January 31, 2017

Horse 2219 - Lady Liberty Can't Get A Visa Home, And Billy Brown From Sydney Town Won't Say Anything

It looks like Lady Liberty has left America. Originally a Muslim lady (see Horse 2062), she has had her visa denied because even though she used to be a permanent resident, she still has retained her citizenship from places that the United States has now deemed unacceptable. Stay away you huddled masses yearning to be free, as far as we're concerned, you're all a bunch of possible terrorists and we're going to keep on yelling " America First! America First!" and drown out all other sounds. While we're at it, could the media also just be quiet?

In a weekend which saw protests across the United States, especially at airports, the United States has started to enforce new Presidential Orders which ban people from seven nations from entering the country and which now treats anyone who looks vaguely Islamic as suspicious.
I suppose that we shouldn't be all that shocked when President Donald Trump, who by the way has managed to get a majority disapproval rating in just eight days, has come into office and has started enacting policy which he said that he would. This is a chap who repeated that he would build a wall between the United States and Mexico, which so far has managed to keep out at least one Mexican, President Enrique Peña Nieto, without it even being built.
Apart from everything that he said about Mexico, the horrid things that he said about women, an almost obsessive compulsion to blame China for America's trade position, this was also the same chap who in December 2015, wanted a total ban on Muslims entering the United States.

Although it is most certainly unconstitutional to impose law based purely on religious grounds, thanks to the first amendment, the seven countries which have had travel bans placed upon them are all majority Muslim. Libya, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Somalia and Yemen have all been specifically singled out with travel bans; the reason cited is terrorism. This is despite the fact that precisely zero terrorist attacks have been made in the United States by nationals from those countries. In a strange new era where outright lies and rubbish is being presented as "alternative facts" (the term coined by Counselor to the President, Kellyanne Conway), US foreign policy is now being based upon said alternative facts.

Of course being in Australia, we have a "special relationship" with the United States, which for the best part of 70 years has been to do exactly what it tells us; including when it's too our detriment. So far today, I've heard Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull obfuscate with any opinion that he might have had on the subject by saying that America's foreign policy is its business, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop has welcomed the orders of President Trump and said that Australia is behind America and Treasurer Scott Morrison has come out and said that the immigration policy of the United States proves that Australia's own immigration policies are correct. This unfortunately does leave the question of what is going to happen to the asylum seekers that we've dumped on Manus Island, now that the United States will no longer accept them but I'm guessing that the Australian Federal Government will just have to find somewhere else to put them, like the bottom of the ocean. If they came over here and didn't have the decency to drown on the way, the least that they could do is not complain when we put them in third world conditions.

So far I've heard both Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong say that she's written to both Julie Bishop and Malcolm Turnbull; as has Leader Of The Opposition Bill Shorten but in an age where emails fly around the place and can easily get deleted and mail can easily be 'misplaced' then who's to know if Julie or Malcolm ever got them. They're very busy people, don't you know?

Turnbull in a press conference said that it wasn't his job "to comment on other countries' foreign policy". That might very well be technically correct but it could have also been said that it wasn't Neville Chamberlain's job to comment on German foreign policy in 1938 either. When you have the so-called 'leader of the free world' starting out his administration in a spirit of open belligerency then I should think that that is very much the job of political leaders to comment. The reason why PM Turnbull doesn't is because we enjoy our "special relationship" with the country with the world's biggest military and want them to like us. Given that we do have in this country a government which prides itself on it's cruelty towards those people seeking asylum, perhaps it's best if we just roll over like the lapdog we are.

Lady Liberty had better get used to the fact that she is now out of favour. Columbia is back in the White House and is looking to redecorate with some of her old Manifest Destiny wallpaper; all with the chant of "America First! America First!" blaring away on the television. Billy Brown from Sydney Town won't say anything though because he likes being friends with the biggest bully in the schoolyard.

January 26, 2017

Horse 2218 - Why Continue Celebrating Invasion Day?

I currently live in an local government area of Sydney, which is named after the place where the aboriginal people were sent by the fledgling colony of New South Wales because they were seen as a nuisance. Sydney was the first settlement, Parramatta the third, Toongabbie the third and Blacktown was most likely the fourth.
The name Blacktown is literally named for the place where all the "blacks" should be sent and despite some complaint from the local aboriginal peoples who remain, the name still stands as blunt and harsh as it did more than 220 years ago.
Yet this is just one of many aggrievances which continues to remain upon this country; with the most visible being the 26th of January, which carries the name Australia Day even though it is not the day of commemoration of the founding of the nation, and it is the day which many aboriginal peoples proclaim as Invasion Day, when their sovereignty was officially destroyed.

I think that Australia Day is unique in the world in that it is the only holiday which commemorates the putting down of one people as opposed to the founding of a nation. The nearest equivalents that I can think of are VE Day which marks the end of the Second World War in Europe and VP Day which does the same for the end of hostilities in the Pacific but like Armistice Day, I don't think people ever actively celebrated the defeat of Germany or Japan as an ongoing holiday and certainly some 70 years later nobody does. Those days mark the end of hostilities but Australia Day does precisely the opposite, it marks the beginning of antagonism. I know of nowhere where June 28 which is the day that Gavrilo Princip shot Franz Ferdinand is celebrated; not July 28 when the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia.

January 26, 1788 is the day when the Royal Navy who were acting in a military capacity, stole a continent through the cunning use of flags. Later on, the courts would invent the fiction of "Terra Nullius" which said that was nobody living here and that made it all nice and legal. This does of course rather neglect the fact that there were people here but since they didn't have a flag, they didn't count. "No flag, no country" - that's the rule which we've just made up.
A couple of centuries later, it is impractical to deport literally everybody who is descended from anyone who arrived after 1788, for that would mean sending back almost 23 million of us. That's neither practical or helpful. Such a suggestion would naturally be seen as ridiculous but the idea that we should continue to commemorate an invasion is not seen as ridiculous and should be defended, persists; much to my incredulity.

If we take the kindest possible reading of the set of instructions given to Captain Arthur Phillip in 1787, before he left England then although we still find an imperial power who openly has no regard for whatever sovereignty of the native peoples that they might find, we see a curious instruction amidst an open invasion plan.

You are to endeavour by every possible means  to open an Intercourse with the Savages Natives and to conciliate their affections, enjoining all Our Subjects to live in amity and kindness with them.  And if any of Our Subjects shall wantonly destroy them, or give them any unnecessary Interruption in the exercise of their several occupations.
It is our Will and Pleasure that you do cause such offenders to be brought to punishment according to the degree of the Offence.  You will endeavour to procure an account of the Numbers inhabiting the Neighbourhood of the intended settlement and report your opinion to one of our Secretaries of State in what manner Our Intercourse with these people may be turned to the advantage of this country.
- Governor Phillip’s Instructions, 25 Apr 1787

Now you could argue all you like about the merits of signing a peace treaty with the first peoples of the land (I think that in general, the people who argue the loudest against such a proposal are racist and should be told as much) and who it should be signed by, before you begin to argue about what such a thing should contain but in keeping with the original instructions given to Captain Arthur Phillip, then the biggest "kindness" thing that can be done in the spirit of amity with the native peoples of this land is to abandon the 26th of January and replace it.

Why not pick 27th of May, which was the birthday of Henry Parkes, who was the "Father Of Federation" and who probably did more than any other person to actually bring about the Commonwealth of Australia as a thing? Why not pick the 27th of August, which was the birthday of Don Bradman, who probably did more than any other person to bring about feelings of patriotism for the country?

Besides which, in real terms, Australia Day isn't a celebration of Australia. As it marks the day which the First Fleet landed, bunged a flag in the continent and yelled "mine!", it marks the beginning of the colony of New South Wales and specifically the city of Sydney. Australia didn't come into existence until 1st January 1901 but that's already New Year's Day; so it seems to be that the only reason that this "Australia Day" persists is because people just want a public holiday and that's an incredibly weak justification for its continued existence.

Henry Parkes, the then Governor of New South Wales, was reluctant in 1888 to say what, if anything, was being done for Aboriginal peoples to mark the centenary of the colony. He replied "And remind them that we have robbed them?"
If the Father of Federation thought that marking the 26th of January was a bad idea, then why do we persist? Why can't we just vacate this date and have 2017, the last official celebration of theft and invasion?

January 25, 2017

Horse 2217 - It's Full Of Stars

- More silver than Buckingham Palace; more stars than the cast of Dallas.

The rather eloquent and knowledgeable BJD ( http://bjd.id.au/ ) recently posed the question on Twitter of why Sydney FC doesn't have a star above its crest for its Oceania Club Championship that it won back in 2005. I don't know if this is in response to the Western Sydney Wanderers' star for their AFC Champions League win in 2014 but it certainly does bear asking.
I went down my own rabbit hole of looking at the history of the use of stars in football and have come to the conclusion that the use of stars on football shirts is not only inconsistent but is very strange indeed.

The first use of stars to mark that a football club had won something of significance was in 1958 when Italian club Juventus had won their 10th league title and wanted some method of showing it and in a way that nobody else could claim.Naturally other clubs eventually did and Internazionale claimed a star in 1966, AC Milan in 1979, Juventus its second star in 1984 and a third star in 2014.

At international level, Brazil first  displayed three stars above its crest to indicate that they had won three World Cups, at the 1974 World Cup. In time, Argentina and Germany would also display three stars but only after they had won three themselves but in a stunning turn of egotism, after Brazil won its fourth World Cup and added a fourth star; this is where the story gets distinctly weird.
Uruguay decided to add four stars above their own national crest to indicate their two World Cup wins and their two Olympic gold medals in football which they had won in 1920 and 1924; which would have served as the world championships in the light that the football World Cup only started in 1930.

This sort of thing became infectious and clubs began to add stars for World Cup wins, various confederations' Champions' Leagues, Confederations' cups and multiples of ten. The rule is not consistent though and within the same league you can have stars appear for different reasons. Rangers display five stars on their crest for the fifty domestic league titles they have won while Celtic only have one for their European Cup win in 1967, despite being eligible for three for winning more than thirty league titles.
This is why I think that the whole system is very much in bonkers land. Real Madrid in theory could be eligible for ten European Champions' League stars, or one if they decide to adopt the Italian system and that doesn't include their domestic honours of 32 La Liga titles and 19 Copas Del Rey. A team like Auckland United has won the Oceania Champions League nine times but does that entitle them to nine stars? Club Deportivo Guadalajara from Mexico embraces living in bonkers land by placing 11 stars on its badge for its 11 league titles.

There is a slight problem with the Australian national kit too. Australia doesn't have a proper national sporting crest, so it uses the normal Australian Coat of Arms and that has the Commonwealth Star at the top. Do you put a star above another star? That's just daft.

If I was Grand Poobah and Lord High Everything Else, then the standardised rule would be one gold star for every ten domestic league titles, another for winning ten of the various cups both domestically and internationally but national sides would be able to have one star for every title that they'd won but only in the relevant competition. If Uruguay wants two stars for its Olympic titles then fine but only on the Olympic kit.
The other thing which I would encourage would be a little picture on the sleeve with numbers for each of the various titles; even if those titles were somewhat lacking in prestige, like the FA Trophy or the FA Vase. If the only thing that your club ever won was a state league division 3 cup from 1957, then you should be able to show that. If you do want to show that something happened in the club's history, then make it a heraldic device. Liverpool for instance, carries two flames for the tragedies of Heysel and Hillsborough.

The FFA though, has decided that a win in the AFC Champions League deserves a gold star, while a league title gets a silver one; with multiple titles being denoted by a number in the star. Personally I think that that's a little bit strange but whatever, it's a system.

In answering the question of whether or not Sydney FC should have a star for its Oceania Club Championship, the answer should absolutely be "Yes". I think that Sydney FC should place a bronze star next to the other stars it collects because it has a unique story in the A-League in that it won a prize which no other club is eligible for. Likewise, I think that Perth Glory should place a yellow star with the number 2 in it to denote their titles in the old National Soccer League.
We should also bring in a scudetto and a cockade for the winners of the league and the cup to wear on their following season's kit too.

January 24, 2017

Horse 2216 - The United States Wants Out Of The United Nations

The last three United States Congresses under President Obama were the three least productive in the United States' history. Congresses 112, 113 and 114 were even less productive than the so-called "Do Nothing" 80th Congress under President Truman. Some people will argue of course that the system was working as designed, as the legislative branch was acting as a check and balance against the executive branch.
This extended to the Senate refusing to accept holding a hearing or vote on President Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland and the blocking of Cassandra Butts to be Ambassador to the Bahamas; with Senator Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, blocking the nomination to specifically hurt Obama. Senator Cotton, got his wish because 820 days after being nominated, Ms Butts died from leukemia.
The 2016 election for both the President and the Congress has meant that all possible checks, balances and shackles have been thrown aside, with the Republican Party holding the keys to both houses of Congress and the White House. Open the doors, chaps, now you can make all sorts of crazy laws, and boy, it certainly looks like that the Congress already has started on the job.

One of the more disturbing pieces of legislation that has been put before the House of Representatives is the rather Newspeakian named American Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2017; just the description on the Congress website should be enough to make people shudder.

American Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2017
This bill repeals the United Nations Participation Act of 1945 and other specified related laws.
The bill requires: (1) the President to terminate U.S. membership in the United Nations (U.N.), including any organ, specialized agency, commission, or other formally affiliated body; and (2) closure of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.
The bill prohibits: (1) the authorization of funds for the U.S. assessed or voluntary contribution to the U.N., (2) the authorization of funds for any U.S. contribution to any U.N. military or peacekeeping operation, (3) the expenditure of funds to support the participation of U.S. Armed Forces as part of any U.N. military or peacekeeping operation, (4) U.S. Armed Forces from serving under U.N. command, and (5) diplomatic immunity for U.N. officers or employees.

Incidentally, this new bill which was introduced by a bonkers group of six, is identical to a bill (except for the date) introduced in the 114th Congress by a slightly different bonkers group of seven:

Link: https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/1205

The rhetoric coming out of the White House at the moment is both erratic and populist. The actual policy set coming out of the White House and the Congress though, borders on isolationist and dare I say it fascist and I mean that in a functional sense where you have a capitalist economy subject to authoritarian governmental controls, suppression of the opposition, and open nationalism and racism, rather than as a pejorative term.

Granted, that many people within the United States probably don't want the financial burden of being the policeman of the world and that's why they want out but it seems incredibly hypocritical to me that the United States wants to pull out of something which is headquartered in New York City.

The United Nations which as a thing was originally proposed by Roosevelt and Churchill in 1941, was originally intended to be a more concrete thing where the signatories would actually do something to keep peace and act as a replacement for the League of Nations which had been mostly ineffective and incapable of stopping the rise of Nazi Germany and Imperialist Japan. The United Nations started out after Roosevelt died and had reasonably good intentions but the world became immensely more complicated with the Cold War and the Communist Revolution in China among other things. The UN was also handed the impossible question of what was to be done with the land of Palestine and to be honest, we're still not really finished with sorting that out.

I suspect that the reason why the United States and the Congress in particular wants out of the United Nations is that they don't want to pay for its upkeep and they rather resent being told what to do by it. Among other things the United States is probably still annoyed that it was told by the then UN Secretary General that under the UN Charter, it didn't have the authority to judge unilaterally that Iraq had broken its obligations of compliance to UN resolutions; which formed the basis of the United States going to war in Iraq in 2003.

Yes, if you wish. I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN charter from our point of view, from the charter point of view, it was illegal.
- UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, as quoted by BBC News, 16th Sep 2004.

If you drill down into the text of the bill, the United States wants out of:
- The United Nations itself
- Hosting the United Nations' HQ
- Contributing into ANY fund, which includes by the way things like UNICEF, the WHO and UNESCO
- All peacekeeping operations or forces
- Diplomatic immunity of any officers or employees of the United Nations
- Any United Nations Environment Programs
- United Nations Environment Program
- Participation in any conventions and agreements

That is a very very serious list indeed. If any other country had enacted such a thing, then it would very quickly find itself becoming a pariah on the world stage. The United States though, which also wants out of trade agreements and NATO, can and one would argue already does engage in bigger army diplomacy.

The scary thing is that with the Republican Party now holding both houses and the White House and having lurched very quickly to the right, either we'll see the United States close ranks on itself or perhaps more worryingly, not bother about what the rest of the world thinks when it next decides to bomb yet another country back to a smouldering pile of rubble. Without the UN to voice a hesitation, the United States wouldn't be held back and its worth remembering that so far it has only been the United States who have actually had the audacity to use nuclear weapons in an act of war - twice.

January 23, 2017

Horse 2215 - Parental Advice For New Parents By Someone Who Has No Idea About Parenting

At this moment in time I know of at least three sets of prospective parents, who are looking forward to the arrival of their first child. As I have the social tact of a sledgehammer meeting an egg, I shall now offer some unsolicited advice.

If I seem like the most unqualified person in the world to give out parenting advice, you'd be right. I don't have any children of my own and to be perfectly honest, the thought that it I did have children, that they'd both inherit a host of my neuroses and genetics, is too scary to contemplate. The world does not need that sort of punishment inflicted upon it.

Having said that, there is one area in which I feel more than qualified to dispense advice but only because I've seen the results, time and time again. That area is one of the very first decisions that should be made upon the arrival of a baby and I think should be made beforehand. That is deciding upon the baby's name.

My advice is legion, for it is many.

1. Don't spell the name differently.

Your child will be unique; that much is obvious. They will live in a different era to you and they will more than likely have experiences which you can not even imagine. The world will change several times over and by the time that they are old, it will look so different that it will be unrecognisable to you. Not that you'll mind much by that stage because you will probably be dead.

The one constant throughout your child's life will be their name. It will appear on every important document that they ever receive and on every piece of mail, email and other correspondence that they get. This being true, at some point they will have to give their name out on the telephone or in person. If they have to spend at least threescore years having to spell it out for people because you decided to spell it weirdly, then you have failed in your job at naming them.

Please think ahead of time before you unleash the weird spellings of Mychal, Genifur or Kiileegh into the world. Moreover, please think about the number of times in their lifetime that they will be needlessly forced to spell their name out to people because you decided to inadvertently punish them forever.

2. Don't be fashionable.

At the turn of the century, there were lots of baby girls who were being named Britney. The name achieved worldwide fame thanks to one particular songstress and consequently, I now prepare the Tax Returns of 17-22 year old ladies who are being  given extra income as the result of being old enough to be a useful tax advantage for their parents.

I guess that this is similar to the echo boom of children that I am a cohort member of. In several classes in school, I was one of three or four Andrews. This probably helps to explain why I was given several nicknames at various times, as a way of distinguishing between us. Having been a child with the same first name as multiple others, I can tell you from first hand experience that it gets kind of wearisome at times when you hear your name but it isn't for you. That sort of thing is like Pavlovian random reinforcement.

3. Think about the year 2077.

Probably everyone who is reading this (including myself), in the year 2077 will be dead. If I should survive that long, then I will be 99 years old and incapable of reading this anyway. However, a child born in 2017 will be 60 years old and that poses an interesting problem.
A name that sounds cute at age 3 might sound really strange on a 60 year old person. The name Carly is fine for someone who is seven years old but 66 year old Professor Carly who is working as a molecular biologist will still be ruing the decision made by their parents more than six decades ago. Also, a name which sounds odd for a small child might be completely respectable and even wondrous for an adult. Benedict Cumberbatch is possibly the single most brilliant name for any human being in existence today.

4. Play with rhythm.

Test a prospective name to see how it sounds. Jacqueline Jones, Robert Atherton, Antonia Pestalozzi, are all names that sound like proper people. A name which sounds nice by itself, might not work with your surname. Beware though, your daughter might marry someone who has a name which just doesn't fit. Unfortunately, you can't do anything about that.

5. Don't name your son Judas.

If you are Spanish then the name Jesus doesn't sound all that strange but in English it's something which you probably shouldn't do. Likewise, there are some names like Judas or even Adolf which have been tainted so much that even their utterance brings about unpleasant connotations.

6. Don't name your daughter Chloe.

Just don't. It sounds like a dog's name. Sorry to all the Chloes in the world but I instantly think of a big fluffy sheepdog.

7. Break any or all these rules as necessary.

It's your child. Who am I to tell you how to look live your life? If you want to give your child some weird name because it means "lovely afternoon" in a foreign language, then do so. I'd still advise you not to name your new daughter Chloe.

January 22, 2017

Horse 2214 - Matthew 9:1-13 - Jesus Heals A Paralysed Man. Jesus Eats With Tax Collectors and Sinners.

Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”

At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”

Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” Then the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man.
- Matthew 9:1-8 (NIV)



Before we dig down into this portion of chapter 9 and see what treasures await us, it is worth looking at who wrote this gospel, who his first audience was and why he lays out everything in the way that he does.
As verse 9 tells us, Matthew's occupation is that of a tax collector.

In the first century, Judea was a province of the Roman Empire, who like just about every other empire in history, gained land and power through conquest. That would have been fine if you were a Roman in Rome but if you were a conquered people like the Jewish people were, that tended to breed resentment.
The local governors would send taxes and tribute to Rome, in exchange for mostly being left alone, except for having soldiers enforce Roman law and they weren't exactly the kindest of people.

Mostly the Roman Empire didn't collect income taxes in the same way that our modern governments do, and instead, collected tax on the basis of goods passing through the various ports and on the trade routes through the empire.

Matthew lived in the port town of Capernaum, which was on the north side of the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum which was both on a Roman highway and was a sea port, had many traders and goods passing through it and so it would have been a major source of income for the local governor, who then passed some on to Rome.

Matthew was probably something more like a customs and excise officer, of the sort that we are likely to find at the airport or down at the docks. He collected taxation based on the value of goods that were declared in his booth, and rather than being paid a wage, he took a cut of the money that he collected.

Even more so than today, tax collectors were hated by the Jewish people. Not only were they working for the Romans, who they hated, but because they had to take their wages out of what they collected, the job was very much open to corruption. If you will recall, the other tax collector mentioned by name in the Gospels was Zacchaeus, who promised to return four times the amount that he had cheated out of people, when he met Jesus.

We don't know how or why he came to be a tax collector but it's not unreasonable to assume that he must have done something serious to have fallen out of polite Jewish society because now he was working for the Roman Empire, which was very much the enemy.

For Jesus to seek out Matthew was also something of a risk. Matthew was a tax collector and for Jesus who was a rabbi to be seen with such a person, would have been a major burn to his reputation.

Unlike Peter and Andrew who were fishermen, it wasn't really as if he could just walk back into his job again if things didn't work out. For Matthew to just get up and leave that all behind is a very big step. Although having said that, as he was a tax collector, if anyone knew what the bottom line would be, it would be him. The only tool of the trade which Matthew could carry forward would be his pen and I'm glad that he used it in the service of his new king.



If you compare Matthew's gospel to the other three, we see that Matthew takes an entirely different approach from them because he is writing for a different purpose.
John's gospel is designed to make you see Jesus power and love, and by believing in him and what he has done, we will have eternal life with him. Luke's gospel is about making an orderly account so that you will believe that all these things are true. Mark's gospel was written in terribly scrappy Greek because he had a message which he simply couldn't contain any longer and had to get it out to as many people as possible and as quickly as he could. Matthew's gospel though is different from the others. In the Bible which I normally use, there is a list of events in chronological order but Matthew doesn't seem to put things in that order either.

No. Matthew has an entirely different purpose. Matthew doesn't use a chronological approach because Matthew who is mainly writing to Jewish people, wants to prove that Jesus is the Messiah that they had been waiting for, for so long.

So far we've followed Jesus' birth and Mathew has laid out the Royal list of succession, all the way back even before King David and Solomon, to Abraham. Abraham if you will remember had promises made to him by God that he would receive land, become the father of many nations but most importantly of all that the whole world would be blessed through his descendants because of Abraham's obedience in not withholding his own son Issac. This was a picture of the coming Messiah and as Abraham said in faith: "God will provide for himself, the lamb for the burnt offering"

We've seen how God has provided that lamb for himself by stepping into the world,  with the birth of his own son who was called Immanuel or "God with us". We've seen God personally confirm this with a voice from heaven saying "This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased'.

We've heard Jesus' opening sermon from on top of the mountain where he has spoken and taught as one who has authority and not as the teachers of the law had done. Jesus has laid out his attitude to the law, in which a heartfelt obedience to the law is mode important than trying to follow its letter because an obligation. The Messiah has not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it by living out what it says, rather than following it for appearance's sake.
In Chapter 8, we see Jesus heal a man with leprosy by actually bothering to go out and touch him. Anyone who became a leper would have been "unclean", and the law demanded that they be banished from society.
A Roman Centurion had such faith that he believed that Jesus could heal his servant just by speaking the word. This was a Roman soldier, the enemy and yet he demonstrated a faith that would put many of the Jewish religious leaders to shame.
Jesus heals Peter's mother in law from a fever, commands the wind an the waves to be still and they obeyed him. He cast out demons from two men who were so wild that the were forced to live among the tombs.
In all this Matthew reminds us of the promise in Isaiah 53 which foretells of coming of the Messiah:
 "He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases".

Again and again, Matthew is arranging the things that he saw personally, not because he wants to tell a pretty story but because he wants to show that this Jesus is the Messiah. He is the one who the law and the prophets were pointing to.
We have seen demonstrations of Jesus’ power and authority and we have seen him heal the sick, irrespective of whether they were Jewish or not. We have seen him cross the line of what is "unclean" to free people of their diseases and the powers that stand against him, be they political or spiritual have all been nothing to him.

In chapter 9, we see further demonstrations of that power and authority.



On this trip back home, some people have brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus to see if he could help. It has to be said that these people didn't have a wishy-washy kind of faith. Their faith was put into action.

We don't know how far they had to move their friend but if it was any more than a couple of hundred metres, then it would have gotten pretty tiresome pretty quickly. It is difficult to move around a dead weight but these friends were still prepared to do what it took bring their friend to Jesus. Both Mark and Luke mention that they were willing to tear through the roof in order to bring their friend to Jesus. The faith of all these people was both bold and determined.
When Jesus sees their faith, he doesn't immediately heal this man but says: "Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven."

Take note of what the objection raised by the teachers of the law is. They don't seem to be concerned that Jesus is demonstrating that he has power to heal but rather, the teachers of the law say to themselves that Jesus is blaspheming.

Blasphemy isn't just taking the Lord's name in vain or using it as a cuss word. The Oxford English Dictionary says that blasphemy is the "irreverent treatment of a religious or sacred thing." What sacred thing is Jesus treatment irreverently? Jesus said “Your sins are forgiven”. The sacred thing in question is the authority to forgive sins and that authority is only held by God himself. Just who does he think he is anyway? By saying to this paralyzed man, "your sins are forgiven", is Jesus really daring to claim to be God?

Julius Caesar who had declared himself dictator for life, Augustus who had been declared emperor and the current emperor Tiberius had all styled themselves as "Divi Filius - the Son of God" and so maybe the teachers of the law saw Jesus as a puppet of the Romans, who was going to bring even more trouble for them. If Jesus was like all the other people they'd seen claiming to be the Messiah, then it would be best for them to get rid of him as quickly as possible.

The teachers of the law knew full well that the penalty which would be imposed for blasphemy, was quite severe and would be very useful for getting rid of this “Messiah” claiming to be God and claiming to be able to forgive sins.

The law as written in Leviticus said:
 "Say to the Israelites: 'If anyone curses his God, he will be responsible; anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord must be put to death. The entire assembly must stone him. Whether an alien or native-born, when he blasphemes the Name, he must be put to death."
- Leviticus 24:15-16

Yes, their motives were polluted because they knew that if and when the Messiah did arrive, they would certainly lose their own power and authority but even so, they had probably seen many people claiming to be the "Messiah" come and go and all of them came to nought but here Jesus doesn’t just claim to be the Messiah, by claiming to have the authority to forgive sins, Jesus is virtually declaring himself to be God.

So, how does Jesus prove that he is God, and prove the teachers of the law wrong? Let's look at his answer.

Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”
- Matthew 9:5-7 (NIV)

It is easy to say anything. I can for instance say that "I am a cabinet maker" but if you were to hand me a set of tools, I can guarantee that you would be less than impressed with the result. You might have a cabinet but it would more than likely call to pieces pretty quickly.

It is easy to say the words 'Your sins are forgiven' but how to we really know that he really does have the power to forgive sin? It is much harder for those words to have any authority and power to actually do something. Jesus performs miracles throughout the New Testament, to prove in the physical world with the things that can be seen, that he is the ruler of both the physical and spiritual world, of both the things seen and unseen.

Verse 8 tells us that the people marveled, that God had given such authority to men. The people couldn't have known that God didn't give such authority to a man but that this Jesus was God, who was found in appearance as a man. Jesus was indeed fully man but he was also fully God. Remember, back in Chapter 1 Matthew recorded for us that the prophet Isaiah had said that his name would be Immanuel; which when translated means "God with us". Jesus was God in the flesh, literally among us, "with us." By healing the paralyzed man, he demonstrated that he was indeed God with us.



Let's look at the second story in Matthew's gospel for today. From verse 9 onwards, we see that Jesus has called Matthew and that Matthew has followed in obedience.

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
- Matthew 9:9-13 (NIV)

We are told that at Matthew's house, there was a gathering of tax collectors and 'sinners', what we don't know is what sort of 'sinners' attended the dinner, but being a sea port, it wouldn't take much to work out what kinds of people they might be.

We were told at the beginning of the Chapter that Jesus got into a boat and went back to his home town of Capernaum. Capernaum was both on a Roman highway as well as being on the shore of the Sea Of Galilee. Port towns tend to attract a wide range of rather unsavory people.
If you look at our own city of Sydney, we have seen corruption on the waterfront, with people trying to smuggle in all sorts of drugs and goods and weaponry and the suburb on top of the hill which is next to the naval base, Kings Cross, has a rather infamous reputation for being the home of brothels, strip clubs and organised crime.

Naturally, when the Pharisees show up, they begin to ask the question of Jesus' disciples:
"Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"

I don't think that the Pharisees who ask this question are curious as to what the answer might be. Jesus has already gained a reputation for speaking with authority and had built up a degree of fame in the region and I think that they were probably sending people to follow him around, in the hope that they could find something to trip him up on, so they could get rid of this nuisance. Rather than any genuine concern for these tax collectors’ and sinners’ state of eternal welfare, the Pharisees who were more worried about their own appearance and power, were in the business of pest extermination. In their eyes, they have the perfect evidence to prosecute a trial by association.

Jesus' response to this was to call them out on their concern for their own welfare, rather than the people directly in front of them. Jesus also reminds the Pharisees that healthy people don't present themselves to doctors for treatment. Likewise, people who are self righteous, who are counting on their own goodness, wouldn't present themselves to God because they already thought that they were all right.

"It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick"
- Mathew 9:12

Jesus is likening sin to a sickness. Remember at the man who was lying paralyzed on mat? He had an obvious sickness that everyone could see. His friends who brought him to Jesus could see it; the teachers of the law could see it. Jesus didn't think that that was the most important thing to be treated though. If you arrive at A&E at the hospital after being in a horrible accident, the doctors are going to worry more about your fractured pelvis than your mild throat tickle.

The problem with this particular sickness, that is the sickness of sin, is that it infects the way we think, what we do are effects of its symptoms and it leaves us insensitive to the needs of others and the will of God. It convinces us that we are fine as we are and that everything we do is right; no matter how our actions affect other people or how they offend God. The problem with this sickness is that there is no known cure and left untreated, results in the eternal death of all who have it; which is everyone.

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
- Matthew 9:12-13

Jesus quotes a passage from the Old Testament here. The Pharisees of all people should be able to quote all kinds of scripture but just because they can repeat the words of scripture, have they learned what those words mean? Do they understand what they can repeat?

How about we take Jesus up on his suggestion to go and learn what this means. The passage that Jesus quotes from is from Hosea. Hosea was also writing to a people who were suffering under the oppression of the ambivalent ruling class.

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
    and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
- Hosea 6:6

“I desire mercy, not sacrifice” says the Lord. The Pharisees knew a lot about the system of sacrifices which had to be performed at the temple but those sacrifices could never hope to take away sins. They were always only meant as a picture of God’s grand plan, to provide his own son as a sacrifice.
God’s desire is, was and always will be to walk with people and be their friend. It was because of God’s love and compassion that he was patient with his people for so long; saying “return to me”, “return to me.”

God’s desire is also that people act decently towards each other. The Pharisees could very easily point out everyone else’s sin but they didn’t care enough to bother to find out how these people came to be “sinners” in the first place, much less to help them out of it.

Jesus is saying that God would rather be acknowledged as God, rather than being presented with the ritual of empty burnt offerings. Hosea also foretold of one who would be coming, one who would bind up our wounds and “on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in God’s presence” but first, in order to make us acceptable to step into God’s presence, he would have to be punished and cast out of it, for our sake.



We should not excuse sin, either in someone else or ourselves but neither are we called to retreat so far away from "sinners" that we never ever speak with any of them. Jesus stepped down into the world and crossed boundaries to speak to people, to touch them, to heal them, to show them his love and to bring them into his kingdom. The man with leprosy was unclean, the Roman Centurion was an enemy of the Jewish people and a gentile and more than likely worshipped Roman gods, the demon possessed men were dangerous, the paralyzed man was ceremonially unclean and Matthew was a traitor to his own nation and hung around with "sinners".
We might have neighbours who look different to us, come from different places and even worship different gods but that doesn't mean that we should be hostile and be like the Pharisees, pointing fingers at them. We might have family members or work colleagues with vastly different opinions on things that we might even find offensive but we get nowhere by running away from them. We need to follow Jesus' example and also cross boundaries, to show them his love and maybe  to bring them into his kingdom.

Jesus did not come to call the "righteous" or rather, those people that think that they are righteous, but sinners like us and who are us, to repentance. Perhaps we need to go and learn what this means. Perhaps we need to look into the scriptures to see where we are failing. Maybe we don't even know where we are failing and need someone who comes with mercy to point it out to us. Or maybe there is some area of sin we continue in.

Jesus calls "sinners" like us, to repentance, to resolve not to continue in sin but to abandon it and leave it behind. Like Matthew, we have been called to “Follow Him”. When Matthew was called he obediently left everything behind, got up and followed Jesus. Are we going to be found as faithful and obedient when Jesus calls?

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.