Armstrong’s cycling debacle

Alison Williams writes: Tom Richman (comments, yesterday) asked: “Assuming that all professional cyclists are on the same drugs, doesn’t that mean there’s a level playing field of sorts?”

It doesn’t. I’m currently reading the book The Secret Race by Tyler Hamilton (one of Armstrong’s teammates who was banned for doping). The book explains how one of the banned drugs, EPO, provides an unfair advantage because it improves performance based on the athlete’s natural physiology. For example, Hamilton’s natural hematocrit level (the amount of red cells in his blood) was 42. By taking EPO, he could boost this to 48 or 49 (just under the UCI mandated “limit”).

Another athlete however might have a natural hematocrit level of 47 or 48 — he would get very little advantage from taking EPO compared to a rival with a lower natural level. So, no level playing field.

Getting schooled on the Hare-Clark system

Graeme Major writes: Re. “Bad blood sees Labor well-placed to win the ACT” (Tuesday). Isn’t it high time all journalists, like Cathy Alexander in this piece, educated themselves on the Hare-Clark voting system, instead of describing it as “the notoriously unpredictable Hare-Clark multi-member voting system”.

The only thing notorious about it is its robust resistance to notoriously manipulative vested interest and political parties. And it is certainly far from being unpredictable, returning elected members to a parliament in closest proportion to the collective voting wishes of electors.

If journalists cannot understand the simple principle of Hare-Clark, then they shouldn’t be in the job of political commentary. Most other voting systems deliver results which are far more unpredictable and certainly notorious for not reflecting voters’ wishes. Alexander might care to check out and compare how poorly the recent Queensland election results reflected the electorate’s wishes.

Our new UN place in the world

James Tiffin writes: Re. “Hard yakka for DFAT as we wake to a new place in the world” (October 19). Wakey Wakey Australia! Our recent admission to the UN Security Council comes with hefty responsibility to deeply consider and act on world affairs, not just in the interest of Australia’s position as a “middle power ” (whatever that means … in the hemisphere of China, USA, India, and the world’s most populous Muslim nation, Indonesia) , or in the interest of Australia’s direct commercial concerns (i.e. digging stuff up and selling it), or in the interests of our own tacky domestic politics (eg. our perceived refugee “crisis”). It does mean to “step up”, in a mature, non-parochial way to the genuine concerns of all the world’s peoples, but does the UN Security Council have a great record for this?

Right now, the continuing violence in Syria is threatening to destabilise Lebanon and Turkey, the UN Security Council does nothing, vetoed by permanent members Russia and China. This renders the concept, and reason-for-being of the “UN Security Council” virtually meaningless, just as it has appeared-to-be for the peoples of this region since at least 1967.

It could well be argued that the failure-to-act since 1967’s (vetoed by USA) “Resolution 242” is the biggest contributing factor to the last (nearly) 45 years of violence in this immediate region, and the cause of the schism between Muslim peoples and “the West”, which of course manifests itself today as the reason-for-being of radical Islamists across the globe.

For far too long Australia’s career-diplomats have similarly demonstrated an alarming lack of testicles; we don’t challenge China on human rights (eg. in Tibet) for fear of it harming our commercial concerns, we don’t challenge the USA as it railroads us into another “Asian war” after another (looking for mythical WMDs our own spooks tell us aren’t there) for fear of it harming our “power” relationship, we don’t even challenge our own domestic political muppet-show for fear of losing career opportunities for professional diplomats …who might one day get to sit with the ‘”big boys” (and girls) in the UN and do nothing collectively.

I fear Australia’s admission to the United Nations Security Council is an opportunity lost, for the UN, and for the peoples of the world right now “descending into hell” (to hijack Senator Bob Carr’s quote on ABC’s Lateline on Friday night).