I spent much of the summer of 1982 in Beijing. China was a very different place 30 years ago. Foreigners were rare, foreigners actually working in China for Chinese organizations were rarer still, and I was there to work. I was an editor at China Daily, the English language newspaper created for foreign visitors as a preferred alternative to allowing western publications into the country. The way I got the gig was simple: much of the reporting staff had been students of mine at Stanford the year before.

Once the decision was made to start China Daily, there was a need to find Chinese reporters who could write in English. Whoever was in charge decided it was easier to make English teachers into reporters than to teach Chinese reporters to speak and write English. So a deal was struck with Stanford and the University of Missouri to make reporters out of Chinese English teachers. That was my job.

My Chinese students back in 1981 were older and more motivated than my American students. Many of them had been imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution — banished to the countryside to build in former rice paddies the prisons which they then occupied. English teachers were especially suspect. In addition to working hard at journalism (there appeared to be little or no journalistic tradition in China at the time) my students nearly all got off-the-books jobs in Chinese restaurants and worked hardest of all learning to drive. Returning  with a California driver’s license was good for two jumps in pay grade in the China of 1982, where private cars were unknown. The only way to learn to drive in Beijing back then was by joining the Army.

This is all prelude to a story of one student’s experience at the Beijing City Hall on her return.  She had a reason to go to the City Hall, some business with the city government.  A guard at the door told her she couldn’t enter because her hair was too long. There was a law still on the books from the days of the Cultural Revolution that dictated precisely how long both men’s and women’s hair could be. You remember that look, along with the gray and green Mao jackets. The law was rarely enforced anymore, but this guard was a stickler. He barred her entrance to the building but then offered her a rubber band to hold her hair in a more acceptable manner. If she’d return the rubber band as she left the building the guard would let the woman proceed.

She told me her story that afternoon in the newsroom and I urged her to write about it, which she did, and lo the law was eventually repealed!

Understand this was a long time ago, before Tiananmen Square, and I don’t want to make too big a deal about it. But one person was able to change in a small way the lives of a billion people just by writing a story, which I think is pretty darned amazing.

But it probably wouldn’t have worked at Google.

I have a longtime reader who was banned from Google Groups for reasons he still does not understand.  I’ll let him take it from here:

To my knowledge I wasn’t part of any group at the time and certainly hadn’t “abused” any groups. No reason was given for my being banned. My only recourse was to go to this link.

Clicking on “contact” takes you here, where I’m allowed to fill in exactly one thing which is my email address.    I can’t give them any details or anything else. Not sure what good that would do anyway since they’ve never given me a reason why I was banned in the first place, so what would I really say?

Now I can’t even visit a Google Groups web page if I’m logged into Google. Of course if I log out of Google I can go there no problem.

Flash forward to the past week or so. Suddenly I’m getting craploads of spam in Arabic that is all getting through because it is coming from Google — Google Groups to be precise. I finally figured out it was Google Groups today and looked at the headers and see this link in them to unsubscribe.

Except guess what? I can’t go to that link because I’m banned from Google Groups!

As far as I can tell, all the “contact us” links on Google go here.

Since my issue doesn’t fall into any of these categories there isn’t any way for me to even contact Google to fix this problem. So now I’m getting 30 emails a day in Arabic with no way to contact Google to make them stop.

Best I can tell, this type of (Catch-22 — though he used a better word) is exactly what happens with Google no matter the product. I can’t see how they ever have any hope of having a product other than search if with the way they handle customer service. I mean in this case they are just brushing me off but it has been the same experience ever time I’ve dealt with them.

I’m also banned from Google Adsense and again I have no idea why. We’ve never done anything that was even marginally questionable much less tried to do anything abusive or illegal. As far as I can tell both bans are for life. Since they won’t tell me why or let me respond to them I’m just stuck.

They wouldn’t even lend him a rubber band.