Testing Positive

by Kieran Healy on August 8, 2004

The Irish athlete “Cathal Lombard”:http://www.flynnsports.com/athletes-detail.htm?id=155 has “tested positive”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/athletics/3544612.stm for “EPO”:http://www.drugs.com/cons/EPO.html, the now commonly-abused drug that radically boosts red blood cell production. Lombard’s path seems to have been a standard one. Nothing special for most of his career, his 5,000 and 10,000 meter times started improving radically when he changed coaches a couple of years ago. In “interviews”:http://www.irishrunner.com/cathal03.html he put it all down to training smarter and overhauling his approach to running.

Assuming the tests are confirmed, Lombard’s story shows just how phenomenally effective performance-enhancing drugs are these days. Lombard is basically a decent club runner: certainly faster than most of us, but he never won anything in competition and he certainly couldn’t touch the likes of, say, Mark Carroll, the leading Irish men’s middle distance runner of his generation. Just “compare”:http://www.flynnsports.com/athletes-detail.htm?id=24 and “contrast”:http://www.flynnsports.com/athletes-detail.htm?id=155 their respective accomplishments over the years. And yet at the age of 26, Lombard started knocking down his 5 and 10k PBs in 20 or 30 second chunks over a period of months, to the point where “earlier this year”:http://www.irishrunner.com/04stan.html he smashed Mark’s National 10k record by 13 seconds. Now imagine what happens if you give EPO to someone who is really, really talented to begin with.

This sort of thing makes it hard to get really enthusiastic about the upcoming Olympics, because it’s clear that for everyone who’s caught there are a bunch more who evade detection. But which ones? It’s hard to catch even textbook cases using known substances, let alone truly elite competitors who use stuff that testing agencies don’t even know exists. Some sports, like professional cycling, are so obviously soaked in chemicals that everyone has simply agreed to look the other way. On the track and field circuit, there are a lot of fairly clear-cut opinions about who’s clean and who isn’t, and a lot of justified resentment from honest athletes who see their own natural talent and hard work count for nothing courtesy of someone else’s course of injections. They face a harsh choice when they see the likes of Lombard accelerating away from them on the back straight towards Olympic glory, corporate sponsorship and popular adulation.

Prozac Nation

by Chris Bertram on August 8, 2004

It seems that Prozac is “being prescribed so widely in the UK”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/3545684.stm that there’s a buildup in our drinking water:

bq. Traces of the antidepressant Prozac can be found in the nation’s drinking water, it has been revealed.

bq. An Environment Agency report suggests so many people are taking the drug nowadays it is building up in rivers and groundwater.

See also “The Observer”:http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,6903,1278760,00.html.

Al Jazeera

by Chris Bertram on August 8, 2004

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” So said George Orwell, in a quote adopted by British blog “Harry’s Place”:http://hurryupharry.bloghouse.net/ . It is a quote worth recalling in “the light of the decision of the Iraqi government”:http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/9C888134-9481-485A-A675-DD3C50DA224D.htm “to close”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/3545514.stm down “Al Jazeera’s”:http://english.aljazeera.net/HomePage Baghdad offices for a month. The new “Iraqi foreign minister justified the closure”:http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/A3BF4F15-97CC-4B0B-BAFE-55A1CB3D859F.htm in these terms:

bq. Hoshyar Zibari accused Aljazeera, along with other Arabic language satellite channels, of “incitement” and hiding behind media freedoms.

bq. Zibari said the channel’s coverage of Iraq was “one-sided” and “distorted”.

bq. He made the comments in an interview with an Aljazeera correspondent during an offcial visit to Moscow on Sunday.

bq. “They [Aljazeera and other Arabic channels] have all become incitement channels which are against the interests of security, the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people,” Zibari said.

bq. He added “the new Iraqi government will not tolerate these kinds of intentional breaches and violations”.

Looks like the new Iraqi government doesn’t think people should have the right to tell them what they don’t want to hear.

UPDATE: “This piece”:http://news.independent.co.uk/world/americas/story.jsp?story=549052 on Al-Jazeera by David Usborne in the Independent is worth reading.

War crimes

by John Quiggin on August 8, 2004

It’s been argued at length whether the Iraq war as a whole was morally justified. Given that many thousands of people died in the process of removing Saddam’s regime, I don’t think so. On the other hand, if you suppose that Saddam would otherwise have stayed in power for decades, and make some optimistic assumptions about future prospects, it’s possible to come to the opposite conclusion. But what possible moral justification can there be for the two bloody campaigns against Moqtada al-Sadr?

If the figures reported by the US military are true, nearly 2000 of Sadr’s supporters have been killed by US forces (1500 in the first campaign launched by Bremer just before his departure and another 300 in the last couple of days). This is comparable with plausible estimates of the number of people killed by Saddam’s police state annually in its final years.

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