Friday, January 27, 2006

Ungoogle mahjong and budgetary turkeys

According to Douglas J. Holtz-Eakin, who recently resigned as head of the Congressional Budget Office, the Bush Administration each year consistently chooses not to include the costs of the Iraq debacle in the budget it sends to Congress. Those costs receive an accounting after the fact, long after the budget has been debated and modified and approved, as add-ons, Holtz-Eakin said in a Fresh Air interview.

So the budget that represents the total accountable spending of the USian people, when it is submitted to elected representatives for scrutiny, discussion, analysis, etc., is missing a few pieces. Those whose job it is to see if the budget makes sense have to do so without these pieces. Of course "everyone" knows that the budget is missing the war pieces. But what can they do? They have to consider the budget as if the war did not exist, as if there were no costs to be reckoned with. That piece of reality is not accessible at this time. The non-fiction procedure known as the Budget of the United States -- the express statement of the will of the people in matters of spending, saving, and allocating its substance -- is presented, debated, and enacted within the parameters of this fiction, this as if.

A bit of a jump here, but not a change of subject: The folks who are angered at or agonizing over Google's apparent willingness to allow China to dictate certain access parameters might do well to consider the the multiple uses to which filters can be put.

Google could be playing a strategic bout of mahjong with China -- agreeing to jump some hoops to gain a seat at the table. There the game begins, as Google's agreement to Ungoogle -- because filtering is very much the suicidal contradiction of what Google is -- turns into a battle of wits to see whether Chinese officialdom can get its repressive hands around all the necessary knobs to control the billions of stabs in the dark that Chinese Google searches will generate every second. Whether in fact more light may enter the realm of searching than the alleged agreement permits.

That is to say, we don't yet know what tricks and hacks might be possible that can only be finessed if Google is first given the foothold within places like China to operate. For Google to operate as Ungoogle is a doomed idea. For Ungoogle to enable users to route around itself is at least possible, and could be evolutionary. I'd tend to give Google folks credit for being at least smart enough to entertain such thoughts.

Which is all just to say there are filters and filters. Filters that could themselves conceal an effort to subvert and blindside the naked efforts of totalitarian power are one sort. Filters that render the costs of a controversial war unavailable to deliberative scrutiny, process and decision in the highest chambers of the world's #1 self-advertised democracy, year after bloody year, under the noses of allegedly opposing parties and the pinocchio beaks of the free, fair and unbiased independent press, are another.


Blogger juke moran said...

This is of a piece with the sneering condemnatories Spielberg's Munich gets for not being accurate in a kind of what? graphic way? accusatory way?
Leaving aside the right-wing condemnation for his portraying flaws and moral blindnesses and not denouncing all terrorists all the time etc.
Fisk of Fisking fame was up on the nice job Steve but well it's a weak effort over all tip, as though the film was made for him and not the three plus generations who carry E.T. around in their tiny-but-there's millions-of-em, and-they-add-up, hearts.
I trust Spielberg and I trust Google, not to "show me the way" or to storm the barricades with me - I don't know if I can figure out a way to pin what it is I trust them to do.
It's kind of how I felt about the kids in Astronomy Club in high school. I wasn't in Astronomy Club, but we were in the same world together.
Something overlaps, something sleeping but massively huge in both cases - the American mainstream movie-going public with its illusions about the Middle East, the 1.2 billion Chinese with sudden money in their brand-new pockets.
What Brin and that other fellow et Google al. are working with is the logistical headache "not doing evil" can become when the moral lines are a calligraphy of shadows and palimpsest - when they're drawn at all.

1/27/2006 6:41 PM  
Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

The problem with that sort of calligraphy is you really can't do much good or evil if you aren't doing anything at all. Which is the default option if Google were to adopt sheer loft of moral attitude. What's hopeful here to me is the duel, which only takes place if both parties move to within close and unsafe reach. If Google doesn't have or develop algorithms undreamt of by Chinese bureaucrats, someone else will. Meanwhile, something will have been learned about Chinese bureaucrats - what they know, and don't know.

1/28/2006 12:03 AM  
Anonymous jordan_wildpirate said...

I think the issue is beyond whether or not results can be circumvented. There are two ways of doing that, that I know of right now:

#1 is a tool that allows side-by-side browsing with google unfiltered:
(taken from a good article by Rebecca MacKinnon via David Weinberger

#2 is by a simple spelling mistake:

Anyways I believer it will be more interesting to see how Google's deal with China will evolve. Undoubtably there will be more fixes developed to circumvent censorship, but will the Chinese gov't allow it? Will it demand stricter filters and require that Google take steps to disable the opportunity for "users to route around itself"? Or will Google eventually make a stand?

This is where I tend to disagree with your argument that Google is making compromises in order to effect a greater change. By gaining a seat at the table, I think Google might not really influence the menu (policy) that they're eating from (agreeing with). Eventually they might realize that the only way to effectively change the menu is to get up from the table and cook it themselves.

2/01/2006 2:43 PM  
Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

Jordan - you might be right. But they will have the option of doing that, which would not exist if they adopted a simple, pre-emptive, Bushian, high moral tone and refused to play. And they will have the argument of saying, "we tried to work with these people."

I tried the comparison thing on "President Bush." Minor differences in sequence, with "is Bush gay?" showing a little higher in the US Google. Thanks for the pointer.

2/03/2006 7:15 AM  

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