Thursday, August 30, 2012

A patch of green with a sinister history

Almost every day for the past five years I have walked past a slice of history without even knowing it, and I suspect most of those yuppie bike riders and joggers do not have the foggiest, either. It is just there. What we are discussing here is a fenced-in piece of property located just south of the 196th and 72nd Street overpass in Kent, adjacent to the Interurban Trail. The property is an empty green patch of a dozen acres or so, save for what appears to be a few tin-sided buildings and an out-building or two. Their purpose was unknown to me; there were no signs or postings that indicated its business or reason for being. The entry was always locked; when a rare vehicle entered the grounds, the driver always locked the gate behind him; access into the place was apparently restricted to those with a need-to-know. I assumed it had something to do with parks or ecology, or perhaps a DOT facility, and thought nothing more of it.

Then a few weeks ago I happened upon a public notice nearby, which indicated that there would be new road construction adjacent to something referred to as the Western Processing Company Superfund site. Could that be this super-secret property? I checked around the Internet, and it wasn’t hard to find a government website devoted to providing information on the goings-on at precisely that location. Apparently this place was a major news item a few years before I arrived in town. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s fourth five-year study in 2008, the story goes something like this:

“The Western Processing Company, Inc. operated from 1961 to 1983 on a 13 acre parcel of land that encompasses most of the current Superfund site. Originally, Western Processing reprocessed animal by-products and brewer's yeast. During the 1960s, the business expanded their operations, to store, reclaim, or bury waste from over 300 businesses, including some of the Pacific Northwest's largest industries. Spills and the improper storage or disposal of wastes or reclamation byproducts caused heavy contamination of site soils, shallow groundwater beneath the site, and Mill Creek.

“Investigations identified more than 90 of EPA's priority pollutants at the site, most in the categories of volatile organic compounds, semi-volatile organic compounds and heavy metals. Operation of the Western Processing Company ceased in 1983 by federal court order and the site was placed on the National Priorities List (NPL) in September 1983.

“Initial investigations revealed aquitards and differences in water chemistry between the different zones of water, so these were originally believed to be discrete aquifers. Subsequent investigations showed that to be incorrect… Of the approximately 5,000 drums stored on site, many were leaking, corroded, or bulging. In several locations, drums containing incompatible materials (e.g. cyanides and ketones, acids and caustics, acids and ethyl amines) were stored together. During the sampling, battery casings were found at depths of 15’ to 24’ bgs.

“Analysis of over 160 soil and groundwater samples confirmed that hazardous substances had been released into the environment, had contaminated the shallow aquifer, and had caused widespread contamination of soils at the site. Sediment and surface water samples confirmed that site contamination had impacted the creek and that Mill Creek exceeded ambient water quality criteria for aquatic organisms. The site had a Hazard Ranking System (HRS) score of 58.63 at the time it was listed on the NPL. Primary contaminants groups included: Halogenated volatile organic compounds (VOCs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), phenolic compounds, and metals.”

In a 1990 court case in which the major producer of waste at the site, Boeing, was suing its insurers for the site’s clean-up costs, one witness to the goings-on at Western Processing called the conditions there “ghastly.” The Seattle Times reported that “A former Metro official testified…that pollution at Western Processing reached ‘intolerable’ and ‘deplorable’ levels in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Although toxic waste storage there was ‘a chemical brew . . . a chemical soup, really,’ Allan Poole, an industrial waste engineer, said the state's permit for the site was so loose as to constitute no restraint on pollution at all.”

In 1969, Poole found an unlined “lagoon” filled with 2 million gallons of chemical wastes on the site, with “significant” levels of chromium, a metal of extreme toxicity—up to 200 times the legal limit. In a 1970 inspection, Poole found oil and “precipitated solids, probably metals” in the pool. This and other pools on the site were largely uncontained, and “Runoff from a chromium sludge storage site and a solvent reclaiming area ran directly into a ditch that drained into the Green River,” according to the Times.

How did this happen? For years, local industries sent their chemical waste ‘business” to Western Processing, but Western’s biggest customer was Boeing, which has extensive facilities only a mile away; up until the late 1970s, Boeing “shipped” 24 million gallons of chemical wastes to Western and the Queen City Farms waste site in Maple Valley. Boeing decided that this was politically safer than simply dumping its waste into Puget Sound, as it had been doing for years; Western Processing also had the added attraction of being located in the middle of nowhere and out-of-sight. Although Washington is considered a “progressive” state to outsiders, those of us inside know better. As the Times reported, “Boeing has tried to show that its activities at Western Processing were sanctioned by the old state Pollution Control Commission and the Department of Ecology, the two environmental regulatory agencies in charge of pollution control at the time. Poole testified…that the state's standards for the operation of Western Processing were toothless.”

The owner of Western Processing, Garmt Nieuenhuis, claimed that he was “persuaded” by the state to use his facilities for waste storage, even though he knew next to nothing about properly storing or treating it. Nieuenhuis claimed that Boeing was sending him an “overwhelming” amount of waste day and night—sometimes without proper paperwork or labeling. In order to meet environmental standards at the time, he needed $300,000 to pay for upgrades. But his attempt to passing on the cost to Boeing and other businesses netted only a fraction of that amount. Cost, apparently, was a major concern for Boeing, which was dumping waste on the ground “all over the place” in Washington, instead of shipping it to waste treatment facilities. According to the Times, “From the 1950s through the 1970s, Boeing continued to allow millions of gallons of waste acids, solvents and oils to be dumped in the ground in Washington state, even though it had constructed a state-of-the-art treatment facility at its Wichita, Kan., plant, paid for in large part by the Air Force.” One inspector charged “that Boeing never told Washington officials about the plant.”

Peter Ricca, a former Boeing employee, said Western was like “watching a disaster in slow motion. It was like a bombed-out bomb site. My initial impression was that it was ghastly, and it got worse.'' At the trial in which Boeing was suing insurers who balked at covering the costs for cleaning-up the site, Ricca testified “that wastes from the ponds were draining directly into the ground, into ground water or, in some cases, off the property,” according to the Times. “In one pond, sludge containing toxic metals and acids had been dumped. Under those conditions, Ricca testified, the acids ‘resolubleized'’ the metals into a state in which they would sink directly into the ground and ground water. ‘Those ponds were something I never expected to see and something I never want to see again,’” said Ricca. He also noted that drums of chemicals—some of them leaking—littered the grounds.

Despite being a disaster site in the making, Boeing managed to keep state regulators at arms’ length for a time. According to Ricca, “It was general knowledge that Boeing had both political and financial clout with the regulators.” But in 1981, the EPA ordered the site’s operators to conduct soil and water testing for contamination; when Western failed to do so, the EPA stepped in to conduct its own testing in 1982. The site was ordered closed in 1983, and in the next few months, “over 1,900 cubic yards of solids/sludges and 930,000 gallons of waste liquids and hazardous substances were removed from the site,” according to the 2008 EPA report. By June, 1984, “Over 2,400 truckloads of chemical waste and contaminated soil and debris were removed from the site,” as were all surface structures.

6,000 gallons of dioxin was also discovered on site, but the EPA’s plan to incinerate it off-site was halted by complaints from the public, and a mobile batch reactor (a containment tank used to mix compounds to create a chemical reaction, in this case used to “treat” the dioxin) was used on-site. In 1987, another 25,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil and sludge was removed from the site. In 1988, a slurry wall was constructed to contain remaining contaminants within the site. The nearby Mill Creek was continuously tested for contamination. The buildings you see inside the property housed a groundwater treatment facility and a testing lab; hidden beneath the grounds is a storm water control and groundwater extraction system.

However, the site appears to have been so highly contaminated that in the early 1990s the Trust Fund overseeing the clean-up asked for a waiver, claiming that it could not complete the clean-up in “a reasonable time or at a reasonable cost.” Instead of giving the clean-up more time and money, the EPA changed the clean-up objective from “an aggressive effort to restore groundwater quality to acceptable levels within 5 to 7 years to a containment strategy to keep the contamination on site and prevent further off-site migration.” Today, while the grounds have been sufficiently cleaned-up for “reuse,” a recent evaluation suggests that “there are insufficient profit margins to make reuse a worthwhile goal to pursue at this time, but this may change in response to future market conditions.”

Boeing—which was the principle offender in all of this, was found only partially liable for payment of the Super Fund clean-up cost in the 1990 court case. However, it was just the tip of the iceberg: Boeing was also responsible for 14 additional Superfund sites in Washington, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Kansas, North Dakota and Oklahoma.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Akins isn't the problem--the Tea Party is

The current Republican catchphrase at their convention is “We Built It”—which of course, is a typical right-wing deception. People of the Caucasian persuasion are supposed to understand it as a coded phrase, but in reality it refers to the modern day robber barons, like the Koch brothers and the completely unprincipled Mitt Romney—who unlike Barack Obama sprung from wealth and privilege, and has stayed in it, and wants you to help him and his friends to continue to frolic in it without anyone telling them it is unseemly when so many are barely scraping by. Unfortunately, there are too many people in this country who prefer to look at the world through a prism of bigotry and paranoia, and foolishly aid and abet that “cause.”

Republican deception was on full display last week when Missouri Republican and U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akins had the bad manners to enunciate the Tea Party social agenda, which apparently encompasses the belief that rape is not a legitimate reason to sanction abortion. Frankly, there are few legitimate moral reasons to sanction abortion, but Akins made the mistake of insisting that this decision should not be left up to a woman’s “conscience.” Most Republicans are too conscious of upsetting the women’s voting cart in a presidential year to actually say such things out loud, and hypocritically denounced Akins for what a great many of them believe in private. Paul Ryan, a conservative Roman Catholic, holds similarly extreme views on abortion; if Romney is a devout Mormon, he is probably aware of that faith’s dictum: "In today's society, abortion has become a common practice, defended by deceptive arguments. Latter-day prophets have denounced abortion, referring to the Lord's declaration, ‘Thou shalt not kill, nor do anything like unto it.’" Although church leaders recognize “special circumstances,” abortion should be considered only after consulting with church elders and have the decision ‘confirmed’ after “earnest prayer” to the highest authority.

The problem is that Republicans are trying to isolate the issue to one man, when it isn’t that at all. Such beliefs are labeled as “crazy” talk by most on the left, and only extremists on the pro-abortion side believe that the extreme views of the right have a chance of becoming the law of the land. Nevertheless, it doesn’t hurt to be vigilant: You can’t fall asleep on these people—a Republican Senate majority with a like-minded president only needs to add another Scalia or Thomas to the Supreme Court to turn this country into a corporate/fascist state that views privacy and civil rights as “unconstitutional.” Why not? This court already decided that a corporation is a person, and that certainly isn’t in the Constitution. According to the Bloomberg news agency, “Republican drafters of their party’s 2012 platform reaffirmed support for a constitutional amendment banning abortion that would allow no exception for terminating pregnancies caused by rape.” Either this could indicate a “disconnect” between the Republican hardcore who want to get “right” with their version of God and those who simply wish to maintain the political, economic and social control by the current demographic majority, or perhaps it is pure cynicism—a sop to the Tea Party. Probably the latter, but even one more justice added to current mix intent on imposing his or her narrow-minded social ideology on others is capable of turning the country into a Hieronymus Bosch nightmare world.

The bottom line is that people like Akin is less the problem than the Tea Party “movement” that controls the Republican Party today—a so-called movement that just coincidentally emerged with the election of a black president, revealing itself to be nothing more than one of a long, dreary line of extremist, paranoid xenophobic enterprises. These were the people who believed that Native Americans were “savages” who needed to be exterminated from the land, and no doubt shared the opinion of a supposed leading light like Benjamin Franklin in opposing German immigration, because Germans were believed to be culturally so foreign that they would be unable to assimilate into American society. On occasion, right-wing extremists were able to coalesce into a political movement, such as the xenophobic “American” Party, better known as the Know-Nothing Party. The Tea Party is just a variant of this repellent “tradition”—but in this case cobbled together so that they can be led and exploited by shadowy figures in the background with their own agendas (like the Koch brothers).

Despite the fact that Mitt Romney, Karl Rove and other establishment Republicans called on Akins to step aside, they have no real moral authority, having willingly lost control of the party and message to Tea Party extremists. Proof of this is that while Rove threatened to cut off contributions to Akins, his Tea Party supporters quickly filled the shortfall by “pouring in” donations to his campaign, according to Akin’s twitter page. Why would they do this if they were “outraged” by Akins’ abortion stand? The answer: They’re not.

This election is not between Obama and Romney, but between moderation (it’s a joke to call Obama’s policies anything else) and mindless extremism. I don’t believe that the choice the country has to make is that hard to figure out.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Laura Nyro's Rock and Roll HOF induction a messy family affair

On a recent Internet adventure I stumbled across the factoid that the late singer-songwriter Laura Nyro had been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year. Although old-timers in the New York City music scene and people on the gender political and musical fringes know who she is, I wouldn’t expect many “kids” today to have a clue, and the fact is that after a brief burst of fame dating from the late Sixties to 1971—when she wrote songs that were major hits of the Fifth Dimension, Three Dog Night, Blood, Sweat and Tears and Barbara Streisand—her relevance in pop music was largely relegated to the cult scene. Nyro was one of those rare singer-songwriters whose own compositions were hits for other artists, but she herself never had a top-forty hit from her own recordings. Her cover of the Drifters’ top-ten hit, “Up on the Roof,” was her only Hot 100 entry, moving all the way up to #92.

Personally, the reason why Nyro has any relevance to me is that, like Carole King, she was a singer of rare honesty, “liberated from technical decorum. She insists on being heard as she is--not raunchy and hot-to-trot or sweet and be-yoo-ti-ful, just human, with all the cracks and imperfections that implies.” But that was former Village Voice music critic Robert Christgau’s opinion in his review of King’s mega-seller 1971 album Tapestry, not of Nyro. In fact, Christgau was not much of a fan of Nyro’s musical output. Although he granted that “her jazzy pop-gospel synthesis is without precedent or facsimile,” but otherwise she was a “Bronx tearjerker” whose “gloppy sensibility” sounded like “a novice practicing circular breathing.” In regard to her 1975 “comeback” album, he would have said that she sounded “out of training”—except that “she's never been IN training.”

But so much of criticism is a matter of taste. I personally hate 90 percent of the new music I’m hearing on the radio today, but somebody must like it, or else they wouldn’t be playing that tuneless, unmusical garbage. To my ears, Nyro’s original recordings of “Wedding Bell Blues” and “Stoney End” are more satisfying than the subsequent hit cover versions. She also appeared on the Manhattan Transfer album Tonin’, lending her vocals to a fetching cover of the Delfonics’ hit “La-La Means I Love You.” Her posthumous album Angel in the Dark, a recording of mostly R&B and Motown standards, stands out from similar efforts by Michael MacDonald, Rod Stewart and Phil Collins, who treated the material with saccharin reverence. Nyro apparently learned her lesson after her bemusing 1971 album Gonna Take a Miracle, which could have used less of her vocal knots and more of Gamble and Huff; at least on Angel, she let the music’s unpretentious emotions speak. There have been complaints that there have been too many non-deserving entries into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Nyro is among them. But like Joe Namath being in the NFL Hall of Fame despite having distinctly unimpressive career statistics, her entry can be justified as symbolism; for Namath, it was helping make the upstart AFL relevant, and for Nyro, it was as a female musician who was both a singer and a songwriter to be taken seriously.

But this is still just a footnote in the pages of rock and roll history. What made Nyro’s induction of interest to some people was that there seemed to have been some controversy surrounding who was going to be invited to the induction ceremony, and who was going to accept the award on her behalf, since she died of ovarian cancer 15 years earlier. When she died, she left her estate in the care of Maria Desiderio, who was described as her “partner.” Although Nyro was married to a man named David Bianchini in the 1970s and once had a relationship with Jackson Browne, it is assumed in some circles that she was in a fact a lesbian; it is not precisely known, however, if she actually had a sexual relationship with Desiderio. Nyro may have been bisexual, although she never admitted to any sexual preference when asked about her relationship with Desiderio, claiming she disliked “labels.” That Nyro performed later in life in women’s musical festivals, which some of the participants viewed as an anti-male statement, is not necessarily evidence of anything save “gender unity” for others. Nyro was known to be uncomfortable in public and may have suffered from ADD, and perhaps she felt more at ease among people who "understood" her. But unlike Janis Ian, she never came out in public claiming that she had determined after all these years she was gay—after complaining about being the “ugly duckling girl” of “At Seventeen,” pining after boys who were not interested in her.

But Desiderio died herself not long afterward, and she named her friend Patty Di Lauria as executor of the Nyro estate. The problem is that Nyro had a brief fling with a man from India, named Harindra "Hari" Singh some years earlier, and from this union came a son, who Nyro named Gil Bianchini—and who happens to be the sole legitimate heir to her estate. Bianchini was still underage when his mother died, and Desiderio was technically his guardian. It seems that Bianchini and Desiderio didn’t get along, and her friend Di Lauria apparently did not like him, either, refusing to recognize his rights as Nyro’s heir. I suppose one could also speculate that Di Lauria has a political agenda in freezing him out, but you’d have to ask her about that.

Not that Bianchini helped his case; like many children of the “famous,” Bianchini’s life tended to steer off course. In a Village Voice profile in 2009 written by Ira Kantor, Bianchini said that his mother was his “best friend,” but this is something we often hear in fatherless households. According to Michele Kort’s gushing biography of Nyro, “Soul Picnic” his father was just someone this “strong woman” used to have a child with, and meant nothing more; it also appears that Nyro often viewed her maternal responsibilities as an unwanted distraction. Like in many such arrangements, the son tends to seek life counsel and “family” elsewhere. Although not a gang member himself, he certainly immersed himself in gang culture and music. When Bianchini was 15, he was sentenced to two years’ probation on a drug charge. He was sent away to live with his godparents, but they soon sent him back, supposedly because of a “clash in music taste,” according to the Voice. Through the intervention of his mother—who was diagnosed with cancer at the time—he avoided hard time for violating his probation. But after Nyro passed away, Bianchini landed in jail, where he learned a life lesson about freedom. "You locked down—you can go in your dorm or in the cell block, or you can go in the middle of the area where everybody's at or whatever, but you know you locked down” he told the Voice.

Although there continues to be a modest flow of royalties from Nyro’s musical output, Bianchini has seen almost none of this go into his pockets (although some of it certainly has gone into Di Lauria’s). At first Di Lauria was able to take advantage of Gianchini’s ignorance of the law. Although he is technically the heir to Nyro’s estate, Di Lauria’s has been “donating” Nyro’s personal effects without his consent (she claims that she didn’t know he wanted them). In Nyro’s final will, "Everything was designed and built a certain way, where it's not like everything is just mine, you know?” Gianchini told the Voice. “That's just the way it's stipulated, being that I was kind of, like, you know, wild when I was younger. There was a point in time when we wasn't really in contact with each other and, you know, a lot of people kind of tried to count me out of the equation. . . . Now, I'm in better communications, and we're more organized," meaning he and his legal representatives. In the meantime, Gianchini was making a living as a rap artist without a contract, playing an occasional gig. He was attempting to acquire permission from Sony Records to sample his mother’s work for what he termed a “tribute” album, although three years later I haven’t found any evidence that this project was completed. His Facebook page doesn’t make it obvious that “Gil-T” is the son of a “famous” mother, although it does make sure you hear some of his own musical output—which, of course, demonstrates next to no influence from his mother.

It also seems that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame of organizers were ill-disposed toward Bianchini, if they even knew he existed. Bette Midler, who was a friend of Nyro, certainly knew of his existence, and expressed concern regarding why he was left out of the ceremony in which she was designated as be Nyro’s presenter by the organizers. She contacted Jann Wenner, the former publisher of Rolling Stone Magazine and who now oversees the RRHOF, about the apparent snub of Nyro’s son. In an email to Joel Peresman, president of the RRHOF, Wenner inquired about why Bianchini was not invited. Peresman replied that

“I told you about this awhile ago along with the Freddie King family situation. We have dealt for a number of years with woman named Patty De Laura who I believe was Laura’s partner but is the person who Laura entrusted and gave her estate and all of her materials too and she disinherited her son. Patty has always lent us things of Laura s and we are just about done on the agreement with Patty to get all of Laura s materials. We offered this fellow two tickets to attend if he wanted to but nothing to do with coming on stage. Patty is our guest but she also is not coming on stage. Sort of the same with Freddie King. Lots of people came out of the woodwork as sons and daughters but only one we have dealt with before who has materials she is giving us and will attend but not come on stage. We will need to fill Bette in on this as there won’t be a person to come on stage and ‘accept’ the award.”

Wenner then contacted Midler, telling her that “This is a policy question for the Hall of Fame, not for the individual presenter nor the inductee’s heirs or estate.” The problem, of course, is that the Hall was likely receiving malicious and false information about Bianchini from Di Lauria, and wanted to "please" her because of her past "generosity." Nyro certainly knew her as Desiderio’s friend—but not as her “partner”—and Bianchini had not been disinherited. Peresman refers to Nyro’s only child as “this fellow,” and only offered him two $100 tickets to sit in the gallery, for which along with travel expenses he would have to pay himself. Midler knew the truth, and apparently she would be the one to “fill in” Peresman and Wenner. Not long afterward, Peresman switched gears and invited Bianchini to not just a full-paid trip to the ceremony in Cleveland, but to appear on stage to accept his mother’s award. There is a video on YouTube of the subsequent event, in which Bianchini reads his speech from loose leaf sheets of paper, and his every statement is greeted with applause, as if the audience knows the backstory leading up to this event.

Monday, August 27, 2012

USADA tries to "murder" an American icon, and those cheatin' Paralympians

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency had its way with Lance Armstrong, unilaterally stripping him of his seven Tour de France victories, which technically is an empty gesture if the French do not follow suit. Once more we have a puffed-up organization that like Cronus is so intent on eating its own in order to save itself from its own irrelevance. It should be made clear that despite the fact there seems on the surface overwhelming “evidence” against Armstrong as a doper, this consists almost entirely on the claims of former teammates who first denied that they themselves used performance enhancements, before being compromised by positive doping tests. Armstrong himself has never tested positive on a drug test.

Author and sportswriter Steve Eubanks called the USADA “the most hated heretofore unknown agency since the establishment of the IRS” for engaging in a witch hunt against a national icon with no physical evidence to substantiate its charges. As federal prosecutors determined, it would be near to impossible to convict Armstrong with only the testimony of clearly compromised persons with less than pure motives. “Lance Armstrong might well be innocent, or he might be, as cycling experts contend, guilty as sin,” wrote Eubanks. “But the public understands things like ‘preponderance of evidence’ and ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ Those are the bedrock standards of a just society.”

Armstrong recently announced he was not going to continue fighting the USADA’s charges, which precipitated the organization’s actions against him. “The bottom line is I played by the rules that were put in place by the UCI, WADA and USADA when I raced,” according to a statement released by Armstrong. “The idea that athletes can be convicted today without positive A and B samples, under the same rules and procedures that apply to athletes with positive tests, perverts the system and creates a process where any begrudged ex-teammate can open a USADA case out of spite or for personal gain or a cheating cyclist can cut a sweetheart deal for themselves. It's an unfair approach, applied selectively, in opposition to all the rules. It's just not right.”

Armstrong is clearly standing on the idea that factual—not circumstantial—evidence is what the court of public opinion requires. Even the MLB does not consider mere allegations as evidence of doping, but its own testing. Of course, in real courts of law, circumstantial evidence can convict in the absence of physical evidence; in missing and presumed dead cases (especially if the alleged victim is an attractive white female), a man can be found guilty of murder even if no body was ever found. What is being proposed in the Armstrong case is the metaphorical “murder” of the image of an American icon who beat cancer and became the Michael Jordan of cycling. If Armstrong is indeed guilty, perhaps no one in history was more clever in the use of performance enhancements; but the problem that remains with this Inquisition is that it cannot adequately explain how—if Armstrong was such a prolific doper—he never tested positive. Are his accusers making exaggerated claims to cynically save their own images? Fat chance of that in the eyes of most of the public.


On another issue relating to doping, I was listening to a BBC World News report on performance enhancing in, of all venues, the Paralympics. I suspect that most people regard this competition—unlike other international competitions—as having a true sportsmanship character rather than being perverted by the win-at-any-cost approach. Unfortunately, this is just another myth for the idealist to ponder with melancholy.

The Paralympics competition has been somewhat tarnished by the fact that there have been reductions in the amount of levels that athletes can compete, based on their level of disability; athletes with more severe disabilities must compete with those with the less severe, meaning a certain level of unfairness in the competition. There has also been accusations of some athletes faking the degree of their disability in order to gain an edge when the competition actually starts. But more serious is the accusation that some athletes—especially those who compete in wheelchairs—illegally use techniques to enhance their physiological characteristics over the short-term, but in doing so commit virtual maiming of their own bodies. According to the BBC report,

“Athletes with spinal cord injuries do not get the blood pressure and heart rate increases that come from vigorous aerobic exercise as able-bodied athletes typically do. To make up that difference—and allow the body to train harder, thereby increasing fitness and results—paraplegics will intentionally cause their bodies harm, which increases their blood pressure and allows them to compete more vigorously.”

This purposeful maiming is called “boosting.” Athletes have admitted to doing such things as attaching electrodes to their genitals, breaking toes or fingers, and abstaining from urination. Of the latter method of boosting heart rates, one athlete—a quadriplegic climber named Brad Zdanivsky—revealed that “I tried several different ways of doing it. You can allow your bladder to fill, basically don’t go to the bathroom for a few hours and let that pain from your bladder do it. Some people do that in sports by clipping off a catheter (a tube used to aid urine release) to let the bladder fill — that’s the easiest and the most common — and you can quickly get rid of that pain stimulus by letting the urine drain out.”

Because of health risks like stroke, “boosting” was banned by the International Paralympic Committee in 1994. However, the “testing” program to catch cheaters—checking blood pressure—was rarely used in the Beijing Paralympics, and when it was used it apparently caught no one. Yet an unofficial survey revealed that 17 percent of athletes admitted to some form of boosting, and one Canadian doctor specializing in spinal injuries claimed that the true figure may be 30 percent. But the question remains why would these athletes physically harm themselves for fleeting “glory”? Perhaps the answer is not so hard to understand. Although the athletes would seem to have no monetary incentive to cheat (since commercial sponsors are few and far between), another BBC report on the remarkable success of the Ukrainian Paralympic team noted that because of their position in society of a lower order, personal success through this competition means a great deal more than it might to “normal” athletes, and winners are even rewarded with jobs and housing.