The Lone Coder Reflections for the Unsung Linux Saviours
by Ken O. Burtch
Heroes get the Blame
Don't spend your precious time asking "Why isn't the world a better place?" It will only be time wasted. The question to ask is "How can I make it better?" To that there is an answer.
-- Leo F. Buscaglia,
It was a horrible assignment.
The G20 was being held for the first time in the heart of Toronto. It was
a political photo opportunity for world leaders with a billion dollar price tag.
(Toronto's G20 summit: a failure all around, Macleans).
Government officials, many from countries under threats of deadly
violence by extremist terrorist groups, were meeting at the
Metro Toronto Convention Center.
It was up to the cops to protect: the leaders,
the business owners, the protesters, the media and, though few people seemed
to notice, the lives of fellow peace-keepers. Toronto had become a likely
target for international terrorism. A concealed weapon or a home-made
explosive device would mean loved ones would be waiting for family who would
Besides these challenges, the reputation of the country was at stake. An
incident could mean billions of dollars lost to Canada, and job losses for
the people of the city. Tourist revenue was failing because the U.S.
government stated that Toronto was not safe. Union leader Sid Ryan suggested
that the police plant agents to incite violence, which the Toronto Police
Association called as "irresponsible, inflammatory and idiotic." There were
lives on the line and this was not a game.
(U.S. issues G20 travel alert for Toronto, Toronto
Word came out about university students and "professional" protesters (people
who go to every media event looking to cause trouble) planning to vandalize
to get on the evening news (Macleans).
The citizens were complaining about who would pay for this event, and the
police were the visible sign of that price tag.
This assignment was no parade in the park with a beer in
Then Byron Sonne, a Linux and security professional, allegedly
decided to test the
security forces of the major countries of the world by buying controlled
weapon materials in the wake of the G20 and see if they were ready. They were.
He was arrested.
(G20-related incident nets weapons charges, CBC News). (Although I worked briefly in the
same company as Mr. Sonne, I never met him.)
As the diverse and explosive groups arrived, the police
followed their mandate: "to serve and protect"
(Toronto Police Service).
Saturday, June 26 was a day of bottles, rocks, fires and
yelling. While the press
demanded their rights, the protesters demanded their rights, the police
tried to protect everyone. They asked for
cooperation but were mocked. They asked for space to do their job
and were ignored. They asked people to cooperate to help catch the bad guys but
people said, well, it wasn't their responsibility. The police didn't have
the resources to check every id, camera or backpack but people said "too bad".
Reporters posted unverified claims of rubber bullets because that sells
news. It also made the situation more explosive. Anarchists hid in
crowds of legitimate demonstrators, breaking into shops, setting fires and
injuring people. Reporters recorded violent acts but did nothing to intervene.
(G20 protests bring violence, arrests, CBC News)
Before the G20, Bill Blair was one of the most respected officials in
Toronto. Mr. Blair,
Toronto Police Chief,
admitted that there was a lack of communication and that not everyone's
civil rights were respected to the letter. But he made a public address
at 9 pm Saturday night, reminding people that the right to free
speech ends when it endangers the lives of others.
When the G20 was over, my inbox was filled with accusations
from IT people that the Toronto police were worse than the
indiscriminately-murdering terrorists that the cops were required to oppose.
It reminded me of the story of a project manager at a company I once worked
for. Faced with a project that would take many weeks and would affect every
major component of the company's software, she recruited most of the
programmers and managed against the odds to deliver the project bug-free
and only a few percent over schedule. It was one of the most successful
projects in the company's history. Her reward? She was terminated because
the project was delivered overdue.
Sometimes people blame the heroes when things don't go perfectly.
Sometime success in a project is the worst thing to happen because the
participants don't know the what they missed. In computing, fault tolerant
systems, hot backups and disaster recovery plans are all designed to make
work continue as usual. When they work, the user doesn't know that anything
was wrong. They get cut from company budgets since they seem to be useless.
What if a terrorist attack at the G20 was successful? There would be
finger-pointing, calls for more policing, etc. When the police were successful
in maintaining peace and safety, the participants forgot about how close to death
they may have been.
Before the G20, I spoke with a man originally from Africa. There had been
an armed conflict in his country when he was a teen. The capital had been
taken. His father was the chief of police, a man who had always protected
the people, not taking political sides. "My father told me I had to run,"
he explained. "As an official of the old government, rebels would be looking
to kill him. My father and mother went into hiding. I traveled alone, from
country to country, across Africa, to find some place safe, not knowing if my
parents were alive." Now he was in Canada. You don't always know how good
you have it.
When Maclean's interviewed a group of students, they didn't know what they
were protesting. It seemed to be a big party and parade. The idea that
they could say something meaningful, that there was a real threat and the
police were trying to keep them alive didn't register. (Macleans) While protesters
complained about the bathroom facilities and the meals in the detention
area, anyone who went to Toronto to protest should have been
aware of the risks: they could be detained by the police or killed by those
who don't care about the right to protest. You don't walk into a war zone and
then complain if you get shot that you weren't taking sides. You have to take
responsibility for your choices.
Before assigning blame, step back and ask yourself what were
the objectives, what were the responsibilities, do you have all the data,
are things explosive...and then decide what to do. Ask yourself if your actions
are contributing to a solution. This is true in business as well as life.
Rights must be exercised with responsibility.