Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right

23 10 2011

Freedom is hammered out on the anvil of discussion, dissent, and debate.

Hubert Humphrey

This is a cropped image taken (stolen) from the Herald-Sun’s #occupymelbourne gallery. I was flicking through, & this poster caught my attention. I flicked back & forth & still ended up at the same image.

Why? Because it speaks to me so loudly of everything that I find disturbing about the occupy movement as it exists in Australia. No economics or factoids in this post. Purely visceral.

Firstly, an apology to #occupysydney participants for not fully understanding why the camp was established outside the Reserve Bank of Australia. I was hammering away, railing inside my head & on Twitter as to why camp hadn’t been set up in Bridge Street (drunken aside: #occupybs would be a cool hashtag) given it’s home to the ASX? I asked a question on Twitter tonight (depending on how quickly I write this, maybe last night) and, thanks to @hailants, I learned something. Securency. I thought polymer notes were just a cool invention. I asked politely, genuinely, & I got a polite, genuine, informative answer about something I knew nothing about. That’s pure gold to me.

OK, so back to the poster. This is so fucking far from pure gold to me it’s not funny. Starving African child juxtaposed with obese Western kids eating junk food. Seems like everything capitalism, everything wrong, everything #occupy represents. Not to me.

I am in no way accepting of how totally fucked it is that gross poverty, is delivered in white 4WDs to the Global South by, yes capitalism, but also inept, corrupt governments & non-state actors. The answer (according to me) to a fraction of that starving African child’s problems is not the carte-blanche, lazy finger-pointing at evil capitalism. It is pathetic infrastructure. It is more expensive to transport food to famine-declared areas from a food bowl IN Africa than it is to ship food aid from Europe. As this Massachusetts Institute of Technology project contends, it is only through global actors such as the World Bank that intra- and inter-country roads in Africa can be built and maintained (the example it uses is the Mombassa – Nairobi road project in Kenya). People in sub-Saharan Africa starve not because there is no food, but because transportation costs are so high, making them aid dependent, and if the greedy Global North cannot be arsed, they die. Dambisa Moyo’s seminal work, Dead Aid may not be popular, but her central thesis, that cutting aid will force these capitalist solutions to take hold, is worth study. I do not agree with cutting foreign aid; but I would play with the idea and put forward the following solution – that the member states which signed up to lift aid to 0.77 per cent of GDP under the UN Millennium Goals – make that abysmal fraction higher, and invest in an infrastructure fund that will assist in building transportation routes and enable, empower the most impoverished to trade with their neighbours. It’s a capitalist solution to a problem that exists, that is so obvious, that for the life of me, I cannot understand.

Next: is this problem assisted by a poster in Melbourne? No. Bring forth the person in, Melbourne, or my Sin City of Sydney, this city of 4.5 million, who is not aware, that somewhere in the world, people are starving. Seriously, I will travel to them, I will jam my foot in their front door  & show them this poster if I am wrong. People know famine exists; they may not understand why, beyond natural causes such as drought; but we know it happens. Forgive me, Occupiers, but where are your solutions, where are your ideas, to fixing this unnecessary, base evil, ill? Capitalism Isn’t Working? It’s not an idea; it’s a statement of questionable fact. There is no attempt to make a constructive argument; it’s not even a talking point memo. Where, in the general assemblies or working groups, are the solutions? I know what the problem is. I’m disgusted by it. I’ve been to Dharavi, one of the world’s largest slums. I’ve seen poverty in South London, where I worked in social housing; in Gaza; in Russia; in Redfern – none of which this poster represents – barring one teeny, tiny thing. The fat kids. The ultimate representation, the tool to demonstrate, about the greedy Global North. Shyeh, right on.

Yep, the fat kids eating junk food. What greater depiction of corporate greed could you imagine? Oh, I can. Teeny, tiny mind of mine suggests that the kiddies sat at the Golden Arches of the capitalist piggery of the Global North, are the the poorest percentile, those totally dependent on welfare; the kids who grow up in households where generational unemployment is a fact of life … these kiddies, the fat capitalist pigs gorging on the fries – they are the 99 per cent. Not you, not even me, with my multitude of fucktardness visited, uninvited, on my childhood. Fact: poor families sacrifice, or cannot afford, fresh fruit and vegetables. They eat fried food. They have less playing space. They are the children whose life expectancy is slashed; who will develop NCDs (non-communicable diseases) such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. They will die earlier, their lives straining public health systems in between. They will, on average, not go to university. They won’t make these posters & camp in Martin Place or City Square, because they have never fucking been to Martin Place. They are in our rural and regional centres. They are on the fringes of our cities & at there epicentres. They do not regularly attend school. They are supplied with breakfast & taught how to read by the best of the 99 per cent – our under-valued teachers. These are the children Occupiers need to speak to; not Twitter twats like me. These children are growing up poorer than any of us – not in terms of disposable income, the measurable, cold, economic indicators I have written about before but under-educated, not even disengaged. They are the scorn of our ‘current affairs’ programming. Fringe-dwellers, regardless of race. The underclass. The illiterate and innumerate. The kids who set London on fire while we, the lucky 99 per cent of the Land of Oz sat here and watched. Rail against quantitative easing, #occupysydney … give me a small break while I imagine an austerity package, two or three, visited upon us. The truly frightening thing is that these children are not the stereotypical fat, unruly progeny of Macquarie Fields, or Fitzroy Crossing, or Frankston: they are the middle classes of  the BRICs, especially China and India. There are 78 million Indians with Type 2 diabetes. To work these most basic health issues through, we – who are not the 99 per cent – must get off Martin Place and reach Mumbai. Indians don’t see themselves as victims of capitalism. Indians thrive on trade; not just now, but through the ages. They live in a post-colonialist, still caste-ridden and religiously-divided country. They are more powerful than this lazy portrait, the Indians, South Americans, South Africans, Russians than our piss-poor democracy can imagine.

OK, I am drunk, and tired and I have ranted and railed more than enough for the early hours. Please leave a comment or tweet me about what this poster says to you. I am a cranky old woman, sure; but I genuinely want to know, in more than a cut and paste about how we are controlled by the banks, the media, the corporations and politicians, just what this poster represents. I want more of you,from you, as the individuals who claim to make up the 99 per cent. Agree, disagree; just don’t ignore. Oh, and don’t bash the people you have so long admired for kicking against the pricks of the right, and laughed at the idiocy of the Convoy of No Confidence. If you believe that Wayne Swan is going to chuck a Tony Abbott and stand in front of an ‘occupy buildings, abolish gaols’ banner, you are sorely mistaken. Barack Obama is endorsing #ows in his cool, pragmatic style. He wants to save his presidency by appealing to his base. End of Politics 101. Time for bed. Like this, loathe me, just think about it. Please.

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Dear Nellie …

15 11 2010

Nellie of Penrith Posted at 5:54 PM October 17, 2010:

… as for Kristina Keneally allowing her husband and sons appear in a family photo and allowing the stillbirth of her daughter to be used as brownee points for politics. She should be ashamed, I know any respect I had for her has gone, gone, gone.

http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/spin-out-of-control/story-e6freuy9-1225939672167

Dear Nellie,

My name is Kimberley. I have one brother, and three sisters. I was born a huge (9lb, 11 ounces, 23 inches long!), healthy baby girl at 1.18am on 6 December 1971. I am my parents’ second child; their oldest surviving one. I am the younger sister of Kelly Margaret, who was born, and died, in 1969. In all of our birth notices, my parents celebrated their healthy babies’ arrival with the words, ‘sister / brother of Kelly, in heaven’. I cannot begin to tell you how much I respect my Mother, who quietly, but factually explained to us as children that she went into labour with her daughter’s heart beating; a heart which stopped beating before Kelly was born.

As the member of a family with first-hand experience of stillbirth, I find your comments, which I believe relate to this story (http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw-act/kristina-keneallys-sad-memories-of-a-stillbirth-10-years-ago/story-e6freuzi-1225939374867), abhorrent. If you click on this link, (http://www.stillbirthfoundation.org.au/node/125), you’ll see that the story relates to the Premier’s decision to become patron of Stillbirth Foundation Australia.

As an adult, I look at my parents in awe to think that they could even attempt to turn what must be unspeakable pain into a part of our lives; just as Ben & Kristina Keneally have done for their sons. I am proud that the Premier has shared her love for her daughter, and her very real place in her family’s heart, since she entered public life. You may not know, but Caroline Keneally’s name is in the NSW Parliament Hansard, in her mother’s maiden speech, along with the rest of her family. Like the Keneallys – and too many families – mine has an angel in heaven as well.

Yours sincerely

Kimberley Ramplin

PS: You can help make a difference to this parent-run charity by visiting http://www.stillbirthfoundation.org.au/node/95. The five-year Little Feet lunch raised more than $50,000 for research into why so many stillborn babies’ babies’ deaths remain unexplained.

DISCLAIMER: I work in NSW politics, as a ministerial adviser. I disclose this on my Twitter account and in the ‘about’ section of this blog. While this post isn’t about politics per se, it was sparked by the ‘anonymous, vicious, troll’ debate. I actually agree with the, ‘yes to anonymous, vicious, trolls’ argument, but I have been obsessing over it today because it instantly brought to mind this pseudonymous online comment – almost one month later. If you think I didn’t cry when I read it, or cried again when I started typing tonight, think again.





Be victorious

6 10 2010

Jai Ho!

(VICTORY TO YOU)

Aaja Jariwale Nile Aasman Ke Tale

(COME JOIN ME UNDER THE GLITTERING BLUE SKY)

Jai Ho, Lyrics: Gulzar / Composer A.R. Rahman

“It is pretty shocking seeing the empty seats. Wonder what ticket prices are?”

“1.2 billion people live in India and maybe 40 or 50 of them have turned up to watch the host nation play in a netball game”

“Maybe they should of held the commonwealth games in Perth, there were better crowds at unigames”

“#T1 : Grandma interested in #CWG status of the day, #T2 : Grandma asks when does the next Test Match Start?”

“#cwg 6 golds wow….but y we don’t get more then single gold in Olympics……i always wish,India should be on top of table in Olympics :)”

“That indians have a fascination for gold is not new.. that we can win it in sports and so many of them .. is ! #CWG”

I love India; it’s an incredible and infuriating country to spend time in – & it requires time. India is everything and nothing … you can eat, cross-legged on the floor with thousands of Sikh pilgrims at Amritsar’s Golden Temple; go to the Regal Cinema in Mumbai & throw popcorn at the bad guys in a Bollywood blockbuster; or take a package holiday in Goa, eating full English breakfasts & never setting foot outside Calangute.

It’s incredible: the languages, the food, the people, the diversity of landscapes, architecture, religions; and infuriating: the wild goose chases because nobody says ‘no’, or ‘i don’t know’, spending half a day to send a parcel, the obvious baksheesh deals to get you into the ‘right’ shop, the unbelievable gap between rich and poor. Most of all, it’s intense: the slums, the inevitable illnesses, the Taj at dawn, the ghats on the banks of the Ganges at Varanasi, Gandhiji’s memorial, the forts and palaces, the impeccable saris, the rituals, the sacred cows.

India is everything the world is – but in one country. Communal violence, corruption, coexistence, TV channels – all on a monumental scale that you don’t understand until you arrive. The crowds buying bhelpuri on a muggy night at Chowpatty Beach aren’t hundreds of people, they’re thousands; Dharavi slum is Asia’s largest, & yet there’s an emerging middle class of 200m plus and 565 million mobile phone connections (and better reception). In 2007, I arrived in Delhi after three months travelling from Kerala to the Pakistani border. From my autoricksaw in freezing December, I saw children sleeping outside construction sites; yet Forbes 2010 rich list names 69 Indians in the world’s top billionaires – two in the top five. It has one time zone – the infamous Indian Standard Time – which is an elastic concept in a geographically daunting country and the accepted price of doing business.

So with every tweet, comment, news update, whatever, that I come across about how badly the Commonwealth Games is going attendance-wise, I want to scream. India is a maddening place to get things done, but when you go with it and see its mighty past and awesome (in geopolitical and socio-economic terms) future, you just laugh. You laugh and you cry and you are moved by the smallest things and the biggest problems. Having seen construction standards, and experienced power failures across the country, the fact that the athletics track is on par with a school playground and the official broadcast centre is a shambles doesn’t surprise me. That people question a country’s pride or place because of a sketchy crowd at a netball game – that just saddens me. I’m obviously passionate about this, but I’m trying to rationalise it. Here goes:

1/. The BCCI (The Board of Control for Cricket in India) refused to reschedule the Australian test series. It is an utter conundrum that the most cricket mad nation I’ve visited can’t fill a 30,000-seat stadium in Mohali for a thrilling test match, but weigh it up – there are entire TV channels devoted to cricket, 24/7 – replaying matches endlessly. A new match = huge TV audiences, product placement and profits. It is no joke that everything moves a little slower when a cricket match is on. It is inescapable, but as a woman who can attempt to bowl overarm, I was all kinds of weird to kids wherever I went, whether it was in the laneways of Old Delhi or an orphanage in Mamallapuram; for my backyard cricket days I remain eternally grateful. The laughs I had with children I couldn’t otherwise communicate with – (unless I handed over my camera – self-portraits are a big hit) made my angst about the overwhelming poverty a little more bearable. I don’t think I have ever cried as hard as I did leaving that orphanage. I had my own Jolie moment, fantasising that I could somehow adopt a child when in reality, I can’t even keep tropical fish alive. Enough: suffice to say that the BCCI is as powerful as the IOC, FIFA and the European Union rolled into one and the Commonwealth Games didn’t stand a chance against it;

2/. Historically, India has never ‘performed’ at the Commonwealth Games (271 total medals won at 14 games attended out of 18) – or the Olympics – 20 Olympic Games medals total since 1920 (6 gold in men’s field hockey). Australians flip their wigs if we finish further down the medal tally than countries larger than us by infinity and beyond; yet the IOC’s head, Jacques Rogge, is there, encouraging an Indian bid for the Olympics. This is a trial run, they’ll get a whole heap of criticism and then get it right in 20 years time. $100 on it now;

3/. Not all countries care. Australian TV promos pitched the entire games as a grudge match between Australia and England. Stuff everyone else. Try listening to BBC World Service. Every time any other nation wins anything, they’re shouting from the rooftops. Last night, every hour, they played a quote from an Australian competitor (sorry, can’t remember name) who described the games as a bit like a training run for a better competition. It comes at the end of the far more lucrative Euro athletics season; the sun has well and truly set on the Empire, so it’s time to ask: is the whole thing an anachronism? Plenty of the Commonwealth’s best athletes are voting with their feet and saying I’m not bothering. Why should Indian spectators pay for the privilege of not seeing many of the best athletes in the world (barring, for example, Steve Hooker who is competing and to his absolute credit, has publicly stated that he doesn’t understand why others have withdrawn) – or even the best athletes in the Commonwealth. This article from the Bangalore Mirror gives a pretty comprehensive list of reigning champions not appearing (some who definitely wanted to go but had to withdraw because of injury); others, like Usain Bolt, who at least said straight up that it doesn’t suit his training schedule; but I’m going to call it as I see it: if it’s safe enough for the Australian cricket team to go, it is safe enough for Canadian badminton player Alvin Lau to get out of uni for 12 days to compete (seriously – I’ve never met a student who couldn’t wangle their way out of college)

http://www.bangaloremirror.com/article/71/20100929201009292319556674415277b/Pullouts-are-in-at-CWG.html

http://www.smh.com.au/commonwealth-games-2010/comm-games-news/reasons-change-but-result-the-same-as-more-drop-out-of-games-20100930-15z2p.html

4/. There are shedloads of Indians who can undoubtedly afford tickets and get time off. Public servants get approximately 20 days’ holiday a year – 3 secular, national holidays – the rest are (‘local’ holidays according to which state you live in, or religious observances). If you work in the private sector, say for a corporation, chances are you may get the same time – but what if you don’t? What if you’re the hundreds of millions of rural and urban poor? What if you work everyday selling ice from a cart to feed your family? Ticket prices for athletics events range from zero on the last day of competition – the marathon finals to Rs1,000 (AUD 23.22 today)http://www.tickets.cwgdelhi2010.org/cgibin/bv60.dll/cwg/home/schedule.do?sportsname=Athletics. The median salary in Delhi is Rs419,000 (AUD9,729 today): http://www.payscale.com/research/IN/Country=India/Salary/by_City The median salary in Sydney is $65,460. So each Rs1,000 seat would cost a Sydneysider on the median salary the equivalent of $163. Think about it, long and hard: would you fly to the Gold Coast, pay for accommodation and alcohol, put up with maddening security and see the best of who can be arsed turning up when you can watch it on tv for nothing?http://www.payscale.com/research/AU/Country=Australia/Salary/by_City

5/. Finally, who the hell are we to talk? ANZ Stadium is hardly ever ‘full’ … a couple of football games a year; it’s never carried the same numbers as it did during the Olympics because they got rid of the extra stands. If people are so incensed by crowd numbers at the netball in New Delhi, then TV ratings and attendance figures at Australia’s stellar women’s comp should double next year.

But most of all, why should any of this deter this inspiring, infuriating country, one of the world’s fastest developing economies, from sinking billions into sporting & other infrastructure? India is a member of the G20; the world’s largest democracy and second largest population. I really hope that Delhi makes similar reuse of facilities as Beijing did with its Olympics venues  http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26393878/ns/beijing_olympics-beijing_olympics_news/ and the performances of the stars who will be made  by these games inspire and bring joy. A sincere “Jai Ho” to everyone who loves the Commonwealth Games. To all of the competitors, supporters, TV audiences around the world … “Victory to You”.





Your cheatin’ heart

4 10 2010

Your cheatin’ heart,
Will make you weep,
You’ll cry and cry,
And try to sleep,
But sleep won’t come,
The whole night through,
Your cheatin’ heart, will tell on you…

Hank Williams

Yesterday, more than 100 elite athletes rode 267.2 kilometres from Melbourne to Geelong, and then 11 laps of a hilly, sometimes tortuous circuit of the town, chasing a dream that is the world champion’s rainbow jersey in the sport of professional cycling.

It was a beautiful day – well at least it was in Geelong, with its wide streets and large houses on quarter-acre blocks packed with fans. Legendary cycling commentators Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen regaled worldwide audiences with such pearlers as, ‘Geelong is the centre of Australia’; ‘you can smell the bbqs’, and my personal fave: ‘everyone’s drinking tinnies’ (I don’t know anyone who drinks tinnies. Not even my dad). It was a true win for Australian cycling fans used to sitting up in the early hours, shouting at a TV screen or a sketchy livestream of Fleche-Wallone in Flemish, although I was disappointed by the paucity of ‘roadside randoms‘ we are used to laughing at as they pursue cyclists into the high Pyrenees along roads that bear greater resemblance to goat tracks. This year’s Vuelta a España (the Tour of Spain) featured mountain top finishes that were so tight the team buses could not navigate them; after hours in the saddle, at gradients between 10 and 20 per cent, the riders had to jump back on their bikes and descend the mountain.  There was a concern that the UCI World Championships would be overshadowed, given the AFL Grand Final Redux, and the NRL Grand Final in Sydney. As a cycling fan, I desperately wanted to be there, but a number of factors made that impossible. Chiefly, my level of disorganisation & lack of money. But for once, this blog isn’t about me.

There were other preoccupations aside from Australia’s addiction to two sports that are almost meaningless to the rest of the world: Floyd Landis, who had his 2006 Tour de France title stripped after returning positive drug samples, was speaking at a conference on doping in sport; and then the big news: Alberto Contador, arguably the rider of his generation, had tested positive to the steroid, clenbuterol, which helps develop lean muscle and drop fat. Although illegal, it has been found to contaminate livestock, particularly pig meat and is highly toxic in human beings.

Maybe it’s the greatest stitch up of all time – this information was a mere Google away for me. Contador was, after all, named in Operación Puerto, but later declared clean (as was Australian Allan Davis). However, it does make me inclined to give AC the benefit of the doubt, as Anthony Tan writes today, of the seemingly laughable defence that he had eaten contaminated meat. As Tan and Australia’s Cycling Central website report:

UCI chief Pat McQuaid says Contador could have his fate decided by scientists from the union and World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

World cycling’s ruling body itself says only a “very small concentration” of the drug had been found and that the case warranted “further scientific investigation” because the Cologne laboratory which detected the clenbuterol is known to be able to detect the tiniest traces of drugs.

“The concentration found by the laboratory was estimated at 50 picograms which is 400 times less than what the antidoping laboratories accredited by WADA (World Anti Doping Agency) must be able to detect,” the UCI said Friday, adding that analysis of a B sample “confirmed the first”.

Cycling Central’s report goes on to say that if he is perceived as ‘damaged goods’, AC may give the game away. To me, that would be both a tragedy (this is a guy who, at the age of 27 has won EVERY Grand Tour, including three Tours de France) and perhaps, progress for the sport.

The Contador story, while the biggest of the week, wasn’t the only cycling doping yarn to emerge. More names came tumbling out –  Xacobeo-Galicia riders Ezequiel Mosquera and David García Dapena had both tested positive for Hydroxyethyl starch on September 16, during the Vuelta. Mosquera (“The Mosquito”) had finished the race in 2nd place, and Da Peña finished 11th overall. I think everyone who watched the Vuelta this year cheered Mosquera on, a rider who rarely races outside his native Spain, as he duelled with this year’s Italian sensation, Vincenzo Nibali. A podium finish in a Grand Tour is professional cycling’s Holy Grail; yes, this year’s Vuelta was somewhat diminished by its closeness to the UCI World Championships and the number of elite riders who didn’t enter, or pulled out; nonetheless, it was rough and tumble racing from Day 1.

Here beginneth the rant:

In 2010 alone, the following riders have all been named, suspended by their teams or from riding in certain countries, subjected to provisional or set-time UCI bans after returning positive samples:

  • A giant of Spanish cycling, Alejandro Valverde, who is banned from riding in Italy after failing to overturn a suspension by that country’s racing body in the Court for Sporting Arbitration. The UCI extended the two-year ban worldwide and erased all of his 2010 results;
  • Claims in Italy’s La Gazzetto dello Sport of a police investigation of 54 people centred on the town of Mantova, in Italy’s Lombardy region. The newspaper named 16 of Lampre-Farnesi Vini’s current and former riders, including ‘The Little Prince’ of Italian cycling, Damiano Cunego; former UCI Elite Men’s Road Racing champion, Alessandro Ballan and Mauro Santambrogio (now with BMC Racing Team – which provisionally suspended the pair until the completion of the police investigation); BMC reinstated the pair, satisfied that no authority had opened proceedings against them; Lampre did not take similar action against any members of its squad.
  • Another BMC rider, Thomas Frei, was provisionally suspended, pending further investigation and testing of his B sample, after testing positive for Recombinant Erythropoietin (EPO – which increases red blood cell production, allowing the body to carry more oxygen);
  • Team Radio Shack suspended rider Li Fuyo pending the outcome of the B sample after his positive test for clenbutrol;
  • The UCI banned Gabriele Bosision from professional cycling for two years after testing positive to EPO in 2009;
  • In ongoing cases, the UCI has named Franco Pellizotti, Jesus Rosendo Prado and Tadej Valjavec for returning irregular blood values in their ‘blood passports’ (A biological passport is an individual, electronic record for each rider, in which the results of all doping tests over a period of time are collated. Doping violations can be detected by noting variances from an athlete’s established levels outside permissible limits, rather than testing for and identifying illegal substances);
  • French rider Mickaël Larpe tested positive for EPO;
  • Francesco De Bonis became the first cyclist to receive a two-year sanction on the evidence of his blood passport results;
  • Pietro Caucchioli was also banned for two years on the evidence of his irregular blood passport results;
  • Ricardo Serrano was suspended by the Spanish cycling federation (RFEC) for two years due to Continuous Erythropoesis Receptor Activator (CERA) having been found in two separate blood samples collected around a year ago. He was also implicated due to abnormal values in his blood passport;
  • Nicklas Axelsson was suspended for life following positive analysis of his B-sample for EPO. He had previously been suspended for EPO use in 2001;
  • The UK Anti-doping agency posted the two year suspension for cyclist Dan Staite for EPO and ATD found in sample taken at a National B level event;
  • While he was riding the Vuelta, it was announced that Roy Sentjens had failed an out of competition doping control and would be suspended. He admitted to having doped with EPO that he had obtained in Barcelona, Spain, and declined to request the testing of his B-sample. He also announced his immediate retirement from professional cycling;
  • A UCI statement announced that Óscar Sevilla tested positive for the blood expander Hydroxyethl starchafter the final stage of the Vuelta a Colombia, which he had won.

(Sources: cyclingnews.com; cyclingcentral, velonation andWikipedia – the font of all lazy blogger’s knowledge)

Other recent high profile professional cycling cases include: Bernhard Kohl; Tom Boonen (cocaine); Ricardo Riccò; Michael Rasmussen (who at the time, was wearing the general classification leader’s maillot jaune in the 2007 Tour de France); Iban Mayo (suspended for two years – has not returned to the sport); Alexandre Vinokourov; Ivan Basso (for self-confesed ‘attempted doping’); Landis; Danilo Hondo; David Millar; Stefan Schumacher; Leonardo Piepoli; Tyler Hamilton (Olympic Champion); Bjarne Riis (1996 TdF winner and Team Saxo Bank manager); Marco Pantani (winner of the 1998 TdF and Giro d’Italia) Jan Ullrich (winner of the 1997 TdF, 1999 Vuelta; Olympic champion) – famed for his rivalry with Lance Armstrong, Ullrich retired in 2007, having been barred from the 2006 TdF amid speculation of doping.

Some episodes are so damaging, so prolific, they have become ‘affairs’: Telekom, Festina; Operación Puerto; ‘Oil for Drugs’. Welcome to professional cycling – the sport of dopers. Different day, different race, different drug, same shit. I cried when Rasmussen was caught, because I was tired of watching inspiring performances of man and bike versus mountain being trashed the next day. Sickened by the stench of mendacity, of lies and liars, to borrow from Tennessee Williams.

Tragically, and for decades, drugs have ruined the reputations and careers of sporting heroes – example A: Diego Maradona – and in the worst instances, been implicated in the deaths of heroes including Marco Pantani. But the use of performance-enhancing drugs or banned substances is neither a new phenomenon or limited to cycling. So why is cycling perceived by many as a haven for cheats, marred by the constant suspicion of drug cheating (particularly by afficionados who believe the successes of certain stars of the sport cannot be due to their extraordinary abilities)? Even the most one-eyed fanatics know the sport has been damaged, and seems to hurt more than others, with every transgression, every whisper, every allegation.

Think of the use of anabolic steroids in bodybuilding and athletics; where the Olympic ideal of ‘faster, higher, stronger’ could only be achieved by the likes of Ben Johnson, Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery, through doping. The United States Olympic Committee covered up the use of banned substances, as admitted by stars including Evelyn Ashford and Carl Lewis. Both American football and baseball have been connected with steroid use; footballers, tennis players, cricketers, ice hockey players linked to the use of illegal drugs and diuretics; the evermore sinister ways of covering up – from urine and blood sample swapping to new masking agents.

Without doubt, it is the systemic abuse of East German athletes and swimmers that haunts me most. A regime imposed on young people; state-sponsored and dictated, often without their knowledge, or at least informed consent. For every star the ‘system’ produced, it wounded the bodies and minds of hundreds, so much so that on 1 October 2010, Craig Lord labelled it the ‘Sporting Crime of the Century’ on SwimNews.com:

Sport is war and at its core in the Cold War years of the 1970s and 1980s was a cancer called State Plan 14:25. It was a medal-making machine that created sure-fire winners and podium placers. Some names came, conquered and vanished almost as quickly. To the architects of State Plan 14:25, a systematic doping regime rolled out to an estimated 10,000 young athletes in all sports during the days of the German Democratic Republic, the names were, effectively, mere numbers, the swimmers (and others) there for one purpose: to serve as “ambassadors in track suits” and show the world that the socialist-communist system was the best, better than the West. 

The notion was a sham behind which generations of sporting scapegoats had their talent twisted for political gain before being spat out of the machine at the other end as victims, many of whom still pay a very high price today 20 years after a GDR about to be dissolved through reunification of Germany held its first free elections, on March 18, 1990. The people of the German Democratic Republic formally joined the people of the Federal Republic of Germany on Oct. 3, 1990. In swimming, that gave rise to the first joint swim team at a world titles, Perth 1991 featuring Michael Gross, at his swansong meet, and the retired Kristin Otto on a podium together.

Gross appealed to reporters to leave the past behind. Impossible for those who lived through it, warts and all, of course. Between 1973 and 1988, GDR women swimmers shattered 130 world records, won more than half of all Olympic medals available to them in the pool (1976, 1980 and 1988), almost two thirds of all world titles and 97 out of 104 European crowns. 

State Plan 14:25 held that children (for many of those doped, particularly in sports such as swimming, were under age) would be doped with substances such as anabolic steroids, some never clinically tested on animals before human guinea pigs were plied with them, and without the knowledge or consent of their parents. The 1966 blueprint refers to the drugs as “Unterstutzenden Mitteln”, or “supporting means”. The blueprint would not be signed as official policy until 1974 but experimentation on athletes started much earlier and tests had surely been conducted in international competition by then at the start of what would be the biggest pharmacological experiment in sports history. 

The drugs, administered by doctors and coaches, included Oral-Turinabol, a synthetic anabolic agent developed for cancer patients; testosterone derivatives; and “STS 646”, a drug considered too dangerous to licence inside the GDR but given to teenagers before being tested on lab rats. “The pills came in a box of chocolates,” Catherine Menschner would say in court in 1999. You are unlikely to know here name. By the time she spoke she had suffered seven miscarriages in the years after quitting the sport in which she was fed a diet of drugs but not for international glory. “I was a guinea-pig. I was used to test drugs for better athletes so they could win for the GDR.”

In his trial, Dr Lothar Kipke adopted the role of Nazi concentration camp guard: “I was only following orders…”. There to hear him was former swimmer Martina Gottshalt, who urged her abuser to “look my 15-year-old son in the eyes and tell him you were just following orders”. Her son, Daniel, sat beside her, his clubfoot swinging under the bench.

… Among doctors called to court to account for their role in a massive deception was Dr Dorit Rosler. Irony of ironies, she would set up a surgery in Czarnikauer Strasse in post GDR days with the very purpose of helping victims of the GDR doping system. In court, Rosler broke down in tears when she faced some of those victims and said: “I should have shown more courage. In Nazi Germany we did what we were told to do. The GDR doping machine was no different; we were just carrying out medical orders … have we not learned anything?” 

And all the while, German sports bodies continue to list the efforts of GDR athletes as the German record for events galore. In swimming a handful of national records remain in place 20 years on, including the women’s 400m and 800m free standards that even world champion Hannah Stockbauer could not get beyond. In track and field, four GDR world records remain the world records today, bodies from the IOC downwards apparently unable or unwilling to grasp the nettle and place the GDR years in context: the sporting crime of the 20th century.

So back to my original question: why is cycling perceived to be dirtier when other sports and events, including the Olympics, have also been tarnished? In my opinion, it is because cycling almost always imposes bans that last a few years, and are applied retrospectively, inviting known, or confessed drug cheats back into the sport almost as soon as they left it. In other sports, if you’re exposed as a drug cheat, you’re forever ‘disgraced’; stripped of your titles; outcast. Not so with cycling: you do the crime, you pay the time, and back you come (unless you decide to give it up). I was happy that Ivan Basso won this year’s Giro d’Italia; but that ‘clean’ feeling is marred by the knowledge that he was at least willing to dope. While there is redemption, I find myself wanting to turn the TV off every time David Millar talks about drugs in sport – the hypocrisy of a man who excelled while doping; and the greatest what if for me – what if Contador IS a master doper, learning the dark art through his connection to Operación Puerto, and robbed Cadel Evans and Andy Schleck of Tour victories? The conjecture surrounding Lance Armstrong and the rest of the US Postal/Discovery teams is ongoing, with Landis’ allegations about the highest profile cyclist of the modern era as yet unfounded and tainted by his own flakiness.

What if the only way forward for professional cycling is, together with what is acknowledged as one of the toughest anti-doping regimens in sport, banning dopers for life? Is it that terrible and that necessary to get the message through to the numbskulls caught this year that it isn’t worth it, that they are defiling a sport which can separate winners over a three-week Tour by a handful of seconds? A sport that deserves to be associated with all that is noble, with its reliance on strength, determination, speed, agility, tactics, teamwork and individual brilliance – with riders who honour the jersey, regardless of the colour, and whether they wear it for a day or a week.

In both my head and heart, I want to know, I want to believe that Alberto Contador is not a drug cheat. We share the same birthday (fun fact) and even if he did beat my beloved Cadel Evams by 23 seconds, he won the 2007 Tour de France by holding his nerve to produce the Individual Time Trial of his life when almost everyone with an opinion at the time (me included) thought Cadel would blast him off the road. I don’t want to know that he stood on the winner’s podium this year – winning over Andy Schleck by a mere eight seconds in controversial circumstances (meh, I think AS is a whinger) – knowing in his heart that he made it with a little help. I don’t want his achievements to be written off. Professional road cycling will be more than a little poorer without his talent; and it will have one fewer fan. It may be self-indulgent, but I’d like to think that the long hours spent loving a sport count.





Yisra’el and the Zeal of Islam

4 09 2010

Sometimes, Referrals, I think hard about things. I’m not extraordinarily bright, but I’m interested in things, places and people beyond my understanding. That’s why I went back to university in 2009, and did a Master of Arts (International Relations). Because I remember, as a child – a very strange child – Anwar Sadat’s assassination, and asking my mother if the world was going to end. I’ve always been interested in the Middle East, and when I went on my grand tour in the mid 1990s, it was one of the first regions I visited. This post is an edited version of an essay I wrote for my degree last year so it is dated, but the resumption of Israeli settlement building in the last week has been playing on my mind; and when serious issues occupy my head instead of prancing unicorns, I don’t sleep. At all. And when I think about the reasons for the rise of groups like Hamas, or the Muslim Brotherhood, my mind fairly trembles at the thought of what ‘surrogate service providers’ may achieve in Pakistan if the millions of people left homeless and without livelihoods feel they are not being assisted by their government, or the international community.

I was very fortunate to have Dr Anthony Billingsley as my Middle East politics lecturer. Anthony Billingsley is everything someone who wants to learn could want from a teacher: good-humoured, ferociously bright, generous with his knowledge. He has contributed to The Drum (see this post on Australia’s U.N. candidacy: http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/stories/s2378066.htm) and I’ve also heard him interviewed on the wireless. He has a touch of the Ian Flemings about him (he’s not a Bond), as this interview explores: http://www.newspaper.unsw.edu.au/archive/2009/09_11_13/text/fivemin.htm. The man’s got pages of googledom, so I’m not going to list every article he’s given his two cents’ worth to. Back to me and my thinking. Or attempt at thinking about why I can’t see a two-state solution for Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. As I said, it’s an edited version of a full paper which also examined the 2006 war in Lebanon. For the record, I passed. Here goes:

Perhaps the greatest problem for Israel is its statehood. Bound and constrained by a complex, inflexible regime of institutions, ideas, relationships and practices, nation-states can render themselves incapable of identifying and ably responding to threats that transcend or subvert territorial boundaries. In Hamas, Israel is engaged with a force which is neither a conventional army, nor global Jihadist. Regardless of Syrian / Iranian surrogacy, Hamas is not regarded as a surrogate by the people; instead, it is accepted and welcomed as an indigenous, multi-faceted and highly organised service providers.

It is not a guerrilla movement as traditionally understood – a small organisation that uses its mobility as a weapon and feeds off its host population, depending on it for shelter and survival. Instead, Hamas participates in local politics, provides local services and can be bargained with. Because Hamas refuses to mark ‘X’ as military targets, civilian losses are almost certainly guaranteed to be higher than Western democracies can stomach. While it may be a surrogate of Syria and Iran, it is ‘of’ the people; an indivisible power. This philosophy is reflected in its military tactics and strikes at the heart of Israeli identity – while it is unlikely to defeat Israel by firing rockets at its citizens, Israel’s mighty army cannot prevent them from being fired. Israelis are supposed to be tough; the name for an Israeli-born Jew, sabra, comes from the Hebrew for cactus – Sa’bar; but how long can Israelis continue to manifest their insecurity in a highly-weaponised military when it does not keep them safe?

Of all of the actors central to the conflict, one force has demonstrated an uncanny ability to exploit these tectonic plates of Middle Eastern geopolitics for its own purposes: Iran. Neither Arab nor Sunni, Iran supports Islamist groups, both Sunni and Shi`a, using the Arab-Israeli conflict to bridge the sectarian and national gap. It could be argued that there is nothing Iran would like more than to see the Palestinian question remain unanswered. The continued ostracism of Hamas, despite it being the democratically-elected government of Gaza, means it has ‘nowhere to go but deeper into the embrace of Iran’. Iran is able to use the anniversary of al-Nakba to mobilise support for its Islamist proxies. The relative strategic impacts on any form of rapprochement between Fatah and Hamas are immense. Could youmfitna al-tawil , destroy the two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians? How can a two-state solution be found when in reality, there are three states operating? Without a zaïm since Arafat’s death, Palestine has splintered geographically and politically between Hamas, controlling Gaza, and Fatah in the West Bank stronghold of Ramallah; all on the watch of an increasingly hard-line Israel.

The 2006 attack on Lebanon changed Israel’s political landscape irrevocably. It was a major factor in the downfall of Ehud Olmert and the Kadima Party government. Governed by Binyamin Netanyahu and a coalition of his Likud Party, the remnants of the once-dominant Labour Party (with its former Prime Minister, Ehud Barak agreeing to be Netanyahu’s Defence Minister); and Yisra’el Beitenu with the latter’s leader Avigdor Lieberman, a former nightclub bouncer from Moldova, taking the role of Foreign Minister, leaving Kadima, founded by Ariel Sharon and led by former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, as the moderate opposition. Despite its domestic political shake-up, Israel repeated many of the mistakes it made in Lebanon in 2006 when it attacked Gaza in the last few days of December 2008. If the definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different outcome, then repeating these failures against Hamas almost defies belief – another entrenched grassroots movement; a Sunni Arab ally of Iran; the democratically elected (but isolated) government; with militants firing rockets at Israeli civilians. Israel’s timing was cynical (in the interregnum between the US Presidential election and inauguration); it seems to have approached the fighting, and the Arab world, from a strategic perspective that will increase instability in the region and ultimately weaken Israel‘s security’. Attacking United Nations’ installations and using white phosphorus coalesced international opinion against it; destroying Gaza’s already inadequate infrastructure (just as it had done in Lebanon); all the while ignoring the strategic impact of the horrendous images of Gaza’s humanitarian crisis conflict. Israel has experienced consistent shelling from the Gaza strip since its withdrawal in August 2005. The reality for Israel and Palestine is that the folly of 2009 has made the blockade and ghettoisation of Gaza worse. The schism between the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas has fractured the domestic constituency to an extent where one possible outcome is renewed factional fighting. Weakening Hamas by isolating it has not worked; it has not given Mahmoud Abbas and the PA a foothold in Gaza. Unifying the territories and their political and security apparatuses seems increasingly unlikely – so a one-state solution is likely to prevail. How can there be a two-state solution when there are, effectively, three states, territories, turfs – whatever you want to call them – three entities in play in that tiny strip of land: Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. The Palestinian Territories are not just separated by ideology, they are physically asunder. In any event, Netanyahu is unlikely to seek a political settlement for fear of looking weaker than Olmert to his insecure citizenry.

The expectation gap that appears to be crushing the Obama administration is a leading indicator of the possible strategic impact of US foreign policy in the Middle East and one which has its roots in the 2006 Israeli-Hizbollah conflict, namely negotiations with Syria. Obama simply cannot afford to spend political and economic capital on the unflinching support of Israel of his predecessors – his strained talks with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu indicate he has no intention of doing so; as does his commitment to a two-state solution and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s repeated calls for an end to the spread of Israeli settlements. The possibilities of taking Syria out of the equation by giving both Israel and Syria what they had come close to agreeing to are of immense strategic value: agreement between the two countries would wound Hizbollah materially, and curb the ‘Shi`a Crescent’ that stretches from Iran through Syria to Lebanon and on to Gaza. It would also ameliorate Israeli insecurities stemming from two-pronged attacks and possibly revive ‘Annapolis’ – the aim of which, was to agree on the framework for a Palestinian state alongside Israel be the end of 2008, a goal which was never reached. However, the attack on Gaza made the Pax Syriana more difficult to realise. It strained relations between Turkey and Israel. Loosening Damascus’ ties with Tehran by restoring the Golan Heights and with it, Syria’s territorial integrity would also have weakened Hizbollah. However, both conflicts reinforced the Israeli public’s sense of insecurity. Why should Israel withdraw from more land when pulling out of Lebanon and dissembling settlements in Gaza has prompted hot wars?

In the end, the most likely strategic impact of Israel’s 2006 attack on Lebanon and 2009 attack on Gaza may have nothing to do with bombs, but babies: as Andrew J. Bacevich, professor of history and international relations at Boston University wrote in The Boston Globe on 8 January 2009, ‘demography rather than weaponry is likely to determine the conflict’s ultimate outcome: that the Palestinian and Arab Israeli birthrate far exceeds the birthrate among Jewish Israelis is a fact with enormous strategic implications’*; and one that cannot be solved with talks, roadmaps or rockets.

To read Bacevich’s full article, follow this link: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2009/01/08/the_lessons_of_gaza/