Friday, July 18, 2008

In Which Our Heroine Talks About Cheating

Think back, boys and girls, and remember the days when this blog was about "Hey, today I'm in Outer Mongolia, blind as a bat and cruising around on a train negotiating for raspberries when it stops?" Someday I'll get back to that kind of thing, but for now there seems to be a reactionary trend in what I'm writing. Maybe it is because I am off work "ill" (yeah. Right. I'm not ill enough to be off work. I've told them this repeatedly. My doctor MADE me take two weeks off. Then Occupational Health asked for more time to do assessments. That's taken three weeks, and then after yesterday's two and a half hour assessment, there is now a follow up, and that's not scheduled until a week from Tuesday. Even my boss is starting to wonder when and how I'll get back to work and even though I have taken back to rowing every day, a little farther and further each time, frankly I'm bored out of my brain. And that's with having completed another diploma assessment. Welcome to Europe. I'm begging to go back to work, I've been off for just over a month now and I'm on full pay and accruing vacation time because somehow between now and next June 1 I have to take off six and a half weeks. I'm floored.) but at any rate today's rant and rave is something that has been percolating through discussions round the boathouse of late is whether or not Dwain Chambers should be allowed to go to the Olympics. It is now official, he's not going and I for one am glad.

There's a lot of talk about redemption, etc in all this and while I'm all for rehabilitation and believe firmly in the concept of redemption, I'm also all for consequences of actions. Particularly intentional actions, such as taking illegal substances for performance enhancement. As with most crimes and misdemeanor, he did it because he thought he wouldn't get caught, and indeed he almost didn't. As doping gets more sophisticated, testing and monitoring are constantly a step behind in catching up, and they stayed a step behind Dwaine Chambers. But there are consequences, which he knew would happen if he got caught. He took his suspension, and now he fought the ban. What was the argument?

Restraint of trade.

Restraint of his right to earn an income.

This is where my blood pressure goes sky high. There are so many reasons why this argument fails for me.

1) As the judge stressed, the Olympics are supposed to be an amateur event. The point of it being amateur is that they're not pro. That isn't as much of an issue in track (which is something that then always makes me wonder why there is so much drugging happening in the sport - it isn' t as though someone is signing high money contracts to run the anchor leg of the 2000m relay for Wigan Athletic.) There is no money to be made from the event itself. Of course, if he had won gold or something I suppose there could be endorsement opportunities, but not necessarily. But he'd earn more staying in the UK and getting a job, not racing amateur athletics.

2) As alluded to above, nothing about his going to the Olympics or not prevents him from getting what my gran would call a "proper" job, even in athletics. He's still free to coach, etc. The question of who would hire him, tainted as he is, is another question (and one which I hope would be posed by those who woudl consider getting him as a corporate endorsement) since of course it is roughly equivalent to having Barry Bonds be your guy - the halo of suspicion is all around. Just what's in that gel he's rubbing on you, eh? And of course, like the rest of us, when what we want job wise doesn't happen he's got the opportunity to wait tables, work in a coffee shop and do what it takes to pay the bills, including slinging hash.

3) This is a self created problem. He took the drugs, and then he got caught. There are many professions where if you shoot yourself in the foot intentionally, that's it. You're out of that profession, for the good of the profession and often the public so as to maintain trust. If I, as a solicitor, wander around committing fraud, particualrly with client accounts, and I am caught you better believe I am going to be struck off the register until the day I die. Teachers who kiss their pupils, ditto. Doctors who kill their patients aren't going to be allowed to sign back up. Going to court then claiming "restraint of trade" isn't going to wash in any of these situations, and I'm glad it wasn't permitted here.

There are all sorts of rights in the world, and I'm glad some of them get enforced sufficiently. But there is no right to act like an idiot and be rewarded for it, even if it does happen all too often. If Dwaine Chambers is serving me coffee the next time I turn up at Cafe Nero, I'll admit it now - I'm not tipping.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

In Which Our Heroine Ponders Conclusions

In my job, I spend a lot of time effectively fact checking. I'm not going to put something in a document unless I can back it up. The law says X and relevantly Y is what we've got on our hands, with a bit of nuance at point Z. In the kind of documents I have to deal with, you can't just assert, you've got to back up every statement until you get to your conclusion. Making it up as you go along is just not an option. Tempting? Sho nuff, but just not an option.

This is a trait that then goes forward into the rest of my life. If I'm going to fight with you about something, I'm going to make sure I have facts, etc to back it up. Maybe not quite as thoroughly as I might do in a work document, but I despise saying "oh,you remember that time when something sort of like this happened. You know..." Which is actually a bit of a problem as while I can recite entire plots of books, or poems or the facts of a case or song lyrics, actually naming a title, band name, case name or often a person's name is beyond me. I'm forever having to dig these things up, usually on line.

I was doing this today to respond to this conversation here and couldn't remember the name of the murder victim (may he rest in peace). As a consequence, I turned to ever trusty Google to find the name of it. Now, my Google-fu is well marked upon. I can find just about anything that's out there on the 'net with just a bit of information. There are a couple of legendary search stories out there, and that was before I got really good.***** I can talk about those later. This was a fairly mainstream news story at the time, and was relatively easy to find, I just had to come up with the search terms that would trigger a hit.

But when I had typed in "child rape murder kidnap Massachusetts" and hit return, it occured to me "Who will or could know that I've typed this in and searched on this topic?" Sure, I have a good explanation, and the truth should in most circumstances set you or I free. But what would I have to explain? And to who?

This is where I get staunch in my defense of civil liberties again, and for the same old reason. The standard line that comes up is "if you have nothing to hide, what's the problem?" Well, I have nothing to hide here, and even if I did I just confessed to it to all and sundry what I've been searching for on the internet, but I still have a problem.

All kinds of information gathering can be had, and facts are facts. But facts are totally useless without conclusions. And the intelligence putting together those conclusions can be completely at fault. Let me give you a set of facts, all true. You have a person who:

1) Has been reading the Koran. In fact, studying portions of it in depth.
2) Has been to China, Russia, Paraguay (a Hamas hotspot), and Columbia all within the space of a few months.
3) Is closely related to a known terrorist who operated on US soil.
4) Had close ties to someone on the 9.11 planes; and
5) Has an FBI file

you'd be forgiven for thinking that person is precisely the sort of person who should be detained in Guantanamo and waterboarded until they confessed to everything up to and including the kidnapping of the Lindberg baby. This is particularly when you find out that their most recent Google search involved rape and murder of children. But therein lies the problem - they are the same person. The same person who has a perfectly valid and non-sordid reason for conducting what at face value could be a rather lurid search on Google also has perfectly valid explanations for all those five files. I was backpacking through Asia and South America for a year. My time in China was spent with James, climbing Taoist holy mountains, getting a crash course in Taoism, Confuscionism and Bhuddism (since that's what you do when you're hanging with a good friend who's there researching his next books on East Asian religions, which if you're keen, you can find here), eating food of far uncertain origin, and petting pandas. Paraguay may indeed be a Hamas hotspot, but if you read down below a few years back you'll see my thoughts on it. Everyone knows about my half brother, and of course that explains the FBI file since I was three, when I was far more of a danger than I am now, mostly due to my habit of holding my breath until I passed out if I didn't go my own way. Somewhere between my profoundly pacifist beliefs and the fact that I am one of the most easily identified individuals around ("She went that way officer. She's six foot five. Can't miss her. Cracking bust.") I'm about as likely to commit a crime other than a motoring offense than I am to suddenly take the lead in a Broadway revival of "Kiss of the Spider Woman." Oh, and the study of the Koran? Anyone who's interested is more than welcome to a copy of my paper on "The Concept of the Mutawadir in Sharia Law Compared to the Hearsay Rule." If you can't sleep, it is better than Sominex. Every reason, completely innocent explanation. But if you don't have the explanation, just the "bare facts" I'm really quite dangerous.

And that's my concern. There's no need for me to explain my every activity to someone if I haven't contravened any laws. I have enough knowledge of FISA (the laws, not the international rowing organisation) and the terrorism laws to know what, and how, the data is gathered. I know enough about the internet to know that through cache, etc, nothing ever really disappears. There's all kinds of issues we need to worry about, and the recent passing of the surveillance bill in the U.S. Congress scares me senseless. But I'm still not sure where we can draw the lines, either. I'm certainly not going to trust major corporations to spy on me or protect my data - they have no reason to do so apart from their commercial interests and commercial interests can of course be bought out by the highest, or at least higher, bidder. But commercial companies don't have the ability to lock me up and torture me any further than the torture of "I want THAT one" which I usually have the ability to resist. At a certain level, I am resigned though opposed to my data being collected by the government. But I don't fear the collection. I fear the analysis of it by people who, to paraphrase Buzz Aldrin (I think) build rockets with thousands of gallons of rocket fuel by contracting out to the cheapest bidder. The intelligence of the people doing the analysing may not be enough to save us, and that is the bigger fear.

Gosh, I'm being depressing today!


*****I think the ultimate of this is about six years ago. My then boyfriend described a film he'd seen when he was a teenager on PBS. It was about junkyards in Appalachia. He wanted to track it down. He was a tech guy, talking to tech guys about this. They couldn't find it. It took me half an hour. Turns out even if you knew the name of the film (which he didn't until I found it) there were at that time only three whole references to it on the internet. He has never doubted my Google-fu again, and now if people need it found, they just ask me to find it.