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.

December 06, 2016

Horse 2198 - Oddvent: Dec 6 - The Perfect Christmas Dinner

‘twas the nineteenth night before Christmas.

December 6th is the sixth day of the made-up characters calendar and being Saint Nicholas’ Day, the day that Sinterklaas and Zwarte Pieten kidnap all of the bad children and take them away to Spain.
What does that have to do with the price of fish? Well nothing really but this story does, sort of.

Before you consider tucking into your Christmas Pudding, green bean bake, Brussels Sprouts and goose this Christmas, have a think in advance about what the best Christmas dinner could possibly be. Far too many Christmas dinners are blighted by blandness and boringness because that's the way that it has always been done. Tradition for tradition's sake might be easier to plan but there is a definitively perfect Christmas dinner and you need to know about it.

Before the Norman invasion of Britain in 1066; before the wave of Viking invasions; before the wave of Danish and Saxon invasions, the island of Britain was a patchwork quilt of smaller independent kingdoms who mostly hated each other. Three kingdoms had control of the south of the island and they were the Kingdom Of Mercia, the Kingdom Of Devon and the Kingdom Of Cornwall. All three were highly protective of their borders and even though they shared the same island, they were more likely to trade with mainland Europe than they were with each other.

In the year 584, when Æthelford the Bad was King of Devon, a trade delegation from King Woadi of Mercia was sent to try to diffuse tensions following a series of raids up and down their border; by raiders from both sides. Woadi was painfully aware that the continued tension, only drained the public coffers and that eventually when the public purse ran empty, there would be internal unrest in his own kingdom. A wagon train of wine, cured meats, and some of the finest fabric that the kingdom had to offer, was sent on its way to Æthelford. It didn't even make it twenty miles across the border and the entire cache of goods was stolen by the locals; with the wagon drivers killed and the oxen taken for their own use.

In 586, Woadi decided to send a ship full of beer, jewellery, fine linen and spices that they had acquired from other trade but this too was sunk after being set on fire.
In 587, Woadi sent ten nobles to negotiate terms of the end of hostilities, if no formal peace treaty could be reached. They were taken to a formal assembly of the Thing (the parliament) and although the achieved nothing, at least they weren't killed and all ten were able to return home to tell the tale.
In 590, after the village of Wicker Basket in Mercia had been razed, the village of Soggy Bottom in Devon had been attacked and the chief, Luke Owtawindo, had been taken captive and after the walled hamlet of Little Trouble had been set on fire, King Woadi decided to visit Devon himself and travelled on a fish van that carried the most amazing smoked cod that the kingdom had to offer. The people of Devon weren't sure what to make of the arrival of the King Of Mercia and the fish van was denied entry across the border at least two dozen times. Eventually the situation had to be resolved by the arrival of King Æthelford of Devon himself and the fish can was allowed entry, but only under the direct authority of the king.

When King Woadi did finally arrive at Æthelford's great hall on Christmas Day of 590, there was much joy and celebration for the people knew that the period of conflict was surely at an end. This was a blessing that could only have come at Christmas and in a season of goodwill towards all.
A banquet was given and Æthelford presented Woadi with the most expensive dish was available in the Kingdom of Devon - the eye of a camel which was served upon the spike of a knitting needle.
King Woadi said:
“It is easier for a needle to pass through the eye of a camel than for a fish van to enter the Kingdom Of Devon.”

When Æthelford tasted the cod which had been brought by King Woadi of Mercia, he couldn't believe that such a thing existed in the world. This could only be a Christmas miracle and Æthelford described the fish as the tastiest thing that he had ever eaten; indeed:
"It was the piece of cod that transcends all understanding."



December 05, 2016

Horse 2197 - Oddvent: Dec 5 - A Christmas Warning

'twas the twentieth night before Christmas.

December 5th is the fifth day of the made-up characters calendar and being St Saint Nicholas’ Eve, the day that good children will find a coin in their boot and bad children will find a twig or a lump of coal in their boot, we shall now tell the story of a small child called William.

The Great Fire of London, which raged from September 5 to September 9 1666, tore through the old city within the confines of the Roman Wall. Because the fire had started at Pudding Lane and ended at Pye Corner, one of the popular explanations for the fire was that this was the result of God’s wrath being poured out upon the city for the sin of gluttony. This seems rather churlish as the fire killed as many as 80,000 people or one in seven of London's inhabitants.
In the aftermath of the fire, many people were left homeless and perhaps most shocking of all, there was no form of social security whatsoever and so many children were made orphans with no visible means of support.

One particularly gruesome tale tells of a small boy known only as William, who had to fend for himself as both of his parents had been killed. During the day, he would head down to the Thames and collect mussels, winkles and cockles which he would then try to sell; often for only a few farthings.

On December 5th, Saint Nicholas’ Eve, William was selling his wares in the Islington region of north London, when a generous gentleman passed his palm not with a farthing or a penny but a silver shilling; which was about as much as the lad would see in two months, let alone a single night. Naturally the lad was overjoyed and thanked the man.

London at night and especially during the late seventeenth century was a dark place. Although there were lamps in the city, these were still few and far between and this made it really easy to commit crime at night and evade detection. Consequently, the city was full of nefarious types and even crime itself became something of a cottage industry.
Evidently, someone had seen the lad and decided that no-one would miss another street urchin and William was slashed and then stabbed to death in the middle of the street before the assailant tore off into the night. As there would be no such thing as a permanent police force until the nineteenth century, the attacker was never found; not that many would have cared anyway.

Legend has it that William’s ghost haunted the area for quite some time and people even mistakenly thought that it was William who might be the angel of The Angel, Islington.
William’s memory would not be forgotten entirely and although he had no father or mother or brother or sister to mourn his loss, he would go on to serve as a warning to other children to remain indoors at night.

Wee Willie Winkie runs through the town,
Up stairs and down stairs in his night-gown,
Tapping at the window, crying at the lock,
Are the children in their bed, for it's past ten o'clock?

The implication being that the city at night is a dark and dangerous place and that it is best that children come inside after dark. Of course the sun sets at 3:54 PM in London during the middle of winter and we do have better lighting and a far more competent police force but that’s still pretty good advice anyway.

December 04, 2016

Horse 2196 - Oddvent: Dec 4 - The Christmas Penguin

'twas the twenty-first night before Christmas.

December 4th is the fourth day of the made-up characters calendar and being St Tam's Day, the day that a Penguin saved a child's life, we shall now tell the story of Tim & Tam the Penguin.

Everyone has heard of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" in which the protagonist, Mr Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three specters who reform him and change his attitude. In the tale, he is warned that the son of his employee Bob Cratchitt, who is called "Tiny Tim", will die unless an unnamed course of medical treatment is given to him. The tale is supposed to be precautionary and act as an object lesson for all of us to change out ways. What you might not be aware of though is that this was based on a far older legend and dates from the middle of the second century AD.

Gaius Petruvius was the Governor of the Roman province of Numida Inferior from the year 164 to 196. He was a brutal and unforgiving ruler, who exacted heavy taxation from his province and put down rebellions and uprisings without mercy. The story which Dickens drew from revolved around a man called Haki and his son Timaeus.

Haki was a goat farmer and eked out a modest living in selling meat, wool, milk and cheese. Like most farmers in the province, his was not an overly abundant living but it was adequate to keep him and his three children in a reasonable standard of living. Unfortunately the winter of 167 was singularly bitter and he lost many of his flock. It was so bad in fact, that when the taxation assessors came around in the summer, they took pity upon Haki and he escaped without having any taxation imposed upon him at all. This would have been fine if it wasn't for the further heartache of there being a flood at the beginning of the fall and even more of his flock was lost in the raging waters.

This would have been an ordinary tale of agricultural loss if it wasn't for the Governor himself, Gaius Petruvius, who took a liking to the goat meat and demanded to know specifically which farm it had come from. Haki was summoned to the governor's palace and instead of having pity taken upon him, Gaius Petruvius thought that this was a sign that Haki must have done something to invoke the anger of the gods and rather than risk what else he might bring upon the province, he ordered that Haki be thrown into prison.

Legend has it that that night, Gaius Petruvius was visited by three specters who showed him summers past, summer present and summers future and that it was not Haki's fault that misfortune had occurred but it was the fault of his son Timaeus. If nothing was done, then the future would continue to be awful and there was nothing for it: the child must die.

Gaius Petruviius organised a maniple of troops to visit the household of Haki and when they arrived, they found Haki's wife attending to the needs of the house and Haki's older two sons out on the hillsides keeping the goats. Haki's youngest son Timaeus was an exceptionally small and scrawny looking child and could be found not terribly far away from the house playing with his pet penguin Tam. When questioned as to what his name was, the child answered "Tim" and when he was stolen away, he put up so much of a protest that the soldiers decided to bring along his companion, Tam the penguin.

The child was brought to the palace of the governor and was asked several questions about what he had done which might have caused the terrible winter and following flood. This was all too much for Tiny Tim who was no more than seven years old and instead of answering the questions, he could only stand in the middle of the palace crying. Gaius Petruvius had no time for the nonsense of a crying child and ordered that Tiny Tim be quartered and the four parts be sent to the furthest reaches of the province.
Just as one of the soldiers was about to hack off Tiny Tim's head with an axe, Tam the penguin broke free of his captors and waddled as fast as he could to be with Timaeus. Gaius Petruvius was so moved to see this display of affection for the boy by the penguin that he immediately revoked the order that Tiny Tim be killed and also immediately ordered that Haki be set free and that no further impost would be payable.

From here the legend is unclear but we do know that Gaius Petruvius ordered that special black biscuits be baked in honour of the penguin and the dispute lies in the question of whether or not they should be called Tim-Tam biscuits after Timaeus and Tam, or just Penguin biscuits.

December 03, 2016

Horse 2195 - Oddvent: Dec 3 - The Christmas Hero Sandwich

'twas the twenty-second night before Christmas.

December 3rd is the third day of the made-up characters calendar and being St Sandwiches’ Day, the day that the Twelve Foot Long Hero Sandwich of Burton Country, Vermont, was officially credited with the miracle of feeding the fifty, we shall now tell the story of Jennifer Warwick, the lady of the greatest sandwich of them all.

In the winter of 1865 and after a brutal period of four years which saw the Union pitted against the breakaway Confederacy in the Civil War, the United States needed to come together to heal its wounds. As a result of there being many furnaces and foundries built for the product of weapons and equipment, there was now an excess of these things and they needed to be converted to civilian use of else be a waste. The problem is that there are only so many things that you can put a giant fire box to use as: foundry, kiln, crematorium and of course the best of all, a regular old oven.

Jennifer Warwick had seen her husband go off to fight for the Union four years before and just as she thought that she was going to have her husband return home to her, the government posted her a small medal and a certificate in lieu of him, as he had stood on a tent peg and died of tetanus. Consequently, as he had been a blacksmith and founder, she found herself in possession of the fire box but without the necessary skills to do her husband's former job; undaunted, she turned her hand to the one thing that she was renowned for: baking.
Warwick & Co. went from turning out a few loaves per day for pennies, to many hundreds of loaves per week which brought in hundreds of dollars. Word spread throughout the state of Vermont and soon she was turning out bread for people as distinguished as the Governor.

Christmas of 1865 was particularly unkind as the mercury plunged well below freezing and many ex-servicemen now had to take their next battle, surviving the winter; this was well before the arrival of the welfare state. As an act of charity for families who were in similar circumstances to her own, Jennifer Warwick announced that she would bake the longest loaf of bread that the firebox would allow, and pieces would be given away to these families. Word reached the local newspaper, The Burton Register, and a campaign was soon established among the local farmers to bring a selection of meats, cheeses and vegetables together, so that the families might have more than just bread at Christmas.

On Christmas Day, when the twelve foot long loaf of bread was taken out of the firebox and laid on a specially constructed trellis table, it was cut down the side and work began on filling it with the great provision which had been brought forth. It was unlike any other sandwich ever made; for it was filled with things that do not normally go together, including: ham, lamb, various salamis, lettuce, tomatoes, olives, chicken, turkey, avocados, mustard, mayonnaise, artichoke, beans, and five kinds of cheese from the county.
There was great joy when as the sandwich was cut into two inch divisions, fifty four people of whom the war had taken a great toll, all shared in its bounty. Some of them had been made lame, others had lost limbs; others were still traumatised from the war and were thankful that a great kindness had been shown to them. The Mayor of Burton County, Clyde Auburn, declared that:

The sandwich was so great and its provision for the veterans so remarkable, that this should surely become a Christmas tradition along with giving coal to children. Mrs Jennifer Warwick has not merely prepared a Christmas sandwich by her generosity and ingenuity but she has invented what will be known as for many years to come, a Christmas Hero Sandwich.
- The Burton Register, 26th Dec 1865.

More than 150 years later, the hero sandwich has escaped beyond the confines of the holiday season and has become something to be enjoyed all the year round. History may have passed over Jennifer Warwick but greatest sandwich, both in size and fame, lives on. Perhaps we should revive the original meaning and invite those less fortunate to come and share the Christmas Hero Sandwich once again.

December 02, 2016

Horse 2194: Oddvent: Dec 2 - The Official Drink Of Christmas

'twas the twenty-third night before Christmas.

December 2nd is the second day of the made-up characters calendar and being Moloch's Day, in celebration of the horror that is industrial disasters, this day marks the proprietor Noel Knowell.

'Hark!' the morning Herald sings,
Advertising wonderous things.
Angels we have heard on high,
Telling everyone to buy.

In the beginning of the nineteenth century, if you wanted to make anything grand, it either had to be built out of wood or iron. And because there wouldn't be electricity in people's homes or in factories, it meant that horsepower was provided by actual horses and that you needed steam power to drive factories and candles and gas if you wanted light.  The story of how Noel Knowell came to be associated with Christmas starts with just such a problem.

Just after the Great Exhibition of 1851, Mr Noel Knowell who owned the Majestic Star Department Store thought that it would be appropriate for the store to have a great beacon of light on its roof in commemoration of the star of Bethlehem. He commissioned none other than Isembard Kingdom Brunel to build the world's biggest and brightest gas light, in the shape of globe, for a light on a hill cannot be hidden.
Isembard Kingdom Brunel was a nineteenth century industrial revolutionary. Among his many achievements was the building of the Clifton Suspension Bridge, the great steamship the SS Great Britain and the first tunnel underwater, the Thames Tunnel. These things are not relevant to the story of our modern Christmas celebration; his contribution comes from a much much darker place.

Brunel had had no prior experience with either building lamps or indeed working with glass at all but that did not trouble him. This was the age of industry and light and power were elements that could be tamed and brought to command by those who dared to do so - audere est facere - to dare is to do.
Brunel's lamp, which was gas lit, was built from a cage of iron and had eight sections of glass; one for every quarter both above and below the horizon. It measured twelve feet across and would be the brightest object built by human hands. The Majestic Star Department Store would have its own bright star that would give great light both day and night.

On December 2nd 1851, Noel Knowell attempted to light the beacon for the first time but unknown to all, Brunel had unwittingly built a massive gas bomb. When his pilot light on the end of a twenty foot pole excited the gas, the beacon exploded in a shower of iron and glass, the gas caused a fireball which engulfed the top level in the department store and the iron ring which formed the equator was blown across the street and into a park where it miraculously came to settle around a couple who were cowering under a holly tree and in each other's arms. It is because of their good fortune that we place circles of holly on our doors. The Majestic Star Department Store never commenced another day's trading.

Ever the businessman, Noel Knowell retreated into one of his sidelines and began to produce bottled drinks, in the still infant apothecarial tonics industry. This new venture which was founded in 1852, in partnership with a recently arrived migrant Swedish chef, Bjorn Issthe, made a host of drinks including Indian Tonic Water, Dandelion and Burdock, and Sarsaparilla but it was their Ginger Ale for which the company became famous.


“Noel Knowell / Bjorn Issthe - King Of Ginger Ale” became one of the most famous drinks companies of the day; notwithstanding the fact that in the period before the First World War where the use of drugs was completely unregulated, the drink was laced with cocaine and marketed with the tag line of "Everything Must Go"; which either seems incredibly morbid or euphoric depending on how you choose to look at it; the company chose the former.
Unfortunately, the company did not fare so well during the Great Recession of 1892 and ran into financial difficulties. The company folded in 1899 after fading into obscurity and unprofitability but not before “Noel Knowell / Bjorn Issthe - King Of Ginger Ale” had passed into the realm of popular song.

December 01, 2016

Horse 2193 - Oddvent: Dec 1 - Philip The Gravy Duck

'twas the twenty-fourth night before Christmas.

The month of December is known around the world for the telling of stories which are made up and to be honest have not a lot do to with Christmas itself. They include the tale of Santa Claus and his gang of followers like Zwart Piet and the Whipping Father, the Christmas Goat, El Caganer, Frosty The Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Lady Bertilak. They are as weird as the Easter Bunny, the Queen's Birthday Robot and the Brenda, the Labour Day Civil Disobedience Penguin.
If these are all made up, then why not make up a bunch of hooey for every day of Advent and commercialise the lot?

December 1st is the first day of the made-up characters calendar and being St Philips Day, in celebration of the Dutch electronics company, this day marks the arrival of Philip The Gravy Duck.

In many people's houses, December 1st is the day that the Christmas tree is decorated. That might mean a trip to the treemongers or perhaps a jaunt into a state forest for a spot of tree poaching, or even to the hall cupboard to set up an imitation fir tree; thus installing a fake version of a piece of vegetation on the pests of national interest register, but irrespective of what tree is used, it always means finding all of the trinkets and baubles to go along with it.

Somewhere in the midst of all the confusion; when nobody expects it and when nobody notices, everyone is visited by the first of The 24 Guardians Of Christmas Spirit: Philip The Gravy Duck.  Philip The Gravy Duck isn't actually obsessed with gravy as the name suggests. No, during the fun and frivolity of dressing the Christmas tree, he arrives and hides the gravy boat. On Christmas Day when you're busily hacking into that turkey, ham, goose or perhaps your individual Cornish Hen, invariably you will want some gravy. Much to your chagrin and annoyance, the gravy boat will be missing and you along with scores of disappointed people all over the world, will have to serve the gravy in a mug or small milk jug. Nobody ever realises it at the time and spends most of Christmas Day in a flapdoodle and this is just one of myriad root causes.



In the Christmas story, the tale of Philip The Gravy Duck is represented by the epiphany of the three wise men on January 6th. It was only then that they realised that they were visited by Philip The Gravy Duck and that his larceny was the reason that that had to use one of the inn's pewter beer mugs to pour their gravy out of. What? Did you think that they'd still be hanging about the stables after visiting the baby King Jesus? Ha! Stick that for a joke. They were attending the International Bitumen Conference in Bethlehem. They were actually three very short Scots Chinese and were called McXi, McXaoping and McChang; they were in town selling petrochemicals. They were the "Three Wee Kings Of Orient Tar".

What reason does a duck want for stealing gravy boats? The reason is twofold. Firstly, without any gravy boats, his hope is that many of his ducky brethren will be saved from the chopping block. Secondly, if you turn a gravy boat upside down, it kind of already looks like a very useful piece of premade battle armor for a duck. After Philip The Gravy Duck steals people's gravy boats, he distributes them to needy ducks the world over. Of course once the New Year has come and the need for armor has subsided, the ducks surreptitiously return all the gravy boats to their owners; which is why the police usually cancel the vast majority of their petty larceny enquirers by the end of January.

He sees you when you're sleeping; he knows if you're awake.
He knows if you've got a gravy boat; so it's him who's on the take.
Don't matter if you shout; don't matter if you cry.
Don't matter if you pout; I'm telling you why.
Philip The Gravy Duck is coming to town.

November 24, 2016

Horse 2192 - Going Back To The Electoral College

To call this election cycle in the United States "different" is to make the understatement of the century (and I don't think that that will be an understatement). When you have two candidates, both of whom were the least popular in US electoral history, thrown up by tow political parties who are probably both in a state of meltdown after six years of deadlock, then normality isn't an option.

To compound the strangeness of this cycle, Donald Trump became the President-Elect, having gained less of the popular vote but more of the votes in the Electoral College. There have now been five elections where the winner of the Electoral College lost the popular vote, six if you include the ambiguity of the election in Alabama in 1960 and possibly seven if you include the 1864 election during the Civil War.

Naturally as you'd expect, such a result brings down a firestorm of controversy if you try and posit why or how they Electoral College exists. This tweet and graphic being such an example.

Here is exactly how the U.S. electoral college system misrepresents voters in one easy to read graphic.
- via Twitter, 20th Nov 2016.


The first question to ask is why the Electoral College exists. It is an archaic system and stems from the day when it took days and weeks to cross the country and so the system was invented so that the states would send delegates on behalf of their citizens, to vote for them.

https://www.congress.gov/resources/display/content/The+Federalist+Papers#TheFederalistPapers-68
The choice of SEVERAL, to form an intermediate body of electors, will be much less apt to convulse the community with any extraordinary or violent movements, than the choice of ONE who was himself to be the final object of the public wishes. And as the electors, chosen in each State, are to assemble and vote in the State in which they are chosen, this detached and divided situation will expose them much less to heats and ferments, which might be communicated from them to the people, than if they were all to be convened at one time, in one place.
- Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 68, 14th Mar 1788.

Hamilton had a problem. It was probably already immediately apparent that no only did the people of different states have "heats and ferments" but that they were also given to factionalism. The Electoral College, whilst being incredibly racist in its overtones by wanting to only include slaves as 3/5ths of a person as it finally washed out in the constitution, was designed as a safeguard against the people. If that sounds anti-democratic to you, then you're right, it was designed to be.

https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/articleii#section1
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.
- Article II, Section 1, Clause 2, United States Constitution, 21st Jun 1788.

You will note that the US Constitution mentions nothing about holding a general election for the President or even if there needs to be one. It is entirely feasible that Hamilton conceived in his mind, an unelected President, who would be appointed by the states.

This actually renders most of the graphic irrelevant. Electoral College votes and indeed the number of Representatives and Senators that the states get, are determined by the apportionment as a result of the census as stipulated elsewhere in the constitution. The actual legal value of any person's vote in a Presidential Election as determined by Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution, is the same for all people across the Union - it is NIL.

The presumption of the graphic is the general principle that because a different set of weighting is applied to the Electoral College than the general population, then the Electoral College must be wrong. The implication is that everyone should have equal voting power. One person, one vote; that sounds fair, right?

Except.

If that were to be followed, every election would be determined by the people of California, Texas, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, North Carolina and Georgia. The remaining 41 states in the Union would never have a say ever again; that's perfectly fine it that's how you want the system to work. It does mean though, that people in the cities, forever dictate to people in rural areas how the country should be governed.

A pure popular vote, means that California by itself completely cancels the smallest 16 states in the Union; even if all 16 cast 100% of their votes in the same direction. If you happen to live in any of those states then too bad; democracy hates you.

Then there are consequences like this:

http://edition.cnn.com/2016/11/23/us/north-dakota-pipeline-conflict/
Protesters have tried to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline since late last summer. They've voiced environmental concerns. They've performed sacred rituals. They've stood in solidarity with a Native American group seeking to be heard.
- CNN, 23rd Nov, 2016.

The implication is that people like like, who protest something like the Dakota pipeline should by rights be ignored. For every one person stupid enough to live in North Dakota, there are 51 people living in California. Let's put this another way, 14 times more people live in New York City that in North Dakota.
Just by itself, New York City gets 17 members of the House Of Representatives while the entire of Wyoming gets on at large. With those 17 members of the House Of Representatives comes 17 Electoral College votes. Is it right and just that people living in one big city, should override the wishes of people 1500 miles away and forever? That is the unfortunate implication.

There are loads of things wrong with the US voting system, it has managed to combine the worst aspects of non-compulsory voting, gerrymandering, winner takes all voting, first-past-the-post voting, holding elections on a Tuesday, Voter ID laws and subsequent disenfranchisement, and combined them all into one glorious steaming pile of hot mess but I don't think that means that the idea of applying different weights to people's votes is of itself a bad idea.

Yes, I will admit that the election of a man who says awful things, looks like he's been marinating in Fanta and is going to produce an absolute train wreck of a Presidency is a bad thing but that's not necessailry the fault of this aspect of the Electoral College; rather it is the fault of so very many other things. If the result of the election had gone the other way, we still would have seen the community convulsing with extraordinary and violent movements; that is not the fault of the Electoral College either.
What makes this whole thing really strange is that the people who would usually rail against the tyranny of the majority in some aspects of legislation are now calling for it in others. It simply does my head in.

To tell you the truth, I would prefer to eliminate the primaries and to have a single preferential election but I like the idea that the Electoral College tries to give extra weight to the little states who otherwise would never have any say in the democracy at all. If I was Grand Poobah and Lord High Everything Else, I'd run the top seven candidates against each other and then work out a grand Electoral College preferential ticket. Those 538 Electors would then submit preferences and we'd count off the Electoral College using instant run-off voting. Of course, I think that Presidential democracies are idiotic in principle but again, that is not the fault of the Electoral College either.

November 20, 2016

Horse 2191 - The People of the World vs Mark and Hal - Best Door

One of the many fine podcasts that I listen to, of which there are many, is "We Got This" which is hosted by Hal Lublin and Mark Gagliardi. As the title suggests, they are given quandaries and questions to sort out the answers to and those questions range from the ridiculous to the sublime.
On Episode 90, they answered the question of "which is the best door?" (see the link at the bottom*) and I won't spoil the episode other than to say that the answer that they arrived at while fun, was a generic answer and not specifically "which is the best door in the world?". I shall provide what I think is the answer to this question.

It's one of those strange things that there are some iconic buildings which although are instantly recognisable, their doors are not. Any list of the most famous buildings in the world must surely include The White House, The Empire State Building, The Chrysler Building, The Sydney Opera House as well as the Palace Of Westminster's Houses Of Parliament Clock Tower which is more commonly known as Big Ben after the bell that it houses, but these buildings are famous in their own right and nobody can describe what their doors look like unless they are really familiar with the buildings in question.
The White House itself is an interesting case in point. People are familiar with the Oval Office, the Red Room, the Blue Room, the Situation Room and the West Wing but not many people can describe the front door to the building. Likewise, I can describe in immense detail what the Australian House Of Representatives and the Senate look like on the inside but I have no idea what the front door looks like.
Conversely, I can describe what the doors on an A-Class Suburban Train looks like in Sydney, or what the doors on my eight and nine car tube trains look like on the London Underground but the Underground is more famous for its roundels which have outlasted all other attempts to brand the network to such an extent that the roundels and Harry Beck's famous map practically are the London Underground in many people's mind's eye.

To people of an older age, perhaps "The Green Door" from the song of the same name is what has lived long in the memory. There is an old piano and they play it 'hot' behind the green door but apart from that we don't know very much about what's behind it.
Perhaps the second most famous door is the blue door on the front of a spaceship with a broken chameleon circuit and bears the label 'Police Box - Public Call' above it. Again, I'd argue that although it is famous in the British Commonwealth and some parts of the United States, that particular door is more closely related to the object itself which is mostly composed of four sides which roughly look the same.

No, in my not very well paid opinion, the best door in the world is so iconic that it is more famous than the actual building to which it is a part and the address also adds to the mystique. I think that the door is so brilliant that if I wasn't renting, I'd pull the existing front door off of its hinges and replace it with a replica of this famous door.
That door is the front door of none other than Number 10 Downing Street.



The front door of Number 10 is itself an icon. Whenever anyone visits the British Prime Minister, the photo opportunity is not of them meeting in the cabinet rooms or one of the reception rooms but of them arriving at the famous black door. I'd go so far to suggest that you could knock down the whole building and provided you kept the black door, with the fan of glass and the white number 10 affixed to the front, nobody would mind. The metal work  which frames the door is also iconic as well.

The front door of Number 10 is a case of metonymy gone mad. A metonym is when a part comes to stand for the whole and in the case of the British Government, Number 10 has come to represent the Office Of The Prime Minister and the black door on the front of that building is the visual representation of that.

It is visually solid, stern, very formal looking and because it has existed before the advent of the internet, television, radio, telephone,  telegraph and even daily print media, it also projects an air of permanence like nothing else can. The White House only goes back to 1800 but Number 10 was around at least a hundred years before that. It was behind this door where the administrative affairs of empire are imagined to have taken place and behind the same front door where Disraeli, Gladstone, Churchill and Thatcher conducted business. It is behind that same door where I in my most frivolous flights of fancy would want to live, even though I would be rubbish at the job.

I can think of no other door in the world like that. The doors on one of my former place of employment at 48 Martin Place, the money box bank, were far more grand and far more elaborately adorned with brass handles but again, people remember the building and not the door. The door to the great vault downstairs weighs 111 tons and took a whole team of horses just to pull it down the street but it remains hidden away and you have to go looking for it. The door to the great vault of that building is physically for more impressive but what lies behind it is only a physical store of wealth; not the embodiment of power.

People of the world, the front door of Number 10 is of itself so iconic and representative of so much, that it's difficult to think or any door in the world which is more famous.
If a door itself is symbolically endowed with ritual purposes, and the receiving of people from outside, then the door at Number 10 must surely be the best example of this because it is the most doory of doors and as such, it is the best door.

Asked and answered.

*http://www.maximumfun.org/we-got-this-mark-and-hal/90-best-door

November 14, 2016

Horse 2190 - The 51st State Might Be A Little While Longer In Coming

Now that we've all calmed down a bit, following the unexpected result that Donald Trump will be sitting in the big chair at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue from January next year; and we whiz past the fact that the Republicans will control both the House of Representatives and the Senate in the 115th United States Congress, there was one result which may have passed by more people's attention and that was the D.C. Statehood Referendum.
Way down the ballot, the people of the District of Columbia voted overwhelmingly in favour for statehood.

http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/elections/results-page/
D.C. Statehood Referendum
YES - 227,562 (86%)
NO - 37,558 (14%)
- NBC Washington, 8th Nov 2016

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/dc-politics/district-voters-overwhelmingly-approve-referendum-to-make-dc-the-51st-state/2016/11/08/ff2ca5fe-a213-11e6-8d63-3e0a660f1f04_story.html
District voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum to make the nation’s capital its 51st state on Tuesday, with pollgoers saying they hope the vote puts pressure on the next Congress and president to address D.C.’s lack of representation in Congress.
...
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump did not take a firm position on D.C. statehood during the campaign. But in an interview with The Washington Post’s editorial board in the spring, he said statehood is a “tough thing.”
- The Washington Post, 8th Nov 2016

A "tough thing" is an understatement.

This was the second referendum on statehood to be held in the district and the second time that the voters have called for the district to be admitted as the 51st State in the Union.

There are quite a number of problems which immediately arise. In Article IV, Section 3, Clause 1 of the US Constitution, even if the territory in question applies for statehood, it still says that "no new States shall be formed or erected", "without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress".

The last time that the House of Representatives voted on D.C. statehood was back in November 1993 in the 103rd Congress and even though the Democrats controlled chambers of Congress, as D.C. was then a predominantly Republican voting jurisdiction, it was roundly chucked out by 277 against to 153 for. In the next Congress, when Republicans will control both chambers of Congress, it might be chucked out again because D.C. is now a predominantly Democrat voting jurisdiction.

Even if we assume that the Republicans would be nice to D.C, there's still another bonkers crazy hurdle which has to be sorted out.

The US Constitution in Article I, Section 8, Clause 17, provides there shall be a "District (not exceeding ten Miles square)" which would become the "Seat of the Government of the United States". This outlines the principle that that Federal District not be part of a state but it doesn't say how big that that state has to be.

In theory, the Federal District could be as small as a peppercorn though I would suspect that it would need to contain the buildings which house the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches as outlined in the Constitution. If that's the case, then it's possible to draw a very small L-shaped district which mostly contains parks and apart from homeless people who might be living in them, the only family who would officially live in the whole district, would be that one particular family who calls 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue home.
If New Columbia were a state, it would be bigger in terms of population than both Wyoming and Vermont but it would far smaller than even Rhode Island which is 17 times as large. The new federal district would be less than 2 square miles.


There is an even bigger hurdle which would have to be overcome and that is a sneaky little thing called the Twenty-Third Amendment which if left unchecked, has unintended consequences.

The District constituting the seat of Government of the United States shall appoint in such manner as the Congress may direct:
- A number of electors of President and Vice President equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives in Congress to which the District would be entitled if it were a State, but in no event more than the least populous State
- Amendment XXIII, Section 1, United States Constitution (passed 1961).

As it stands, the District of Columbia gets three electoral votes based on its population if it were a state. If it were a state it would be entitled to one Representative (which it kind of already has) and two Senators (which it does not). If D.C. becomes the 51st state of "New Columbia" and the Federal District shrinks to become just the area which includes the Capitol Building, the Supreme Court and the White House, then New Columbia by virtue of being the 51st state would absolutely be entitled to one Representative and two Senators; so nothing changes there but does that mean that that new smaller Federal District would also get three Electoral College votes, despite only having one family living within its borders? Maybe? If so, who votes for them? Does that mean that the President and First Lady get three members of Congress all to themselves?

The most logical assumption to this whole thing though is that this is oh so much yelling into the wind. The experience of Puerto Rico is that the Congress has been amazingly slow on this issue. It took California just two years following the discovery of gold for it to be admitted to the Union but despite presidents Roosevelt, Ford, Reagan, Bush (41) and Obama supporting Puerto Rico's push for statehood and despite the 2012 statehood vote returning "yes", it still has got nowhere. D.C. statehood could also end up in legislative purgatory for years and years.


Even though the people in Congress see these licence plates every day, they still withhold statehood from the District of Columbia. Don't hold your breath for New Columbia to be a state just yet. I suspect that the licence plates on District of Columbia's car might ring true for a quite a while.

November 11, 2016

Horse 2189 - Don't Blame Third Party Voters For The Result

I have heard and seen a lot of comments in the few days that have passed since Donald Trump became president elect, blaming people who voted third party for his ascendancy to the top job in America. I know that I'm going to cop a lot of flak for suggesting this but the US Presidential Election this week has proven to me that the system of selecting the President is immensely stupid and should be done away with immediately if not sooner.

Quite apart from the fact that the system threw up the two candidates with the worst approval rating history, the system itself is a relic from a time when only wealthy land owners had the franchise and women and people of colour were excluded entirely. Proof that the system was busted should have been obvious some considerable time ago when several acts and amendments had to be passed to extend the franchise to people who should have had the right already.

I should also point out that I live in Australia; that means that by accident, I live in the country with the best voting system in the world. In my opinion, if the United States does not immediately adopt the following changes,  then it deservedly will be condemned to the kakistocracy which it currently employs until it pulls its head out of the bucket of whatever vile muck it currently has its democracy head in.

In Australia, Elections and Voting are covered by the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918. Personally I think that this happens to be one of the single most brilliant pieces of legislation ever passed by a government ever and that it should be immediately adopted by the United States in its entirety.

A link is prevoded here: Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918
http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/consol_act/cea1918233/

Contained within its almost 400 sections, are some of the most well thought out regulations ever passed by any parliament and given that they came during the shadow of the First World War, this is even more remarkable.

Here then, are four simple reasons to begin with, why Australia has the greatest set of electoral regulations in the world, why America needs to get its act together and why blaming third party voters makes you a terrible person and you should hang your head in shame.

Compulsory voting
(1)  It shall be the duty of every elector to vote at each election.
- Section 245 (1), Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918

Australians do not have the right to vote. This is framed quite differently at law and Australians have the duty to vote. If Australians do not vote, then a token fine is sent out.
People might like to argue that voting should be a right and not a duty and that people should have the right not to vote should they so desire. I think that that is 100% rubbish and here's why. In this Election, of the 245.2 million people who are of eligible voting age, only 55.6% bothered to show up at a polling place. This means that slightly over half the population didn't vote at all.

Don't go blaming the 2.47% of the population who bothered to show up and vote for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein or others, they have indicated at the ballot box that they were unhappy with the choices set before them. Those people took their democratic voice and used it. Those people might have normally been Republican or Democrat voters and through the ballot box, these people said that the choices that were before them were unacceptable.
No, blame the 44.4% of the population who thought that staying at home and shoving chips into their faces was more important than showing up at a polling station once every few years. Okay, maybe there were some people who stayed away because they are disgusted at politics or because they think that participating in democracy by voting only validates the system but functionally, it's identical. Those people didn't make their voices heard and I'm not changing my opinion if I'm lumping passive protesters with the bone idle lazy.

Also, one of the consequences of forcing people to vote at law is that voter disenfranchisement is very much negated. If the government is bound by law to let everyone fulfill their duty, then the whole side show of Voter ID requirements, more or less goes away. In Australia where we do have compulsory voting, the franchise is viewed to some degree as an annoyance. Voter Fraud is so incredibly small as to be statistically negligible. Quite frankly, and I'm mainly looking at backwards racists and hicks, Voter ID laws are nothing more than an attempt to rig the results. They are corruption by another name and are the exact opposite side of the coin which saw voters vote many times in New York City when Tammany Hall still ran the joint, when voters would grow beards and moustaches and then vote in multiple places, and then go around again by first shaving off their beard and then their moustache.

Polling to be on a Saturday
The day fixed for the polling shall be a Saturday.
- Section 158, Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918

Tuesday voting in the United States dates from a time when people lived far away from polling places and it took time to get there. Saturday was no good because that was the day that Sabbath followers held church services and Sunday was no good because Protestant churches held their services on Sunday. Monday was out because people needed time to get on the road to vote and that meant voting on a Tuesday.
The idiocy is that in an era when you can drive a thousand miles in a day and when they parties which are private organisations some times hold primaries on the weekend, tradition and nothing else means that the Presidential Election is held on a Tuesday; to the inconvenience of as many people as possible.

Hold the election on a Saturday when the least amount of people are affected. You shouldn't have to wait for hours to cast a vote. In the 2016 double dissolution election on July 2 this year, I went in the afternoon when the crowds had died down to a sleepy stupor and it took me more time to fill in my ballot paper than it did to wait in line. Also, because it was held on a Saturday, it meant that it was held in a local school hall and surprise surprise, no children were disaffected because it was Saturday.
Okay, Sabbath followers, some Catholics, Mormons and Seventh Day Adventists might have a problem in a state like Utah; so let them vote early. It's seriously not a problem.

Marking of votes in House of Representatives election
(1)  In a House of Representatives election a person shall mark his or her vote on the ballot paper by:
(a)  writing the number 1 in the square opposite the name of the candidate for whom the person votes as his or her first preference; and
(b)  writing the numbers 2, 3, 4 (and so on, as the case requires) in the squares opposite the names of all the remaining candidates so as to indicate the order of the person's preference for them.
(2)  The numbers referred to in paragraph (1)(b) are to be consecutive numbers, without the repetition of any number.
- Section 239, Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918

Okay America, this year you have excelled yourself with your rank idiocy when it comes to the Presidential Election. If you want to keep the Electoral College because it's easier to count then fine but the fact that the Presidential Election always comes down to a binary choice is most bigly idiotic.

If you had preferential voting, say with seven Republicans, seven Democrats and anyone else who wanted to put themselves on the ballot paper, then the sheer torture of the primaries can be done away with in an instant. On top of that, you wouldn't be left with two candidates who were literally the most unpopular in US political history.

Suppose for a second that you had four candidates:
24 votes - We Love Kittens
25 voted - Cute Puppies
25 votes - Fluffy Bunnies
26 votes - Burn All The Animals
Under the First Past the Post System, which is what America uses, then Burn All The Animals wins despite having three quarters of the electorate opposed to them. Think that that's imposible? In the Electorate of Belfast South in the 2015 UK General Election, Alasdair McDonnell of the Alasdair McDonnell was returned as MP having gained only 24.5% of the vote.
Link: http://www.bbc.com/news/politics/constituencies/N06000003

If we assume that everyone who didn't vote for Donald Trump, including the 44% of the people who weer shoving chips into their faces and didn't show up, then Trump was actually only positively voted in by 26.4% of Americans. How does this make any sense at all?

Part of the problem with only having two viable candidates at the end is that voters might end up having to vote for someone for President whom they didn't like. I am now watching some of the most vile remarks being levelled at people who said that they voted Republican, even though they probably abhor Donald Trump, because of the consequences of other things such as the Supreme Court nomination.  These are decisions that have consequences much further than just the term of one President and so what might have been a measured decision, where someone felt chained to an awful candidate, is now tarred with brush that they are Satan incarnate.

Right of voter to receive ballot paper
(1)  If, under section 200DG, the voter is entitled to vote by pre-poll ordinary vote, a voting officer must give the voter a ballot paper, duly initialled by the officer.
- Section 200DJ, Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918

Voter to mark vote on ballot paper
Except as otherwise prescribed by the regulations, the voter, upon receipt of a ballot paper under section 200DJ, must without delay:
(a)  go to an unoccupied compartment of the voting place and mark his or her ballot paper in private; and
(b)  fold the ballot paper so as to conceal his or her vote and deposit it in a ballot-box; and
(c)  leave the voting place.
- Section 200DK, Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918

All voting systems can be subject to compromise. However, electronic voting where you have a black box that can't be easily scrutinised, or a punch card machine that can leave pregnant or hanging chads, and don't even get me started on running anything on the internet when it collapses (I'm looking at you Australian Bureau Of Statistics - we remember Census Night), are far less secure the. physical paper. Paper requires no fancy or expensive machines to count and it is far far far harder to compromise because of the physical difficulty of tampering with many ballot papers. Someone is going to notice if you start stuffing ballot boxes and or rub out people's ballots. Voting fraud where physical paper ballots has been used, is far harder to do and if there happens to be a dispute, it's easier to do a recount or hold a fresh election.

So don't go blaming people who voted third party. Those people more than anyone demonstrated that they voted according to their conscious; which is more than be said for the 44% of the people who sat idle. People who voted third party made their voices heard. They stood up and said that "this is not acceptable".

November 09, 2016

Horse 2188 - Trump Wins In 2016: The International Year of The Howling Moron

If I was Prime Minister Of Australia, I would immediately see if I could convince the United States to give up being a republic and come back into the Commonwealth with the Queen as head of state, reinstate compulsory afternoon tea and ban this coffee nonsense and most importantly, get rid of baseball forever and give the United States full test cricket status - that way Australia could score 538, bowl the United States out for 187 and then enforce the follow-on...

... wait for it...

Make America Bat Again!

Thank you, I'm here all week. Try the veal.

Seriously. If you think that that was a joke, then what in red, white and blue blazes have I been watching for the past few hours? In this, 2016, the International Year of The Howling Moron, I think what we've just witnessed is the biggest joke in the history of politics but nobody is laughing.

What the actual four letter expletive deleted is going on?

On the 4th of July 1776, the thirteen colonies of America, declared their independence from Great Britain and formed their own country. In the interim 240 years after only counting black people as three-fifths of a person at law, going to war over slavery and generally becoming the most belligerent of democratic nations in the world, it is probably reasonable to assume that the United States Of America might have been a good idea in theory but it has kind of gotten out of hand.

The 2016 presidential election which followed eight years of the Presidency of Barack Obama, was fought between a sociopathic, racist, sexist, xenophobe who looks like he's spent the last eight years marinating in Fanta, and a lady who literally made deals with terrorists while Secretary of State and more than likely broke Federal law by keeping a private email server and then deleting the emails when it came time for the FBI to investigate.
In this grand battle between an angry Grandpa who has said all sorts of things which by rights should have invalidated him as a candidate and an angry Grandma who is so much of a policy wonk that she's the single most qualified candidate to run for president in US history (with the possible exceptions of Washington and Eisenhower), America has collectively decided by a minority of popular votes but the majority of the arcane and bizarre Electoral College votes, to install the angry Grandpa as the next President. If this is the brave new world we find ourselves in, then left is right, slavery is freedom, ignorance is strength and orange is the new black.

I have been watching this insane contest play out over the past nine months, in the same way that I'd watch a football match as a neutral. The difference is that instead of three meaningless points or the glory of etching one's name into the side of a trophy, the prize are the keys to the office of the executive of the most powerful nation on the planet and the only one foolhardy enough to use nuclear weapons in a war. America has decided that instead of letting angry Grandma drive around and scare everyone, they've handed the keys to angry Grandpa, who by the way is the first presidential candidate since about Nixon who has been mad and bad enough to joke about pushing the nuclear button. Mind you, when you compare that to nine months of racist, sexist, and otherwise vile remarks he's made, that joke doesn't seem that much out of character. This was someone who actually said that they could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in New York City and people would still vote for him. This as it turned out, might not have been a boast but a declaration of fact.

Strangely, this doesn't appear to be a rejection of Barack Obama. The outgoing president has just posted his lowest approval rating at 54%. That will probably increase during the so-called lame duck period as well. This also doesn't appear to be a rejection of the Republican Party as that side of politics may have feared. The Republicans will be returned with a majority in the House Of Representatives and the Senate doesn't look like total wipeout either.

If Donald Trump represents the change candidate in this election, running against the most establishment of establishment candidates of all time in Hillary Clinton, then maybe the underlying narrative isn't something like the rejection of Goldwater in 1964 but something else entirely. The only parallel that I can draw is the election campaign of prize narcissist Andrew Jackson who portrayed the image of running for the working class but still being fantastically wealthy. Maybe it could be that America is ready for a female president but that president isn't Hillary Clinton. I wonder if Michelle Obama, Madeleine Albright or Condoleezza Rice had run for President, whether they would have had to battle with the tag of being the second least popular candidate in US political history. Somehow, I doubt it.

It could also be that the American public haven't actually voted for the President but voted in that way because of the consequences of who the picks for the Supreme Court might be. After the death of Antony Scalia, the US Supreme Court was split 4-4 with socially conservative and liberal judges. The sitting Republican dominated Senate refused to give its consent to any and all candidates that Barack Obama might pick and held this out as a job for the next President. Maybe the Senate might give its consent to a Donald Trump pick but that pick would come from inside the machinery of the Republican Party. Of course, this could backfire if a Democrat dominated Senate refuses to give its consent to whoever Donald Trump might pick but we won't know how that will play out until we get there.

I don't know what the result of today's election means but I do know that America has been bashing its head on the coffee table for months and has given itself democracy brain damage. A sociopathic, racist, sexist, xenophobic, angry Grandpa, could very well be the perfect representation of what America currently is. If people think that Donald Trump has been elected because he is prepared to speak his mind, even when there's nothing in it, and he speaks what the country is thinking, then that must say that America is made up of a bunch of sociopathic, racist, sexist, xenophobes and given what we've repeatedly heard from the vox populi for the past few months, that might be true.

In the year that gave us the unlikely results of Leicester City winning the Premier League, the Western Bulldogs winning the AFL premiership, the Cronulla Sharks winning the NRL premiership, the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series, Britain voting the leave the EU, the unlikely has happened again with Donald Trump becoming the new president elect.
The only thing that I can say is that the Howling Morons are howling louder than ever before and it is beyond my ability to comprehend why. What is this? I don't even.