The Power of Google?

The title is a little confusing, but the questions raised are worth thinking about: Is a Do-Gooder Company a Good Thing?

But will Google be able to adhere to its famous corporate ethos, “don’t do evil,” with its role as the Internet’s chief gatekeeper bolstered by the several billion dollars a stock sale is expected to raise? Supporters and critics alike agree that the public would do well to scrutinize the effects of Google’s outsize influence, whether or not it adheres to its promises of trustworthiness.

“Google’s greatest challenge, beyond innovation or competition, is what to do with the gift of power that the culture has bestowed on them,” said John Battelle, a media consultant who is writing a book about searching the Internet.

[…] In the political realm, Jonathan Zittrain, the co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, said Google had voluntarily decided to remove certain hate sites in its German and French versions that could be deemed illegal in those countries. Mr. Zittrain, whose organization is cataloging the omissions (, said the move raised concerns about the pressure governments can exert on Google to censor data.

“Google serves such an important gatekeeping role that its decisions have implications for speech and the exchange of ideas,” Mr. Zittrain said. “Imagine John Ashcroft calling Google and saying, ‘Get rid of that Web site.’ ”

Still, many Internet observers say they are heartened by the unusual commitment to the public interest voiced by Google’s founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page. “I think it’s really good that someone whose motto is ‘don’t be evil’ is in this position,” said Esther Dyson, an Internet analyst. “Power itself isn’t the problem. We just have to hope they don’t abuse it.”

Dahlia Lithwick on Rosenbaum’s “The Myth of Moral Justice”

From the NYT Book review: ‘The Myth of Moral Justice’: Lawyer, Heal Thy Client

Sounds like a provocative read — an interesting diagnosis, but an umimplementable (if not dangerous!) solution:

He paints a picture of a frosty system that blasts the emotion, subjectivity and complexity out of every dispute brought to its doorstep. Citing the ”bureaucratic efficiencies” governing decisions, the ”winner take all” mentality drummed into lawyers and the profession’s ethics, which bear only a glancing familiarity with human morality, he exposes a system that encourages lying, permits truth to be stifled and allows evil men to roam free.

Rosenbaum wants to hold law to a higher moral standard, but what’s moral is simply assumed throughout the book. He defines it at one point as a collective agreement about ”what is right, what is true” (quoting Paul Newman in ”The Verdict”). But this assumes truth is objective. Elsewhere he observes that ”the community” should feel satisfied with legal results, suggesting — even more perniciously — that truths are determined by majorities. He argues that moral outcomes make sense ”in the heart and soul.” But atrocities are carried out by people for whom bad acts satisfy the heart and soul. Rosenbaum worries for the law students who believe morality is subjective and uncertain, but it’s virtually impossible to grasp why the result of one trial is moral to him and another is not.

[…] Rosenbaum should still be read by every law student in America. His assessment of attorneys as unhappy shells of people and his statistics about the rates of depression and addiction remind us of the dangers inherent in locking your heart in the parking lot each morning. Being more empathetic, attempting to broker compromise, encouraging parties to apologize, becoming, as he puts it, ”feelers” rather than mere ”thinkers” — all are crucial steps toward making lawyers emotionally intact again. But the single most moral thing lawyers can do is to urge clients to understand that even if they win their case they won’t necessarily be happy and that they can’t get their old life back. That happens in church, or therapy, if it happens at all. The myth behind ”The Myth of Moral Justice” is that the law would be more moral if it could become more than it is. The truth is, we’d all be better off if we looked to it for far less.

OT: Read Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert …

If this article is a surprise to you: Drought Settles In, Lake Shrinks and West’s Worries Grow

Those who worry most about the future of the West — politicians, scientists, business leaders, city planners and environmentalists — are increasingly realizing that a world of eternally blue skies and meager mountain snowpacks may not be a passing phenomenon but rather the return of a harsh climatic norm.

Continuing research into drought cycles over the last 800 years bears this out, strongly suggesting that the relatively wet weather across much of the West during the 20th century was a fluke. In other words, scientists who study tree rings and ocean temperatures say, the development of the modern urbanized West — one of the biggest growth spurts in the nation’s history — may have been based on a colossal miscalculation.

In other words, John Wesley Powell was right

In 1878, Powell published his Report on the Lands of the Arid Region, which laid out a concrete strategy for settling the West without fighting over scarce water. Powell wanted to stall the waves of homesteaders moving across the plains and mountains. Instead, he wanted to plan settlement based in part on the cooperative model practiced in Utah by Mormon settlers, who tapped mountain snowmelt and the streams, lakes and rivers it created with irrigation ditches leading to crops. Powell wanted to organize settlements around water and watersheds, which would force water users to conserve the scarce resource, because overuse or pollution would hurt everyone in the watershed. Powell believed this arrangement would also make communities better prepared to deal with attempts to usurp their water.

Of course, the issue is not whether Powell was right. Rather, it’s what do we do about it now?

Sort of like Iraq.

Related NYTimes piece: Where Engineering Trumps Nature, Science Seeks a Balance