Headlines of silence

What a weekend of news it has been. In a series of rather extraordinary incidents, ranging from the serious to the banal, the uniting factor which links these stories together is the news blanket so haphazardly thrown across these stories, as “investigations continue”.

Late on Friday, the biggest drug scandal to hit the Tour de France eliminated three of the top four contenders to win the international race, and race organisers had a list of more than 50 names of riders implicated in blood doping allegations. The vagueness surrounding this incident is that it may not technically be a drug scandal. Steroids may not have been injected in to the blood taken from riders several months before the race. However, the act of reinjecting blood removed from the body directly before the race could indeed boost performance, and thus could be decreed illegal. Yes, that’s right. Your own blood, taken out of your body, and then reinjected months later could be an unfair advantage. I’m not questioning the ruling; I just wonder how pedantic we’ve become in drug testing to vilify sportsmen and women as cheats for using their own blood supply. How different is this from dramatically changing a diet directly before a performance? As someone who recently had to take steroid based medication for arthritis, I know how much the drug does change both body capacity and personality (producing remarkably aggressive behaviour), and as such, the prospect of pre-absorbed steroids zipping through the freshly-injected blood supplies of athletes is horrific, and perpetrators should be eliminated if discovered, but I also wonder if we need to start looking at the tendency among sportspeople to resort this kind of behaviour as a means of performing well. What is this saying about the obsessiveness of competition, the incentives to sell one’s soul to performance improvement, and/or the organisation and management of sports more generally?

In a completely different sphere, the activities of NASA in covering, releasing and fogging information about the latest Discovery launch have been perplexing, to say the very least. Described as a “technical glitch that could be resolved in orbit”, Discovery actually has had a thermostat which is supposed to control the heater in a rear thruster of the shuttle, fail. This thruster is only supposed to be used in orbit, and it was felt that it could easily be fixed before needing to be used, however it could also be a sign that the aging fleet of the space program probably needs to be retired before any further disasters occur. NASA have refused to comment at length on the issue, but say that they are confident that the craft is capable of its mission, in spite of there being an acknowledged 1% chance of complete mission failure. The continuing delay of the launch due to bad weather is frustrating for space enthusiasts but it could also be useful, in ensuring that the equipment is indeed functional prior to takeoff. I just wonder whether we should be a tad more concerned about launching at all.

Finally in perhaps the most banal context, but the most serious implications for popular culture and human rights, the future of the Big Brother program in Australia is in doubt after an alleged serious incident of sexual misconduct occurred in the house. The web forums have all been closed down while police investigate the incident but in my humble opinion (IMHO) it was only a matter of time before a felony episode occurred in the Big Brother house. And if it is discovered that the sexual miscoduct was even more serious than sexual harrassment, and actually extended to sexual assault or rape, I suggest that the implications will extend far beyond the Australian chapter of the program. The voyeuristic nature of the program will be identified as a contributing factor to the events that occurred, and the producers of the series will find themselves being sued for damages.

And just as an addendum, I am pleased Brazil is out of the World Cup. Allez France!

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