STEROIDS ETC

As usual, a terrific piece from Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker. I wish I could link to it but the snobs at that magazine think it’s beneath them. Malcolm breaks a taboo I have long since found troublesome. Why are we concerned that most athletes these days use increasingly sophisticated steroids and performance enhancers? He rightly scoffs at those in denial about this; and just as smartly shows how it’s all but impossible to test accurately and fairly for their use. Today’s ramshackle testing regimen merely punishes those with the least sophisticated doctors and trainers. So why not just give in? The case against, I suppose, is that steroids are an unfair advantage in sports. So what? Our genes are the deepest unfairness in this respect. Some of us just aren’t made to be great athletes; others are. Why is the dumb luck of genetics somehow morally superior to the contrived success of training and pharmaceuticals? Then there’s the argument that excellence in sports is somehow morally better if it’s related entirely to ‘effort.’ Maybe, but most steroids enhance the ability of athletes to recover from hard training, and so boost their performance primarily by allowing athletes to train harder, giving greater emphasis to effort. Besides, most of these drugs simulate the body’s own ‘natural’ chemicals. Why should someone with a genetically higher level of, say, testosterone be deemed morally superior to someone who gets it from a vial? Beats me. Gladwell is right, I think, to argue that we should simply put limits on the upper end of steroid use and allow everyone below that measurable level to compete using drugs. I’d favor legalizing and deregulating their use for amateurs as well. Athletes will have to determine whether this will impact their long-term health and well-being, and minors should be protected from abuse. But apart from that, I share Gladwell’s insouciance toward the whole area. Maybe it’s because I’ve been on testosterone therapy for a few years now and seen what human growth hormone can do for the emaciation and deformation many people with long-term HIV endure. But like many other pharmaceuticals, steroids can enhance our human experience. They could enhance our sports experience as well. In fact, of course, they already have.

A.S. T.R.B. R.I.P.: I’m sad to say that last week turns out to have been my last TRB column. I had a year’s contract and my editor, Peter Beinart, told me last week that my time is up and he now wants to write it himself. I don’t have much to say except I am very sad not to be able to continue but that I had a blast and am glad to have been allowed to write openly and honestly for a year – even when the column often tilted against the current of the magazine. I’ll take a breather from column writing for the next couple of months before reassessing. I have a couple of long essays I want to finish. Meantime, I’ll still be a senior editor at TNR, writing weekly for the Sunday Times in London; writing more for the New York Times Magazine; and updating the Dish daily. I’d like to thank all the editors, fact-checkers, and emailers who helped me fill a space I have long revered in American journalism and wish Peter all the best in carrying on the tradition. Any further questions people might have about this should be directed to TNR’s editor, Peter Beinart.

THE EXODUS: Provincetown now is the place I’ve been waiting all summer for. In a matter of days, the throngs have all disappeared. I wake up to a largely deserted beach and walk the dog to the local bakery for coffee and scones. The light pierces everything – and the clearer fall air focuses it. This evening the water crept slowly away toward low tide, like a purple pool of mercury, and then the low red moon grew over the horizon. The final drag shows are closing; the bar patrons dwindle; the seasonal townies gather for long bull sessions over smoke and wine. This has been a vintage summer, but its ending has been a classic.

ANOTHER HATE-CRIME HOAX: Like the church burnings of a few years ago, this one was too good to check. A woman who had claimed that she had had the initials KKK carved on her body now admits it was self-inflicted. I don’t think we should simply dismiss this kind of thing as simple loopiness. There’s a need here – a need for relevance, a need to matter. And mattering these days, from Durban to Texas, means being a victim of something called ‘racism,’ increasingly a receptacle for the all the inchoate grievances many of us have and refuse to overcome. That is not to say that racism doesn’t exist. But it is to say that its centrality in our culture is a very strange disorder. What deeper anxiety, I wonder, is this really all about?