Sport, academia, climate change and health, with a bit of humour thrown in

I was going to write an essay on Australia’s fate at the Olympic Games, perhaps in the hope that the Rio Games might mercifully be the last ever, but as I thought it over I began to worry that I had actually written such a piece four years ago, at the time of the last Games in London. Well, it wasn’t quite the case, but I did write about the Games then, and made similar points in another later essay. The truth is, I think, is that we’re not as good as we think we are in anything, but some of our national pride is built around the notion that we are the world’s greatest sporting country, or something of that kind. Given the data, if we make a case about success on the basis of the number of gold medals per million people, we will find ourselves knocked over by Jamaica, or another small country with one or two exceptional athletes. For me it’s all hot air. Australians are no more ‘sporting’ or athletic than any other decently large country, and spending more money on the elite athletes won’t get us any more medals. We once had some natural advantages, decently distributed wealth, good weather and a leisure culture focusing on a few sports. Those advantages have largely gone as the world has become wealthier. We could do better for our country by putting the dough into bringing more young people into an appreciation of music, art and literature.

And over the last week, depressed by the amount of paper I seem to have accumulated, I’ve been cleaning out files and folders, and every now and then, while doing so, I’ve picked up a gem or two I had quite forgotten about. Here’s one from a dozen or so years ago. I don’t know where it came from, but it applies to any large organisation.

‘ARE YOU LONELY??? Don’t like working on your own? Hate making decisions?

Then Call a Meeting!!

You can …

SEE people

DRAW flowcharts

FEEL important

FORM subcommittees

IMPRESS your colleagues

MAKE meaningless recommendations



You can replace ‘COMPANY’ with ‘UNIVERSITY’ or ‘DEPARTMENT’ as you wish. After nearly fifty years in higher education, I felt that about half my working time, in the thirty years since I had become a professor, had been taken up by meetings of all kinds. That was the culture. As I may have written before, a useful guy from a large corporation whom I had persuaded to join an important committee to do with research, after a year asked me would I mind if he resigned. I asked him why. He said, ‘Where I come from, we have few meetings, and they are to make decisions. Here people come to find out what is going on, and most of the time they want to stop decisions being made.’ There was a lot of truth in that judgment.

Here is another gem, probably twenty or more years old, from the world of higher education. It is from the ‘Universities’ chapter in a booklet called The New Improved Official Liars’ Handbook.

  • Teaching is the most important part of our job.
  • I’ll have your essays marked by next week.
  • That’s an interesting comment.
  • You won’t lose marks if you disagree with me.
  • You’re welcome to come and see me to discuss your work.
  • That’s an original piece of research.
  • We respect students’ opinions.
  • You’ll find this course interesting/stimulating/rewarding/socially relevant.
  • There’s not much written work.
  • There are copies available in the university bookshop.
  • I’m not just arguing for the sake of arguing.
  • You should be able to recognise all the organs from the diagrams in the text.
  • I welcome criticism.
  • I’ve almost finished the thesis.
  • I do my best work at home.
  • This department is run democratically.

Oh dear, it takes me back, not because so many academics were like this — they weren’t — but because the ones who were like that stood out so awfully.

I wrote some time ago about a brilliant cartoonist called Jorge Cham, who has explained PhD to mean ‘Piled higher and Deeper’. This little gem beautifully captures the central problem with peer review — that the peers are other researchers with their own barrows to push. It comes from more than ten years ago.


If you go looking for humour about global warming or climate change you’ll find a vast amount, most of it American, that supports the AGW hypothesis, the main purport being that those who oppose it are loons, shills or Republicans. There aren’t many the other way, but I have this one in my collection.


And the next one has sat on my desktop for some time, getting a daily smile. It’s not actually about climate change, or global warming, though you can see potential links. It is about the daily fare of new health cures, new diets, new ways of postponing death, and new things you have to try. One of them is the paleo  diet, which one of its exuberant supporters (no names) defines this way:

The Paleo diet is the healthiest way you can eat because it is the ONLY nutritional approach that works with your genetics to help you stay lean, strong and energetic! Research in biology, biochemistry, Ophthalmology, Dermatology and many other disciplines indicate it is our modern diet, full of refined foods, trans fats and sugar, that is at the root of degenerative diseases such as obesity, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, depression and infertility.

Maybe it is wonderful, and members of my extended family try it from time to time. I would want to put in a caveat to the effect that some of the diseases we die from, or die with (Alzheimer’s doesn’t kill, as I read the literature), are the diseases of the old, and there are more cases of them now because more of us are living to really ripe old ages. Perhaps our modern diet has something to show for it. Anyway, here it is:


My thanks to cartoonists, who help us to laugh at the excesses of our fellows, and no doubt at the excesses of ourselves as well.

Finally, from a collection of stories from doctors themselves, most of them about their greatest error or glitch, a sweet account of an American doctor’s first meeting with a new elderly woman patient.

‘How long since you’ve been bed-ridden?’ he asked.

‘Oh, I guess about twenty years, when my husband was still alive.’

Endnote on politics: The result of the Northern Territory elections can be put down to the lamentable performance of the coalition government there, and the small scale of the whole electorate, meaning that judgments are quickly shared. It is not a pointer to the Federal Coalition, other than that lamentable governments are usually dismissed. It probably isn’t a pointer to the coming ACT elections either, about which I will write in due course.

Join the discussion 73 Comments

  • Bryan Roberts says:

    My proofreading costs are small, particularly for the first paragraph. If I have to read more…

    • Don Aitkin says:


      Thanks for the warning. I have replaced ‘found’ with ‘find’ and supplied a full stop where it was needed. Anything else? I do need a proof-reader, though I do check each essay a couple of times.

  • BB says:

    Meetings, I was an IT professional in CIT, at one stage managing the processing of all student data. We had 17,000 students at the time and I had 2 or 3 staff. I was also because of my position on a number of committees. I identify with the guy you had that wanted to resign. That part of my job was the most frustrating thing I ever came across. As he said it was a mechanism to stop decisions being made. I still remember one particular meeting where the problem was students paid union fees on an annual basis but course fees were semester based. There were various practical solutions to this problem. That a student (who were all adult) might by some accident pay their union fee twice. It wasn’t a great deal of money as I remember. No matter what solution was proposed there would be an objection. One was being adults they should produce a receipt to say they had paid it already. Having receipts after all is part of being a responsible adult. But that was no good. After many attempts to find an acceptable solution I gave up and proposed we should put a barcode tattoo on each student’s neck.

    I did solve it though, committees that is I resigned from CIT and took a package. Then became an IT contractor and there we only met to solve a problem. Better than that the pay was a hell of a lot better.

  • spangled drongo says:

    Thanks, Don. I really appreciate how you have your finger on the pulse of the “experts”.

    For a large part of my life I ran multiple businesses either from home, the front seat of my car or as a hands on worker in a two man factory and managed to avoid the mindlessness of “meetings”. In one business involving design, construction and performance of complex, state of the art machinery that had to be approved by international overseers in London and New York I would in some cases argue for years about their specifications they had red-inked my plans with [but approved them anyway] that were blindingly, obviously wrong and I could see that they, and any other world experts that I was occasionally forced to fall back on, were totally incapable of calculating the stresses and strains involved.

    The good thing was they were aware of and prepared to accept their limitations because of the advanced state of design and were willing to learn. So what I would do was complete the project to my spec and eventually advise them that I had done so and it had been working faultlessly for the last x years. Whereupon they would give their approval.

    You couldn’t operate like that in today’s Nanny-World.

    That’s about the time I started believing in the wisdom of Richard Feynman and became [rightfully] sceptical of experts.

    • beththeserf says:

      Don and Spangled, re Yes Minister guvernance via meetings,
      a wonderful post by the Chiefio ‘Forcing the Cathedral’
      relating to this discussion. It’s about the fundamental strain
      between two major ways of organizing human activity, ‘The Cathedral’
      top-down micro-management and The Bazaar’ market-place-distributed -action. Ranges from IT Linux, to Government Yes Minister stagnation
      to Climate Change to central -control education. Includes his own

      • Don Aitkin says:

        Thanks, Beth. I was about to start reading, then thought I’d better see how long it was… It’s for the weekend. But I do like the initial metaphor.

        • beththeserf says:

          Don,Be interested in yr comments when you have time. The Chiefio is an original
          Loved his musings on slide rules’ and other things like the problem of lighting a
          sphere, ‘The Fallacy of Trapped Heat’ 21/06/2013.

        • margaret says:

          We can’t complain about life in Western civilisation unless we belong to an oppressed minority, even if it’s a large minority.

          • beththeserf says:

            Margaret, I’d say that Australia, as a member of Western civilization, is
            a generous and democratic society, universal suffrage, one of the earliest,
            public education for all, ( spent half my own teaching career in disadvantaged
            communities,) Social Security and Welfare Budget ,$ 154 billion, 2015/16,
            $100 million for refugee refugees.

            Thomas Sowell’s insightful book, ‘Wealth, Poverty and Politics,’ examines
            the stultifying effects of a culture of resentment, often fostered by University
            elites promoting a top-down culture of entitlement and dependency. Don’t
            expect you’ll agree.

          • margaret says:

            Broadly, I don’t disagree with that assessment. The people who are the most angry/threatened with changes in Western civilization though seem to be the people with the most privileges.

          • margaret says:

            Henry Rollins, who is on a spoken word tour of Australia at the moment was on The Drum. I found his views refreshingly provocative. He’s angry but it’s on behalf of those who are genuinely worn down by the system not angry because “he’s tired” in an “old white male way.”

          • margaret says:

            Yes, his book seems very all encompassing. Of … ? Western capitalist overreach.

            “Sowell does manage to score a clean hit on those who now complain that income inequality is too high by noting their refusal to say what level of inequality they would consider acceptable. What we also learn from “Wealth, Poverty and Politics” is that there is apparently no level of inequality of income or opportunity that Thomas Sowell would consider unacceptable.”

          • beththeserf says:

            Thx for the two links for balance. One observation by someone
            in ‘The Washington Post does not in anyway cover the range of
            analysis of Sowell’s book. I always try, where possible to read
            the book itself as I did with ‘ Wealth, Poverty and Politics.’

            Yr second link raises some of the issues Sowell analyses that
            the WP noway mentions. eg

            ‘Time and process are recurring themes throughout Wealth, Poverty,
            and Politics. The fourth dimension is largely absent from collectivist
            economic theory, which rests on the assumption that wealth and
            achievement are randomly distributed by nature, so unequal out
            comes must be the result of sinister private-sector conspiracies.
            Most of Sowell’s book is a fascinating, and searingly honest, journey
            back through history, looking at cultures around the world to determine
            why some groups tend to be more successful than others.

            His conclusions will not rest easily in the ears of today’s hyper-sensitive
            micro-aggression students, but it’s vitally important for them …If we truly
            wish to reduce poverty and increase the prosperity of lagging groups,
            we should carefully study the history and habits of successful groups and
            emulate them, not weld our minds shut with outraged shrieks that only
            racism can explain the dire economic straits of preferred victim groups. ‘

          • beththeserf says:

            Tsk! A serf failin’ ter learn by experience.
            Shorter lines ter avoid line jumpin’.
            Must do a word count.

          • margaret says:

            I skim read your post Beth. One thing I gleaned from it was isolationism is supposedly very bad. The black ships under Commodore Matthew Perry’s command visited Japan on July 8th, 1853. He went to the Japanese capital, Edo (now Tokyo), and made demands. He demanded that ports be opened to Americans.
            Why should they have?
            Somewhere on the circle of political ‘beliefs’ lies the evolution of the way forward. It doesn’t lie with extremes in ideology – that I know. That will be a backward step.
            Whilst I agree that reading a book is preferable to reading links describing books, I don’t want to read an OBM’s ideological treatise on western civilisation because I have more interesting books to read. I do want to read Jonathan Haidt because his ideas interest me. Thomas Sowell’s ideological stance is repugnant to me.

      • spangled drongo says:

        So true, Beth. It makes us realise what serfs we really are and our chances for freedom are not improving.

        • beththeserf says:

          Yes, SD, sigh, that long march through the institutions. Me latest edition of
          Serf Under _ ground Journal is about social engineering attempts to constrain
          human individuality.

  • PeterE says:

    Thanks. Amusing. Laughter is the best medicine.
    Last night I stumbled on a program (60 minutes or the like) in which a journalist (Liz Hayes? Is that her name) was ‘interviewing’ Pauline Hanson. Oh, so snide was she, little realizing how repulsive her patronizing sneers appeared. She summarized the Hanson Senators . One, she said [implied: shock, horror, beyond the pale] was a ‘climate change denier’. I doubt that Malcolm Roberts would use that expression but the point was it showed Liz had never for a minute actually questioned why someone would not go along with the orthodoxy. Well, one of these women is a Senator, the other merely a journalist.
    Sorry, this is a bit off subject. Have you heard the one about the …?

    • Ross says:

      Pauline Hanson AND 60 Minutes? What a meeting of minds that must have been. Suggest you give both a wide birth. I know I do.

    • Bryan Roberts says:

      One wonders why Hanson attracts such opprobrium when there are dozens of ‘no-names’ from both major parties who have no views; simply raise their hands when required, and wait for their superannuation to come in.

  • Nga says:

    “Alzheimer’s doesn’t kill, as I read the literature ….”

    Unfortunately, as has been established on numerous occasions, Don reading the scientific literature is much like a mule reading Shakespeare.

    For those who favour fact over fiction, see here:

    • Bryan Roberts says:

      Your own reference says that dementia does not appear as a leading cause of death until the age of 75, when most normal people are dead. Your point?

      • Don Aitkin says:

        What do you mean by ‘your own reference’? The point I am trying to make is that if dementia is a disease of the very old, then there will be more cases of it as the life tables grant human beings longer lives. There were few cases of dementia when the average life ex-ectancy was mid 40s (1880). Those who had it were termed ‘mad’.

    • Don Aitkin says:

      I have been appointed the Patron/Ambassador of Alzheimer’s Australia ACT, and that has pushed me into a lot of reading (my father and mother-in-law both had dementia of different kinds). There seem to be two camps: those who say you die of it, and those who say you die with it. There is a lot of contestation, and at the moment I am opting for the ‘die with it’ group.Yes, I know that ‘dementia’ is given as a leading cause of death in some lists. It seems to depend on what the certifying doctor puts on the form.

      • Bryan Roberts says:

        My mother died because for the last ten years of her life, she could not live unassisted. Basically, she died because she was too old.

        • Don Aitkin says:

          Bryan, without wanting to seem impertinent, what did the death certificate say was the cause of death?

          • Bryan Roberts says:

            No idea.

          • Bryan Roberts says:

            …but any sensible doctor would have said “old age’. She was 91.

          • Don Aitkin says:

            I am sorry if I seemed to invade your privacy, but it is what the doctor writes on the death notice that is taken to be the cause of death, as far as I know. ‘Old age’ is a description of part of the life cycle not a cause of death. I know you know all this. But we do need a specific cause for a specific death, or the statistics don’t mean much. I saw a death notice a hundred years ago which cited ‘cessation of respiration’. That didn’t provide much of a clue either.

        • gnome says:

          That’s a very subjective assessment. I too have a mother, not quite 91, and clearly too old for many things, but too old to live??
          Too old to live unassisted, too old to reproduce, too old to work on the roads, too old to play in the AFL – where do we draw the line? Me, I intend to go on until I’m too old to pay tax. That should see me last for a good while yet.

          • Bryan Roberts says:

            “That’s a very subjective assessment”

            Well, try a bit of objectivity. Unable to dress herself, having to be fed, unable to recognise her own children. Who cares what’s written on the death certificate? It’s old age. The universal death sentence.

            Is your optimistic view of your future based on anything other than hope?

    • Don Aitkin says:


      Could you put at least a sentence of explanation when you provide a link to a website? Yes, it’s funny, but readers should be able to decide whether they want to go there, rather than try pot luck.

    • Nga says:

      Thanks for being a candle in the darkness, David.

      • Peter WARWICK says:

        I am just so grateful that David is showing the way through the dark tunnel of life, wondering if the dot of light in the distance is a speeding freight train with no brakes, and guiding our hands to the hand rails on the side as we stumble through the rocky underfoot. He soothing sermons show us his divine knowledge and wisdom and give the blind, deaf, mute, lame and crippled hope. His helping hand when we stumble is so reassuring.

        His white flowing locks and white beard are a beacon in the forbidding darkness. Hallelujah Bro !!

        Do hope he gets into Parliament with his candle and shows us through the dark passages and nooks and crannies of our democracy. But it can get windy and wet in Canberra, and what will happen if the candle extinguishes ? Woe is us ! Is he carrying a spare box of matches ?

        Are we there yet David ?

        • spangled drongo says:

          Peter, Nga also needs Davey to warm her hands on. You must not begrudge her that comfort when CAGW just doesn’t seem to cut it for the warmists.

          This is the problem with all the adjustments, homogenising, infilling, kriging and various other Gaussian processes of statistical wizardry that they employ in their fakery at the bakery, they really don’t produce any extra energy!

          So one extra candle is highly appreciated.

          Even to put on the wet cake.

          Did NOAA leave their cake out in the rain?
          It took so long to make it,
          To fake it and to bake it,
          They may never get the recipe again!

    • JMO says:

      I have even a funnier one David.

      Early 1989 in Jindabyne (Snowy Mtns NSW) I had recently bought a house and, nearby a new shopping centre called Nugget’s Crossing) was being officially opened. Just after the opening ceremony finished, a greenie/climate alarmist standing next to me said “why did they build this shopping centre? Within 20 years there will be no snow in the snowies, Lake Jindabyne will be empty and the Jindabyne will be a ghost town”

      David, every time I ski at Thredbo since 2009, I have a quiet chuckle to myself and I assure you there has been plenty of snow every winter since 2009,I have enjoyed 6 ski seasons and enjoying the current seventh, the lake is near full and Jindabyne is booming.

      Please let us both have a great belly laugh together . One…two,,,, HA, HA. HA.

  • Peter WARWICK says:

    My beloved Grandmother died of OLD AGE at 99. She said so herself. She was medically without disease, despite the best efforts by the scientist doctors to name a disease. It took 10 minutes to lift her leg to the side of the bed, and another 10 minutes for the second leg. He muscles were buggered (not diseased). She required no medical treatment, apart from a lift over the edge of the bed. Her bed record was blank apart from “resting peacefully”, repeated many times during a 24 hour record.

    Her doctor was a bit exasperated that he could not perform medicine on her. He felt he was trained to do that.

    When I saw her one month before her death, so told me she was simply “old” and worn out. The only time she spoke of her impending death was “it will come in its own good time”. She had reconciled her impending death.

    I did see a death certificate once where “heart stopped beating” was entered as the cause of death, and I often think that would have been appropriate for my grandmother. She simply died very peacefully in her sleep – not a murmur, no calling out, no crying with pain etc – just simply went to sleep at 8:00pm and died some time during the night.

  • Don Aitkin says:

    Al this started with whether Alzheimer’s was a cause of death or a condition that the deceased had. I saw a reference to the effect that Alz was a ‘life-shortening disease’ and that people lived for about eight years on average after their condition was diagnosed. And here is a short definition from another medical source: ‘Most common cause of death in individuals with advanced Alzheimer’s disease is an intercurrent infection, mostly pneumonia. An intercurrent infection is almost inevitable consequence of advanced dementia because of impairment of immune function, inability to ambulate, incontinence, and aspiration.’

    ‘Old age’ is a cop-out, with respect. I am in old age, and alive. My mother-in-law had Lewy Body disease, a form of dementia, and I don’t know exactly what the death certificate said, though I think it was ‘pneumonia’. Something stops working one day in the very old. What was it? Why did it stop? I would accept an explanation that ‘it just wore out’, but usually doctors don’t know, and there won’t be an autopsy unless the patient died in hospital. Difficult stuff.

    • margaret says:

      My father’s death certificate said heart failure. He had been in a nursing home (2 actually, we didn’t like the first one and neither did he) for 2 years. I don’t like to think about it – because mentally he was very acute but his body was not co-operative and he had lived with an ileostomy for almost thirty years fastidiously, after the removal of a benign tumour pressing on his spinal column. My goodness he was brave. Did we, his daughters appreciate that when urinary infections made him angry? My mother also, brave, a little more fortunate, a hospice end after a late diagnosis of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Fifteen months apart, my mother first. What is the answer? Is it to teach us? Rhetorical only.

      • margaret says:

        Cartoonists often nail it. The cavemen didn’t have the wonders of medical intervention and to a large extent, no matter what diet, exercise, health regime modern humans choose with the aim of extending their lives, it’s medical intervention that keeps us ticking along – sometimes way past when we even want.

        • Peter WARWICK says:

          Margie, you are right. We are told that humans are living longer, and that may be true in statistical terms, but some of the reasons for increased longevity are spurious. Medical science is both repairing life (fixing damaged organs of all kinds – healing the lame !), and also prolonging life (think of 7 machines that go beep keeping a person alive).

          Is a person, who under normal circumstances, would die of their wounds/ illness, and who is kept alive by seven machines for 5 years, counted in the longevity statistics ?

  • bryan roberts says:

    With respect, Don, old people are going to die. Knowing the ‘cause’ of death is completely irrelevant.

  • Peter WARWICK says:

    “North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has executed his deputy premier for education – for sitting in a “disrespectful” posture – and purged two other senior officials, sending them to re-education camps, the South Korean government said Wednesday.” – Sydney Morning Herald.

    Hope Kim Jong-un does not become Speaker of both our Houses of Parliament – there would be no one left after a week. On second thoughts . . . . . . .

  • Ross says:

    Harold Shipman was a British GP. Many, mostly elderly women, died of ‘complications’ whilst in his surgery. He verified the death certificates and, as they were old, no more was asked.
    Suspicions finally surfaced and he was charged with 15 counts of murder. An inquiry in 2000 found he was most likely responsible for over well 200 deaths. Britains worst ever serial killer.
    How did he get away with it for so long?
    They were old….No one bothered to check.

    • bryan roberts says:

      …and the point is? Some nutcase murders old people, and therefore the discussion is moot?

      Go back to global warming where you make more sense (not much more).

      • Ross says:

        “Knowing the cause of death is irrelevant.”
        Good night, Bryan.

        • Bryan Roberts says:


          Asserting that my comment on the ‘value’ of determining the cause of death of ‘terminally old’ people was equivalent to support for mass murder was plumbing the depths of fatuity.

          Goodnight sweetheart.

          • Ross says:

            I’m quite sure you don’t support the mass murder of old people, Bryon (I’m taking you on faith, here) And yes, Dr Shipman is obviously an extreme case. (Although, his practices led to a complete rethink within the British medical system on how to deal with with older patients, terminal or otherwise.)
            Just a gentle reminder about making broad statements regarding ‘terminally old people’. Treat each patient as they present. Knowing the cause of death IS relevant….because next time it might be….me (!)
            Live long.

  • margaret says:

    A recent article on free speech and academia by …
    Thomas Sowell.

  • […] mentioned dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in a recent essay, and there followed a debate in the Comments about whether you die from or with Alzheimer’s, […]

  • […] written about Alzheimer’s before (here, and for example, and here), and I won’t rehash any of that. The new report tells us that dementia is on the rise as […]

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