My brother the guru

Brother Bob


Another letter to the Herald

It can be found here.

Unfortunately they didn't publish the entire thing - which is annoying because the modified version sounds like a pipe dream while the full letter is more detailed. Anyway, here it is in its fullness:

Sherrill Nixon's article about the actual costs of public transport raises some intriguing possibilities.

Since rail costs the consumer half as much as driving cars, perhaps we could countenance the possibility of a completely fee-free public transport system that is funded completely by tax revenue.

Imagine if travelling by rail was free - you simply walk into the station, catch a train and walk off at your stop. No tickets, no cars, no accidents blocking traffic.

A pipe-dream? Well, if it costs us less to have a fee-free rail network than to drive around in cars, then I'm all for it.

What the study has shown is that privatization is not always the answer. Maybe some industries should remain in government hands if it ends up costing us all less. Left-wing politicians take careful note.


Making public transport free?

One of the great changes that our society has gone through in the last 20-30 years has been the development of a more efficient public service. In many cases, to produce an efficient public service, entire industries have been fully or partially privatised (such as electricity, telecommunications, education and health)

The philosophical basis of this activity is that the private sector - the "market" - is more efficient at allocating resources than a government controlled entity. The private sector, it is argued, is able to better serve the needs of the marketplace (and thus the community) by letting signals from the marketplace itself act as the way in which economic resources are allocated.

This philosophy - that the market is king and the government is somehow unable to run things properly - has been practiced for many years and has some notable successes. Many former government-run organisations have prospered under a privatised regime and, through the process of competition, have delivered better services. In both Australia and the US, for example, the deregulation of the airline industry has produced both lower costs for customers and higher profits for the airlines.

Yet despite the success stories, the basic philosophy itself has been proved wrong by a report in today's Sydney Morning Herald which examines the "true" cost of using private transport verses the "true" cost of using public transport (in Sydney). The report basically reveals that, in the transport marketplace, people make judgements based upon perception rather than cold, hard facts. In the end, it means that the marketplace is actually less efficient.

The article argues that travelling by train costs half as much per kilometre as driving a car. This cost-analysis takes into account not only the price of petrol, but also the cost of insurance, maintenance and so on. The price also takes into account similar costs for trains.

Yet when accountants and bean counters get together and analyze how much it costs government to run public transport, the figures don't seem to add up. It may cost the government, say, $10 Billion to run the rail network but only recover $8 Billion in ticket sales (These numbers are arbitrary - I don't have the actual costs at hand). For these analysts, the rail system is "unprofitable". The result could be cost cutting or even the shutting down of the rail network altogether. Subsidising the network via tax revenues would be viewed as out of the question, since it is seen to be "unfair". "User Pays" is a dominant idea, which means that those who use the service are the ones who pay for it - thus using tax revenue from the entire state of NSW - around 6.8 million people - would subsidize Sydneysiders - around 4.2 million people.

From what I understand, the current situation in NSW is that taxpayers still subisidize the loss-making CityRail.

So on the one hand NSW has a loss-making rail-based public transport division. But on the other hand, it has been shown that rail costs half as much as using private transport. What to do?

Obviously, the market-based system which has dominated government thinking over the years has been shown to be flawed. The belief that privatization and a market-based system will automatically confer greater benefits to users and taxpayers has been shown to be wrong. This is not to say that it hasn't worked in some industries... but it is saying that in many other industries a market system is actually less efficient.

One example of this that I have shown before is health spending. On average, the US spends around 15% of GDP on health - far more than the 10% of GDP spent by other western nations. The US system is very much geared towards the market determining how money is spent, while other Western nations have differing kinds of universal health care (ie: publically owned and operated hospitals). Statistics from the UN how proven time and again that basic health outcomes such as the infant mortality rate and preventable diseases are better served under a universal health care system. In the area of medical services, universal health care paid by tax revenue produces more and costs less than the market-driven model in America.

And so it seems now that public transport is a better use of resources than private transport. The question I raise in the title of this article asks whether Public transport should be free.

When it comes to things like this - I'm a pragmatist. Given a choice between higher costs paid for by direct consumers and lower costs paid for by everyone, I support the latter. It is obvious that it costs society less to have public transport, and, since public transport can't be funded directly by its users, then it should be subsidized by tax revenue.

I would actually go further than arguing for a tax subsidy for a loss-making enterprise. I am arguing that public transport should be completely free and should rely entirely upon tax revenue for its funds. This would reduce transport costs immeasurably and give Sydneysiders (as well as those few in Newcastle and Wollongong) more money to spend on other things.

CityRail would also save money by not having to sell or collect tickets.

In order to pay for this, taxes would need to be raised - but the amount of money taken via revenue would be less than the amount currently paid by Sydney commuters to travel by car.

Let me sum up my argument simply:

1. Privatization has led to increases in efficiency.
2. Some industries, however, are more efficient when still in public hands.
3. A recent study has shown that Sydney commuters who travel by car spend twice as much on transport as those who travel by Rail.
4. In the marketplace, perceived cost will always outweigh actual cost - the market will always make a decision based upon perception, even if the perception ends up costing more than the actual cost.
5. Therefore, we should make public transport in Sydney free, and fund it through tax revenue, since it will end up costing society less this way.

It makes sense.

From the Osostrian School Department

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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The true cost of cars vs public transport

I'm going to be naughty and copy and paste this entire article. It is from today's Sydney Morning Herald (May 27 2006) and examines the true cost of driving a car verses the true cost of using public transport:

If they only knew - car's true cost so much more

By Sherrill Nixon, Urban Affairs Editor
May 27, 2006

SYDNEY motorists would think twice about using their car if they knew the real cost of each kilometre they drove was nearly six times higher than most people believe, a transport expert says.

Garry Glazebrook, a transport consultant who lectures on urban planning at the University of Technology, Sydney, says people's choices about travel are distorted because they never see the total cost of private or public transport.

His analysis of the real versus perceived costs of transport shows motorists believe it costs them about 13 cents per passenger per kilometre to use the car. That covers costs such as petrol (even at $1.40 a litre), tolls and parking.

The actual cost - when car insurance, registration and maintenance, plus wider costs to society from congestion, accidents and air pollution are taken into account - comes in at 81 cents per passenger per kilometre.

"All we really think about at the time [we choose to drive] is what it costs us in petrol and maybe parking, and that's only a couple of dollars," Mr Glazebrook said.

"As a society we pay one way or another, but as motorists we don't pay as we go, so there's an incentive to overuse the car. We actually are fooling ourselves. We have the fourth-lowest petrol prices in the world … we have built our lifestyles around cheap petrol and the point is: that will not last."

While Sydneysiders perceive the cost of driving as low, they see using public transport as more expensive, he said.

The perceived cost of catching a bus in Mr Glazebrook's analysis was 22 cents per passenger per kilometre, and 10 cents for the train - primarily the cost of the fare. But the actual cost of using public transport (taking into account congestion, pollution and government subsidies) was nearly half as much as using a private vehicle - 48 cents for the bus and 40 cents for a train.

Mr Glazebrook said the figures showed rail made good economic sense. He called on the NSW Government to accelerate the construction of the north-west line so new residents had greater transport choices.

The Opposition and residents have criticised the Government's 2017 target for the north-west rail link, and business and community leaders have called for more investment in public transport.

The Government revealed this week that high petrol prices had enticed people back to public transport, with an extra 60,000 people a week catching buses between February and April - 750,000 more than the same period last year.

New timetables for the Eastern Suburbs & Illawarra and South Coast lines begins tomorrow.

The real numbers:

- Private car - Perceived cost is 13 cents per passenger per kilometre; real cost is 81 cents.

- Train - Perceived cost 10 cents; real cost 40 cents.

- Public buses - Perceived cost 22 cents; real cost 48 cents.


Big Train "Visitors" Sketch

The "Visitors" sketch is probably my favourite moment from the "Big Train" comedy sketch series from the BBC. It's an absurd scenario that involves adultery, fornication and public embarrassment (which is, in the UK, worse than death).

The story begins this way. Bill and Emma are a married couple who have invited their friends Daniel and Sarah for dinner. Daniel and Sarah are late, having been stuck in traffic for many hours. The sketch starts when the couple finally arrive and Daniel indicates that he needs to use the toilet. From that point on, the scenario increasingly becomes absurd.

Bill, as you will see, represents us as we grapple with the absurdity of the situation. He is confused by, repulsed by and, eventually, attracted to the situation that unfolds.

This is Bill, confused at what is happening.

Bill's situation could easily be us - especially when he begins to accept the temptation on offer. But I'm not saying any more than that!

There's a lot of pictures on Flickr for you to go through - 84. I've arranged them in order and also made sure that pauses in the narrative are kept there for effect. Click here for the first picture. To the right of the picture in Flickr is a small thumbnail of the next picture. Just click on that and you will eventually get through it.


c/o Seattle Post-Intelligencer


Iran myths

1. That a law has been passed that forces Iranian Jews to wear yellow insignia. Debunked here.

2. That the President of Iran believes that Israel should be "wiped off the map". Debunked here.

Number of nations invaded by the USA: Too many to list here.
Number of nations invaded by Iran: Zero.


A global warming skeptic...

...turns into a convert:

Finally feeling the heat, Greg Easterbrook.

Challies won't care though.


My plan for English County Cricket

1. Accord first class status to the minor counties.

2. Allow all first class counties the freedom to hire as many overseas players as they desire. This will both increase the standard of play to ensure that minor counties get good players, as well as provide ample opportunities for young English players to develop. Internationally, this would allow high quality first-class players to compete in a competition that would resemble the "Premier League".

3. Create two divisions of 19 teams each. These include the 18 current counties and the 20 minor counties. The top minor county side from the previous season should be promoted to division one.

4. Each team plays the other in its division once in a four day match, making a total of 18 four day matches played in a season. A promotion/relegation system will exist between the top two teams of the second division and the bottom two teams of the first division.

5. A one-day competition of 50 overs per side will consist of 4 different pools of ten teams (a total of 40 teams). Half of each pool will consist of teams from the first division and half from the second division. Each side will play the other once. The top two teams in each pool (8 teams) will then compete in a knockout competition that ends in a grand final. The 40 teams will include the 18 current counties, the 20 minor counties, and a team each from Scotland and Ireland. This competition will begin in the first half of the season.

6. A 20-20 competition will be played in the second half of the season with the same parameters as the one day competition already mentioned (4 pools of 10 teams each, top two teams from each pool compete in a knockout competition that ends in a grand final).

7. (18 x 4 day games) + (9 x 1 day games) + (3 finals) + (9 x 20-20 games) + (3 finals) = 96 games in a season maximum, 90 minimum. This compares favourably with the current model and those from the past (where often counties would play beyond 110 days per season).

8. Funds from the ICC are diverted to encourage counties to develop and engage the services of players in nations like Bangladesh and non-test playing nations (like Kenya).


Here is a list of international players who would be very useful playing in this expanded county system (these players have not played for any English county sides or have had any recent, extended Test exposure):

From Australia:

Brad Haddin, 28, NSW, 4120 runs @ 38.50, 187 catches, 18 stumpings
Allan Wise, 27, Victoria, 78 wickets @ 26.98
Brett Dorey, 28, WA, 61 wickets @ 23.86
(a lot of non-test playing Australian cricketers have played / are playing for English counties)

From Bangladesh:

Golam Rahman, ?, Sylhet, 1675 runs @ 46.52
Farhad Hossein, 19, Rajshahi, 617 runs @ 28.04, 25 wickets @ 22.92
Rezaul Haque, 23, Sylhet, 1318 runs @ 20.92, 106 wickets @ 21.58
Hasibul Hossain, 28, Sylhet, 146 wickets @ 25.41
Yasin Arafat, 18, Chittagong, 98 wickets @ 27.51
Mushfiqur Rahman, 26, Rajshahi, 1548 runs @ 24.57, 101 wickets @ 27.94
Arafat Salahuddin, 22, Barisal, 51 wickets @ 23.76
Elias Sunny, 20, Dhaka, 669 runs @ 26.76, 78 wickets @ 25.85
Shafaq Al Zabir, 19, Rajshahi, 63 wickets @ 22.25

From India:

Abhijit Kale, 32, Maharashta, 7004 runs @ 56.03
Sridharan Sriram, 30, Tamil Nadu, 8279 runs @ 55.19
Pravanjan Mullick, 29, Orissa, 4989 runs @ 54.22
Sridharan Sharath, 33, Tamil Nadu, 8080 runs @ 52.81
Amol Muzumdar, 31, Mumbai, 8035 runs @ 51.83
Pankaj Dharmani, 31, Punjab, 7327 runs @ 51.23, 221 catches, 20 stumpings
Vinod Kambli, 34, Mumbai, 9965 runs @ 59.67
Harvinder Singh, 28, Punjab, 252 wickets @ 29.87
Kulamani Parida, 29, Railways, 294 wickets @ 27.93

From New Zealand:

Michael Mason, 31, Central Districts, 187 wickets @ 24.72
Lance Hamilton, 33, Central Districts, 208 wickets @ 25.34
James Franklin, 25, Wellington, 2575 runs @ 27.98, 268 wickets @ 23.81
Jesse Ryder, 21, Wellington, 1836 runs @ 45.90
Mark Gillespie, 26, Wellington, 148 wickets @ 25.00
Kerry Walmsley, 32, Otago, 253 wickets @ 24.90
Tama Canning, 29, Auckland, 2023 runs @ 27.71, 192 wickets @ 24.23
Kyle Mills, 27, Auckland, 1488 runs @ 31.00, 140 wickets @ 26.35
Peter Fulton, 27, Canterbury, 3389 runs @ 47.06
Matthew Sinclair, 30, Central Districts, 8701 runs @ 47.28 (wants to play in South Africa)
Brent Hefford, 28, Central Districts, 87 wickets @ 26.05
Warren McSkimming, 26, Central Districts, 153 wickets @ 24.14
Iain O'Brien, 29, Wellington, 136 wickets @ 23.91

This article was edited and expanded on 29 May 2006.

From the One Salient Sportinglife Department

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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Temporarily giving up Firefox

I've been having some major problems with Firefox - I have found that it was much much slower than 1.0.2. More than that, whenever I went to the blogger editing/create post menu it would slow down to a crawl. I tried using an extension called "Performancing" which is probably quite good but the problem has not been solved.

As a result, I am now using Mozilla 1.7.12. For some reason it is very very quick in comparison, which is weird because it's supposed to be the other way around (Firefox developed out of the Mozilla suite). More than that, Seamonkey 1.0.1 has massive problems with blogger as well on my PC.

If anyone wishes to see the details of my grief, it can be viewed first here and then here.

At least I'm not having security/virus problems...

I love Finland

Finland is the home of Linus and Lordi.


Da Vinci Code - Are Christians over-reacting?

I haven't read The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown - not my sort of literature. In fact, anything with pages and a spine these days is likely to get ignored.

But one thing I do know about the Da Vinci Code is that it is fiction. When it comes to fiction, anything is fair game - there are no "rules" with which writers and readers have to abide by.

So the fact that Dan Brown has managed to pepper his novel with false claims about the origins of the Christian faith is not inconsistent with the nature of fiction. Fiction is successful when it is able to "suspend our disbelief", and any novel which is written in the setting of the real world is easier to understand than, say, a novel about Bob Dylan and Santa Claus getting married and ruling over the Roman Empire.

The Da Vinci code is fiction. If you go into your local bookstore you will find it in the fiction section (that is, if it isn't sitting in the best seller section). As soon as a text becomes fiction then its values and background immediately become suspect.

The same can't be said for the book Chariots of the Gods by Erich Von Daniken. That book was released as popular non-fiction, puportedly showing archaeological evidence that our ancestors were contacted by aliens from outer space. Certainly the premise was interesting (which is why it sold so well) but as soon as it was touted as being a result of objective research it got into trouble. Rightly, Chariots of the Gods was exposed as being the result of an overactive mind - it was essentially fictional, but its intention was to be factual.

Every time you read or view a fictional text your disbelief is suspended. Suddenly it is possible that aliens exist, or that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, or that Bob Dylan married Santa Claus.

I remember as a kid desperately wanting to be a character in Doctor Who, where I would walk around following the Doctor (Tom Baker) and getting into all sorts of adventures. At the same time I realised that it was just a TV show and found my desire to be a character on the show split with the idea that the show is actually fictional, and that the Tardis and the Doctor did not actually exist.

The difficulty that some people have in discerning fiction from reality was also present during the run of Gilligan's Island. Some people were convinced that a real bunch of castaways had actually been marooned on an island and contacted the US Coast Guard on numerous occasions to try to rescue them.

But such people were in a puny minority - in fact I'd probably guess that those who rang to rescue Gilligan and his pals probably had some intellectual disorder.

What has happened in the past is that sometimes a fictional text somehow gets remembered as factual. This happened with the film Capricorn One, where US astronauts pretend to land on Mars but are, in actual fact, acting out in a warehouse in the desert somewhere. This has led directly to the rise of a conspiracy theory that US astronauts did not actually walk on the moon.

But I somehow doubt that the same sort of thing could happen with Dan Brown's book.

Christians everywhere are obviously concerned about how our beliefs are portrayed in both fiction and non-fiction. Usually, if an author is using their fictional work to promote a certain agenda that is anti-Christian then, of course, they are fair game. I don't think that is what the Da Vinci Code is about though. From what I understand it is a thriller/mystery that exists in a fictional world in which the historicity of Christ's life on earth is actually in error. I'm not sure if Dan Brown is actively trying to harm the Christian faith through this - instead he is using a mish-mash of popular and ahistorical beliefs that are assumed to be true, and based a mystery around it.

For any ordinary person who reads the Da Vinci Code, I'm certain that they found the story interesting, but would not be surprised to find out that the book's premise is actually based on fiction. So we have a fictional story based upon a fictional understanding of reality - that's not dangerous, it's actually quite normal.

Which is, of course, why I have no problem reading fantasy novels like Harry Potter. Rowling's books are exactly like Dan Brown in the sense that it is a fictional story based upon a fictional understanding of reality - Harry Potter is a fictional being, and so is the magic and the sorcery that undergirds the entire story.

So I'm wondering if this anti-Da Vinci code thing is actually a useful thing to do. Of course, when certain events occur in popular culture it is often very important for Christians to carefully look at the issues. I remember back in the early 1990s when Barbara Thiering was selling her warped view of New Testament history - but this deserved to be addressed because Thiering was (allegedly) a historian, she was saying stuff that wasn't true and her methodology was flawed. But Thiering was also trying to push her view that her understanding of New Testament history was actually correct, which meant that knowledgeable Christians needed to respond. I don't see Dan Brown in the same way.

I probably won't read the Da Vinci Code - mainly because of the hype surrounding it. It will remain, along with The Passion, texts that I refuse to read or view.

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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How is Firefox progressing? (+pic)

Quite nicely really. This image is from Wikipedia and is licensed under the GNU FDL. As you can see Internet Explorer made major headway into the browser market from 1998 and, by 2002, completely dominated it. Since 2002 the Gecko style Web Browser has been making some significant inroads, with various studies showing between 8-13% of web users now use Firefox, with share increasing all the time.

Send in the Army?

I can't believe that some people are seriously thinking of sending in the Army to protect Aboriginies from paedophiles.

Israel and Palestine united (part one)

I've been trying to get my head around the whole Arab-Israeli conflict for years now. Back when I was a callow youth, I used to play a board game by Avalon Hill called "Arab-Israeli Wars". Back then I loved war games and saw the game as a US/Soviet match-up that consistently proved the superority of Americans and Israelis over Russians and Arabs. I still have the game somewhere in this room, but I will always remember that, while Israeli units were outnumbered often 2-1 in these simulations, they more than made up for it by the quality of the weapons available.

So naturally as a teenager I was very pro-Israel. It had nothing to do with my Christian faith since neither my church at the time nor my family ever exhibited anything close to Zionism or Dispensationalism. I was also very gung-ho for America in those days too, so obviously Israel was an outpost of freedom in a Soviet-controlled Middle East.

I then began to question the "goodness" of Israel when I was about 18 or 19. I'd seen footage of Arab civilians being shot at by Israeli soldiers and was apparently angry enough to write a poem that equated the Israeli oppression of Arabs to the Nazi treatment of Jews during the second world war. It would be an understatement for me to say that, in hindsight, I regret it now.

Let me be very clear at this point: I think Israel as a nation has a right to exist. Had I any involvement in the pre-1948 discussions though, I would do the best I could to dissuade them from creating Israel. This may sound contradictory but let me explain further.

Had I been around before 1948, I would have argued that to create an entirely new country with a whole bunch of European refugees was probably a good thing - so long as it didn't displace anyone who was already there. Had they created a Jewish nation in central Australia I wouldn't have minded. The problem was that to create a Jewish nation in Palestine - no matter how "justified" it might have seemed at the time - by displacing and disenfranchising people who had lived there for centuries was a bad thing. Had the Arabs in Palestine been consulted and drawn into the process then, who knows, they may actually have supported it. (very unlikely, but certainly possible)

But the fact that I don't think that the modern state of Israel should've been created in the first place doesn't mean that I wish the state to be dissolved now. Far from it. Millions of people have been born within the borders of the state of Israel and to them it is their home. Modern Israel is a sophisticated culture with a well-run political and social system. Even though I feel sympathy for the plight of Arabs in and around the state of Israel, to argue for the dissolution of such a nation would be stupid and immoral.

But I do want peace in that area. On the one hand I want citizens of Israel to be happy and prosperous. On the other hand I want anyone who has been disenfranchised and disadvantaged by the actions of Israel to be given freedom and support.

Well, that was supposed to be the introduction. Now onto what I'm really talking about...

The population of Israel is around 6.9 million people. Of these, around 1.3 million are Arabs and 5.3 million are Jewish. The small amount of research I have done on this shows that these Israeli Arabs have the same legal and political rights as any other citizen of Israel - ie they can vote, they can become members of parliament (Knesset) and they are protected by the laws that protect all citizens of Israel.

Moreover, while they are still relatively poor compared to Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs seem to have a better standard of living than Palestinian Arabs, and also appear to be much more peaceful than their Palestinian cousins. I may be wrong here, but I think that the vast majority of terrorist attacks perpetrated upon Israel over the years have been the result of Palestinian Arabs - Arabs who are citizens of Israel have not, to my limited knowledge, created too much trouble for their fellow Jewish citizens.

This is not to say that there are problems. Israeli Arabs are not always looked kindly upon by Israeli Jews. In August 2005, an AWOL member of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) named Eden Natan-Zada opened fire in a bus and killed four Israeli Arabs - two Christian men and two Muslim women. There also appears to be some discrimination in terms of funding between towns that are predominately Arab and those that are predominately Jewish. Some of the more dogmatic Israeli Jews, including Avigdor Liberman, have actually suggested that some towns (containing mainly Israeli Arabs) near the West Bank could be transferred over to the Palestinian Territories in exchange for keeping certain Jewish settlements. Liberman's voice does not represent a majority - but it is a voice that is heard in Israeli politics.

At issue here is a simple question - do you have to be Jewish in order to be a citizen of Israel? According to their constitution, no. According to the "Law of Return", yes. Certainly the constitution does not eliminate from citizenship Israeli Arabs, but the "law of return" allows for any Jewish person around the world to come and become a citizen of Israel - a law which obviously discriminates in favour of a certain religious and ethnic background (and one which is obviously controversial, but hardly unique).

It always struck me as odd, therefore, that whenever a Jewish settlement was built in the Palestinian territories, that Israel would assert its right to protect its citizens, grant them legal and voting status and (either fully or partially) control the Palestinian authorities to ensure their protection. If Gaza and the West Bank are not part of a sovereign nation that Israel has invaded then surely they are parts of Israel itself - and if they are part of Israel, then why aren't the Palestinian Arabs who live in these areas granted the same rights as Israeli citizens?

Obviously to do so would create a political and social mess. The Palestinian Territories have nearly 4 million people - most of whom are Islamic Arabs. To grant these people Israeli citizenship would create a massive Islamic bloc within the Knesset. The combined population of Israel and the Palestinian territories is around 10.81 million people, of which at least 5.27 million are Jewish. If this proportion was translated into voting power, Jews would control 48.8% of the vote. The amount of Islamic Arabs would probably be less than that, with the remainder (5-6%) being Christian Arabs.

A mess? Potentially. Yet, at the same time, I can't think of any better long-term solution to the problem.

I would like Israel to extend its boundaries to include the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza - while at the same time extending the right of citizenship to the Palestinian Arabs. This would mean that, while Palestine as a geopolitical entity would dissolve, the actual people losing their "nation" would have their citizenship transferred over. They would not be disenfranchised, nor would they need to be disadvantaged.

Of course, in order to do this both the Palestinians and the Israelis themselves would have to agree with it. Palestinians would have to lay aside their demand for their own geopolitical entity (which, for many, currently includes the destruction of the nation of Israel) while Israelis would have to accept the loss of political power that would naturally result from making the Palestinians into Israeli citizens.

Let me make it simple:
  • The Palestinians give up their demand for a nation, but gain citizenship and political power in another.
  • The Israelis give up a large chunk of their political power, but gain full control over Gaza and the West Bank.
At this point in history such an event would be impossible to achieve be impossible to maintain. Both sides are suffering from the hatred and violence of the other. I don't care which side is more "responsible" for this violence - I just want it to stop and for foes to become friends. I want all Arabs to enjoy the same rights and privileges as Israeli Jews, and for Israeli Jews to live happy and prosperous lives in a land that their distant ancestors once occupied, alongside Arabs who also have their roots in the land.

Peace, prosperity, freedom and order should be the goal - something that can best be created by uniting Palestine and Israel into one nation.

How can that be done? You'll just have to wait for part two.

From the One Salient Overlord Department

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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Guitarists please note

Buy this and this.

They are hand made and tested by a real guitarst.

New Format

Well whaddya know, I finally worked out how to move things around in HTML. I was concerned that the main body of text was too much "on the left" of the screen and wasn't wide enough. So I managed to move the main body of text into the centre, place the links and whatnot on the left and widen the main bit too to allow for more space to write in.

And I like the dirty yellow scheme. For those who are interested, it is #AEBE00.


Dubya gets T-boned

T-Bone Burnett is the husband of Christian/secular singer Leslie/Sam Phillips. He was the music producer for such films as O Brother Where Art Thou? and a multitude of other critically acclaimed films. He is a friend of Bob Dylan and has toured with him. He is also a Christian, and is one of those rare breed of believer who has the respect of the secular word for his skill.

Burnett has just released a new album called The True False Identity. A new album from Burnett is a big thing - his last was in 1992.

On the album he has a song called "Palestine Texas", which has the following, provocative lyrics:

Presidents come and presidents go
They rise like smoke they fall like snow
Do you believe the things you say
Your lofty thoughts are filled with hay
What is this faith that you profess
That led to this colossal mess
When you awaken from this coma
You'll find you were in Oklahoma
When you crawl out of this self delusion
You're going to need a soul transfusion

This version of the world will not be here long
It is already gone It is already gone
This version of the world will not be here long
It is already gone It is already gone

I guess T-Bone ain't impressed with someone. The "Soul Transfusion" bit is interesting though...

Pat Robertson...

...engages in some non-scripture equivalent prophecy again, which is okay. He's still going to heaven.

Wikipedia story game

Based (badly) on one of those silly story games like the one going on here. More...

The rules I'm setting up for myself are simple. Go to Wikipedia, hit the random article button, and begin a story based on that article. After 2-3 sentences, hit the random article button again, and continue the story based on what you find in the next random article. The name of the new article does not have to be mentioned, but a link must be provided.

Here goes:

George Douglas Campbell, sat drinking a cup of Earl Grey tea in the drawing room. His servant, Phillip, had retired for the day, complaining of an illness and leaving him to fend for himself. At least it wasn't as bad as that war in Afghanistan he was involved with, he thought ruefully to himself.

Suddenly there was a knock at the front door. For a moment Campbell waited for the expected sounds of Phillip going to the door, but remembered regreatfully that he was ill and unable to help. Putting down his tea, he got up and walked to the door. He opened it, and standing in front of him was a young woman in an attractive dress... but with a disturbing amount of hair visible above his mouth. "Hellooooo" the woman said in a deep booming male voice, "I am John Lind from Sweeeden. May I haf a vroom to sleep in toniyte?"

"Well, I suppose so", Campbell said, disturbed by the presence of this Swedish female impersonator. She walked in but motioned to the door. "Please be to pick up games cartridge?" she asked as she walked into the drawing room.

Campbell stooped over and picked up a small box that fitted into the palm of his hand. The surface was black but the box itself was made of a very light but rigid substance. On the top of the box was some paper, stuck to the box by some glue, with characters that Campbell thought were Japanese.

"Well, Mr, er.., miss Lind" Campbell stammered, "what is this device again?"

Lind had sat down next to the fire and had poured him/herself a cup of tea. "SaGa!" he said "my favourite Nintendo game".

There was another knock at the door. Campbell turned around and saw another man at the door.

"Hiya feller!" The man said, my name's Grant Dexter, I'm here to interview Miss Lind here for her upcoming tour of Canada. Nothing as interesting as her has come out of Sweden since Abba!"

"But.. wait.. please stay where you are" Campbell stammered, wishing that Phillip was there to shoo the intruder off.

"Sorry bud! Miss Lind is waiting" said Dexter, pushing past Campbell and entering the drawing room. "More tea please!" Lind called out in his low voice.

Campbell went into the kitchen and put some fresh water to boil on the stove. He also walked into his study and took out a revolver that he had in the bottom drawer of his bureau - the one that had served him well against the Afghans. Brandishing the weapon loosely, he walked into the drawing room.

Dexter and Lind were deep in conversation, but Lind seemed to be sprouting nonsense. "I went to the jamia where I asked people about the qiyas of their society. Susan the bint of the warraq said that I had committed fasiq against them. So, naturally, I was in trouble."

"It's okay Miss Lind", said Dexter, "I'm not only a record producer, I'm also a majority shareholder in Sears. I'll make sure we can whisk you away to safety from those horrible Afghans. More than that, I can get you some great new women's clothes, and at a bargain price!"

Suddenly another man came through the door. Campbell was dumbfounded.

"Who are all you people?" he cried out "And what are you doing here?"

"I'm George William Taylor" said the man at the door, "and I'm here to find that record company lowlife that didn't publish my spoken word record!"

"No one wants to hear a stupid Canadian politician speak about nothing!" cried Dexter

"You are ashamed of our country's heritage?" asked Taylor.

"No! I am just trying to make a living running a record company. Now if you excuse me I'm interviewing Miss Lind."

"Mr Campbell" cried out Miss/Mr Lind in a disturbingly low voice "Do you have a Nintendo machine? I am desperate to play Saga!"

"I have one Miss Lind" said Dexter. "I'll be back in a second"

"A cup of tea would be nice." said Taylor as he walked in to the drawing room.

Presently, Dexter came back with two strange looking boxes which Dexter explained were a Television and a Nintendo Machine. Since there were no power points in Campbell's house, Dexter and Taylor managed to jury-rig up a car battery to the two items.

The TV turned on.

Suddenly Campbell could hear the beautiful sounds of a violin. On the screen on the television he saw a man playing. Entranced by the man and the sound, he drew closer. Suddenly the screen went blank.

"Okay, Nintendo's plugged in" said Dexter.

As the two played Saga, Campbell stood transfixed, remembering the beautiful violin. Then Saga started, and Dexter and Lind began playing.

"Austrian violinists are wonderful aren't they?" Taylor asked a confused Campbell.

"I suppose so" Campbell stammered.

"I met one once when I was on the board at Capitol Records" he said "lovely chap he was. Dead now I think."

"I see Capitol didn't think much of your spoken word garbage either!" Dexter called out.

"I pronounce a Fasiq upon you!" cried Taylor.

Lind looked up.

"I have ze board of Sears now looking afvter me!" he/she said.

"Well I have an assassin who can pop a cap in your false ass!" said Taylor. He lives in Al Hudud ash Shamaliyah!


And that's ten - about as much as I can stand. It might end up being a funny thing to do, who knows?

How I became a Christian

I can't believe that I have blogged since July 2005 and have yet to explain how it was that I became a Christian. Forgive me for this please!

I became a Christian on August 28th, 1982 - yes, I am one of those people who has a time and a date. It happened in a bus - I walked on the bus an unbeliever and I walked off saved. But let me fill out the details for you.

I grew up in a household that wasn't really concerned about God. My dad was a Presbyterian and my Mum was an Anglican. I was baptised as a baby in 1969 at St. Alban's Anglican church in Epping (Sydney, Australia).

Mum and Dad didn't go to church much - we were "Christmas and Easter" churchgoers. As a boy, I was sent to Sunday School ("Sunday School" in Australia almost exclusively refers to children being educated about the Christian faith while the main church service was being held). Although I found it okay, my parents would drop me off and then go home - they didn't go to church themselves. Probably as a result of this, I ended up convincing my parents that I didn't need to go any more.

But, when I look back on it, it was too easy to simply blame my parents. The real reason was that God didn't appeal to me. I believed in him, but I didn't want to get to know him. Even as a child, I had decided that God didn't need to be part of my life. And so while my Catholic next door neighbours would faithfully go to mass every sunday morning, Protestant me would be happily playing in the back yard, ignorant of what God wants and happy to reject him.

But God had a grip on me. My mum knew enough about the bible to teach me some basic things like praying and not blaspheming. As I got older, my parents sent me off to week-long camps run by Scripture Union and, later, the Crusader Union. I think they did this to get rid of me during school holidays!

It was at the first camp - Camp Bevington on Lake Munmorah (a Scripture Union camp) - that God began to make himself known to me. It was 1980 and I was between 10-11 years old at the time. Mum had given me some money to buy things like chocolates and whatnot, but the camp had a bookstall and I wondered if I should buy a book.

Of course they gave us bible talks and had us discussing the bible in groups - but I have no memory of these. Obviously this was the first time I had ever heard the bible being taught, and I was exposed to events in the life of Jesus that I was unfamiliar with.

The upshot was that I decided to use the money to buy a paperback Good News Bible. I was fairly literate even then, and, when I came home from camp, I made the decision that I would read it - all of it. So every night before I went to bed I would pull my GNB out and begin reading. Probably because I had been taught that the bible was a series of books and didn't have to be read in order, I started with the book of 1 Samuel. Then, after a few weeks, I decided that I would also have to read the gospels as well, so in addition to plowing my way through Samuel, I started on Matthew. A few weeks later I felt that it was also important for me to start reading from the beginning of the bible, so while I was getting through Samuel and Matthew, I also started on Genesis.

You'd probably not be surprised if I told you that my daily readings fizzled out after a while - but this didn't happen. I kept on reading. Even when I was tired I sped through my bible readings and increased my load - at one point I think I had about 6 or 7 different bookmarks.

It took me about a year - but I did it. I read the entire bible through when I was eleven.

And what did I understand? Not much to tell you the truth. For a while I gave up eating pork and bacon because the bible said that it was wrong. I also remembered the story about some guy getting cut in half and people walking through the corpse... but apart from that, I cannot remember anything that I learnt in that period about God.

In hindsight, I think that one year spent reading the Bible was a wonderful work from God. I had no reason to do it. My parents weren't pressuring me to do it and the Camp leaders didn't force me to do it. And, despite the fact that I can't remember now what I had learnt, there is no doubt that God was working in me through his Spirit-inspired word.

A few camps later and I had just turned 13. I was in year 8 at school and it was the August school holidays (these were the days when NSW public schools had a three-term year). I went to a Crusader Camp in Tumut - I think it was called the "inter-boys activity camp" or something like that. Basically each day went like this - after breakfast, a morning bible talk followed by outdoor games, then lunch, then a "wide game" played in the paddocks around the farm we were staying in, then dinner, then another bible talk, then an indoor game (it was below freezing outside by that point) then bed.

It was so much fun - boys love running around playing games like "Privates and Generals" and "capture the flag". We were dirty, sweaty, bloodied and bruised. We ate huge meals and burnt off the energy as the day progressed.

But it was the bible talks that got me. I only remember one - the most important one, The Bridge to Life.

The camp director got up and had a blackboard (or maybe butcher's paper) where he drew a stick figure standing on the edge of a canyon. That stick figure was us, he explained. On the other side of the canyon was God. In the canyon itself - that which separates us from God - was called "sin". The director told us that it was our sin that was cutting us off from God.

He then said that we all need a bridge in order to cross over to God's side. He then told us that there were many bridges that man builds in order to get there. He then put up these bridges, which were named "going to church", "obeying the law", "being nice to people", and so on. But each of these bridges fell short - nothing we could do could ever reach God.

He then spoke to us about hell - that sin eventually leads to destruction. Without having our sins forgiven - without having the canyon bridged - we would suffer in hell.

Then he placed a cross over the canyon with "Jesus" on it. God, he said, had provided us with the means to get to God and have our sins forgiven. It is through Jesus dying on the cross and taking our sins that we can now walk across the canyon and onto God's side.

All we needed to do, he said, was as easy as "A-B-C". A - Admit your sins to God, that you have led a sinful and rebellious life. B - Believe that Jesus died for our sins so that they may be forgiven. C - Commit your life to serve God forever.

Of course, the Bridge to Life tract (which the director presented with a bit of his own added to it) is quite intellectually complex for a bunch of 13-14 year olds. It required us to use our brains as we strove to understand the symbolism of what he was saying. But it worked. As a result of this presentation, a few kids became Christians.

But not me. I could "feel" some sort of pulling to do it but was unsure of what it was - was it God or was it something inside me? I felt that I needed to resist, just in case it was all manipulation or something... or maybe I just felt that I had some control over things.

On the Bus home, one of the leaders gave me a tract written by John Chapman entitled "How to become a Christian" or something. I read through it and everything gelled. I prayed the prayer at the end. I walked off the bus a Christian.

Of course, I would be lying if I said that becoming a Christian solved all my problems and made me rich and prosperous - it didn't. God did certainly change my life when his Spirit regenerated me on that Bus in 1982.

But being a Christian is hard. The Christian musician Steve Taylor (one of the few Christian musicians I actually respect) wrote a song called "Harder to believe than not to...". It is easy to sin, it is easy to give in to the world, it is harder to live in obedience to God.

Here I sit at my computer, 36 years old, reflecting upon how my life changed when I was 13. I don't read the bible with the same dedication as I used to back then - sometimes weeks go by between those times I consult God's word. Oftentimes I find it difficult to pray. I get angry with the world and am bitter at some of the events of my life that have hurt me. I have children of my own now, and while I sometimes reflect bitterly at how my parents sometimes treated me as a child I also sit there listening to the wails of my son after I have gotten angry with him and realise that, hey, I'm not doing such a great job either. All my teenage life I desired a girlfriend to have for my own, and now am faced with the guilt of ignoring my wife too often.

This is not to say that God hasn't changed me. I'm certain that my life would be a quite immoral and meaningless had the Spirit not regenerated me. While I have a discontent about my present I am contented about my future.

And the reason is simple - I know for sure that I am going to heaven. I know for sure that one day I will face Jesus and he will welcome me into his kingdom. I know that one day this world we live in will be changed and God will bring about a new heaven and a new earth, and that I will inhabit this paradise with all of God's children forever. I know that one day my tears and my anger will be forgotten and I will be joyful always.

And this is not because I am a good boy. It's not because I write provocative blogs or am respected by fellow Christians or have delivered lots of biblical sermons or have told the gospel to others who have subsequently become Christians.

I know that I am going to heaven despite my faults and sins, and apart from the good things that God works in me. For I know that Christ has taken my sins away on the cross and, through his resurrection, brought me to new life. The greatest gift of all has been given to me, a most undeserving sinner - life eternal and friendship with God.

From the Theosalient Department

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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Lone Star film review (with pictures)

Texas, 1996. Two middle-aged Army sergeants are walking in the desert. While one is enjoying himself by identifying various cacti, the other is prospecting for bullets - the area they are walking in is a former rifle range.

Suddenly Sergeant Mikey, the prospector armed with a metal detector, calls out to his companion. He comes running and they both stand over a human skull, partially uncovered in the Texas earth.

01 Skull

It took me years to realise that Lone Star, the 1996 film by director John Sayles, is actually a western. I suppose I had become so cynical of westerns that I failed to appreciate the more subtle elements of the genre. While I certainly appreciated films like Unforgiven and even the socialist flop Heaven's Gate, I was never able to appreciate anything at or below the level of The Wild Bunch. So while I could certainly appreciate people like John Ford, I could never really handle John Wayne or like characters.

Lone Star is different. While it fits into the sub-genre of "contemporary westerns", it is sufficiently different from the stereotypical western that it can easily appeal to anyone who appreciates a good film. In other words, it is "a western for the rest of us".

14 Sam deeds at ceremony

The film centres around the work of Rio County sherriff Sam Deeds (Chris Cooper) as he seeks to solve the mystery of the body found by the prospectors. Sam is the son of Buddy Deeds, the former Rio County sherriff and the most beloved historical figure in the town of Frontera. Naturally Sam constantly lives in his deceased father's shadow, and even makes a short speech (see image above) at a ceremony to dedicate the new "Buddy Deeds Courthouse" in Frontera. Despite the respect his father engenders in the townsfolk, his memories of his father are quite bitter, and some in the town believe that Sam just can't cut it in comparison - being "all hat and no cattle".

15 Sam and Pilar at ceremony

But while Sam is trying to solve the mystery of the dead body, he also manages to restart his friendship with Pilar Cruz (played by Elizabeth Peña, the voice of "Mirage" in The Incredibles) the girl he fell in love with when he was 15 . Now in their late 30s, they talk again for the first time in over 20 years. Sam's bitter memories of his father stem from the almost violent opposition his father had to his relationship with Pilar when he was a teenager - something Pilar's mother, Mercedes Cruz (Miriam Colon, below), now a powerful local businesswoman in Frontera, also imposed on her daughter.

09 Mercedes Cruz in kitchen

We find out that Pilar's mother eventually sent her to an all-girl's Catholic high school in order to keep Pilar permanently away from Sam. Both went their separate ways. Sam married and went to live in San Antonio, while Pilar married, had two children and became a teacher.

When the film begins, Sam has gotten divorced and has been elected the Sherriff of Rio County, thus coming back to the town his father worked in. Pilar's husband, Nando, has recently died, leaving her as a widowed mother of two teenagers and working as a history teacher in the local high school. They come into contact when Pilar's son, Amado, is arrested for fitting a stolen CD player in a friend's car.

22 Sam and Pilar in cafe

Naturally Sam and Pilar's friendship "deepens" as the film progresses, but then again, so does the mystery surrounding the dead body discovered by the two prospectors.

As part of the investigative process, Sam interviews people who were in Frontera at the time his father, Buddy (below, played by Matthew McConaughey), was still a deputy. Sam listens to these stories, which are portrayed in the film as flashbacks to 1957.

03 Buddy Deeds

In those years, the Sherriff of Rio County was the vicious and corrupt Charlie Wade (Kris Kristofferson, below). Wade was as corrupt as a person could get, making sure that he profited from every illegal activity in the county, nor matter how large or small. While he had clout with the Whites, his main targets were the Black and Hispanic communities. Since the fictional Rio County is on the border with Mexico (the Rio Grande runs between the county and Mexico), the county is also often the starting point for illegal immigrants ("wetbacks") to enter the United States. Wade makes sure he also profits from this illegal trafficking.

08 Charlie Wade with Gun

It's obvious, however, that Charlie Wade is hated by everyone. As the film progresses, we learn fairly early on that, one day, Wade disappears and is never seen again. In his place, a young Buddy Deeds is enthusiastically elected Sherriff.

One of the central characters is the current mayor, Hollis Pogue (Clifton James, below). Pogue is a salty old fella who is obviously well-liked by the populance but also has learned a great deal of political savvy over the years. Now, as he approaches retirement (an election is to be held the next year), he prefers fishing and dining with old friends.

02 Hollis Pogue Mayor

Pogue has been in Rio county for decades. In fact, when Charlie Wade was Sherriff, young Hollis Pogue (Jeff Monahan, below) was one of his two deputies - the other being Buddy Deeds. Hollis continued on his job as deputy under Deeds before involving himself in the county's politics, where he is eventually elected mayor.

20 Deputy Hollis Pogue

Another person of interest is Otis Payne (Ron Canada, below, right), or "Big O" as he is called. Otis runs "Big O's", a bar and restaurant that serves the black community in Rio County. 9 out of every 10 people in the County are Hispanic, and whites outnumber blacks, making his community small. Because of his influence, Otis is known as "the mayor of Darktown", with his bar and the Holiness church being the only places in the county that blacks can come together.

05 Otis and Chet

And, of course, young Otis Payne (Gabriel Casseus) was also around at the time when Charlie Wade disappeared, working in the same bar. As the picture below shows, he also had a run-in with Charlie Wade and was nearly killed by him. In the years after Wade's disappearance, he eventually took over the bar and worked closely with Buddy Deeds to ensure that the county's black community came out to vote for him as sherriff every few years.

07 Young Otis Payne

As you can see from the images, the film interweaves between 1957 and 1996, with the events of the past being important in solving the crime that the prospectors of the present have discovered. At one point the film also goes back to the early 1970s, showing images of a young Sam Deeds (Tay Strathairn, below) and a young Pilar beginning their teenage love, and also suffering at the hands of their respective parents.

17 Young Sam near river

Perhaps the most accurate summary of the film's theme would be "What happens when you dig up the past?". Although there is much value in digging up what was buried in order to bring the truth out, oftentimes the truth is something you may not wish to hear. This theme is present in a number of the film's backstories, such as Private Johnson from the local military base (Chandra Wilson, below) having to confront her gang-related background as a teenager while trying to forge a career in the Army in the present - a background that results in another soldier being seriously wounded while off duty at "Big O's".

24 Private Johnson interrogated

Of course, by investigating the body (which had been buried since the late 1950s), Sam is investigating the past and, as a result, the actions of his own dead father in the disappearance of Charlie Wade. During the investigation he is clearly warned off by Hollis Pogue, as well as an Indian by the name of Wesley Birdsong (Gordon Tootoosis, below), who tells him the story of a rattlesnake he discovered while investigating an old box - the idea being that opening the box (the past) can be dangerous and unexpected.

23 Wesley Birdsong warns Sam

The film is notable for the backstories that are present in it. None of the backstories have anything to do with the mystery of solving the body, but serve solely to reinforce the theme of digging up the past. At the very beginning of the film we meet Pilar for the first time in a heated discussion with a group of White and Hispanic parents at her school who are arguing over the history curriculum. The white parents are upset that Pilar and other teachers are teaching about the struggle of Hispanics during 19th century Texas as they battle against racism and white supremacy, while the Hispanic parents are upset with a "White bread" view of history being promulgated which show the Mexicans as the "bad guys".

But perhaps the most enjoyable backstory is that of the arrival of Colonel Delmore Payne (Joe Morton, below) as the commanding officer of Fort Mackenzie, Rio County's military barracks.

11 Col Payne vists Os

Fort Mackenzie is also the place where Private Johnson serves, as well as Sergeants Mikey and Cliff, the two prospectors who discover the dead body. Fort Mackenzie used to, at one time, train infantry for the US Army but stopped doing this in the early 1950s. An old rifle range where recruits were trained remained unused for many decades, and served as the place where Mikey and Cliff hunted for old bullets and shells (which Mikey, played by Stephen J. Lang, turns into sculptures, below).

13 Sgt Mikey making sculpture

It was while prospecting in the rifle range that Mikey and Cliff stumble upon the remains that Sam Deeds spends the movie investigating.

But back to Colonel Payne.

Colonel Delmore Payne is the son of "Big O" Otis Payne, but hasn't seen nor spoken to his father since he was 8 years old. Now married and in his 40s, Colonel Delmore Payne has accepted an offer to run Fort Mackenzie despite the fact that it would mean being close to his estranged father. However, an incident involving some of his troops at Big O's forces him to visit the establishment and to confront his father for the first time in decades (below).

12 Col Payne confronts Otis

Needless to say there is a lot of bitterness that he feels towards Otis, which not only comes out in the way he treats him, but also the way he treats his own son, Chet (Eddie Robinson, below, and also above in the picture of Otis). Chet is averaging a B+ in school (Pilar is his history teacher) but that is not enough to get into West Point, which is where his Father, Colonel Payne, wants him to go. In many ways, Colonel Delmore Payne runs his own family like the military, and it is assumed that he has complete control over his son's future, despite what Chet may wish for. Chet admits to his grandfather, Otis, that his father always said "from the moment you're born, you have to lift yourself up on your own two feet - no breaks". Otis replies that Delmore is living proof of that.

04 Chet Payne

Yet despite the fact that Colonel Delmore Payne is hard enough to "crack nuts with his buttocks" (as Sergeant Mikey states), we do sympathise with his plight of being brought up without a father. Despite his hardness, we do see Delmore struggling to come to terms with the fact that his estranged father is close by. This, in turn, forces him to "dig up" his own past.

I obviously won't give away the ending of this backstory to you, but you need to remember that before he became a Colonel, Delmore Payne was a Major... ie "Major Pain". I think this is a veiled joke on behalf of the director which also gives us a glimpse of what Delmore can now become. Before, Delmore was a "Major Pain", but, since becoming Colonel and returning to Rio county, he is a "Major Pain" no more.

As I have stated, the backstory involving Colonel Payne and his relationship with Otis has absolutely nothing to do with Sam's quest to fully investigate the dead body in the rifle range. In fact, this particular backstory is a complete story in itself, as though the director has created two separate and (relatively) unrelated stories for the one film. Fortunately, the major story (Sam's investigation) co-exists quite happily with the minor story (Colonel Payne's relationship with his father), and both are connected with the main theme of digging up the past.

The film ends with Pilar and Sam sitting on the bonnet of his car (below) in a disused drive-in that the two had once visited when they were teenagers. The scene is picturesque and quite romantic. But...

29 Twist Ending

...it is during this scene that a twist ending occurs. One final piece of "the puzzle" is revealed that confounds the viewer yet, when all the puzzle pieces are examined, is actually quite fitting. The twist helps explain to the viewer the actions and reactions of many characters during the story. The twist is not, however, somehow non-naturalistic or supernatural in nature, but has resulted from digging up the past. In retrospect, the warnings that Sam had received about digging up the past were quite justified.

But I will say this, just in case some of you have watched Star Wars too much: Sam is not Charlie Wade's son!

Overall the film is brilliant. It is slow at times and the complexity of the back stories (many of whom I have not discussed in this review) can often confuse the viewer into wondering how they fit into the plot. If you view it, realising that the backstories are unrelated, then the film becomes simpler to understand and more enjoyable. I cannot image Chris Cooper in any other role - his Sam Deeds is everything the stereotypical southern sherriff is not, introspective, sensitive, calm and quietly driven. Even his southern "twang" is personable. Elizabeth Pena is similarly believable as a widowed hispanic history teacher who is simultaneously unsettled by and attracted to, her first love. Kris Kristofferson is not my favourite actor, but his performance as the ugly and vicious Charlie Wade is probably the best role of his career. Matthew McConaughey as the legendary Buddy Deeds appears only briefly, but has enough drive and bravery to make his role special too. Then there's the actors from the various backstories, all of whom take their roles seriously and flesh out great characters from a plot-driven story.

More Pictures of Lone Star can be found here.

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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Charles Hodge and his attitude to Slavery

This is a letter I sent to Brian V. Hill (Emeritus Professor of Education, Murdoch University) way back in 2004. I was responding to an article he had written in a publication that was critical of Reformed theologian Charles Hodge, and was part of a debate about Homosexual ministers in the Uniting Church. The pdf file I refer to in the letter can be downloaded here (195.5kb). He subsequently modified the article in response to my letter. (Click on read more)


Over the years I have often heard the assertion that Charles Hodge, the 19th century Reformed Theologian, supported slavery. A year ago I emailed Kevin Giles about this assertion just to put some facts straight. He didn't reply, but I am hoping that you will take this information on board.

The reason why I am writing is because of your paper “Interpreting the Bible for Today – who's got it right?” which on page 7 of the pdf file states: “...slavery was almost universally treated as part of the created order until the 19th century. Several noted Biblical scholars – including American evangelicals such as Charles Hodge – considered that it had strong Biblical justification.”

Before I move into a defence of Hodge, I would just like to state that I am an Evangelical Presbyterian and that I have followed the Resolution 84 debate. I have occasionally led services at my church and we have often prayed for Evangelicals within the Uniting Church since R84 came out. We even have a retired couple who moved to our church because of their concerns with the direction of the UC. One of our church members has a Father who is a UC minister who is a member of EMU and the RA, and I have spoken to him in the last few weeks about his ministry in the UC (he has visited our church). All that I am trying to say at this point is that I come from the point of view of a friend.

I have often heard the following information about Charles Hodge – some of it from reading Kevin Giles and some of it from others:

1.Hodge was a conservative Calvinist who supported slavery.
2.He supported slavery because he was a Southerner.
3.Princeton was located in the South and was ideal as an intellectual basis to support slavery.
4.Calvinism is a very conservative expression of Christianity, so it follows that conservative theology would be matched by conservative beliefs, especially those that support slavery.
5.Hodge vigourously defended slavery and found support in the Bible.
6.Hodge and others supported slavery because they saw it as part of the divine order of creation.

In the limited amount of research that I have done on Charles Hodge I have found the following information pertinent:

1) Hodge was born in Pennsylvania. This is not a Southern state of the USA.

2) Hodge trained and taught at Princeton Theological Seminary. This is located in New Jersey and is not considered a Southern state.

3) During the Civil war, New Jersey was not on the Confederate side.

4) Hodge was a supporter of slavery in the early 19th century – but he complained that they were often mistreated (He probably did not see or understand the problem back then. Being in the North, he didn't see many slaves or how they were treated). He based this belief upon those various verses from Paul which appeared not to condemn slavery.

5) As Hodge became more powerful and notable in the 1830s and 1840s, he often experienced the slavery debate in his own denomination with great pain. The Presbyterians in the North were opposed to slavery while the Presbyterians in the South supported slavery. Hodge saw the issue was tearing the church apart, and, partly because of his earlier views on slavery, he decided to come out in favour of slavery. He was a Northerner that supported the Southern cause, which was a political move to keep the church unified.

6) By 1846, however, Hodge was convinced that Slavery was morally wrong. In The Princeton Review (April 1846), he states

“Slavery is a heinous crime; it degrades human beings into things; it forbids marriages; it destroys domestic relations; it separates parents and children, husbands and wives; it legalizes what God forbids, and forbids what God enjoins; it keeps its victims in ignorance even of the gospel; it denies labor its wages, subject the persons, the virtue, and the happiness of many to the caprice of one; it involves the violation of all social rights and duties, and therefore is the greatest of social crimes. It is as much as any man's character for sense, honesty or religion is worth, to insist that a distinction must here be made; that we must discriminate between slavery and its separable adjuncts; between the relationship itself and the abuse of it; between the possession of power and the unjust exercise of it. Let any man in some portions of our country, in England, in Scotland, or Ireland, attempt to make such distinctions, and see with what an outburst of indignation he will be overwhelmed. It is just so in the present case.”

7) As a result of this opposition, he lost his Southern support. His attempts at unifying the church led to a watering down of his case. In the end he pleased no one.

8) In 1872, Hodge released his “Systematic Theology”. In Volume 2, page 90-91, Hodge states the following about the human race:

“Whenever we meet a man, no matter of what name or nation, we not only find that he has the same nature with ourselves; that he has the same organs, the same senses, the same instincts, the same feelings, the same faculties, the same understanding, will, and conscience, and the same capacity for religious culture, but that he has the same guilty and polluted nature, and needs the same redemption. Christ died for all men, and we are commanded to preach the gospel to every creature under heaven. Accordingly, nowhere on the face of the earth are men to be found who do not need the gospel or who are not capable of becoming partakers of the blessings which it offers”

During the 19th century there were some erroneous theological works that attempted to justify slavery. Some of the arguments focused upon African slaves as not being human and therefore could not be considered as being made in the image of God. Hodge, as his quote above shows, did not hold this belief.


Charles Hodge erred in both intially supporting slavery and then not opposing it strongly enough as the debate hotted up. From this we can assume that Hodge found the situation difficult because it was not as “clear-cut” to him as it is to us today. He did, however, definitely change his mind, long before civil war broke out in 1861, and opposed slavery as being morally wrong.

We can therefore assume that Hodge was not a strong supporter of slavery. We can also assume that he made some bad mistakes when he did support it, but he was never a strong defender or it, nor was he an apologist for slavery. The facts are, however, that he publically changed his mind and opposed slavery. The fact that he had to subsequently water these down for the sake of denominational unity is not commendable, but it is certainly not damnable.




The Abolition of Slavery, Women's Liberation, Homosexual Rights and Evangelical Hermenutics, Kevin Giles, 1995 (pdf file 35.8kb) - this paper is influential in the view that Hodge was vehemently pro-slavery.

From the Theosalient Department

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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I needed the shelter of someone's arms, and there you were
I needed someone to understand my ups and downs,

and there you were with sweet love and devotion
Deeply touching my emotion

I want to stop and thank you Jesus
I want to stop and thank you Jesus
How sweet it is to be loved by you
How sweet it is to be loved by you

I close my eyes at night
Wondering where would i be without you in my life
Everything i did was just a bore
Everywhere i went it seems i'd been there before
But you brighten up for me all of my days
With a love so sweet in so many ways

I want to stop and thank you Jesus
I just want to stop and thank you Jesus
How sweet it is to be loved by you
How sweet it is to be loved by you

You were better to me than i was to myself
For me, there's you and there ain't nobody else

I want to stop and thank you Jesus
I just want to stop and thank you Jesus
How sweet it is to be loved by you
How sweet it is to be loved by you

From Fide-o


This is my first posting using Performancing, a Firefox extension.

What lefties call "Wingnuts"

Check out this right-wing rant. I'm still confused by it. Can someone please explain to me why they are angry?


Using the Surplus

The Australian Federal Government has collected $22 Billion more money than it needs to pay for its services.

This is good news for Australia. In 1995 the government was running a $10.3 Billion deficit and public debt was around 20% of GDP. Today we have all but paid off that public debt - it is now minus 4.8% of GDP - in other words, the government has completely paid off its debt and is now saving money.

This may sound good... but it is even more remarkable when compared to other nations. Here are some public debt figures courtesy of the CIA factbook:

United States of America: 64.7%
United Kingdom: 42.2%
Italy: 107.3%
Belgium: 93.6%
New Zealand: 21.4%

Note: The CIA has Australia's 2005 public debt at 16.2% which seems at odds with Australian budget figures in 2005 of 0.7%. A different methodology is probably used but even the CIA figures show Australia's debt is exceptionally low.

We need to understand that the Australian government's fiscal state is unique not just in the world at the moment, but also in terms of economic history going back 30-40 years. No other industrialised government (OECD), as far as I know, has managed to completely pay off its debt.

Of course, it is silly to assume that somehow deficits are bad and surpluses are good - this is the error of mercantilism. Economics is all about balance, which means that if Australia keeps running larger and larger surpluses into the future and has greater and greater public savings, it is actually a bad thing.

In the past I argued firmly that surpluses need to be used to pay down government debt. Now that the debt has been paid off, what to do with the extra money?

The first thing to remember is that Keynsianism is not dead: Fiscal policy still has a place in "pump priming" a slow economy and putting the brakes on an overheating one. In practice, this should mean that the government should move into a deficit during a slow period and move into a surplus during a good period, with public debt figures moving around accordingly as well. If Australia can manage to keep public debt/savings within 5% of GDP, things should run well. Anything beyond that should be reined in.

Note: It's important to state again that running large surpluses and having large amounts of public savings is not desirable. Our surplus would be another government's deficit, or a private sector deficit - that's how economics works.

That's why I'm not all that impressed with the tax cuts mentioned in the latest budget. Australia's economy is running (relatively) well which means that tax cuts are superfluous at the moment since they would stimulate an economy that does not need it. Granted, there is some recent economic data to cause concern - but nothing concrete yet that is impacting the economy badly.

The second thing to remember is that the "twin deficits theory" is obviously now dead in the water. This theory, which linked government debt with the current account, has been proved to be false simply by looking at the figures. As I have mentioned, public debt is now minus 4.8% of GDP, but Australia's net foreign debt (that is, the total amount of money that the entire economy - not just the government - owes the world) is running at around 51% of GDP.

So while the fiscal status of the government is great, Australia's foreign debt levels are still pretty bad. Back in "the day", it was thought that the best way to reduce net foreign debt would be to reduce public debt - to balance our debt with the rest of the world we needed to balance the government's budget.

There's no doubt that fixing government debt levels has affected our net debt and our current account - yet all the evidence shows that the "twin deficits theory" was too simplistic a model to work out in reality. One economic problem has been solved (government debt) but another one remains (foreign debt).

It should therefore be a top government priority to fix this level of debt. One way would be to use the surplus to purchase Euro, Yen and US-dollar denominated bonds, thus increasing our international currency reserves. The selling off of Australian currency and the purchasing of foreign currency by the government (via the Reserve Bank) would put downward pressure on the Australian dollar, making it cheaper and thus making Australian goods and services more competitive. This would then increase our exports and decrease our current account deficit. As soon as the current account goes into surplus, our net foreign debt would begin to decrease. Hopefully, as years go by, this current account surplus would reduce our foreign debt levels to zero, much in the same way as federal government budget surpluses have eliminated public debt.

The third and last thing to remember is that reducing public debt has meant that more money can be spent in the future. This is an argument that many left-leaning people need to remember, especially those who argue that government debt is nothing to be worried about.

In 1996, which was the height of Australia's debt crisis (and when Howard and Costello began their work to reduce it), interest payments on this debt was around 1.5% of GDP. In other words, all the money that the Australian government had borrowed meant that interest payments alone were around 1.5% of GDP. Given the fact that tax revenues were around 30% of GDP, it meant that $1.50 in every $30 the government gained was spent in paying interest. With the removal of public debt altogether, so too are interest payments removed. This means that the government can spend more money on health, education and the environment without having to worry about going into deficit.

This is the problem that besets OECD nations like the USA, Italy and Belgium. With public debt levels at high levels, more and more tax revenue is used to pay off that debt, which means that it becomes harder and harder to fund important government spending in health and education. When 50% of your income is spent paying interest on your credit card, you know that something needs to be done before you become bankrupt.

So while I have nothing but disdain for the Coalition's stance on the Iraq war and immigration, I can at least give them the kudos for their fiscal prudence. In this sense, the Australian Coalition government is actually truely more "conservative" than its profligate American cousin, the Republican Party. And it is also good that Coalition politicians like Malcolm Turnball - who seems to believe in "supply side economics", objectivism and other stupid
American ideas - can sit in the background grinding their teeth while the leaders of their party make (reasonably) sensible economic decisions. I'm hoping Turnbull - who is on record as wanting to make massive tax cuts for high income earners - will not unduly influence too many Australian politicians with his voodoo economics.

I need glasses I think. The external link to the budget papers actually shows that public debt is NOT -4.8% of GDP but -$4.8 Billion, which is -0.5% of GDP. Moreover, from the same paper we learn that public debt in 1996 was 18.5% of GDP - which is still very low by international standards today. (11 May 2006)

From the Osostrian School Department

© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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