All Posts By

Don Aitkin

Experiencing a night of Wagner

By | History, Media, Music | 12 Comments

The first piece of music that embedded itself in my memory, when I was a small boy in Canberra during and after the war, was the trumpet call in Wagner’s overture to his opera Rienzi. It preceded a dozen bars or so of the overture, heralding the radio news provided by the Macquarie Broadcasting Service. I didn’t know that Wagner had written the music. Indeed, I knew nothing about music at all. All I knew was that before long I knew those bars, and I liked them. Richard Wagner himself in later life didn’t like Rienzi at all, and called…

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August Off-Topic Thread

By | Other | 159 Comments

I should have set this up much earlier, and have done so now because I want to alert readers to an excellent essay by Willis Eschenbach about whether there has been any acceleration in sea-level rise in the satellite period. Sea-levels were the subject of a recent essay. He says No, after some straightforward analysis which is accessible to most readers. It might be more accurate to say that he cannot find any significant acceleration in the satellite data. The Comments are worth reading, because there are some interesting critical comments. And yes, Tamino says the opposite, but then Tamino…

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How much progress has there been in Australia since 1950?

By | Books, Economy, Education, Health, History, Society | 40 Comments

I have been thinking about this topic for some time, and foreshadowed this essay last week. ‘Progress’ is one of those protean words, changing its meaning according to the needs of the user. It comes from the Latin, pro meaning forward, and grado meaning stepping, walking, going. So, there is thought to be progress when things go forward. My Shorter Oxford gives its sense for this essay as ‘continuous improvement’. And at once there is some reservation, for ‘improvement’ in a human life and in social life is rarely continuous. There are usually steps backward as well as forward. And…

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On turning 80

By | Health, History, Society | 129 Comments

My 80th birthday yesterday came rather more quickly than I had expected. As we get older our sense of time speeds up if only because we have experienced so much ‘time’ already. A double Latin class on Friday afternoon in the early 1950s seemed to last forever, while last Christmas seems only a few weeks ago. Mind you, my life expectancy at birth was only 63, so there’s been some luck along the way. At 80 you certainly do wonder how long you have. According to the life tables, I can expect (on average!) another eight years. If that is…

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Not sea levels again!

By | Climate Change, Environment, History, Media, Politics, Religion, Research | 119 Comments

I said in my last essay that I would return this week to another theme that is having a big revival just at the moment, post the USA withdrawal from the Paris Accord. This one is ‘rising sea levels’. It was one of the dooms forecast in the NYT Mag article I referred to last time: Barring a radical reduction of emissions, we will see at least four feet of sea-level rise and possibly ten by the end of the century. I can only shake my head in wonderment at claims like this one.  Has there been a dramatic increase in…

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The scary stories get scarier

By | Climate Change, Environment, History, Language, Media, Politics, Religion, Research | 87 Comments

President Trump’s decision to pull the USA out of the Paris climate Accord seems to have had an outcome in the intensification of alarm both at his doing so and at what he is thought to have overlooked. I saw a number of examples of this reaction, and will deal with another one next week. But the one I’m focussing on now is a story that appeared in the 17 July New York Times Magazine entitled ‘The Uninhabitable Earth’. I wouldn’t normally have gone to read it, and did so because none other than Dr Michael Mann had panned it,…

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Where is our politics going?

By | History, Politics, Society | 125 Comments

For the last month I have been more than usually interested in Australian politics, not because I have a strong interest in the outcome of the next election or three, or because I have a horse in the race. Rather, because I think we are seeing a slow shift to something with which Europeans are more familiar than Australians, a more-or-less stable multi-party system. In fact, it is really the Anglophone countries that regard a two-party system as the norm. When it works, as it has done for much of the past century, it works quite well. I analysed it…

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What does the future hold?

By | Books, Climate Change, Economy, Education, Environment, Food & Wine, Health, Politics, Society | 35 Comments

What sort of future we are likely to enjoy, or have to put up with, has been a regular subject on the Internet for some time now. Being unsure of how much future I personally have left, I’m not totally consumed by the subject. But I saw a comprehensive list the other, and I thought it was worth reflecting on. The list was the work of Shelly Palmer, who has written a couple of interesting pieces on innovation. I have numbered the sections below for ease of comment, and done some minor editing as well. One thing to note at…

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What should former PMs do?

By | Economy, Education, Environment, History, Media, Politics, Society | 44 Comments

At a recent lunch I got into a discussion about the current tensions within the Liberal Party, and more particularly the extent to which they were due to what a friend called the ’irresponsible’ behaviour of Mr Abbott. I had written about Mr Abbott’s situation before, and offered some of that comment at the lunch. My friend would have none of it. Mr Abbott should have left Parliament at the first opportunity, and if he stayed, should have maintained a dignified silence. My view, set out in the conclusion to the essay linked above, is that, ‘He ought to be allowed…

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