Saturday salon 20/8

1. International Index of Ignorance

Behold, the 10 most ignorant countries in the world.

Polling firm Ipsos MORI surveyed people about the demographics of their countries and published the results its “Perils of Perception” report. For example, they asked people’s perceptions on average age in the country, the percentage of immigrants and the percentage of people overweight.

The results are sobering. The British think 43% of 25-34 year-olds live with their parents. The actual number is 14%. Brazilians were particularly bad at judging age, saying that the average age of people in their country is 56 when it is actually 31. Obesity tends to be underestimated. Saudis, for example, think that just over a quarter of their country is overweight, when in reality the figure is around 70%.

We overestimate things that bother us, like the number of immigrants. Across 32 countries the average guess was 23% whereas the actual figure is 10%.

Mexico was the most ignorant country, followed by India, Brazil, Peru and New Zealand. Then came Columbia, Belgium, South Africa, Argentina and Italy. Australia comes in 15th.

The most interesting observation is that when issues are widely discussed in the media we become more ignorant.

2. ABC’s chief Michelle Guthrie lauds Q&A as ‘vital service to Australia’

The ABC, of course, seeks to inform. It’s a bit of a worry, therefore, that ABC’s new chief Michelle Guthrie thinks Q&A is terrific. She described it as “pivotal” and reckons the “participatory democracy” the program provided is a vital service to the country.

Osman Faruqi thinks:

    The program is definitely at its best when it either ditches politicians entirely and builds a discussion around experts in a particular field, like science or the arts, or focuses on one politician and creates the space required for a genuine interrogation of the people who run the country.

Mostly, however, it is just beating up controversy and chasing eyeballs. Why else would it put One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts up against award-winning physicist Professor Brian Cox?

Guthrie praised many of the ABC’s programs and services. The worry comes when she tries to improve them, which no doubt she will because it’s her job. Being a successful Google executive is not, on the face of it, particularly relevant.

3. The most intelligent US presidents

InsideGov ranked the 27 smartest presidents in US history, using data from their biographies and writings.

Here are the results of the better-known ones.

    #27 George H W Bush @ 130.1

    #23 Richard Nixon @ 131

    #22 Dwight D Eisenhower @ 132.5

    #20 George Washington @ 132.5

    #13 Franklin D Roosevelt @ 139.6

    #12 Abraham Lincoln @ 140

    #8 Theodore Roosevelt @ 142.3

    #6 Jimmy Carter @ 145.1

    #5 Woodrow Wilson @ 145.1

    #4 Bill Clinton @ 148.8

    #3 John F Kennedy @ 150.7

    #2 Thomas Jefferson @ 153.8

    #1 John Quincy Adams @ 168.8

Jimmy Carter, who apparently studied nuclear physics after leaving the job, is perhaps an example of why being smart is not enough to be a good president.


    was an esteemed lawyer and a formidable presence in court (he earned a law degree from Harvard). He was also a brilliant statesman, negotiating several key international treaties. Remarkably, Adams was fluent in at least four languages and regularly translated Latin and ancient Greek as well.

Missing are George Dubya Bush, Ronald Reagan, Lyndon Johnson and Harry Truman. They didn’t look at Barack Obama.

The thing to remember about IQ is that it is only what IQ tests measure, and that it is not a fixed capacity in any individual. James Flynn’s latest book Does your Family Make You Smarter?: Nature, Nurture, and Human Autonomy emphasises that we are moving to a society where diversity of thinking is prized and networking skills are essential. That’s according to a New Scientist review. One might argue that networking is what made our brains big in the first place.

See also my Guest post of 2005, and Our beautiful brain.

4. Melbourne ranked the most liveable city in the world

I can’t imagine why, but it must have something, because Melbourne has got the gong six years in a row.

Adelaide is fifth, and Perth seventh. Sydney, ranked seventh last year, dropped out of the top 10 due to a “heightened perceived threat of terrorism”.

Not sure where Brissie comes, but I’m happy here, 7km from the GPO and backing onto bushland.

Generally speaking smaller is better, they say. Or rather medium size, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit, who do the survey:

    “There does appear to be a correlation between the types of cities that sit right at the very top of the ranking,” the report said.

    “Those that score best tend to be mid-sized cities in wealthier countries with a relatively low population density.

    “These can foster a range of recreational activities without leading to high crime levels or overburdened infrastructure.

Introduction to Saturday salon

Because of the way the blog currently presents posts on the home page I think it’s better to remove the introductory material to a different place. For new readers, here’s the rationale for this space.


An open thread where, at your leisure, you can discuss anything you like, well, within reason and the Comments Policy. Include here news and views, plus any notable personal experiences from the week and the weekend.

For climate topics please use the most recent Climate clippings.

The gentleman in the image is Voltaire, who for a time graced the court of Frederick II of Prussia, known as Frederick the Great. King Fred loved to talk about the universe and everything at the end of a day’s work. He also used the salons of Berlin to get feedback in the development of public policy.

Fred would only talk in French; he regarded German as barbaric. Here we’ll use English.

The thread will be a stoush-free zone. The Comments Policy says:

    The aim [of this site] is to provide a venue for people to contribute and to engage in a civil and respectful manner.

38 thoughts on “Saturday salon 20/8”

  1. Mexico was the most ignorant country, followed by India, Brazil, Peru and New Zealand. Then came Columbia, Belgium, South Africa, Argentina and Belgium. Australia comes in 15th.

    I think the second Belgium should be Italy Brian.

  2. Apologies for returning to Rio….. Greg Baum in SMH and The Age includes points about chauvinistic boasting re Aussie team…. and mentions in passing that human performance can’t be predicted precisely a la automobile, kettle, etc.

    But he also makes good points about Olympic grandiosity, real poverty, and future stagings of the Games. I would prefer permanent venue(s) with participating nations contributing building and maintenance costs according to their national means.

    Which cities will bid if success invites bankruptcy? Someone on Radio National recently claimed that when there was only one bidder (Montreal?) suddenly that city had the whip hand over the IOC and was able to negotiate favourable financial terms.

    At risk of becoming an Olympic Small Bore: as a young lad I witnessed the Melbourne Olympics, a friendly, low-key, international spectacle. No heavy-handed security. A Cold War brawl in the water polo pool: Hungarians and Soviets, tut tut. Locals billeting visitors in their own homes. A modest Village of low-rise flats that became public housing afterwards.

    At the suggestion of a school kid, athletes marched into Closing Ceremony en masse Not as national groups. Magic!

    Yes, it was another era. But we did it without Hitlerian grandiosity.


  3. Ambi, is the stimulus economics thang. Any spending is great.
    Trickle up or some such.

    I’d have the Olympics scraped altogether so these fine athletes can focus on sports that pay their own way.

  4. Ambigulous, I may get around to doing a Rio wrap.

    Montreal 1976 was a financial disaster. It was Los Angeles in 1984 that had the IOC by the short and curlies after the 1980 Moscow boycott disaster and were able to dictate terms. I believe they were able to use some of the facilities from the 1932 games, so they were the only post-war games to make a profit.

    Hitler didn’t like sport, but was persuaded by Goebbels to go ahead with Berlin which awarded in 1931 before the Hitler came to power to demonstrate Aryan superiority.

    Berlin was the first to have all that pageantry in the opening and closing ceremonies. The first too to build a games village for the athletes who were treated very well. Another first was the torch relay.

    They also did a great job in scrubbing up the town to present well, so Hitler and Goebbels did make a contribution to the culture of how the Games are run.

    Germany won the most medals, but most of the high profile ones were won by others, including of course Jesse Owens. Owens symbolised the reason why Hitler didn’t like sport. He risked being beaten by people he regarded as subhuman.

  5. I am probably missing a few sports but not many Olympic sports are ones that cannot be enhanced by drugs. My list was restricted to sailing, golf, tennis and maybe basketball. Anything else?
    Perhaps the way to beat the drug cheats is to limit the Olympics to sports that cannot be enhanced by drugs.
    The alternative is to forget about banning drugs and to give the medals to the successful chemists.

  6. Our favorite community was Alyangula. Population ranged from 500 when we got there to 1000 when we left. At 500 Alyangula was a real community where even the village idiot had a place. however, it wasn’t big enough to support sporting competitions. By 1000 it was starting to become big enough to support some sporting competitions and for some people to get lost in the cracks. Alyangula was the sort of place where, if you went to a show in the community hall you would expect to know most of the people who were there. (By contrast, in over 20 yrs of going to shows in Brisbane it is very rare to know anyone unless you go with friends.)
    Wonder how much of the city is being considered when assessing livability. Vancouver rates very well on the livability scale but when you read about it is clear that what they are talking about does not include the suburbs.
    My take on city size is that they are much better places to live when they are small enough to easily travel between all parts of the city as well as easy to get out of at weekends. Geography helps as well.
    In terms

  7. I agree with you, John D, on city size having lived for 17 years in a city of 350,000 people (Christchurch NZ). That city even hosted a Commonwealth Games. That made me look at the old images of ChCh before the earthquake. It is so sad that so much was lost. It was a very delightful city centre, and getting better with time, until..

  8. John, lives were crippled and people died early when there was whole-sale doping in the 70s and 80s by East Germany and some others. I can’t see how giving up on drug testing could be justified ethically.

    However, performance enhancement via gene therapy is about to become a thing. In this case muscles will work better and last longer, so it’s hard to argue against it.

    I think you should delete tennis from your list, as it requires speed strength and endurance. Famously Petr Korda was pinged for steroid use shortly after winning the Australian Open in 1998 after a fairly undistinguished career.

  9. On liveable cities, I think it’s very personal. I once met a teacher in Longreach who said she’d spent several decades in smaller centres out yonder, and found Longreach later in her career perfect for her needs.

    I lived in Adelaide for four and a half years from 1964 to 1968, and that cured me of living in places with mizzly, cold and windy winters, dry summers when hay fever nearly killed me, huge temperature changes and no thunderstorms. The sea water of Adelaide is colder in January than it is off SEQ in July.

    To me it was a completely ridiculous climate, not at all liveable.

    I would never choose to live in a city that didn’t have a major art gallery, symphony orchestra, ballet and at least occasionally an opera performance. And a large choice of movies to see at any time. I don’t make use of these facilities much, but if they aren’t there I feel I’m too far out of town.

    One of the reasons I find Ashgrove liveable is that it’s only 15 minutes from the city, there is easy access to north and south coast beaches, we are a short drive away from the rainforest at Mt Glorious, the bush is literally over the back fence and there is easy access to almost any facility or service you’d need. It’s about 15 minutes to the Royal Brisbane Hospital and about 10 to the Wesley.

  10. Thanks Brian.

    I have no objection to a torch relay, good accomodation for visiting athletes, or pageantry.

    Apologies for Montreal mistake. Your brief account of Los Angeles being able to re-use some facilities from the 1932 games only reinforces for me the argument for a permanent site.

    I agree with you that steroids and all the other performance enhancing drugs should be banned. Bad long-term side effects. Even early deaths in some cases I hear.

    Amazing that some journalists writing about bans on Russian athletes didn’t seem to be aware of that “old news” about East Germany’s doping program… makes me feel ancient when young whipper snappers don’t know about these things.

    As to prizes for chemistry or pharmacy, won’t the Nobels suffice just now? 🙂

  11. Jumpy,

    H.G. Nelson was on the wireless today, saying inter alia that a lottery or lotteries in Australia could be used to finance Olympic athletes or the Institute of Sport etc.

    Then each of us could decide whether to buy tickets or not. Liberty! Better than using taxes.

    Unless you think paying taxes should be entirely voluntary….

  12. Has HG ever had to survive on ” bums on seats ” or has he pretty much aways gotten ABC/SBS/JJJ tax dollars ?

  13. The IOC can try and run a lottery, sure.
    Do you think Justin Rose or the US basketball team should get financial assistance, from taxpayers by threat of jail, to compete ?
    Should I be forced to help finance a group of nutbags that dream of glory by walking 10kms fastest ?

  14. Jumpy, you have to pay taxes, but that’s where your involvement stops. The money is then no longer yours. You help choose the politicians who spend it, but once the treasury has it in the bin it’s no longer “your” money.

  15. Yet it’s partly my debt, not treasurys.
    No, your wrong. The citizens own the treasury and the politicians are hired to perform a service.
    It’s still our money.

    You provide a perfect example of what’s wrong with this Country.
    We are so weak we allowing ourselves to be convinced that what is ours is not. We’re on the way to Venezuela, fast.

  16. And now that everyone is “relaxed and comfortable” [TM], a bit of cheery news from Germany.

    We used to have Civil Defence in Australia but a few decades back, our glorious decision makers thought that might frighten the voters and taxpayers too much so they airbrushed it away, leaving only the state-run SES, Rural Fire, etc, After all, if a cyclone or bushfire happens, you can’t really blame the government. Besides, we are too nice to have anyone use nuclear, biological or chemical weapons against us.

    So now that Germany is boosting its Civil Defence effort, don’t be surprised if our present government has a thought-bubble about it too …. after all, the next election is only a heart-beat or two away and in an election campaign, any issue is a good issue.

  17. Ah, civil defence….. !!

    Those were the days.
    In the Boy Scouts sometime in the 1960s, we lads were invited to take part in a civil defence exercise.

    On a Saturday morning, we assembled at a place in suburban Melbourne (I cannot reveal the exact location) and taken by bus to northern Victoria, several hours and many miles away. Upon arrival at a small, dairying township we were duly welcomed by several dozen locals. They treated us to a BBQ dinner and we slept in the local hall, converted to an overnight evacuation centre.

    We must have each taken our own sleeping bag. Next day the buses took us back.

    There was of course sceptical discussion amongst several teenage participants. We knew a little about Hiroshima. The population of Melb was probably a million then. It was all pre-arranged

  18. Jumpy, we don’t need a lecture about how democracy works, but I regard it as self-evident that as you pay your taxes your ownership, and personal power and agency with respect to the money, passes from you to the collective.

    In deciding who represents the collective you have one vote in approximately 100,000 in electing one of 150 representatives. Do your own numbers for the senate.

    You are of course perfectly free to advocate what public funds are spent on, but speaking of “your” tax money implies that the dollars retain conditions attached, which they don’t. So talking about “your” money implies you have rights and power that you clearly do not have.

  19. Jumpy, we don’t need a lecture about how democracy works…

    Mine was but a rebuttal of your, that’s all.

    …. passes from you to the collective.

    And as part of that collective, ownership is retained. Just control is lost.
    My beef is with the enormous group of clowns controlling it and their use of the function of taxation in an attempt to control me.

  20. Anyway, on a thought I had today:
    Would I support legislation where all fines were distributed to charities on top of funding they already receive?
    What would happen if it passed ?

  21. Jumpy ; What I would really like to see is for fines to be based on a person’s income. What is a minor irritation for me can be a disaster for someone at the bottom of the tree.
    In addition, people are sent to jail because they cannot pay fines.

  22. John D

    In some jurisdictions, compulsory hours of community service are set as an alternative to a short prison sentence.

    Some of this work is done for charities (but they don’t send shoplifters to opp shops; nor molesters to schools, etc.).

    Your suggestion is interesting… it seems we have “the punishment fits the crime” rather than “the punishment fits the criminal”, except where previous convictions are weighed up. And in big drug cases there can be the confiscation of ‘the proceeds of crime’ and a quiet tip-off to the ATO to investigate undeclared income.

    Can you imagine that? Some big crims don’t pay income tax. Whatever would His Grace the Archbishop have to say about that ???

  23. But i was thinking more of the players motivation if the law was passed. Would the ” offender ” be more or less likely to offend ?
    Would the Police be more or less motivated to enforce ?
    What would charities be motivated to do ?

    Right now a fine for anything, left unpaid, will result in your drivers licence being revoked. Doesn’t seem fair or appropriate to me.

  24. Some big crims don’t pay income tax.

    Every time we ban a thing we create a very lucrative untaxed commodity for the crims, they love it!

  25. Finland is one of a number of countries that have a “Day fine” system which makes fines proportional to income. The link has an item on a millionaire who was fined For example, consider Reima Kuisla, a Finnish businessman.

    He was recently fined 54,024 euros (about $58,000) for traveling a modest, if illegal, 64 miles per hour in a 50 m.p.h. zone. And no, the 54,024 euros did not turn out to be a typo, or a mistake of any kind.

    Mr. Kuisla is a millionaire, and in Finland the fines for more serious speeding infractions are calculated according to income. The thinking here is that if it stings for the little guy, it should sting for the big guy, too.

    The ticket had its desired effect. Mr. Kuisla, 61, took to Facebook last month with 12 furious posts in which he included a picture of his speeding ticket and a picture of what 54,024 euros could buy if it were not going to the state coffers — a new Mercedes. He said he was seriously considering leaving Finland altogether, a position to which he held firm when reached by phone at a bar where he was watching horse races.

    The logic behind the Finnish system is that jail terms are the same no matter what you earn while fixed fines cause a lot more pain to people without much money.

  26. Jumpy, some things need banning.
    The community decides that, on balance, the benefit of banning outweighs any opportunities for a black market. Ban the Bazooka!

    To paraphrase someone wiser than me, “The crims you will always have with you.

  27. The community decides that,

    So all the banned thing became so after being a specific policy taken to an election of by referenda ?

    Hmm, must have missed those or forgotten, could you remind me of those instances ?

  28. Tricky, eh? This concept of society?
    Some folk are society-sceptics, a la Margaret Thatcher (dec.)

  29. Was thinking more of Milton Friedman, and the ” sceptic ” tagism doesn’t work on me.
    What did we vote to ban, its a simple question Mate.

  30. What did we vote to ban, its a simple question Mate.

    It’s a question which displays an alarming ignorance of the principles underlying representative democracy.

  31. Mate.
    Date: 2nd July 2016.
    System: representative democracy; federal bicameral parliament, amalgam of Westminster and US models; proportional and preferential voting; universal suffrage; three tiers with regional and local assemblies, all elected; written constitution with independent constitutional court; vestigial remnants of British constitutional monarchy
    Governance: federal, regional and local bureaucracies; judicial oversight.
    Context: relatively free press including online fora; relatively transparent decision making in government; some regional jurisdictions have standing anti-corruption investigative bodies; police and judiciary relatively free of corruption; prosperous population, strong in extractive industries, agriculture, light manufacturing, niche markets; some welfare targetted, other not.
    Geography: land abounds in nature’s gifts of beauty rich and rare; sunburnt country, land of sweeping plains….. also droughts and flooding rains.
    Language: variant of English, idiosyncratic useages such as “cobber” (??) and “Mate”

  32. On more interesting News, the Mighty Broncos beat the Grubby Storm last night 26-16 in a very good game.
    Made better with my eldest Son ( still playing locally ), who is a Grubby Storm supporter, coming over to share the game.
    The record for Broncs v Storm is surprisingly lopsided with wins at 11 to 24 Storms way and Broncos only having 3 win out of 20 games in Melbourne.
    Round 17 last year was a 48-6 thrashing by them and once, back in 09, we traveled to Old Olympic Park to watch the Broncos spanked 48-4 !

    Last nights game was especially sweet and the Broncos look like finding for at the right time to have a decent crack at the Premiership.


  33. They were playing well, Jumpy, but it looks as though they’ll end up fifth, which would mean doing it from outside the top four – not impossible, but improbable.

    Some other teams are playing well too, including I believe Canberra. Haven’t seen them, and can’t support them with Ricky Stuart as coach. Perhaps against the Cronulla Sharks.

  34. Yes Brian, Raiders have been very sharp.
    The Sharks look good but vulnerable and facing Storm next week will be a huge test. Storm losing two in a row at home is unheard of.
    And it would be foolish to rule out the Cowboys in finals footy with the players they have, so much experience in Rep and finals, choking or panic isn’t a risk. Can’t say that of Raiders.

    Also the Referees not being all the post-match headlines makes it more enjoyable, hope that continues.

    Looking forward to how it all unfolds.

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