This is the fifth “Long Links” episode, a monthly curation of good long-form essays from around the Internet that nobody who (unlike me) has an actual job has time to read all of. A glance through this might turn up one or two pieces that would reward even a busy person’s time.
[Geeks only.] Microservices — architecture nihilism in minimalism’s clothes, by Vasco Figueira, comes with a provocative title and really a whole lot of different angles on the problem. I certainly don’t agree with all of his conclusions, but some of the angles are new to me and I suspect would be to others as well. At AWS it’s sort of written in the stars that all of the services have microservices inside: control plane vs data plane, stateless vs stateful, serverless vs serverful, etc. Good stuff.
The Niskanen Center presents itself as the natural home of that highly-endangered species, the American centrist. Faster Growth, Fairer Growth, their manifesto, is really long, verging on book-length — no, even I haven’t read all of it. The parts I have read are sensible, logical, and sound to me like what rational Republicans would probably say (there aren’t any of those, current Republicans are just the embodiment of Trump, no more and no less). Obviously, I would come down considerably to the left of this viewpoint — for example, there’s nothing about applying criminal sanctions to business miscreants, nor about directly strengthening working-class power. On top of which, I don’t believe that GDP growth is the best, or even a very useful, measure of the goodness of an economy. But still, if the Republicans ever manage to get clear of the Trump toxins, these are the pathways they should be investigating.
And now for something completely different: Grapefruit Is One of the Weirdest Fruits on the Planet. There’s lots to learn about the citrus-fruit family tree, where the name “grapefruit” came from, and the bizarre way this delicious package of flavor interacts with your digestive system and (potentially dangerously) with whatever prescription you might be on.
Yanis Varoufakis was a wildly controversial Greek Minister of Finance, when Greece started digging out from its entirely-insupportable public-debt load. He tried defying the European financial establishment and got squashed like a bug. He’s an interesting guy, and Capitalism isn’t working. Here’s an alternative is an interesting piece. Here are the first two paragraphs:
When Margaret Thatcher coined “Tina” – her 1980s dictum that “There is no alternative” – I was incensed because, deep down, I felt she had a point: the left had neither a credible nor a desirable alternative to capitalism.
Leftists excel at pinpointing what is wrong with capitalism. We wax lyrical about the possibility of some “other” world in which one contributes according to one’s capacities and obtains according to one’s needs. But, when pushed to describe a fully fledged alternative to contemporary capitalism, for many decades we have oscillated between the ugly (a Soviet-like barracks socialism) and the tired (a social democracy that financialised globalisation has rendered infeasible).
That certainly grabbed my attention. This piece doesn’t actually lay out his alternative, it lays out a few very interesting highlights, and plugs his book Another Now. Which worked; it’s now in my to-read queue.
Back in 2018, Benedict Evans asked Is Tesla disruptive?, a question which is increasingly material as Tesla’s valuation balloons to increasingly intergalactic levels. His answer is mostly in the negative. I find this easy to believe, because I drive a modern electric car (a Jaguar I-Pace) which shipped in late 2018 and which I wouldn’t trade for any currently-shipping Tesla. So maybe I’m prejudiced. But I sure wouldn’t be buying any Tesla shares right now.
You’ll be reading this right around the week of the 2020 American election. Suppose it pans out as the election modelers predict, with a well-deserved defeat for Trump specifically and Republicans in general. A question then arises, captured nicely in the title of Brian Beutler’s recent piece on Crooked (a site I haven’t previously encountered): What to Do About GOP Bad Faith After Trump. A large proportion of viewers of US politics have come to conclusion that current American conservatism is without truth, without honor, and without decency, and if there is any concern for justice, must be made to pay a price. Beutler doesn’t offer a lot of what-to-do specifics, he simply makes the case that a possible future Democratic majority should stop treating Republicans as good-faith adversaries or decent people, because they are neither.
Just because you can’t pretend that 2020 Republicans as principled or intelligent conservatives doesn’t mean that such things can’t exist. Government Of, By, and For the Elite is a discussion between J.D. Vance and Chris Arnade. Arnade’s politics don’t fall into any neat bucket but Vance is definitely conservative, and while he does suck at the teat of the right-wing noise machine, is not self-evidently corrupt and malevolent. I’m not going to try to summarize their discussion but here’s a nice out-take from Vance, describing the whole US political establishment as “a uni-party that governs culturally a little bit to the left of the American people and economically very much to the right of the American people.”
Now let’s take a quick hop across the Pacific for Victor H. Mair’s How to Forget Your Mother Tongue and Remember Your National Language, which is mostly about the fact that Taiwanese, spoken at home by many in that nation, has no written form. While I’m not equipped to understand many of his points about Han ideographics, I am interested in the intersection between language and culture and I think this would be interesting to most who share those interests. Being Putonghua-literate would increase the chances of finding this fascinating.
As a long-time skeptic concerning Bitcoin in particular and blockchain in general, I always like a good anti-blockchain rant, because, to my amazement, there still seem to be people out there who see it as The Future Of Everything. Jesse Frederik’s Blockchain, the amazing solution for almost nothing is a useful refresher course on the claims of the blockchainers and why they’re almost certainly wrong. On top of which, it’s readable and entertaining.
Back to the Niskanen center, where we find Philip K. Verleger’s The Energy Transition: How Fast?, which dives deep on a single argument advanced by defenders of the high-carbon status quo in the energy economy: That the transition to renewables is going to be slow because of the heavy existing investments in fossil-fuel infrastructure. This argument is ridiculous (uh, “sunk costs”, anyone?) and Verleger dunks on it in elegant, evidence-based style.
One of the central problems of our era is the profusion of falsehood, with the Internet serving as a global-scale lie amplifier. I think anything that promises to mitigate this awfulness, even a little bit, deserves serious attention. Amy Yee’s To Recognize Misinformation in Media, Teach a Generation While It’s Young makes a strong case that spotting lies is a skill that can be taught to young people. Let’s do that! She links to Exploring Media Literacy Education as a Tool for Mitigating Truth Decay, a useful RAND report on the subject.
From back in July in New York magazine, David Shor’s Unified Theory of American Politics is a hell of a read. Mr Shor has a whole lot of smart things to say about how American voters vote and what, specifically, the Democratic party should be and do.
Wired addresses another subject close to my heart in Ad Tech Could Be the Next Internet Bubble. Subtitle: “The scariest thing about microtargeted ads is that they just don’t work.” If you care at all about the Internet economy, that should be enough to grab 100% of your attention. The article focuses on a book by Tim Hwang, Subprime Attention Crisis: Advertising and the Time Bomb at the Heart of the Internet (Amazon affiliate link, feel free to buy elsewhere). Think I’m gonna have to read that.
Let’s finish on an upbeat note. Stephen O’Grady is a really smart industry analyst, whose analysis work seems to have followed me around over the years, which is to say the stuff he’s mostly written about at any one time seemed to be the area I was working in. I’ve hoisted a few beers with him and enjoyed a lot of his writing. Much to everyone’s surprise, he has now published This is the Way, fifty pieces of advice on what a good life is and how to live it. It’s exquisite. Go read it.