Tuesday, June 20, 2017


[ed. Hi Duck Soup readers. I'm moving, so posts will be sporadic for a while (if non-existent). Please come back in a week or two, or check out the archives (lots of great stuff there). I'll see you soon.] 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Bears and Moose Are Par for the Course

Golfers Gary Cox and Devery Prince became an unexpected trio recently when a black bear joined their morning game at hole No. 8 on Moose Run's Creek Course in an encounter Cox caught on video.

"You can see we're jumping around reaching, grabbing clubs to make sure we had something to defend ourselves," Cox said. "You know, he wasn't really aggressive, but he wasn't afraid of us at all."

The bear stood up and used the pin for support as it swatted at the flag atop the pin. The bear soon gave up, then found the pair's carry bags more appealing.

Cox and Prince yelled and growled at the bear. Cox threw a golf ball at a bag to startle the bear, which strolled into the woods with Prince's coffee container in its mouth.

"If he decided he was going to have some adolescent adrenaline rush or something, you know he could," Cox said. "… (I)t was a little unnerving. Not that I think he was acting aggressive in that way, but you just don't know what they're going to do."

Cox and Prince's encounter isn't the only wildlife sighting on a course this summer. Both Moose Run's Hill Course and Anchorage Golf Course have been home to bigger challenges than sand traps and water hazards.

"Animal sightings are pretty much a daily occurrence out there at Moose Run," said Moose Run general manager Don Kramer. "… Most of the time the golfers are the ones that call them in and we have somebody on each course riding around … and if there's a bear around we try and shoo them off with the carts." (...)

Fish and Game officials advise caution in a bear encounter.

"Basically if you have a bear come into your golf cart, you shouldn't be pulling out your 7-iron or going after it," said Fish and Game spokesman Ken Marsh.

Because bear encounters aren't unusual, staff at Anchorage Golf Course carry air horns and staff at Moose Run carry bear spray. Pins at those courses are removed at night because moose and bears like to play with them.

Most Alaska golfers know that wildlife is par for the course.

"The golfers out there are fairly local and they understand that," Kramer said. "It's Alaska, it happens all over."

by Chris Lawrence, Alaska Dispatch | Read more:
Image: Marc Lester
[ed. I used to golf and work at both of these courses and bear/moose sitings were a daily occurrence. As a marshal I'd gently herd animals away, or at least get between them and the players with my cart. Most of the time there weren't any problems, but every once in a while... See also: Black bear kills teen runner during trail race near Anchorage]

How Did Health Care Get to Be Such a Mess?

The problem with American health care is not the care. It’s the insurance.

Both parties have stumbled to enact comprehensive health care reform because they insist on patching up a rickety, malfunctioning model. The insurance company model drives up prices and fragments care. Rather than rejecting this jerry-built structure, the Democrats’ Obamacare legislation simply added a cracked support beam or two. The Republican bill will knock those out to focus on spackling other dilapidated parts of the system.

An alternative structure can be found in the early decades of the 20th century, when the medical marketplace offered a variety of models. Unions, businesses, consumer cooperatives and ethnic and African-American mutual aid societies had diverse ways of organizing and paying for medical care.

Physicians established a particularly elegant model: the prepaid doctor group. Unlike today’s physician practices, these groups usually staffed a variety of specialists, including general practitioners, surgeons and obstetricians. Patients received integrated care in one location, with group physicians from across specialties meeting regularly to review treatment options for their chronically ill or hard-to-treat patients.

Individuals and families paid a monthly fee, not to an insurance company but directly to the physician group. This system held down costs. Physicians typically earned a base salary plus a percentage of the group’s quarterly profits, so they lacked incentive to either ration care, which would lose them paying patients, or provide unnecessary care.

This contrasts with current examples of such financing arrangements. Where physicians earn a preset salary — for example, in Kaiser Permanente plans or in the British National Health Service — patients frequently complain about rationed or delayed care. When physicians are paid on a fee-for-service basis, for every service or procedure they provide — as they are under the insurance company model — then care is oversupplied. In these systems, costs escalate quickly.

Unfortunately, the leaders of the American Medical Association saw early health care models — union welfare funds, prepaid physician groups — as a threat. A.M.A. members sat on state licensing boards, so they could revoke the licenses of physicians who joined these “alternative” plans. A.M.A. officials likewise saw to it that recalcitrant physicians had their hospital admitting privileges rescinded.

The A.M.A. was also busy working to prevent government intervention in the medical field. Persistent federal efforts to reform health care began during the 1930s. After World War II, President Harry Truman proposed a universal health care system, and archival evidence suggests that policy makers hoped to build the program around prepaid physician groups.

A.M.A. officials decided that the best way to keep the government out of their industry was to design a private sector model: the insurance company model.

In this system, insurance companies would pay physicians using fee-for-service compensation. Insurers would pay for services even though they lacked the ability to control their supply. Moreover, the A.M.A. forbade insurers from supervising physician work and from financing multispecialty practices, which they feared might develop into medical corporations.

With the insurance company model, the A.M.A. could fight off Truman’s plan for universal care and, over the next decade, oppose more moderate reforms offered during the Eisenhower years.

Through each legislative battle, physicians and their new allies, insurers, argued that federal health care funding was unnecessary because they were expanding insurance coverage. Indeed, because of the perceived threat of reform, insurers weathered rapidly rising medical costs and unfavorable financial conditions to expand coverage from about a quarter of the population in 1945 to about 80 percent in 1965.

But private interests failed to cover a sufficient number of the elderly. Consequently, Congress stepped in to create Medicare in 1965. The private health care sector had far more capacity to manage a large, complex program than did the government, so Medicare was designed around the insurance company model. Insurers, moreover, were tasked with helping administer the program, acting as intermediaries between the government and service providers.

With Medicare, the demand for health services increased and medical costs became a national crisis. To constrain rising prices, insurers gradually introduced cost containment procedures and incrementally claimed supervisory authority over doctors. Soon they were reviewing their medical work, standardizing treatment blueprints tied to reimbursements and shaping the practice of medicine.

by Christy Ford Chapin, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: Tim Lahan

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Sharing Depot

Anyone living in the cramped confines of a city apartment knows the pain of not quite having enough space. There’s nowhere to put that Ping-Pong table you’ve always wanted. Your bike is hanging on the wall, and you’ve already stepped on your kid’s Legos twice this week. Storage is expensive. Every new possession, hobby, and project costs not just money, but precious square footage.

The Sharing Depot, Toronto’s first library of things, helps space-starved urbanites cut costs and clutter without giving up access to the stuff they love. A sort of Zipcar for the little things, the Sharing Depot, which opened earlier this year, lets members borrow items like camping gear, sports equipment, toys, and garden tools. Members pay between $50 and $100 Canadian annually; the higher the level of membership the longer you may keep an item.

When I reach Sharing Depot cofounder Ryan Dyment on the phone, the storefront is busy and loud. Patrons can browse an extensive inventory online or search the Depot’s crowded shelves in person. Skill workshops and swap meets keep sharers engaged, and a volunteer program provides free membership in exchange for working a few shifts per month. “You meet a lot of interesting people,” Dyment says earnestly of the Depot’s growing community.

Before they started up the project, Dyment and cofounder Lawrence Alvarez, a community activist, polled local Torontonians to find out what items people needed occasionally but didn’t have room for at home or found too expensive to buy outright. “The most popular were camping gear, toys, party supplies, those kinds of things,” Dyment says. “So we said ‘OK, let’s do a crowdfund, and see if people want to put their money where their mouth is.’”

The project’s IndieGoGo campaign raised more than $30,000, allowing the Sharing Depot to build out its storefront space, pay a few months’ rent, and acquire some basic inventory. Dyment says the Depot is currently dependent on grants for about 20 percent of its funding, but he hopes membership fees can sustain the operation going forward. Now that they’re set up, most of the new items come in via donation. “We have a wish list from people who come in and request things,” Dyment says. “So for example, we didn’t really have great sewing machines, but it was requested, so we did that.”

Dyment recently heard from someone calling to ask if they had a paper shredder.

“I was like, ‘Yeah, you know, actually that’s a good request, I don’t have one,’” Dyment tells me. “And then literally within the hour of hanging up on this person and disappointing them, someone came in and dropped off two paper shredders.”

While loaning out chop saws, folding chairs, and chocolate fondue fountains might not sound like a very direct way to change the world, the ethos of the Sharing Depot taps into much deeper economic and environmental issues for Dyment. The former accountant walked away from a finance career for more meaningful pursuits in 2009, after he began to question the sustainability of modern economies and monetary systems. “Generally the largest impact that an individual makes is through the products they consume,” he says. “We have to find a way to consume less stuff if we care about the environment, if we want to live here for many generations.”

The Sharing Depot has its roots in the Institute for a Resource-Based Economy, a nonprofit started in 2011 to “promote the sharing economy and provide a transition solution to our planetary crises.” Dyment and Alvarez are among the group’s founders. The institute held workshops on “debt-based currency and disruptive technologies,” hosted educational talks, and eventually settled into its biggest project: the Toronto Tool Library.

It was a great concept—a single home repair project could require 15 different tools, but here you could borrow the gear you needed to put up those shelves or retile your bathroom, and then just return it all when you were done. (...)

Some Sharing Depot members, Dyment tells me, “just have way too much stuff and are doing their best to downsize if they can.” But others, he says, are post-recession, new economy kids who grew up with abundance and now have less than their parents did. “They live in these much smaller spaces, but they still want access to some of this stuff and they don’t know another way,” he says.

by Jed Oelbaum, Make Change | Read more:
Image: Sharing Depot

Valerius De Saedeleer, A winter landscape, 1927

Open and Destroy

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Last Picture Show

Last Sunday, I was checking the listings, looking for something to cover for tonight’s weekly film review (preferably something/anything that didn’t involve aliens, comic book characters, or pirates), and was intrigued by Sofia Coppola’s remake of The Beguiled. Being a lazy bastard, I was happy to discover that the exclusive Seattle booking was at my neighborhood theater (the Guild 45th!), which is only a three-block walk from my apartment.

Imagine my surprise when I went to their website for show times and was greeted by this message: “The Seven Gables and Guild 45th Theaters have closed. Please stay tuned for further details on our renovation plans for each location. During the down time, we look forward to serving you at the Crest Cinema Center.” The Crest (now Landmark’s sole local venue open for business) is another great neighborhood theater, programmed with first-run films on their final stop before leaving Seattle (and at $4 for all shows, a hell of a deal). But for how long, I wonder?

It’s weird, because I drive past the Guild daily, on my way to work; and I had noticed that the marquees were blank one morning last week. I didn’t attach much significance to it at the time; while it seemed a bit odd, I just assumed that they were in the process of putting up new film titles. Also, I've been receiving weekly updates from the Landmark Theaters Seattle publicist for years; last week's email indicated business as usual (advising me on upcoming bookings, available press screeners, etc.), and there was absolutely no hint that this bomb was about to drop.

Where was the “ka-boom”?! There was supposed to be an Earth-shattering “ka-boom”. Oh, well.

It would appear that the very concept of a "neighborhood theater" is quickly becoming an anachronism, and that makes me feel sad, somehow. Granted, not unlike many such “vintage” venues, the Guild had seen better days from an aesthetic viewpoint; the floors were sticky, the seats less than comfortable, and the auditorium smelled like 1953...but goddammit, it was “my” neighborhood theater, it’s ours because we found it, and now we wants it back (it’s my Precious).

My gut tells me the Guild isn’t being “renovated”, but rather headed for the fires of Mount Doom; and I suspect the culprit isn’t so much Netflix, as it is Google and Amazon. You may be shocked, shocked to learn that Seattle is experiencing a huge tech boom. Consequently, the housing market (including rentals) is tighter than I’ve ever seen it in the 25 years I’ve lived here. The creeping signs of over-gentrification (which I first started noticing in 2015) are now reaching critical mass. Seattle’s once-distinctive neighborhoods are quickly losing their character, and mine (Wallingford) is the latest target on the urban village “up-zoning” hit list. Anti-density groups are rallying, but I see the closure of our 100 year-old theater as a harbinger of ticky-tacky big boxes.

Some of my fondest memories of the movie-going experience involve neighborhood theaters; particularly during a 2 ½ year period of my life (1979-1981) when I was living in San Francisco. But I need to back up for a moment. I had moved to the Bay Area from Fairbanks, Alaska, which was not the ideal environment for a movie buff. At the time I moved from Fairbanks, there were only two single-screen movie theaters in town. To add insult to injury, we were usually several months behind the Lower 48 on first-run features (it took us nearly a year to even get Star Wars).

Keep in mind, there was no cable service in the market, and VCRs were a still a few years down the road. There were occasional midnight movie screenings at the University of Alaska, and the odd B-movie gem on late night TV (which we had to watch in real time, with 500 commercials to suffer through)...but that was it. Sometimes, I’d gather up a coterie of my culture vulture pals for the 260 mile drive to Anchorage, where there were more theaters for us to dip our beaks into.

Consequently, due to the lack of venues, I was reading more about movies, than actually watching them. I remember poring over back issues of The New Yorker at the public library, soaking up Penelope Gilliat and Pauline Kael; but it seemed requisite to live in NYC (or L.A.) to catch all of these cool arthouse and foreign movies they were raving about (most of those films just didn’t make it out up to the frozen tundra). And so it was that I “missed” a lot of 70s cinema.

Needless to say, when I moved to San Francisco, which had a plethora of fabulous neighborhood theaters in 1979, I quickly set about making up the deficit. While I had a lot of favorite haunts (The Surf, The Balboa, The Castro, and the Red Victorian loom large in my memory), there were two venues in particular where I spent an unhealthy amount of time: The Roxie and The Strand.

That’s because they were “repertory” houses; meaning they played older films (frequently double and triple bills, usually curated by some kind of theme). That 2 ½ years I spent in the dark was my film school; that’s how I got caught up with Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman, Hal Ashby, Terrence Malick, Woody Allen, Sidney Lumet, Peter Bogdanovich, Werner Herzog, Ken Russell, Lindsay Anderson, Wim Wenders, Michael Ritchie, Brian De Palma, etc.

Of course, in 2017 any dweeb with an internet connection can catch up on the history of world cinema without leaving the house...which explains (in part) why these smaller movie houses are dying. But they will never know the sights, the sounds (the smells) of a cozy neighborhood dream palace. Everybody should experience the magic at least once. C’mon-I’ll save you the aisle seat.

by Dennis Hartley, Hullabaloo |  Read more:
Image: Dennis Hartley

Flight of the Conchords

The 15 People You Meet in a Golf Gallery

Before the 2014 PGA Tour season, I’d covered exactly five golf tournaments in my life. It was still a nice novelty, and I had the luxury of focusing solely on the players. This year, I’ve been to 17 tournaments, and when you’re constantly wandering from hole to hole hoping for something dramatic to happen, the mind tends to wander. At some point, I found myself focusing on the gallery.

Let me be the first to tell you: Golf fans are weird. They’re by turns boring, crazed, needy, angry, pathetic, and excessively polite. (When I told a fellow journalist I’d be writing about the different types of golf fans, his immediate reaction was, “They’re all wankers.” I don’t endorse this view … not fully.) So, here are the 15 kinds of people you meet in a golf gallery. I’m leaving off kids, since they have license to behave in ways that are far sadder (and therefore funnier) when observed in adults.


Just typing those words made me angry. Howard Stern saddled his producer Gary Dell’Abate with the nickname “Baba Booey” in 1990 because of some confusion about a cartoon called Quick Draw McGraw, stemming from his hobby of — look, it doesn’t matter. They gave him the nickname for some reason, and Stern’s fans seized on “Baba Booey” as a rally cry for all manner of high jinks, but mostly prank phone calls. Somehow it made its way into golf as the hilarious thing you yell after a tee shot, and it may have been kinda funny in 1990 for a while. In the ensuing 24 years, however, it has become the sport’s vuvuzela, shouted incessantly week after week until you want to blindly attack the entire gallery in the hopes of getting lucky and wounding the culprit. The really heartbreaking thing about the “Baba Booey!” cry, though, is that someone always laughs, adding a bit of positive reinforcement to ensure our nightmare will continue. (See also: “MASHED POTATOES!” and “YOU DA MAN!”)


I was in Memphis last week for the St. Jude Classic, and there was a guy who followed Davis Love III around from hole to hole saying, “Thanks for coming to Memphis, Davis!” in the most obsequious way possible. Love responded graciously, since he’s legitimately one of the nicest golfers around, but my god, I hated that kiss-ass. I wanted to grab him and yell, “You know he’s making money for this, right? You know he’s super rich and will become richer after this weekend?” It wouldn’t matter, because the kiss-ass was all about his own gratification. For him, that slight nod from Love was all the confirmation he needed that he was a special fan among the ungrateful rubes. I hope he fell in a pond.


It’s really, really depressing how often this happens. And how they wait against the ropes, having pushed children aside, a sad, hopeful smile on their faces as Rickie walks by. As though he’s going to stop, turn in surprise, begin laughing hysterically at the clever idea, and invite them to hang out for the rest of the round. It’s always so satisfying when he ignores them completely.


This guy usually turns up at the green when a player is about to hit out of a bunker. The second the ball comes out of the sand, “Great Shot!” guy shouts, “Ohhh, great shot!” He has no idea where the ball is going. It could stay in the fringe, roll over the green into the water, or cause a bird to explode in mid-flight. Doesn’t matter. To him, the shot was stellar the moment blade struck ball.


A cousin of “Ohhh, Great Shot!” guy. This is the person who seems like he or she has $10,000 invested in a shot, because they can’t stop screaming encouragement at the ball, regardless of who hit it. “BREAK! OH, COME ON, BREAK, BALL! OH GOD, JUST BREAK! NOOOO!” The instinct is to tap them gently on the shoulder and say, “Hey, you see that golfer out there? Just to be totally clear … you know he’s not you, right?”

by Shane Ryan, Grantland |  Read more:
Image: Erin Hills, USGA Open 2017
[ed. I was watching the US Open today and have a special distaste for fans in the Number #1 category. Some asshole (and it's always a guy) screaming "In Da Hole!" (or some similarly inane verbal fart) after every shot. Makes you want to reach through the TV and strangle them. See the post following this one.] 

The Five Universal Laws of Human Stupidity

In 1976, a professor of economic history at the University of California, Berkeley published an essay outlining the fundamental laws of a force he perceived as humanity’s greatest existential threat: Stupidity.

Stupid people, Carlo M. Cipolla explained, share several identifying traits: they are abundant, they are irrational, and they cause problems for others without apparent benefit to themselves, thereby lowering society’s total well-being. There are no defenses against stupidity, argued the Italian-born professor, who died in 2000. The only way a society can avoid being crushed by the burden of its idiots is if the non-stupid work even harder to offset the losses of their stupid brethren.

Let’s take a look at Cipolla’s five basic laws of human stupidity:

Law 1: Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.

No matter how many idiots you suspect yourself surrounded by, Cipolla wrote, you are invariably lowballing the total. This problem is compounded by biased assumptions that certain people are intelligent based on superficial factors like their job, education level, or other traits we believe to be exclusive of stupidity. They aren’t. Which takes us to:

Law 2: The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.

Cipolla posits stupidity is a variable that remains constant across all populations. Every category one can imagine—gender, race, nationality, education level, income—possesses a fixed percentage of stupid people. There are stupid college professors. There are stupid people at Davos and at the UN General Assembly. There are stupid people in every nation on earth. How numerous are the stupid amongst us? It’s impossible to say. And any guess would almost certainly violate the first law, anyway.

Law 3. A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.

Cipolla called this one the Golden Law of stupidity. A stupid person, according to the economist, is one who causes problems for others without any clear benefit to himself.

The uncle unable to stop himself from posting fake news articles to Facebook? Stupid. The customer service representative who keeps you on the phone for an hour, hangs up on you twice, and somehow still manages to screw up your account? Stupid.

This law also introduces three other phenotypes that Cipolla says co-exist alongside stupidity. First there is the intelligent person, whose actions benefit both himself and others. Then there is the bandit, who benefits himself at others’ expense. And lastly there is the helpless person, whose actions enrich others at his own expense. Cipolla imagined the four types along a graph, like this:

The non-stupid are a flawed and inconsistent bunch. Sometimes we act intelligently, sometimes we are selfish bandits, sometimes we act helplessly and are taken advantage of by others, and sometimes we’re a bit of both. The stupid, in comparison, are paragons of consistency, acting at all times with unyielding idiocy.

However, consistent stupidity is the only consistent thing about the stupid. This is what makes stupid people so dangerous. Cipolla explains:
Essentially stupid people are dangerous and damaging because reasonable people find it difficult to imagine and understand unreasonable behavior. An intelligent person may understand the logic of a bandit. The bandit’s actions follow a pattern of rationality: nasty rationality, if you like, but still rationality. The bandit wants a plus on his account. Since he is not intelligent enough to devise ways of obtaining the plus as well as providing you with a plus, he will produce his plus by causing a minus to appear on your account. All this is bad, but it is rational and if you are rational you can predict it. You can foresee a bandit’s actions, his nasty maneuvres and ugly aspirations and often can build up your defenses.
With a stupid person all this is absolutely impossible as explained by the Third Basic Law. A stupid creature will harass you for no reason, for no advantage, without any plan or scheme and at the most improbable times and places. You have no rational way of telling if and when and how and why the stupid creature attacks. When confronted with a stupid individual you are completely at his mercy.
by Corinne Purtill, Quartz |  Read more:
Image: uncredited

The Amazon-Walmart Showdown That Explains the Modern Economy

With Amazon buying the high-end grocery chain Whole Foods, something retail analysts have known for years is now apparent to everyone: The online retailer is on a collision course with Walmart to try to be the predominant seller of pretty much everything you buy.

Each one is trying to become more like the other — Walmart by investing heavily in its technology, Amazon by opening physical bookstores and now buying physical supermarkets. But this is more than a battle between two business titans. Their rivalry sheds light on the shifting economics of nearly every major industry, replete with winner-take-all effects and huge advantages that accrue to the biggest and best-run organizations, to the detriment of upstarts and second-fiddle players.

That in turn has been a boon for consumers but also has more worrying implications for jobs, wages and inequality.

To understand this epic shift, you can look not just to the grocery business, but also to my closet, and to another retail acquisition announced Friday morning. (...)

Amazon vs. Walmart

Walmart’s move might seem a strange decision. It is not a retailer people typically turn to for $88 summer weight shirts in Ruby Wynwood Plaid or $750 Italian wool suits. Then again, Amazon is best known as a reseller of goods made by others.

Walmart and Amazon have had their sights on each other for years, each aiming to be the dominant seller of goods — however consumers of the future want to buy them. It increasingly looks like that “however” is a hybrid of physical stores and online-ordering channels, and each company is coming at the goal from a different starting point.

Amazon is the dominant player in online sales, and is particularly strong among affluent consumers in major cities. It is now experimenting with physical bookstores and groceries as it looks to broaden its reach.

Walmart has thousands of stores that sell hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of goods. It is particularly strong in suburban and rural areas and among low- and middle-income consumers, but it’s playing catch-up with online sales and affluent urbanites.

Why are these two mega-retailers both trying to sell me shirts? The short answer is because they both want to sell everything.

More specifically, Bonobos is known as an innovator in exactly this type of hybrid of online and physical store sales. Its website and online customer service are excellent, and it operates stores in major cities where you can try on garments and order items to be shipped directly. Because all the actual inventory is centralized, the stores themselves can occupy minimal square footage.

So the acquisition may help Walmart build expertise in the very areas where it is trying to gain on Amazon. You can look at the Amazon acquisition of Whole Foods through the same lens. The grocery business has a whole different set of challenges from the types of goods that Amazon has specialized in; you can’t store a steak or a banana the way you do books or toys. And people want to be able to make purchases and take them home on the spur of the moment.

Just as Walmart is using Bonobos to get access to higher-end consumers and a more technologically savvy way of selling clothes, Amazon is using Whole Foods to get the expertise and physical presence it takes to sell fresh foods.

But bigger dimensions of the modern economy also come into play.

by Neil Irwin, NY Times | Read more:
Image: Antonio de Luca

Friday, June 16, 2017

Jeff Bezos Is the Most Powerful Person in Tech

Since Amazon was a tiny startup selling paperbacks, Jeff Bezos has been focused on the long game. In his first letter to shareholders in 1997, he advised investors to strap in for a bumpy financial ride that could include short-term quarterly losses and risky acquisitions that fail to pan out. “We will make bold rather than timid investment decisions when we see a sufficient probability of gaining market leadership advantages,” he wrote. “Some of these investments will pay off, others will not, and we will have learned another valuable lesson in either case.”

Two decades later, what Bezos was building toward book by book has arrived. Amazon is an internet goliath whose products affect nearly every online user. If you’ve ever received an Amazon package, watched a livestream on Twitch, or checked an actor’s filmography on IMDb, you’ve dealt with the retail giant’s properties directly. But if you’ve streamed a movie on Netflix, booked a flight on Expedia, or sent a selfie on Snapchat, you’ve also felt Amazon’s reach via its cloud computing services, now in use by more than 1 million online businesses.

Amazon is steadily eating the digital world. On Friday, it took a critical step in subsuming the physical world as well by launching a bid to acquire the upscale grocer Whole Foods for $13.7 billion. For Amazon, Whole Foods opens up plenty of new business opportunities. The grocer’s affluent shoppers are ideal customers for Amazon Prime. Amazon has been trying and mostly failing to break into the grocery market for years — Whole Foods offers an immediate boost in market share and a group of trusted brand products that Amazon customers may actually pay to have delivered to their door. And with 464 new stores in its arsenal, Amazon has a variety of test beds for its retail experiments, like the convenience store without cashiers it’s been testing in Seattle.

The surprising acquisition left little doubt that Bezos has become the most powerful man in the technology sector, with investments spanning a wide range of galaxy-conquering pursuits. He’s building a digital media giant at The Washington Post, which has become a powerful international force in journalism covering issues such as the Trump White House and police-citizen interactions. He’s doubled down on his commitment to Blue Origin, his space exploration startup, by promising $1 billion in additional investment every year. He also has investments in Uber, Airbnb, and Twitter (and a giant clock that’s supposed to last for 10,000 years).

Ultimately, though, the nexus of Bezos’s power lies with Amazon, whose soaring stock price has catapulted its CEO to an $84 billion net worth, making him the second-richest person on earth. For years, Amazon was powerful but unprofitable, forcing Bezos to keep falling back on the long-term rhetoric of that first shareholder letter. But the rise of cloud computing, which Amazon dominates over rivals Microsoft and Google, has been a boon for the company’s bottom line. Amazon has now been profitable for eight straight quarters, giving Bezos more leeway to keep pursuing his ambitious, capital-intensive goals in retail, such as owning a massive chain of grocery stores and building an internal FedEx rival.

Bezos’s power will only continue to grow as his company becomes more essential to the everyday lives of millions of people. Amazon’s original value proposition was low prices first and foremost, but that advantage is fading. Instead, Amazon wants to save customers time, whether through packages delivered in an hour via Prime Now, or laundry detergent mindlessly ordered by mashing a Dash button. Even before the Whole Foods buy, Amazon was the one tech giant whose core business was about organizing atoms as well as bits. Now the company will have a physical footprint that extends to 42 states and three countries.

by Victor Luckerson, The Ringer |  Read more:
Image:AP Images/Ringer illustration
[ed. $84 billion. 84,000 millions. And he's only the second richest person on earth. Imagine what just a quarter of that wealth could accomplish in terms of alleviating many of the social impacts of technological displacement that his company is and will be directly responsible for. See also: At Last, Jeff Bezos Offers a Hint of His Philanthropic Plans (ed. or not)]

If You Care About Cities, Apple's New Campus Sucks

The new headquarters Apple is building in Cupertino has the absolute best door handles. The greatest! They are, as my colleague Steven Levy writes, precision-milled aluminum rails that attach to glass doors—sliding and swinging alike—with no visible bolts.

Everything in this building is the best. The toroid glass of the roof curves scientifically to shed rainwater. And if it never rains again (this being California), well, an arborist selected thousands of drought-tolerant new trees for the 175-acre site. Not every Apple employee will get to work in the new building—ouch!—but 12,000 will. Of course, it only has 9,000 parking spaces, but that’s supposed to encourage people to take an Apple shuttle to work. And once they arrive, they’re not going to want to leave. The fitness center has a climbing wall with pre-distressed stone. The concrete edges of the parking lot walls are rounded. The fire suppression systems come from yachts. Craftspeople harvested the wood paneling at the exact time of year the late Steve Jobs demanded—mid-winter—so the sap content wouldn’t be ruinously high. Come on! You don’t want sappy wood panels. This isn’t, like, Microsoft.

Whether you call it the Ring (too JRR Tolkien), the Death Star (too George Lucas), or the Spaceship (too Buckminster Fuller), something has alighted in Cupertino. And no one could possibly question the elegance of its design and architecture. This building is $5 billion and 2.8 million square feet of Steve Jobsian-Jony Ivesian-Norman Fosterian genius. WIRED already said all that.

But … one more one more thing. You can’t understand a building without looking at what’s around it—its site, as the architects say. From that angle, Apple’s new HQ is a retrograde, literally inward-looking building with contempt for the city where it lives and cities in general. People rightly credit Apple for defining the look and feel of the future; its computers and phones seem like science fiction. But by building a mega-headquarters straight out of the middle of the last century, Apple has exacerbated the already serious problems endemic to 21st-century suburbs like Cupertino—transportation, housing, and economics. Apple Park is an anachronism wrapped in glass, tucked into a neighborhood.

by Adam Rogers, Wired |  Read more:
Image: Dan Winters