Recently Consumed IV

This issue of recently consumed was a long time in the making, so some of the links might be a bit outdated. Actually, this list has been waiting for so long in draft status, that I had to go back and re-read everything here (except for the book).

  • Most recommended: Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism is this week's top, not only because it's such an awesome book, but also because I spent so much time reading it, and neglected stuff on the internet in the meantime. Naomi Klein's book is extremely well-researched and enraging with the history it tells. There are two fundamental lessons the books tries to hammer home: Shocks (inflicted to either individuals or societies) have become more and more important weapons yielded by free market fundamentalists in their crusades, blinding people to the extreme poverty forced upon them. These policies are not implementable without the use of state violence, which has been hypocritically damned by western intellectuals while the economic policies they necessitate have been presented as good examples. As other critics have pointed out, the connections she makes between the shocks inflicted on individual people (as torture or psychiatric experiments) and shocks on society stay at a metaphorical level, without any organic-political connection, which does not necessarily take away the power of the stories of torture. What has amazed, infuriated and despaired me is that many policies and episodes of political violence have direct counterparts for Turkey: Times of political imbalance, radical economic reforms, deterioration of living standards, followed by more political imbalance, followed by some kind of shock used not only as an excuse for more and more radical economic reforms, but also for extreme political violence carried out by the state.

  • The rise and rise of JavaScript: What I have feared since the start of the web-based re-programming of every desktop app is happening; JavaScript is swallowing the rest of web programming, including backend. Many things happened in the last few years that pushed JavaScript into more prominence: HTML5 makes it the operating system of the web, V8 and node.js made it a good alternative on the backend, and certain standards came out of JavaScript to become more general (like JSON). But fear not, there is hope, in the form of CoffeeScript. Raganwald reminds us that CoffeeScript is not a language worth learning, because it's not a different language at all. CoffeeScript is a shorthand for JavaScript, making you stick to all the good patterns, and compiling to the kind of code which you should be writing anyway. This is absolutely true in my experience. The JavaScript compiled from its CoffeeScript counterpart is very close to what I have in mind when coding, which makes things like debugging or using external libraries not a problem at all.

  • Modern Web Applications are Here If JavaScript is so powerful and fast now, why not make use of it to write faster, more robust and responsive web apps? This is apparently what Battlenet did, and Armin Ronacher dissects their application in this article. Most of the content is rendered on the client, with JSON being used to transport information, instead of whole HTML pages. The status of the player and his friends are updated with push notifications, through the use of web sockets. The web app can also integrate with the game, if you have a plugin installed, letting you join a server or start a game from the app. Ronacher uses the Battlenet app to bolster a point he made in an earlier post, that web apps should not be integrated on the server side, but on the client side through the use of JavaScript and related technologies.

  • The Social Graph is Neither reminds me of this one web page I came upon in the early naughties, which just said something to the tune of "Noam Chomsky could be wrong". Although his influence was already waning, Chomsky was the most eminent linguist at the time, and his views on especially language acquisition were soaked by aspiring scientists as words of gods, and what this guy was saying was, "You know, he might be wrong". This article makes a similar claim in these high times of social networks, saying that the social graph —which the biggest software companies are trying to generate and then milk— is neither a graph nor social. It's not a graph because our social relationships change over time, in that new relationships are created, and old ones change their nature. Also, who has access to the information in your social cloud is a function of the cloud itself, whereas privacy, as this same problem is named when the relationships get digitized, has to be somehow bolted on. It is also not social, because in its current incarnation (Facebook and Google+) it is a giant hall of mirrors that entices you to stay there so that some marketing guys can gather your information, and try to sell you stuff. What drove home the not-really-social argument for me was a simple comparison at the end: 4chan is simply timestamped images with a text field, and it gave us pretty much everything we share on Facebook: lolcats, rage comics, image macros etc. Can you name one cultural invention that came out of Facebook? I can't.

  • All pain and no gain: A brief history of "Austerity Program" massacres and disasters gives an overview of the austerity programs in the 20th century, and their catastrophic results. It is not written in a particularly academic language or style, and does not shy away from naming names and expletives, which makes it perfect reading if you want to get fired up about the neoliberals and their command over mainstream political-economic thought (also see first entry in this list). The most interesting bit in this post for me was the role of Austrian school economics (as per Hayek and Mises) in the meltdown of the economy of Weimar Germany in the 1930s. According to the author, their policies led to wide-spread unemployment and poverty, and dramatic shrinkage of the economy, which paved the way for the Nazis. After the war, however, the history of the inter-war period was rewritten by the same people to blame it all on the bloated state and the cost of unemployment insurance and pensions. Another interesting pointer is the story of one Lawrence Summers. Summers was Clinton's treasury secretary, and he pushed through the deregulation of derivatives during his office, one of the primary reasons for the recent economic meltdown. Another of his previous jobs was advising Lithuania's transformation to free-market economy. He was so successful that within five years the suicide rate in Lithuania more than doubled, becoming the highest in the world. Lithuanians elected the Communists back to power in the first free elections. Summers went on to work for World Bank, where he oversaw the rescue programme for the Russian economy. This rescue was also extremely successful, decreasing the Russian GDP by more than 60 percent. This guy has so much asshole potential, that as the president of the Harvad University, he actually claimed that women are inherently more stupid than men when it comes to maths and physics, and this is the main reason for their being underrepresented in science and engineering. He is now the director of the National Economic Council, and this under a democrat president. I'm sure that his stint will be just as successful as his earlier appearences.

  • Are startups in the business of destroying jobs? answers the question with a no, which is pretty much inevitable considering where the post appears. The reasoninng is that startups (especially disruptive ones like AirBnB) might be causing the existing businesses, espacially the large ones, to shrink or dissapear. However, in the process, they lead to other, smaller ones (very often individuals as online businesses through the likes of Ebay, Etsy, etc) to appear, and these have access to technologies and resources which the same startup ecosystem makes possible in the first place. The more urgent question of what happens when the primary aim of an online techology company, which is dominating a market, a.k.a becoming a monopoly, actually takes place, goes totally unanswered. Probably because the answer is not particularly pretty, but on the other hand, it's rather pretty for the ones holding the power, namely successful Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.