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What’s Wrong with the World Today – A Microcosm

By Brian | May 18, 2006 | Share on Facebook

I don’t know, maybe I’m just tired and need to take a break, but it seems to me that the nature of political debate (at least in the blogosphere) has degraded into a lot of meaningless shouting lately. I used to find these discussions informative (and sometimes even entertaining), but now I often feel like I’m screaming into the wind.

Here’s the downward spiral as I see it:

As you can imagine, this process turns in on itself in multiple places. People citing source material may be providing factual sanity to the discussion, or they may simply be recycling garbage from another blogger’s emotional rants. People without facts respond to the appearance of these facts with “You’ve missed my point” and then promptly change their point to something they feel more confident defending.

Eventually, the conversation goes nowhere.

I bring this up because of something I read recently about Google (hat tip: Instapundit). Let’s follow the bouncing ball on this one, OK? Stay with me, though, this gets a little strange in spots…


It seems Google donated more than $1 million to MoveOn.org, to help them lobby for Internet regulation legislation in Congress.


Amy says:

That’s it. I’m changing my homepage to Ask.com.

This is fine, of course – changing her homepage is her perogative. I don’t much like MoveOn.org either, nor do I have any idea where they stand on Net Neutrality or other Internet regulation. But I’m also a Google user and a Google shareholder, and their political donations don’t affect the way their search engine performs, so I’m staying put. But like I said, Amy can set her homepage to whatever she wants for whatever reason.


Jabba the Tut chimes in with:

I’ve had it with Google. After helping China censor the internet, use Hizbollah as a legitimate news source, while dissing conservative/libertarian websites, supporting the MoveOn smear merchants was the last straw. I’ve posted instructions on how to remove Google from your FireFox toolbar at <link>.

Jabba’s teetering on the edge of truth here: Google complied with Chinese laws, many of which would be considered censorship in this country, and took some heat for it in the US. Their GoogleNews service uses an algorithm to establish the relevance of a news article, so while the algorithm might require tweaking (the product was in Beta for a very long time), it’s probably a stretch to claim that Google is intentionally promoting one website over another for political purposes. And, of course, he implicitly converts Google’s donations to aid in congressional lobbying into carte blance support for all of MoveOn’s positions. This might very well be true, but he has no proof (or at least he doesn’t offer any).


Next up is Chris J. Breisch:

I’ve been saying for some time that Google is the Evil Empire. This just proves it. Remember, Google records every search you EVER make and tags it with your IP and every link you follow from a search. This is presumably so that they can tailor your results better to you in the future, but this is the ultimate in “big brother-ism”. I will never use Google again.


First of all, every search engine records every search you make, and every web server has an IP address for every pageview. Suddenly, though, Google is “big brother.”


Bryan C. to the rescue:

Wait a sec. This isn’t about necessarily about Google supporting MoveOn’s ridiculous political antics. It’s about funneling money to sponsor the Net Neutrality bill. I hate MoveOn, but I must admit that I have some mixed feelings about opposing that bill. This time at least it sounds like Google’s acting out of responsible self interest, and I expect that from a corporation. Though I’d prefer they’d have sponsored a more neutral opponent of the bill and stayed far, far away from MoveOn’s slimy den.

[Also], every single web server you visit does the exact same thing, including every other search engine in existence. Traffic logging and analysis are vital to any smoothy functioning web site. . . . If you don’t like or trust Google then by all means use someone else, they really need the competition, but whoever you use will be gathering the same data.

This should be the point where Chris (and maybe even Jabba) come back and say, “Thanks, Bryan – that was useful information. I hadn’t realized this was standard technical architecture as opposed to evil, corporate greed.” But alas, no…


LatinoPundit says:

Did you type this on a Microsoft comptuer b/c it is standard quo to put cookies (tracking software) on your computer to make it easy for everyone to see where ya been? Now all of the sudden you are outraged b/c of Google? Ha!

…and then Karen chimes in with this gem:

Get the word out: by using Google paying links, you support MoveOn.

Between the whole child porn thing they got going, their anti-semitism, and then the censorship in China, Google is a joke. Why isn’t anyone going after them like they did Microsoft? Where is a tobacco lawyer when you need one? Maybe we should say there is a lacrosse player working at Google, then all the libs will go after them.

OK, so now cookies are secret, tracking software, invented by Microsoft to see where you go online, Google is involved in child porn, anti-semitism, and censorship in China, and both companies are just as bad as tobacco companies and the (currently convicted of nothing) Duke lacrosse team.

First of all, cookies aren’t software, they’re data files. Secondly, all servers create cookies (Windows and otherwise), and they write those cookies to all kinds of desktop machines (Windows and otherwise). Claiming cookies as a Microsoft product is like claiming that Toyota makes gasoline. Furthermore, cookies don’t track where you go on the web. They record that you’ve been to the specific site that created the cookie, so when you return it can personalize your experience.

As for Google, the “child porn” thing was actually Google refusing to give search data to the federal government who wanted it to support its case against child porn. We’ve already discussed the censorship thing in China, and for the life of me, I have no idea where anti-semitism came from. So much for a reasonable discussion of corporate political donations and/or net neutrality. How I feel for Bryan C….


The comment thread goes on to contain a fact-based post about net neutrality (from Dan), a post from Brian Carnell calling Dan a liar, and a post from Dan saying “Brian – we’re saying the same thing.”

Then David Johnson gets into the act. He tells Brian: “I have read A LOT of discussion about this issue and that is the first I’ve read of what you just said,” and then he tells Dan, “Yup, I think [you] sum it up about right.” Which, of course, is interesting, since Dan just told Brian he was saying the same thing. I guess we are to assume that David agrees with Dan’s take on net neutrality, but not with his take on Brian’s post about that topic. Sheesh!

Next, Jon Kay provides a link with more information about net neutrality (helpful), and then an anonymous reader ignores that information entirely and accuses Google of mounting “a campaign to outlaw financial transactions between consenting adults” (I have no idea what that even means).


And so it goes. If you’re just a reader looking to learn something from all of this, you need to mentally separate the signal from the noise. In the above example, it’s all pretty clear, but sometimes the noisemakers don’t reveal themselves until late in the game, when you’ve already been distracted from the main point.

If you dare to participate in one of these discussions, you had better be prepared to ignore half the participants or do battle with a bunch of uninformed crazy people. In several cases (which admittedly, is all my own fault), I’ve found myself the last man standing – all the rational people have abandoned the thread, and I’m left explaining to some crazy person that Google isn’t monitoring his personal search history, or that Microsoft isn’t reading his e-mail, or that George W. Bush isn’t personally listening in on his phone conversations. But what do I know – I’m just a partisan hack that won’t listen to the other side of the argument.


Topics: Blogging about Blogs | 5 Comments »

5 Responses to “What’s Wrong with the World Today – A Microcosm”

  1. Jeff Porten says at May 25th, 2006 at 2:20 pm :
    This is why I only do comment threads at you, me, and Scalzi.

    You do others? Evidence you’re a nutbar. right there.

  2. Brian says at May 26th, 2006 at 12:35 pm :
    Nope – I only do you, me, and Scalzi (all I have time for, really). I also read Instapundit once every few days. This thread was illustrative of something I’ve been feeling over at Scalzi for some time, and I’ve learned that you can’t use a political example to make a non-political point, so it served that purpose…

    Oh, and by the way, YOU TOTALLY MISSED MY POINT AND YOU’RE A LEFT-WING NUTBALL. Sorry…lost my head there for a second…

  3. LatinoPundit says at May 26th, 2006 at 8:59 pm :
    go back to sleep if you are sticking up for MS.

  4. Brian says at May 27th, 2006 at 10:03 am :
    go back to sleep if you are sticking up for MS.

    Heh…I guess Hugh Hewitt was right – “if you post online about an active blogger, you’re guaranteed at least one page view.” Thanks for stopping by, LatinoPundit.

    As for your comment, the story really isn’t about Microsoft, it’s about Google. And I’m not sticking up for them, so much as pointing out that they didn’t invent cookies, that cookies aren’t spyware, and that cookies are not unique to Microsoft operating systems. Whatever else you think of Microsoft, all of the above is undeniably true.

  5. Aye Non O'Mouse says at February 12th, 2007 at 12:57 pm :
    Random anonymous post to make sure your theory stays true to its roots. Great post though. It does reflect a great deal on how or why most topics go off key, have no relevance to the facts presented, or just some Yahoo! posting his or her two cents.


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