Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Got to Love the Internet

Got a note from a woman connected to Fabryka Slow, the Polish publisher of The Man Who Never Missed. Wants to put my picture up on their site, and could I send 'em one?

Sure, no problem.

This brought up a recollection of an article I read last evening on The Dreyfus Affair, which had in it a passing reference to a coincidence worthy of the internet, so here the segue ...

Those of you who missed history class that hour when France was covered, this concerned a scandal that rocked the country in the late 1890's, in which a French officer was convicted of espionage -- selling secrets to the Germans. This was a crime he had nothing to do with, but was accused of simply because he was a Jew.

There was a document purportedly written by Dreyfus that was a big part of the evidence against him, and a handwriting expert was brought in. Because, the expert said, the handwriting looked nothing like Dreyfus's, he therefore concluded that it must be his -- he had disguised it.

Only the French.

The letter, which eventually made its way into the newspapers -- the internet of the day -- was read by a stockbroker, who recognized the handwriting as belonging to one of his ne'er-do-well clients -- the man who was, in fact, the guilty party. This was kept under wraps, though Dreyfus's brother eventually ferreted this out.

Dreyfus, meanwhile, was railroaded into a life sentence, showing that anti-semitism was alive and well in turn-of-the-century France.

Eventually, because Dreyfus's brother wouldn't let it go, the glaring inconsistencies were such that people felt compelled to step up. The real villain was finally uncovered, Dreyfus was freed, and they all lived happily ever after. (Dreyfus had a long career, was highly-decorated, and died venerated and admired.)

The part I loved was that the French Army was so intent on not looking bad that it covered up evidence left and right. An anti-semite officer assigned to the case intercepted a telegram that revealed the guy who had really done it, and was fired and shipped out into the boonies for his diligence, then stuck in jail. (He was eventually brought back, dusted off, promoted, and had a long and successful career, too.)

The internet connection is tenuous, but, the writer, Adam Gopnik, means, I think, to point out that putting things out in public, ala the incriminating letter, might turn up unexpected evidence, even if nothing is really done with it. Unlike a paper letter that one can burn, once something is posted on the net, it is there forever, and a diligent hunter might find it.

This is why telling the truth is a good idea. As William Goldman's second book on the screen trade offers, falsehoods are harder to keep straight. "Which lie did I tell?" catches people flatfooted sometimes. (This would be a good place for me to go back into the silat wars, but -- nope. Not gonna ...)


Viro said...

In computer programming circles, we have the phrase, "Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow."

Get enough people involved and no stone will be left unturned.

Dan Gambiera said...

Émile Zola deserves a lot of credit. He wouldn't let the story die. It was key in getting Dreyfus a new trial.

Tiel Aisha Ansari said...

Cordwainer Smith has an aphorism that goes "Poor communications deter theft; good communications promote theft; perfect communications stop theft." (It's at the head of Mother Hitton's Littul Kittons, but since I've never been able to find anything about the guy he credits it to, I'm inclined to believe he made it up.)

We're not anywhere near perfect communications yet, but it's definitely getting harder for things to be covered up like this.