[This fragment is available in an audio version.]
Welcome to another Long Links, selected pointers to long-form pieces that have added value to my semi-retired days and one or two of which might reward you if you make time for them. A few of this month’s pieces aren’t free; it’s a bitter fact that the truth is paywalled but the lies are free. Sorry.
Let’s start with climate issues, which I’m cheerful enough to think might be at the center of the world’s attention were it not for Covid and Mr Putin. One of my favorite environmentalists is Tzeporah Berman, who’s been fighting the good fights, and winning a few, for decades. She writes Fear and Loathing in the Climate Era: 8 Thoughts on How We Win. It’s cheerful, practical, and wise.
There’s a certain faction of people who claim to share reasonable concerns about the onrushing climate catastrophe but scoff at us hippies always going on about renewables because, they say, Nuclear is what we really need. I can’t suppress a suspicion that it’s because there’s something manly about nuclear power. Except for, it’s way, way too expensive. The nukies reply that future technologies will fix that. The most plausible of which is Small Modular Reactors (everyone says SMRs). The Economist dives deep in Developers of small modular reactors hope their time has come. I’d be wide-open to them if they turn out to be affordable and deliverable. Per this article, they’re not obviously hopeless, but they’re nowhere near a slam-dunk.
While we’re on the carbon trail, my former employer now offers this new Customer Carbon Footprint Tool. The idea is that if you’re doing cloud computing you might still want to know how much you’re worsening the planet’s carbon lead. This is supposed to do that (haven’t tried it myself). It’s a big deal because for a lot of big enterprises who don’t actually bend metal or refine fluids, their IT might be where their carbon load is concentrated. A little bird told me that when, back in 2019, Amazon decided to sign The Climate Pledge and try to be a better climate citizen, one input was customers beating up on AWS leadership, saying “I need to know my carbon load, and that’s you.” Tip o’ the hat to AWS!
Speaking of not wasting energy, here’s another chance to expose the dangerous lunacy that is the cryptocurrency world. And absolutely nobody is better at that than Amy Castor. Read The gorilla in the room: Yuga Labs investors pretend to care about the planet. They don’t and you’ll probably find yourself agreeing with me about Amy. Her blog is reliably excellent on this stuff.
Let’s dip into politics. Conservative politics. Regular readers know that I’m pretty far out on the left wing, but I make a point of trying to track the other side, because I think we need intelligent conservatives. Which are and have been mostly absent in North America. But, things are getting weird.
There is starting to be a conservative faction saying that our business-dominated civic fabric is doing a really bad job of building a decent society; that monopoly is a problem, and working-class impoverishment, and exploitive health-care economics. Which is perfectly sensible; what’s weird is that this is often coupled with religious absolutism, activism against any sexual expression which is not straight outta the Fifties, and regular flirtation with racism; all packaged up under the banner of being “anti-Woke”. I personally think that anyone inveighing against “Woke”-ness probably has their head up their ass, but like I say, there are also voices saying interesting things.
Like for example Only the Economic Left Can Beat the Woke, by David Reiff. Ignore that “woke” in the title and give it a try. It’s intelligent, well-written and, yes, wrong in places. But it feels like someone you could talk to, unlike anything out of today’s conservative Trumpist mainstream. Sound-bites: “To put it brutally, you can’t fight a culture war when you really have never been interested in culture before.” And “The mainstream right simply doesn’t have the intellectual tools to fight a battle of ideas.”
When someone rants about the awfulness of the “woke”, you can bet that pretty soon, they’re gonna be inveighing against “cancel culture.” Most such rhetoric is slimy unserious partisanship, the hyperoverprivileged whining that they can no longer get away with being arrogantly offensive pricks in public. Can we conclude therefore that the whole cluster of issues is a nothingburger? I’d say “Yes, … mostly.” But damn, it’s a hard subject to talk about. Ken White offers Our Fundamental Right To Shame And Shun The New York Times – What the NYT Cancel Culture Editorial Got Wrong, And What It Got Right. I don’t agree with all of it but it’s careful and made me think about some things I hadn’t before. Out-take: “Similarly, if you denounce ‘cancel culture’ without citing specific examples and suggesting how people should act differently, you’re closer to chilling speech than fixing it.”
Writing this piece led me to a pleasant surprise. I was going to recommend a few pieces by Chris Arnade on the basis that “even conservatives can write smart, eloquent, important things.” I don’t know how I got the idea he’s one of those, because he isn’t. Anyhow, what he’s up to recently is going places and walking around them, taking pictures and notes. For example, Kyiv. And Lima. He also writes things that aren’t pure travel narratives, for example Among the Half-Masked – COVID theater is a sign of a healthy society.
OK, let’s retreat to the comfortable left side of the road for a heartfelt JWZ rant: Following the money. There are few places in the world more likely than San Francisco to drive thoughtful people to righteous rage; this is a fine piece of that.
Famous non-conservatives include Albert Einstein, who in 1949 wrote Why Socialism?, from which this nice little excerpt, with a link to the whole piece.
OK, enough politics. Let’s talk food, and address the question Does Adding Pasta Water Really Make a Difference? Turns out it does! (Also, fun piece.) Don’t say I don’t add value for my readers.
This month’s musical Long Link is R.L. Burnside’s Come On In, which popped up in a random blues-fan stream I follow and oh my goodness, it’s a keeper. Although Wikipedia says R.L. did some innovating on this one, to me it just sounds like pure, minimal, warm-toned and warm-hearted electric blues. Something that the world always needs more of
I’m going to end up on a geeky note, so those of you who are tech-hostile or tech-oblivious can drop out now and my feelings won’t be hurt. Baby’s First AWS Deployment is the story of a first-timer building a little app on AWS from scratch. The author eventually decides to walk away from AWS, for reasons that obviously don’t apply to everyone, but I found instructive and you might too
Let’s close with what I think could become a very, very big story. It’s from The Information which is paywalled (and expensive), but you can see the first couple of paragraphs of Amazon’s Public Shareholders Show Their Hand. It contains lots of juicy insider information that I won’t reproduce here but I think the following is very significant:
“As of February, Bezos had the right to vote just 12.7% of Amazon stock, including shares owned by his ex-wife, MacKenzie Scott. A decade ago, Bezos could vote 19.5%. Back in 1998, shortly after Amazon went public, he owned 41%. Perhaps just as meaningful: This year the combined stakes of two big institutional holders, Vanguard and BlackRock, is almost equal to his. And remember, Amazon doesn’t have a class of supervoting shares guaranteeing its founder control regardless of his ownership, unlike firms such as Alphabet and Meta Platforms.
“What this means is that power at Amazon is gradually shifting to public shareholders…”
Big Tech was distinguished, throughout my career, by having founding leadership still setting its directions. Which in most cases meant a focus on customer success that is not exactly a usual feature of Twenty-First century capitalism. (OK, yeah, I know, Larry Ellison, but still.)
If that changes — if Big Tech becomes just another arena for financial engineers to maximize their extractive power, it’ll be a whole lot less fun. And by the way, an even more attractive target for legislators and regulators, which is a good thing. I suppose it had to happen someday.