Thursday, August 25, 2016

Somebody Hold My Beer

"I don't know why fortune smiles on some, and lets the rest go free." The Eagles, "The Sad Cafe." The Long Run, Henley, Frey, Walsh and Souther (1979).

We had traveled to Costa Rico for a wedding. Several days prior to the event, we hired a guide. Over the course of the next almost eight hours we saw natural wonders, visited a coffee farm and ate several awesome meals. The delightful company of the young man who expertly navigated the area's rough roads amid the jungle splendor of Central America made the day especially enjoyable.

We passed through a small town at dusk. A uniformed police officer, apparently assigned to a roadside post, gave us indifferent, passing notice. Our companion emitted a huge relieved sigh. "If the police had stopped us," he said, "he would have found a reason to detain us. I would have had to pay him to release us. That's how they earn their money."

The 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil seemed to be progressing uneventfully. Dire predictions of bodies washing ashore and human sewage in the bay notwithstanding, the events came off with minimal fuss and bother. A number of records were set, new champions crowned and a great time was had by all. Maybe a little too great.

USA Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte and several of his mates embarked on a night of drinking and revelry. Along the way they may (or may not) have damaged some property. Someone with a badge and gun arrived, demanding money. The boys forked over a few bucks and went on their way. Lochte told his mom about the incident, and she told the press. That's where things went badly wrong.

Politics is an ugly business, even in the best of times. When the swimmers, each in their own way, told the story of being shaken down for money at gunpoint apoplexy abounded. The officials in Rio went nuts. Under intense international scrutiny the "robbery" story unraveled, Lochte looking like a spoiled American of privilege cavorting in someone else's country as though he owned the place. He came home in disgrace, sponsors abandoning him as though he was...well...Lance Armstrong.

But, wait.

USA Today seems to have done something remarkable. They sent reporters to the scene. The reporters conducted interviews. They personally viewed surveillance tapes. They didn't accept anyone's account at face value. Their report is a tour de force of objectivity. Amazingly, everyone was right, and wrong. In a country where they were guests the swimmers behaved like drunk boys. They ran afoul of local customs and misunderstood the nature of the interaction. Read the report. It's especially good writing.

No one was hurt - if nothing else that result is a blessing. As for Ryan and his friends? They forgot a simple reality of traveling in someone else's country - it belongs to them. It is set up for the benefit of its citizens, in a manner that makes the most sense to them. While the USA Today piece indulges in a degree of legalese, it boils down to this - Brazil's formal and informal legal system doesn't have to make sense to us. It didn't make sense to Lochte, and nobody helped him through it while the bright lights blazed and the international press pounced. They left him hanging out to dry.

Ryan Lochte, behind the scenes, has the reputation for being a decent chap. He paid a significant price for also being stupid on a night in Rio. He will, forever, be the Ugly American in a situation where he was just a guy in another country who made a mistake, one for which he has fallen on his sword and come clean.

You're an okay dude. Glad you didn't get hurt.

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