes the Australian public for but obviously she has such disdain for the people who ultimately pay her wages, that she takes pride in pulling the wool over people's eyes while she's trying to fleece them; then as health minister, charging them $7 in a Medicare co-payment when their eyes fall out of their head.
As it was we all collectively blew our noses when the former Treasurer Joe Hockey, had to get the then Speaker of the House of Representatives Bronwyn Bishop to explain why she spent $5000 on an 80km helicopter ride to a Liberal fundraiser. As he said, it didn't pass the "sniff test"; that is, it stunk.

The way that I see it, a lot of the problem lies in the fact that the person who is responsible for a government department is the relevant minister; when the the relevant minister is responsible to nobody in the department except for themselves, it should surprise no-one when something stinks in the state of Denmark.
As the Australian National Audit Office said eight years ago in its report on the "Administration of Parliamentarians' Entitlements by the Department of Finance and Deregulation":

26. There is considerable variation in the extent to which entitlements use is required to be for prescribed purposes.Where purposes are prescribed, the meaning of key terms such as ‘Parliamentary', ‘electorate' and ‘party' business has not been articulated such that the purpose to which relevant entitlements may be put remains open to considerable interpretation. In addition, Finance has advised ANAO that the absence of definitions means the department may have no basis on which to undertake post-payment checks of some entitlements.
- ANAO, 8th Sep 2009

If there is no real basis to make "post-payment checks of some entitlements" then when parliamentarians rort the system as clearly this was, then there are no proper checks than can be put in place.
In the case of the former speaker Bronwyn Bishop, after she had claimed $5,227.27 for a journey which would have cost about $11.14 in my little car, she absolutely refused to resign over the expenses claim, describing it as an "error of judgement". Except in the case of Bronwyn Bishop, as we have now discovered with this expenses scandal is that her judgement is as honest as a nine dollar note.

'Socialism is on the march, if you expose it, it can be defeated,' she said.
'There is still that underlining philosophical question, whereas there are people who are determined, socialists who are in this community who want to see anything to do with free enterprise attacked.'
'And anyone who has anything to do with free enterprise, attack them harder.'
- Bronwyn Bishop, via Sky News, 9th Jan 2017.

I want to know, at what point is essentially what amounts to stealing from the Australian public through the use of parliamentary entitlements ever considered "free enterprise"? Does that mean to say that Ned Kelly was engaging in "free enterprise" when he was making withdrawlas from the banks at Euroa and Jerilderie that were "not planned nor anticipated"?

The real underlining philosophical question that has not been addressed, is: is it right to steal from the good and fair people of Australia and fob it off under the guise of entitlements?

As the Australian National Audit Office said, as elected officials holding public office, Parliamentarians are expected to act with integrity in accordance with the public trust placed in them. The problem is that as we have seen repeatedly and even yesterday when it came out that four cabinet ministers billed the Australian taxpayer $7000 in COMCAR, flights and other travel allowance expenses to attend a New Year's Eve function put on by the Prime Minister. that the number of Parliamentarians who actually can act with integrity in accordance with the public trust placed in them, is zero,

If I was Grand Poobah and Lord High Everything Else, then the amount that Parliamentarians would be able to claim under any circumstances would be zero. All 226 Parliamentarians in both the House of Representatives and the Senate under employed under the terms of the Parliamentary Service Act 1999 and as such, I'd want to take all of their entitlement claims out of their hands and place in into the hands of the Department of Parliamentary Services. They could organise travel and other expenses and it should all be cheaper due to economies of scale. As an aside, I'd have all politicians travel in Economy class no matter where they were going so that they'd have to ride in the same places as the rest of the halfwits, idiots and scum that we call the Australian public. Shock, horror, they'd actually have to sit next to their constituents. Ewww.

Nobody in parliament would accept the reform that I've just suggested because it would mean that not only would they have to take their snouts out of the trough but probably both front trotters as well and that would result in a lot of squealing. Not before they'd booked a flight made an "impulse purchase" of a $750,000 apartment and charged it as a parliamentary entitlement though.

January 07, 2017

Horse 2209 - Why 2017 Should Be The Year Of Change

As much as I think that Knuckles the Echidna from the Sonic The Hedgehog video game series is cool, or that Millie who was one of the three mascots for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney was equally as pointless as Syd and the other one who was so forgettable that I can't even be bothered to look up his name, I don't think that the cultural significance of the echinda is enough by itself to warrant retaining the five cent coin.

The five cent coin which was designed by Stuart Devlin and introduced in 1966, when Australia changed from pounds, shillings and pence (£.s.d), has in my not very well paid opinion outlived its usefulness. According the the Reserve Bank of Australia's Inflation Calculator¹, where you can puch in any amount going back to Decimal Day in 1966 (or back to Federation using the Pre-Decimal Inflation Calculator²), the buying power of five cents when it was introduced would now buy 63 cents worth of stuff now.

In 1992 when the one and two cent coins were both demonetised and consigned to the dustbin of history, the two cent coin could buy roughly four cents worth of stuff today. By the end of 2017, that will have passed the five cent mark and if the two cent coin was worth getting rid of in 1992, then using that same logic the five cent coin should be abolished this year.

During the height of the mining boom in 2007, the value of the copper and nickel used to make the five cent coin, that is the value of the metal itself, was worth six and a half cents. Now that prices for metals have relaxed, although the value of the metal is now once again less than five cents it still begs the question of why the coin still exists.

The purpose of all coinage and indeed all money, be they banknotes or 4 tonne Rai stones which have been used as money in Micronesia, is the transfer of wealth in exchange for goods and services. The value of a dollar is whatever everyone decides what the value of a dollar happens to be. If the price of a kilo of carrots is two dollars, then the value of a dollar is half a kilo of carrots. The value of a dollar is only ever what it is capable of doing and the value of currency, is only ever to act as a marker of the transfer of wealth in exchange for goods and services - nothing more and nothing less. The five cent coin then, like all currency has as its only function, the facilitation of that purpose.

The problem is that, the five cent coin, on account of it being worth so little, mostly fails at its only function. The vending machines at train stations don't accept them and when people use them in the supermarket, I think that most of us resent the five cent coin's existence. I've found plenty of five cent coins left on the pavement because it simply wasn't worth people's time or effort to bother to pick them up.
That's worth considering, if it is literally not worth someone's effort to pick up a five cent coin, then that is a rational decision which has been made; this is an actual value judgement where the reward is exactly calculated. The service being exchanged is someone's time and effort for an exactly quantified amount of money and if people can't bothered to pick a five cent coin, then it should say something about the value of that unit of currency and whether or not it is worth making. If a two dollar coin was on the pavement, the reward for bothering to pick it up is forty times as much, even though the effort expended is exactly the same. In 2006, New Zealand reached the decision that its five cent coin was't worth keeping and got it of it as part of a currency revision.

I already think that the fifty, twenty, ten and five cent coins are too big for what they do. As it is, the five cent coin is based on the older £.s.d. sixpence which on that planchet size dates from 1816 when Mad King George III was still on the throne. Incidentally, the buying power of sixpence in 1816 would buy you not quite $130 worth of stuff now. Asking something to do a job for two hundred years is a bit of an ask.

Whilst I do think that the five dollar note should be replaced with a five dollar coin, simply because I find it easier to put coins through the checkout machines in supermarkets than having to fight with notes in the note acceptor, I think that the five cent coin has finally outlived its useful life. It's probably also worth adopting the same planchet sizes that New Zealand uses for its currency, or at very least using the ones for the ten, twenty and fifty cent coins.

If we do anything in 2017, let's get rid of the five cent coin. It's the change we can believe in because we don't believe that getting five cent coins in change is worth it - literally.


January 05, 2017

Horse 2208 - Operation Brown Line - The Bankstown Line

Few people I know would think that riding around on trains for a day is fun. In fact most people I know, think that riding on a train or driving to work is just a means to an end and they would prefer not to do it I suspect. Certainly, everyone who I've told about this plan thought that it was a pointless exercise and that includes my wife. I on the other hand, revel in the mundane and taking a train, even through suburbia is a thing of joy for me.
Though none would go with me, I went out anyway to visit all 33 stations on the Bankstown Line while I still had the chance before a lot of them got requisitioned by the Sydney Metro. While it still existed in its own right, I wanted to see all of them.

This then, is Operation Brown Line.

Leaving home, I had intended to take a train to Lidcombe and then to Liverpool but the cosmos had other plans. The train that I started my jaunt on was a C Set (C1) that ran through Parramatta and down the T5 Cumberland Line to Liverpool. This meant that I got to go over the Y-link at Granville; which is something which I had done before but rarely.
Moving through places like Merrylands, Guildford, Fairfield and Yennora, I reached the beginning of my intended journey and commenced Operation Brown Line.

Liverpool station looks like a mainline terminal; mostly because once upon a time it was the terminal of the Main South Line. The station with its brick walls and wooden awnings and finials, give the station an air of establishment.
The northern end of the station like so many stations that have been upgraded in recent years to allow easier access, is an unimaginative box of steel and glass that could have been plonked down nowhere in particular. The older terminal building looks like it should have old fashioned waiting rooms behind its windows but sadly, they have all been painted black and nobody can see inside anymore.

Warwick Farm Station has a melancholy sadness that is longing to be noticed. Its signs date from the late 1980s I assume, as they still show the green line running across the bottom to indicate that they are on the Southern Line. In those days, in the days before the extension of the East Hills Line through Holsworthy and on to Glenfield, Warwick Farm was exclusively on the Southern Line and wasn't on the Bankstown line at all; so there wouldn't have been a brown line on the signs for this station.

Heading north into Cabramatta, I saw no evidence of the old line to Warwick Farm Racecourse. I only have vague idea of where it would have run but they area has been redeveloped so many times since, nothing more exists.

The train left the Main Southern Line and turned eastwards after Cabramatta, headed to Carramar. I suspect that from the beginning of the great electrification of Sydney's Trains, beginning in 1926 and well into the 1950s, that the New South Wales Government Railways got a job lot on railway station building designs. This sort of building could easily appear on the Northern Line, the North Shore Line, the Illawarra Line et cetera, et cetera; et cetera! This photograph exists as the example in this set because really, so many stations on the Bankstown Line look so similar, its mind numbing.

Villawood followed from Carramar and then came Leightonfield. I must admit, I had never been on the Bankstown Line before and so, I wasn't even aware of the existence of Leightonfield. Having lived in Sydney for so long, you'd think I'd be at least familiar with all of the names on a railway map having seen it for 30 years but apparently not.
This part of the world seems surprisingly rural. It game me the same sort of feeling as when you head west out of Melbourne and through places like Tottenham and the hilariously named suburb of Sunshine. Going through here reminded me of the valley of ashes as described in F Scott Fitzgerald's ghastly book, The Great Gatsby. It is little wonder that I'd never heard of Leightonfield because in my not very well paid opinion, this railway station sign is the most interesting thing I saw in the area.

We clank on through Chester Hill and Sefton which both echo Carramar station and rather unhelpfully, the railway line has had a set of concrete sound barriers erected down both sides. Whatever scenery might have been out there was taken away but I suppose that that's progress.

Between Sefton, Birrong and Regents Park is an incredibly complex junction where the South Western Rail Freight Line passes both under and through the Bankstown Line. Even though I passed through it three times of this journey, I couldn't get a good photograph.

Birrong Station is where I changed trains, to head north up the Lidcombe branch. As this was in the morning but after the peak period and before anyone went to lunch, walking around on Birrong Station would have been like walking through a graveyard if it wasn't accompanied with a soundtrack of myriads of cicadas.

This brings me to an odd observation. Sydney Trains played an announcement immediately before we pulled into Birrong which says:
"Help us avoid delays. If you feel unwell, don’t risk staying on the train. Staff at the next station can get you help". 
Let's assume that I did feel unwell. Birrong Station as far as I can tell is unattended. Unattended by staff, unattended by passengers; unattended by reality it would seem.

The next train that I boarded headed north through Regents Park and Berala and then "terminated" in Lidcombe. I say terminated because really that's something of a misnomer because the two drivers walked down the platform and got into the cab at the other end of the train. It would leave 13 minutes later.

Before we pulled into Lidcombe station, we passed over another Y-link set of bridges. On my usual trip to work and any journey into the city, I on a train which passes over the other bridge in the distance. This bridge usually has a billboard for a highly reputable restaurant chain which is famous for its golden arches, though recently it has carried the billboard of the De Rucci furniture form and a picture of the creepiest man in the world. No really, he IS the creepiest man in the world.
Link: http://www.derucci.com.au/

Lidcombe Station is a rarity in Sydney in recent years. Many stations such as St James, St Leonards, Homebush et cetera, have all suffered a loss in the number of platforms. Wynyard Station famously does not have either a platform 1 or 2 because they were both the platforms where the trams for the north of the harbour left from. Lidcombe, has a very special trick though. The Bankstown Line as part of the clearways program, now gets its very own platform, platform 5; so that the trains don't have to cross or enter the mainline thoroughfare. It also has the Olympic Park line and that warrants...

wait for it...

Platform 0.

As far as I know, it is the only Platform 0 in Australia and it shares that weird number with other Platform 0s at King's Cross in London, Haymarket in Edinburgh and Stockport in Greater Manchester.
After spending 13 glorious minutes at Lidcombe and walking through what I think used to be an old donut shop on Platform 4, I got back onto the same train that I arrived on and headed back down the line through Berala, Regents Park and Birrong. Yagoona and Bankstown followed and the next stop was Punchbowl.

From Birrong eastwards, the Bankstown Line mainly has island platforms; with the whole line dug into a sort of ditch. That however is not the reason why I've picked out Punchbowl.

Punchbowl is an apt name for the suburb and I think typefies what modern Sydney has become. By the time I'd reached Punchbowl on this trip, I'd seen signs in English, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Thai. Turkish and Arabic. Punchbowl was firstly inhabited by Aboriginal peoples, then British and Irish, then Greek and Italians and now has people from Lebanon, Vietnam, Indonesia and I thought I could see a Colombian flag off in the distance. Punchbowl is what you get when you throw together a whole bunch of different flavours in a Punchbowl - why would you ever go back to one boring plain old flavour? Give me a million different flavours; give me spice!

There is a kind of cultural snobbery in Sydney where apart from the fact that everyone is obsessed with how much their house costs, when they want to go on holiday, they always want to go overseas. Why not just do what I did and go on holiday on the train to Sydney? There are people from everywhere and the exchange rate is always A$1 = A$1.

We push on though Wiley Park, Lakemba, Belmore (where the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs should be playing out of), Campsie, Canterbury, Hurlstone Park, Dulwich Hill where you can see the end of the tram line back to the city via Leichhardt, Marrickville and finally Sydenham.

Again, most of these stations are of that same style from the period immediately after the Second World War but Sydenham Station is on a grander scale. Sydenham Station has six platforms because it was designed to carry the Eastern Suburbs Railway Line and the Bankstown Line and the East Hills Line. I didn't even realise this but on Platform 1 there is what used to be a parcel office building from the days when mail travelled by train.
Heading north we stop at St Peters and then Erskineville.

There isn't anything particularly special about Erskineville to write about other than on Platform 4, there was a pretty funky mural that I suspect might have been designed to work under a black light.

Before we turn right towards Redfern, the Eastern Suburbs Line disappeared into the bowels of the earth as if never to be seen again. From here, Redfern, Central, Museum, St James, Circular Quay, Wynyard, Town Hall and then Central again but heading south, were all familiar to me and didn't warrant me taking any photographs.

At some point in the future Transport For NSW intends to connect the North West Metro, to the Epping to Chatswood Line, bore a series of tunnels under the harbour and then under the city through places like Barangaroo and Waterloo and then come up again at Sydenham. The days of The Bankstown Line as we know it are numbered and come to an end in 2023; to be reborn in 2024. What happens to the stations to the west of Bankstown is anyone's guess but I suspect at this stage (being a guess 7 years away from anything), that the train will run from Lidcombe to Bankstown and then Liverpool, before heading back from whence it came; it will be like the Olympic Park Line shuttle.

Operation Brown Line: the quest to visit all 33 stations on the Bankstown Line has a limited life. I'm glad I did it while I still could. Riding around on trains in the suburbs is joyful, 

January 02, 2017

Horse 2207 - Why Cats Like To Watch Football

I want you to imagine for a second that you are a small cat. As a rather smallish killing machine, you have been perfected for looking at very small scurrying things at night. Not only are you incredibly agile and when you want to be, extremely quick but you also posses very pointy claws and teeth which are perfect for catching and killing those small scurrying things at night. You also happen to possess excellent night vision, on account of your very many rod cells in your eyes. Your ability to see colour however is nil.
If this sounds like a dumb and pointless exercise, bear in mind that up until about the mid 1970s, in mots countries around the world, this was exactly how people watched television. In Australia, colour television¹ didn't arrive until March 1st 1975. Colour vision however has still not arrived if you are a small cat; you will still continue to see the world in black and white.

The reason why I make mention of this, is because I happen to live in a house with two small cats. Yet again I was reminded of their inability to see in colour by a ball that Purranna was chasing merrily around the house. I was going to take a photograph but cats can not be controlled. Getting them to pose for you, is impossible.

The ball which Purranna is unhelpfully no longer interested in in this photograph, is a tiny representation of what I think is the über example of what a football should be. Even though I think that the Adidas Finale which has been used in the UEFA Champions League since 2000 is equally as excellent and the Slazenger Challenge 4-Star which was used in the 1966 FIFA World Cup final is famous because of its amber glow, it is the 32-panel truncated icosahedron Adidas Telstar which is the most iconic football of all.

- actual 1970 World Cup ball on Ebay.

The Adidas Telstar was introduced for the 1968 European Football Championship. Supposedly the black and white panelling was chosen because the ball could be more easily seen on television but having watched video of this, I don't know if it works as well as intended².

The name is supposed to be a pun on two fronts. Firstly, the name is a portmanteau of "Television Star". Secondly, the ball with its many panels, kind of resembles the Telstar satellite which carried the first live worldwide television signal on July 23, 1962. That first live worldwide television broadcast included an address from the then US President John F Kennedy, a baseball game and a lot of rather blurry black and white night time images from across Europe³.

It is the ball that I am interested for the purposes of this post though.

Although in full colour, the ball can be seen quite well, at full speed it still doesn't really cast enough contrast when moving to make all of the black and white panels visible on television. However, if you happen to be playing with it in person, out on the pitch it is one of the best footballs to play with because you can see exactly how its behaving as it spins and curls through the air. Play the film at 0.25x speed this becomes obvious.

Imagine that you are a small cat though. A high contrast black and white object which spins and curls, is very very easy to watch. Old analogue television was sent out at 25 frames per second in PAL or 29.97 frames per second in NTSC. If you are a small cat though, you have a persistence of vision which is running as high as 100 frames per second. This is the crux of this story.
I have seen this play out many many times before. When I am watching football on the telly, sometimes Purranna will pay attention to what is on the screen; not because she cares about the drama of two teams battling it out but because her favourite team is playing - Team "Ball".

As a rather smallish killing machine, you have been perfected for looking at very small scurrying things at night but when you don't have any very small scurrying things  to look at, then a high contrast black and white object like a miniature Adidas Telstar, is surely one of the funnest things to watch.


December 16, 2016

Horse 2206 - Happy Holidays, Peter Dutton

Part A

Many of the people, regardless of their religious belief, would be there happy to sing Christmas carols, happy to enjoy the fact that we celebrate Christmas as a Christian society. It's beyond my comprehension but it has gone too far.
- Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton, as quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald, 16th Dec 2016

As a Christian, I find Immigration Minister Peter Dutton's comments disturbing on several levels.
Firstly, while I agree with the sentiment that the phrase "Happy Holidays" and that sort of ilk is trite to the point of meaninglessness, if people feel the need to erase Christ from Christmas, then as a evangelistically secular and commercial society, then that should be taken as a signal that the major religion of society has changed. Where once the language of the Bible might have been a common reference point one hundred years ago, that certainly isn't the case now.

There is more than a hint of irony in the fact that a holiday like Christmas which stole elements from various sources to uproot and supplant Roman and Germanic holidays, has itself been uprooted and supplanted by the modern holiday of the Red Man Festival or Winterval which itself has been stealing elements from various sources including Christmas. It's symbol of the Red Man who is dressed inappropriately for an Australian summer and is pulled along by eight reindeer, is the outward expression of the holiday for most people and if Peter Dutton claims to be Christian then he should realise that he is now part of a religious minority.
I will also point out Section 116 of the Constitution of Australia which governs the rules of the Parliament of which he is a cabinet minister:

The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.
- Section 116, Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900

For him to complain about other people's religious observance of the Red Man Festival, which includes secular commercialists and people of other formal religions is weird. Granted that he is free as a Christian to speak as per anyone else's civil rights but to suggest that Australia is "a Christian society" when the founding document states otherwise, is untrue.

Part B

Mr Dutton linked the issue to the "Teachers for Refugees" campaign in which many teachers in NSW and Victoria wore t-shirts protesting Australia's offshore detention camps for asylum seekers.
"If they want to conduct these sort of campaigns, do it online or do it in your spare time. Don't bring these sort of views into the minds of young kids," Mr Dutton told 2GB.
- Sydney Morning Herald, 16th Dec 2016

Secondly and more disturbing is the claim that he is a Christian and that this is informing his worldview. As Immigration Minister he is the one responsible for deciding the terms and conditions under which foreigners and aliens visit and arrive in Australia.
As a Christian, I would hope that he is at least familiar with what is contained within the Bible:

Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt. Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. 
- Exodus 22:21-22

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.
- Leviticus 19:33-34

Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.
Then all the people shall say, “Amen!"
- Deuteronomy 27:19

Now admittedly this is from the Torah and forms part of Israel's civil law. If in the event that Israeli Civil Law from the Torah was cancelled by Christ then there should be some underlying principle which can be found in the New Testament which would explain the new position:

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.
- Hebrews 13:2

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.
- Ephesians 2:11-22

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
- Galatians 3:28

I wonder what this should say to an Immigration Minister who purports to be a Christian. What is the official policy an expert in the law? I like to think of the parable of the good New Zealander:

A refugee was going down from Sydney to Canberra, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A well dressed billionare happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a expert in the law, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a New Zealander, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds. 
Then he put the man in his car, brought him to the hospital and they took care of him. The next day he came back with three thousand dollars and paid it as a deposit. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

If we set that aside, let's set up a hypothetical. Let's suppose that we have a Middle Eastern family who are fleeing persecution because a militant regime had threatened to kill their child. Let's also assume that due to political circumstances, that their citizenship couldn't be established and that they had no identifying papers for their travel.
I could of course point out that Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus were refugees fleeing persecution and had no identifying papers and that had they arrived in Australia by boat, they would have been turned away and promised never to be settled in Australia. If only Peter Dutton knew someone who had access to the Immigration Minister because the existing policies would have sent the baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph to Nauru. It's not like Peter Dutton as an expert in the law has passed by on the other side of the road has he? Oh wait.

Happy Holidays, Peter Dutton.

All of this is quite apart from the fact that as a nation, we give a two finger salute to any obligations that we have to refugees under international law, as well as their humanity.

1. The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of Article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.
- Article 31, Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees 1951

December 15, 2016

Horse 2205 - Oddvent: Dec 15 - Ten Lords A-Leaping

‘twas the tenth night before Christmas.

December 15th is the thirteenth day of the made-up characters calendar and being St Ebay's Day, the day that St Ebay of Great Wastage ran through the town throwing money at shop windows, we shall now tell another story of unnecessary presents.

Quite what drove King Henry VIII to devise such an insane list of Christmas presents for Catherine Parr is not recorded in the annals of history. What we do know is that only royalty could have invented such a thing because as the king, technically all of the swans in England belonged to him and as king, the Lords were all frightened of having their heads randomly separated from their shoulders.

There have been frequent attempts to explain what each of the various items are supposed to mean, including Christian symbolism and secular allegory but as with so many of these things, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one and the simplest explanation here is that this is the ramblings of someone with far too much power and no constraints upon it.

Most of the birds on the list are just plain daft. If we credit the song Greensleeves to Henry VIII, then we can see that he wasn't exactly the most talented of lyricists. The line "four calling birds", ends up being perfunctory more than anything else; what a calling bird is actually supposed to be is anyone's guess. No doubt the lords, milkmaids, pipers and dancing ladies are probably people that he just happened to see that afternoon. Maybe the Jumping Jews of Jerusalem from that episode of Blackadder don't sound quite so silly now.

On the sixteenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:
Sixteen sows a sizzling,
Fifteen hounds a hunting,
Fourteen foxes running,
Thirteen Jews a jumping?

This assumes that King Henry VIII wrote the song in the first place. We kind of get the impression that he may have been something like Kim Jong Il, who reportedly scored a hole in one in golf in the very first game that he ever played, wrote thousands of pages of poetry and symphonies (though they have mysteriously disappeared) and was a champion chess and go player. This is after all the same man who after having tried to divorce his other Catherine decided to ragequit the Catholic Church, rageburn all of the monasteries and set up his own church with him as the boss; so no one could tell him what to do. This is the same man who turned lots of England's forests into ships, those monasteries into burnt piles of rubble and who squandered most of the built up Tudor fortune. This is the same man who when he had a suit of armour made, also had armour plating made for his moustache.

Maybe it is not so crazy to assume that Henry wrote the song. Apparently he was pretty handy with the lute, so that means that he must have spent some time just playing with chords and notes and seeing what fell out. The fact that this song is essentially the same thing repeated twelve times, makes this sound like a football chant and it's not like they take supreme amounts of skill and talent to write.

If Henry VIII did write the song, we can bet that if he sung it, that nobody would dare tell him that it was annoying or that they didn't like it. They would have been as afraid as Catherine Parr of having their heads separated from their shoulders and that's probably the best reason why such a terrible song continues to survive. On the twelfth day of Christmas I've heard this song so much, I want to hang my head against the wall.

December 14, 2016

Horse 2204 - Oddvent: Dec 14 - The Ghost Of Christmas Future

‘twas the eleventh night before Christmas.

December 14th is the twelfth day of the made-up characters calendar and being St Doctor's Day, the day that The Doctor gave himself the idea of going into the past to steal a TARDIS, we shall now tell another story of something which came from the future.

Owing to the miracle that is time travel, I received an email from myself which was dated 13th December 2017; in it I remembered the absolute dumpster fire that was The International Year Of The Howling Moron, 2016, with fondness from a year which I can only assume will be far worse, judging from the photographs attached.


Dear Horse of Christmas Past,
I write to you from a very different and bleak world. Britain has gone full on hard Brexit, Jacob Rees-Mogg has become British Foreign Minister and keeps on popping up on telly as does Boris Johnson who is now Chancellor Of The Exchequer, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is banging on about plans for the republic after the death of Queen Elizabeth II and President Of The United States Donald Trump has managed to simultaneously create and avert no less than twelve nuclear crises in the eleven months of his administration thus far.

Obamacare was repealed and this had the effect of throwing 33 million people out of the health care system. When the Columbian Flu outbreak of October happened, hospitals started turning people away at an astonishing rate and many people ended up dying of diseases which should have been otherwise treatable. Diseases not seen in more than a century such as tuberculosis, cholera and even scurvy, started to reappear in emergency rooms and doctors often didn't know how to treat these presenting patients.

It didn't really help that the rhetoric coming out of the White House was as pointed as it had been during the election campaign. Immigrants were blamed for all sorts of ills including unemployment, epidemics and rising inflation but the biggest elephant in the room was the one with the haircut that looks like a squirrel has taken up residence and the unfettered and uncontrolled Republican Party who were given the keys to all three branches of government and promptly drove the democracy bus into a building.
The minimum wage in the United States was removed entirely and instead of trying for fifteen or twelve dollars an hour, American workers will have to be content with seven.

China has repeatedly flown it's nuclear capable bombers over the South China Sea in a display of military might, ISIS continues to pour out its own kind of suffering and nonsense on the people of Iraq and Syria which is a distraction from the fact that Assad is still a horrible leader, we've had the removal of the South Korean president, the installation of Marie La Pen as President of France and it was concluded that Russian hackers did not have any effect on the US Presidential Election whatsoever. This has only helped to make Vladimir Putin look like a sane person and he has just recently appeared on the cover of Time magazine as the person of the year and as joined the likes of Hitler, Stalin, Churchill and Trump. Make of that what you will.

In our own country, Scott Morrison was able to get the budget passed with the help of the wing nuts in the Senate, Peter Dutton was able to convince the Philippines to take on several thousand refugees and in a wave of extreme cussedness, when the entire nations of Kiribati and Tuvalu both disappeared beneath the surface of the ocean due to rising sea levels, we had statements from Pauline Hanson, Cory Bernardi and David Leyonhjelm, all saying that climate change isn't real. At any rate, as climate change isn't apparently real, those people couldn't very well be refugees and so we didn't accept any of them because they had nothing to seek asylum from.

The last Holden Commodore rolled off the production line in October, the last Australian built Toyota Camry rolled off the production line in July, the last Australian built washing machine left the factory in Orange in June but we shouldn't be worried because even though we lost almost 400,000 manufacturing jobs this year, the economy still continued to grow because rents increased 8% across the board. Praise be the economy.

Still, you're looking at the end of 2016 thinking that things couldn't possibly get worse. Let me tell you from the future that things did. The International Year Of The Howling Moron was followed by The International Year Of The Screaming Powerful those who had power exercised it in increasingly belligerent ways. You will look back on those heady days of the dumpster fire with fondness as we in the future are preparing to metaphorically throw our children into woodchippers.

Season's greetings,
The Horse of Christmas Future.
Best Wishes - you'll need them.

December 11, 2016

Horse 2203 - Oddvent: Dec 11 - O Little Town Of Bethlehem, NY

‘twas the fourteenth night before Christmas.

December 11th is the eleventh day of the made-up characters calendar and being St Transistor's Day, the day that St Transistor of Bell switched back and forth many times for the very first time, we shall now tell another story of something which switched the course of history.

President Kennedy was dealing with one of the most critical moments in his ultimately all too short term of office. There had been a very real threat of all out nuclear war which had narrowly been averted when the captain of a Russian submarine equipped with nuclear weapons had defied order to retaliate after being attacked by American aircraft. The actions of that submarine captain would not be known for at least thirty years and until after the Soviet Union had broken up.
There was however another group of people who played an equally important role and which would also be as anonymous as that submarine captain and they were stationed at the United States Signals Directorate, in Bethlehem, New York.

The USSD was tasked with the interception and description of foreign messages. Essentially their job was spying but in the most technologically advanced way that was possible in the early 1960s. From the outside it looked like a farmhouse and three red barns. Inside those barns was not the usual farm implements and tractors but the most advanced radio equipment that the 1960s had invented; across a whole range of various bands up and down the electromagnetic spectrum.

Lieutenant Melissa Parker was listening to transmissions being made to and from the Soviet satellite, Kosmos 635, when she heard something strange.  The USSD couldn't actually work out what the bulk of the transmission noise was but they did discover that there was a series of pips before details were given, to do with positions that the satellite was targeting. What those positions actually meant was a mystery but the general consensus was that whatever it was, it was bad.

On a December evening of 1962, she heard the series of pips and then a position being rung out in ordinary Morse Code. Morse Code was something that every operator in the USSD could translate fluently and without any hesitation, she wrote down the series of numbers that it communicated. Taking these numbers to a table and then unrolling a map, Lieutenant Melissa Parker then plotted it's position. The address was all too familiar - 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue; more commonly known as The White House. Given the cold war was burning hotter than a pot of Mexican chilli with eyeball bleed peppers; boiling away in a pot in a wood fired oven, Lt Parker had to choose her moves carefully. People were nervous and anxious and the people who this would directly affect, might have itchy trigger fingers on the nuclear button.

She told her immediate superior, who told her immediate superior, who told his immediate superior, who then asked Lt Parker to see him in his office. The meeting lasted for less than a minute and Lt Parker was asked it she really heard what she thought she had heard. She went away and thought that if she heard this again, then and only then would she tell someone.
87 minutes after hearing the first set of pips, Lt Parker heard a fresh set amidst the background noise of unintelligible garble. Again, in ordinary Morse Code, the latitude and longitude of The White House came across her headphones. Again she told her immediate superior and again the same response came back. "Are you sure that you heard what you thought you heard?". The third time, this couldn't possibly be anything other than what Kosmos 635; so a sensational of unmitigated terror passed through Lt Parker.
This time, she bypassed the entire chain of command and went to top. She knocked on General Barrett's door and opened it. He was busy on the telephone chewing out some poor soul on the other end. She tried to apologise and leave but he pressed a button which locked the door behind her.

" What is it Lieutenant? This had better be earth shattering."

She explained that she had heard a Russian satellite tap out the same position in longitude and latitude three times and that this meant that The White House itself was the subject of whatever this satellite's business was. General Barrett suddenly had all the blood drain away from his face and he gave an order that she was to literally nothing else for the rest of the evening except listen to this potential Russian menace.
When asked what she was listening to that would be that important, the official reply was that she was listening to "When The Red Red Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobbin' Along". Instantly everyone knew that this was important but exactly how important would remain a mystery.
Kosmos 635 would continue to make sweeps across the sky but its purpose was never truly found out. Whether it was some kind of reconnaissance satellite or perhaps some sort of military testing platform or even something as innocuous as a weather satellite would remain unknown. It would not however be alone.

There would be many similar transmissions from Kosmos and Interkosmos satellites and they would frequently be charted across the United States. When the reports were written up, the USSD would give really strange replies as to what its operators had been listening to. They reported that they had been listening to records on the hit parade, despite not having possession of a record player; they reported listening to radio stations that would have been impossible to !listen to because they were too far away; they reported listening to the sounds of birds, whales and other animals on tape. Eventually United States Signals Directorate station, in Bethlehem, New York, became known as "The House Of Lies" and the information which did come out of it, when it did pass to the appropriate people, was treated with the utmost importance. It would only tell the truth to The Pentagon and The White House and the truth that it told to them was of the gravest import.
It was estimated that when The House Of Lies was eventually replaced with a more modern facility, that it may have averted as many as fifteen hundred instances where the Cold War could have boiled hot. When the facility closed in 1983, few even knew of its existence. Quietly though, it might have saved hundreds and hundreds of millions of lives.

Oh little town of Bethlehem (NY), how still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the satellites go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth, the ever blinking light
The hopes and fears of all the years are still not told tonight.

December 10, 2016

Horse 2202 - Oddvent: Dec 10 - I Saw Three Ships

‘twas the fifteenth night before Christmas.

December 10th is the tenth day of the made-up characters calendar and being St Cunard's Day, the day that St Cunard managed to not lose anyone's luggage at all, we shall now tell another story of a maritime tale involving ships.

The English fleet had been at sea for three months. The threat of Spanish invasion of Britain was always lingering and the small island nation stood all alone, like a fortress set in the sea. The French would never ally with the English, the Scots remained aloof and unpredictable and the Irish were either too weak or too unwilling to help. History would forever record more famous sea battles that were won by more flamboyant admirals but perhaps the most audacious and important battle in the grand conflict, was so small that it was mostly forgotten.

Captain Henry Lee had the helm of the rather pathetic ship, the HMS Timidity. The Timidity was aptly named as it only had an above and below deck. It was also only equipped with seventeen guns, seven down each side, one gun forward and two aft. As a small vessel, it also didn't have particularly a lot of area under sail and so most larger ships could out run it. Captain Lee had gained something of a reputation though because although he only had a small ship, he was daring enough to take it into places that most naval ships would not dare. He had to be formally told  off once by the city of Venice for sending the Timidity up one of the canals and launching a raid on the business of a linen merchant who he didn't like the cut off their jib.

December was the month that sailors hated going out to sea the most. Often the air was chilled to temperatures less than freezing and the sea would have been frozen solid if it wasn't for the incessant pounding of waves. Sailors were well aware that if they ventured too far north, icebergs could rip ships go pieces. Nevertheless, the Royal Navy was still worried about what Spain might do. They were easily the biggest superpower of all and everybody feared the Spanish Armada and nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition. The Armada's chief weapon was surprise, as indeed was everything of note in Spain.

Captain Lee and the Timidity were on a reconnaissance mission at the mouth of the Thames estuary. It was always assumed that if the Spanish were to strike, at very least  they would collect information beforehand. Lee knew that they wouldn't simply announce themselves by waltzing up the Thames but they would probably be disguised as a normal merchant ship. Lee also knew that the presence of an English Royal Navy ship sitting proudly in the middle of the Thames would more than likely scare off any potential Spanish forays and so he hid the Timidity in a quiet cove, left a longboat out in the middle of the river and positioned eight of the ship's guns on the shoreline.

Before sunrise, while the first rays of light made their way across the inky morning, one of the ship's mates saw something most singular. He saw three ships come sailing in, on Christmas Day in the morning. Captain Lee was canny. He knew that if he simply opened fire, they would flee and so he waited for the ships to slowly pass up the river. It was only after they had passed to the west of his position that he pounced.

Sending someone on a fast horse back up the river, the order was given for the cannon on the shoreline to fire. As the light was still terrible, the Spanish ships thought that they were being pursued by a much larger flotilla when in actuality they were only being followed by one ship, two longboats and a few rowboats with bright beacons. In the confusion of the dense fog, the three Spanish ships all ran aground in sand bars and as they were stuck fast, they were unable to change the direction that their guns were pointed and were easily overcome and boarded.

And 'what was in those ships all three, on Christmas Day in the morning?' you might ask. The ploy had been a relatively simple one. The open deck had been empty and the deck immediately below was entirely filled with statues of Catholic iconography; the Virgin Mary and Christ were there on Christmas Day in the morning but in the very lowest deck, it was stacked full of cannon shot, gunpowder and the ship's cannons.

Captain Henry Lee was declared a hero and was promoted to the rank of Admiral but he declined the role of being in charge of anything more than a single ship. He would perform his job as Admiral Lee as he had done before.

December 09, 2016

Horse 2201 - Oddvent: Dec 9 - Gloria in Excel 6 .deo

‘twas the sixteenth night before Christmas.

December 9th is the ninth day of the made-up characters calendar and being St Olivetti's Day, the day that St Olivetti performed a miracle by getting a computer to work for a whole day without it crashing, we shall now tell another story of an unexpected tale involving computers.

It was a cold winter's night that was so deep in New York City in December '94. The economy was still flat and the bank that she worked for was as cold-hearted as the falling snow outside. Their lending department had made loans to people and now they were busily foreclosing those loans and evicting people from their houses. Not that it made much difference to the salespeople who had negotiated the loans in the first place, as they had made their commissions years ago and kicking families into the street was not their responsibility. That was always the way in banking: some people made tremendous amounts of money but the people who really paid for it all, were completely unknown to them.

Gloria hated her job. She hated having to phone people to make demands to pay; she hated having to hear when they couldn't; she hated having to report to her bosses if she couldn't collect the outstanding debts fast enough; and she hated that she had to hear so many people crying because they were about to lose everything they had. Everything about her job was either disgusting, disheartening, disappointing or dehumanising and at every step along the way, she knew it.

This particular Christmas was more awful than most. Every year always saw at least the odd protester out the front of the bank but this year saw several at once. There was a family of five who had erected a tent on the steps of the bank a few days ago but they had been moved on by the NYPD. Where they were moved on to was unknown but it was possible that in a city that moved so fast that a "New York Minute" was a metaphor for a minutely small amount of time, that they had been thrown off the merry-go-round of life and under a bridge; the amount of time that the city of New York would have for them would be that same New York Minute.

While working back late one evening, because her boss had given her a month's worth of work to do in three days, Gloria noticed that as the majority of the office lights were switched off, there was still a remaining glow from many people's terminals. Where once had been the unforgiving light of fluorescent tubes, there was now leaking orange light from monochrome computer screens. Their combined power gave some of the darker parts of the office a jaundiced look that was reminiscent of the city's famed taxi fleet.

At an hour when the shows on Broadway were already in full swing, Gloria got up to go to the kitchen to replenish her work juice. She was convinced that at various times throughout the day, more caffeine flowed through her veins than blood. She got her coffee and walked over to the window to look out at the street below. To her surprise, she saw the same family of five whom she had foreclosed on only a few days ago, and they were huddled around a gas burner which was sitting on the hood of their station wagon. She noticed that the back of the car was packed as full as it possibly could be and there was a great pile of stuff tied down under a tarpaulin on the roof. Gloria desperately wanted to reach out to this family but given that they would probably be gone by the morning, it was a hopeless idea.
As she walked back to her own terminal, coffee cup in hand, Gloria happened to see that one terminal in the lending sales department was still on and bizarrely, it was still logged in. Evidently the user was one of those lazy types who didn't bother to log out when they went home.

She sat down at the terminal and also happened to see that there were far more options available to this user than were available to her normally. She also saw that this user, whoever they were, also had the option to change the date and time of any transaction that they wanted and that by the look of things, they also had the authority to approve loans and declare payments.
Using one of her favourite set of keyboard shortcuts, she was able to see the last twenty transactions that this person had made. This is where things became very interesting indeed. This user had set up a shadow account and had been diverting funds to it. She presumed that she had stumbled upon what basically amounted to sophisticated larceny and a brief check to see who this was revealed that this was one of the same salespeople who had been raking in a seven figure salary and been collecting bonuses as well.

Gloria didn't care. She was an opportunity to do some good in the world even if it meant doing something illegal and immoral. She remembered the account details of the family who had been foreclosed on and were now living in their car and she wired half a million dollars into their bank account through the shadow account that this salesperson had set up. To further obfuscate the paper trail, she dated the transaction for 1983; which placed it well before any of the dated transactions in the terminal and we'll before the statutory date that records are legally required to be kept. Nobody would ever have to know.

Somebody did.

The user of the terminal hadn't gone home. He had been standing behind her for quite some time and had seen practically everything.

"I've seen everything. I know why it is that you've done what you've done as well."

Sensations of fear, dread, shame and guilt shot through Gloria all at once. The ground could have opened up and swallowed her for all she cared. It was a stupid thing to do and now she was potentially out on her ear; out in the snow with that same family.

"I'm going to have to do something that you won't like."

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry," was all that Gloria could say as the salesperson motioned for her to get out of his chair.

"No one need know of this. It is Christmas. Now run along," he said.

Gloria went back to her desk and continued back at her work. She worked like a machine and finished everything that had been given to her. On her way out, she noticed that the salesperson had gone and that his terminal had been switched off.

Christmas came and went and nothing was said. New Year's Day came and went and nothing was said. She never saw the salesperson ever again. When she asked around the office to find out what had happened to him, nobody could recall such a person ever having worked there. Worse, nobody could recall anyone matching his description ever having worked there. It would remain a mystery.

In June, Gloria received a card from someone called the Agostini family who were living in upstate New York, inviting her to spend the Fourth of July with them. The card explained that they had received a kindness when half a million dollars mysteriously just appeared in their bank account and not long after, a man in a business suit arrived at the house that they had just bought in cash, to explain that she had pulled the strings to make it all possible; even though she really hadn't done so.

December 08, 2016

Horse 2200 - Oddvent: Dec 8 - Unwanted Presents From St Nicholas

‘twas the seventeenth night before Christmas.

December 8th is the eighth day of the made-up characters calendar and being St Broccoli's Day, the day that St Broccoli walked through the streets of Paris and gave everyone twigs and bits of rotten fruit and other gifts they didn't want, we shall now tell another story  of people who didn't want to be given presents.

In the early years of the colony of New South Wales, most of the immigrants who had come and were still coming were convicts. Many of them had come from conditions of poverty in England and after coming to Australia, although they were still in chains and subject to the command of what essentially amounted to guards in the world's biggest prison, they were still more free than they otherwise would have been in a cramped stone prison or hulk ship in England.
There was a considerably larger proportion of the population in Australia who was Catholic as opposed to back home in England because of the Empire's affinity for sending Irish convicts to Australia. As such, the people who came to Australia were more likely to observe saints' days and the mass, than the mostly Protestant population of England; this had a strange side effect.

In 1811, after Governor Bligh was replaced with Governor Macquarie, there was a wave of late Georgian "improvement". Governor Macquarie decided that a good way to improve the general morale and behaviour of the colony and especially the convicts, was to extend to them the dignity of such things as religious observance of Christmas. This was an unexpectedly had idea.

Many convicts had never heard of Christmas before. The idea that they would be given a day off from work was welcomed by them but rumours were going around that a man called St Nicholas would arrive in the colony. This doesn't sound particularly odd to us but if you were a convict and heard that a man would arrive in a red suit and deliver "presents", when the only people that you normally saw in red suits were the soldiers of the New South Wales Guard and armed with muskets, you began to wonder what sort of "presents" they would be giving out.
Unbeknownst to Governor Macquarie, there was a confederation of convicts being organised to repel or possibly capture this St Nicholas who would be coming at Christmas. Based on what little information they could obtain, this St Nicholas would be arriving on Christmas Eve and so a plan was devised.
In the three weeks before Christmas of 1811, all mention of St Nicholas by the redcoats of the New South Wales Guard was met with almost universal calmness across the colony. This was interpreted as a form of reverence for the holiday and as far as the authorities were concerned, their plan of improvement was working.
Christmas Eve in Parramatta was met with a sort of silence. Many convicts working chain gangs went about their normal business as though nothing was different. At one government run farm though, things were most definitely different. The convicts went to their sleeping shed for the night but unbeknownst to the guard, many had managed to squirrel away farming tools and equipment during the prior three weeks.

At 11pm, when approximately 200 convicts were awoken for the midnight church service for Christmas and the arrival of St Nicholas, they rioted. The soldier who played St Nicholas fled in terror and as soon as it was apparent that a disturbance had broken out, the New South Wales Guard swept into action and the whole incident was quelled within an hour and without the loss of a single life.

When convicts were questioned in preparation for impending disciplinary action, it was immediately apparent that their passions had been enflamed by a misunderstanding of what St Nicholas was. The story which was consistently told was of a real fear that some outside agent would be arriving and that the announcement that St Nicholas would be bringing "presents" was taken to mean that there would be summary executions. When news got back to Governor Macquarie of what had happened, he took pity on the convicts and as various infringement notices arrived that required his action, he granted pardons and immunity from prosecution.

It should surprise nobody that St Nicholas did not arrive in the colony of New South Wales in 1812 and would not arrive for many years after. It wasn't until the ascension of Queen Victoria to the throne and her subsequent marriage to Prince Albert of Saxe Coberg that the concept of Christmas shifted from an Irish Catholic kind of idea to a more Germanised one. The further developments of some rather famous Santa Claus poetry and improvements in advertising shifted the concept of Santa Claus even more but it is with strange irony that one singular Christmas song rings with unintended truth.

You'd better watch out; you'd better not cry;
You'd better not pout; I'm telling you why:
Santa Claus is coming to town.

December 07, 2016

Horse 2199 - Oddvent: Dec 7 - That Last Sleep Before Christmas

‘twas the eighteenth night before Christmas.

December 7th is the seventh day of the made-up characters calendar and being St Carburettor's Day, the day that St Carburettor bestowed the gift of combustion to the people of London and thus caused the Great Fire of 1666, we shall now tell another story to warm your bed.

Prince Abed III was the ruler of an area roughly equivalent to modern day Catalonia in the seventh century. The administrative structures which had existed at the height of the Roman Empire had long since faded away and what replaced them was a more feudal system where local warlords fought each other for regional power. Of course this also meant that the rule of law was enforced by simple force and the axioms of bigger army diplomacy applied. Whoever could raise and control the biggest militia ruled the most land.
Prince Abed III though, was a particularly nasty piece of work and he often had people who didn't approve of him or his court, destroyed or exiled. As such, the peasantry and even family chiefs, lived in constant fear that they would have their stuff or their lives taken without warning. Under Prince Abed III, the people groaned in terrified submission.
In the spring of 613, a local shepherd boy raised a rag tag bunch of dissenters and erected a wooden spiked wall around their village of Los Burros. The lad was no more than 17 years old and though he was quite small, the skills that he had picked up while fighting wild foxes and wolves were transferable to fighting off militia armed with clubs and stakes.

Spain was suffering through a period of immense unrest and Prince Abed III wanted to consolidate his own power as well as to see what he could carve out in the region and so he tried to press gang people into the service of the army that he was trying to establish but he found that the village of Los Burros was resistant to any imposition of authority that he tried to exert.
Abed's army arrived at Los Burros in May 613 but they could not breach the village's defences and they lost 45 soldiers to Los Burros' nil. They soon laid siege to the village but even after 14 weeks, they achieved nothing and had to give it up. In the meantime, an army captain learned of the 17 year old champion of the village and even learned of his name: Wayne Ñamangér.

The Ñamangér family were not one of honour or fame. They weren't particularly well regarded in the village of Los Burros either. The patriarch of the family, Pietro, had been caught as a their in his youth and even as an old man in his seventies he was still treated with suspicion. His son Carlos had grown up in the shadow of his father's disgrace and had lived a quiet life. Wayne was not viewed with such disdain by the village but he still chose mostly to live apart from them; it was only when he had driven out three of Prince Abed III's men, single-handedly, armed with a machete and a long spear, that he was seen as something special.

In October of 613, Prince Abed III sent an envoy to the village of Los Burros, offering to leave the village in peace if it would hand over Wayne to him. A village meeting was called together and although there was some hesitation over sending Wayne to Barcelona, it was Wayne himself who suggested that if he was to surrender himself on behalf of the village, then if the village was allowed to return to peace, then the needs of the many outweighed the needs of one. By giving himself up and over to the Prince, he hoped that the Prince would leave the village alone. The village agreed and soon Wayne found himself chained and on a cart bound for Barcelona.

Prince Abed III looked over the lad and thought that he would make an excellent personal slave. Naturally Wayne objected as this was not part of the agreement and Prince Abed III had him thrown into a dungeon until he acquiesced. Wayne did not.

Within Prince Abed III's own household, dissent was rising because of the way that Wayne had been treated. The manager of the household estate and larder, Juan Carlos, who was more commonly known as Lord Cheeses on account of him keeping stock of the storehouses and being exceptionally short, hatched a secret plan with Wayne. Wayne would agree to become Prince Abed III's personal slave but only on the condition that he also be the Prince's personal bodyguard. Prince Abed III agreed.
Wayne became an excellent servant to Prince Abed III but all the while, Lord Cheeses was planning his own bid for the crown.

On Christmas Eve of 613, after a wild night of revelry, Prince Abed III was in no fit state to continue partying the night away; so he retired to his chambers. Lord Cheeses ordered that the musicians play even louder so as to provide cover for the plan and as Prince Abed III slept the sleep of a drunkard, Lord Cheeses sliced his head off with an axe and set fire to the bed that he was sleeping in. The rest of the party goers thought nothing of it at all and continued on obliviously.

This small event in minor Spanish history would have gone on mostly unnoticed if it wasn't for the song:
Wayne Ñamangér, no crib for Abed,
The little Lord Cheeses cut off his sweet head.