Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar

Groucho: So, you got any kids?
Female contestant: Yes, Groucho, I have eleven children.
Groucho: Eleven?! Did you say eleven kids?
Female contestant: Well, I love my husband.
Groucho: Lady, I love my cigar but I take it out of my mouth once in a while.

– You Bet Your Life

It’ll take me a few tangents, but I actually came to this quote starting with this blog post at Network World about Google’s “role in the New Digital Age”. First the “good”: Google makes lots of good low-cost to free information products, and takes “principled public positions on key topics ranging from privacy to Net Neutrality”. The “bad”: “they [Google] came off as seriously tone deaf in discussing how people feel about their own company”.

I’m sure I’m oversimplifying the delicate arguments in the blog post, but I found it irritated me for some reason. And I think it irritated me because no one, neither the author (Frederic Paul, whose work I often enjoy) nor the Google dudes, seemed to be saying what they really thought…it was almost like an SAT reading comprehension question, where they spin out some claptrap and ask you to find the deeper meaning. As you’ve probably guessed, I always hated those questions.

Well if I’m going to complain about obscuring their feelings, I should state mine clearly. I have no real opinion of Google. I use their products, particularly the search engine and GMail, and I have a Google Scholar account for my mathematics work…I occasionally use Google Shopping, but not too often. I find their motto “Don’t Be Evil” to be insipid, and I disagree with many of their “principled stands”.

But guess what? I doubt I agree on stuff with my grocery store checker. I famously disagreed with my dental hygienist, who took my silence as agreement when it was really because she had my jaw pried open with a dental pick. I had a fascinating political discussion once with our termite inspector; we respectfully disagreed, and we insisted he come back every year since, because he’s a great termite inspector. Much like Google, these are economic transactions: just because you buy a cake from a baker doesn’t mean you advocate their political views…maybe he just bakes great cakes.

Panties are bunched because Google has your private data? News flash: Google is in the information business. When I first got a GMail account, I did it with the full assumption that when my copyright period expires everyone in the world will be able to search my old emails for each instance of the f-bomb (might need to upgrade your storage, future researchers!). Google doesn’t lock your data away, just like your bank doesn’t lock your savings in a vault like Scrooge McDuck (h/t P.J. O’Rourke, Parliament of Whores). I assume this blog post will get scraped by Google (or maybe not, given the puerile content). When I write forum posts, I assume they will be in Google. Why on earth would you think your Google email would have a different level of protection?

I just don’t get the Google hate, and I also don’t get why there is so much discussion about how people “feel” about Google. As Freud likely didn’t say, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” Why does there have to be deeper meaning?

And this tangent is how I got to the quote above…because when you think cigars, you have to think about Groucho Marx. So I wanted a good Groucho quote about cigars. How did I get it? Yep, Google. And that cigar is just a cigar.


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