Some further reading, for those of you who are sceptical about drawing any conclusions about Australia from the Olympics, other than the fickleness of national pride.
Dr James Connor, on “What price gold? Tallying up Olympic success“:
The cost of a gold medal is an extremely difficult thing to “price”. At its simplest, we can say that taxpayers paid (roughly) $588 million to the Australian Sports Commission for Olympic sport. Divide that by the likely number of gold (let’s be generous and say 12) and we get $49 million per bauble.
Slate on “Why Is America So Awesome at the Olympics?“:
It’s easy to say that American athletes are better than other countries’ athletes, or that America just cares more about sports than the rest of the world. But that’s not true. It’s pretty much just that there are a fat load of medals available in swimming and track. And lucky for the USA, the pool and the track are likely to be Olympic staples for as long as the games exist.
Mother Jones on “Charts: Which Countries Are the Real Olympic Winners?“:
…what if we tried to measure countries’ Olympic achievements without simply counting how many medals they bring home? What if we compared their athletes’ performance against the size of their economies and populations? …While the US garnered 0.02 medal points per billion dollars of GDP and 0.8 medal points for every 1 million Americans, Jamaica picked up 2.2 medal points per billion dollars of GDP and 11.9 medal points for every 1 million Jamaicans. Not bad.
The Olympics really brings out mixed emotions in me.
I love watching athletes push the boundaries of what is physically capable by a human. I also don’t mind the schadenfreude of a weightlifter accidentally dropping 196 kilograms on himself. I am pretty overwhelmed by how fey and winsome the mascots Wenlock and Mandeville sound. I hope they get to listen to Belle & Sebastian under those costumes.
However, what I really dislike is the jingo-ism, tall poppy syndrome and other external narratives imposed by the Australian media and Australians generally. The narrative that is currently playing out is Australia’s “failure” to achieve its “fair share” of medals. There are myriad examples, but here are some clangers:
- The head of the Australian Olympic Committee, John Coates, blames the lack of sport in schools, with the ABC reporting that “Mr Coates says he is disappointed by Australia’s medal haul so far and has called on the Federal Government to consider changing its policy and funding to give priority to school sports.“
- Shaun Carney, Associate Editor of The Age, blames Twitter (obviously), opining that “the point is, Australians pay for these athletes to compete, not to ”have fun” or waste their energies on Twitter and Facebook or to buckle under the pressure and then make excuses about it.”
- The ever tasteful Andrew Bolt chimes in by implying that the Australian athletes are mentally ill, wondering ”whether it’s money we’re missing, or character, because I’ve never seen so many grown athletes blubbering and confessing to sleepless nights and despair. Heavens, it’s like group therapy time at Beyond Blue.”
- The Federal Minister for Sport, Kate Lundy, resorts to bad punmaking (the last refuge of a scoundrel) urging us to ”take heart in the London Olympics Aussie ‘Silver Lining’! We are up there with the best of the best in the world.”
I have a fair bit to say on the Olympics and I hopefully will follow-up in the next few days with further comment, but to begin, I wanted to reflect on what irks me about the present discourse in Australia surrounding the Olympics. In order to keep this present post reasonably focussed, I want to principally confine my thoughts to the sporting realm.
Firstly, the appeal of sport is that it is competitive. If, as the Australian media would have you believe, the Australian swimmers were entitled to a certain number of gold medals, what is the point?
Secondly, if – as appears to be generally accepted by the Australian Olympic Committee when they are seeking funding, but conveniently ignored in the good times – there is a strong correlation between funding for elite sport and number of gold medals achieved (with a going rate of $15 million for each Australian Gold medal in Beijing), then what is being tested at the Olympics? Our national desire to fund sport?
Finally (for the moment), is the medal count at the Olympics, the sole criterion for judging a nation’s sporting success? Leaving for the moment, the teleological question of what is the purpose of sport, measuring success by medal count is a pretty crude measure when there are 81 gold medals up for grabs in Athletics and Swimming, but only 2 for Basketball. If you believe that it is, will you please tell Le Bron James that Michael Phelps is 13 times better than him at sport?
I told you I was back…
I’m back. Apologies to my handful of readers for the hiatus. A combination of factors has led to this blog being temporarily put on the back burner.
This announcement might be ill-timed given the impending commencement of my MBA studies at Melbourne Business School, but I hope not. I hope to be able to share through this blog some of my insights and reflections about returning to further study.
Anyway, no excuses, the wi-fi flowing now. Hopefully you are all still around.
Why does good coffee matter?
I could wax lyrical for thousands of words about my frustrations with cafes that sell a bad coffee made from ingredients costing about 50 cents for at least $3.50. I don’t think that’s necessary though. There is a more fundamental reason why good coffee matters, and bad coffee sucks.
The lethal dose of caffeine is estimated to be about 150 to 200 milligrams per kilogram of body mass or roughly 80 to 100 cups of coffee for an average adult. I imagine, that if I asked a doctor, he or she would recommend no more than 2 cups of coffee per day. Taking a point somewhere in the middle, say, 4 cups per day; I have approximately only 70,000 coffees left to drink in my life.
The point is, we each only have a limited number of coffees, or other hot beverages of your choice, that we can drink in our lives. Let’s make them count.
I just bought a new bicycle. It wasn’t really the bicycle that I lusted or desired for in terms of appearance or speed, but, according to the helpful owner of the bike shop, it was the most practical for commuting. This decision was against my usual instincts.
It struck me that “being practical” is a concept that is used to rationalise a lot – but not all – of our decisions. A decision to take a job that you don’t like is often explained on the basis that it is the “practical” thing to do. A bland or unhealthy meal is often the easiest option available.
None of the above is particularly notable or unexpected. The valorisation of rationality in our society makes a practical choice generally an unimpeachable choice. The idea that interests me, however, are the areas of our lives where the “practical” choice is not the most common choice.
A recent example is the hype and noise surrounding the launch by Apple of the new MacBook Pro with a Retina Display. Many people, including myself, are presently lusting after these computers. However, with a price tag of A$2499 and more pixels than the human eye can see, it is hardly a “practical” computer, it is possibly the “best” computer. Likewise, many people desire the “best” cars, bicycles and houses, and demand the “best” behaviour of politicians and celebrities, whilst accepting what is “practical” in terms of their own happiness, attitudes and behaviours.
I am far beyond reproach, but in an attempt to be better, slowly, I am trying to be less practical when it really matters, and vice versa.