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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 4/2/19

2 1/2 Cheers for Amazon

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Message Al Hirschfield
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While I realize that I would probably be far more popular on this particular site if I found some fresh, new ways to bash multi, mega-billionaire Jeff Bezos, for the moment I'll leave that to others. Right now, as a typical consumer who has not studied the commercial phenomenon of Amazon, but has certainly been caught up in its cultural wake, I'd like to share a few thoughts...

Firstly, is it really fair, in a capitalist democracy, where the consumer is left to his/her own designs (at least theoretically, if not always actually) to blame the behemoth Bezos has wrought, if he has made it virtually impossible for most rational individuals to forgo the convenience, efficiency as well as generally reduced cost of shopping on Amazon? This is not to say that Amazon's decimation of the retail market in America is not an outright tragedy. But, considering the pace of technological innovation, wasn't this going to happen one day, sooner or later? And, again, in a capitalist democracy, it is not Mr. Bezos who has brought about this state of things by sitting at his computer buying his own goods. It is the American public which has decided to do so, in zeitgeist shifting numbers.

But what has really prompted me to write a more sympathetic assessment of the unprecedented success of Amazon, more than I probably would have even a few months (if not weeks ago), is the experience I've had with three offshoots of Amazon online: Amazon Prime Movies, Kindle and Amazon Music.

A few years ago I didn't even watch television. The only thing I used my TV set for was to watch videos I borrowed from an extraordinary local library system. I watched countless movies, documentaries and eventually became addicted to the "Great Courses" (videos of college courses), which my library almost had a complete selection of.

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I eventually had to move back home to where I grew up in order to take care of my mother who's second husband had past away. And she loves television. So, just to be companionable, I subjected myself to it (well at least to MSNBC with the commercials on mute). While I always had a computer, I did not really know what Netflix was, let alone Amazon Prime Video. My older sister, (who had been trying to get my mother to watch the Netflix Original series, "The Crown") bought her an Amazon Fire tablet for Christmas. My mother was about 90 years old at the time, so I was the one who started to fiddle with it. The Amazon Fire tablet came with (as even my sister wasn't aware) a Kindle.

I thought it was pretty cool, but nothing life changing. I had always been a reader, and while I had all sorts of issues regarding starting to read books on a video screen (and still do) at the age of 61, I couldn't resist the offers to download the complete works of Charles Dickens for zero cents. Or the complete works of Jack London for zero cents. Or Aristotle. I eventually succumbed and actually paid $.99 for the complete works of Leo Tolstoy, as well as Dostoevsky. But what probably put me into true book-shock was a certain other collection which I didn't think it would even be possible, for one reason or another, to make available at all, let alone for $.99. This was the "Harvard Classics". Many people of my generation pretty much put the "Harvard Classics" in the same category of "ultimate Gold Standard" as they once did the "Encyclopedia Britannica". I many-a-time considered purchasing the entire hardback collection, but even decades ago that was nearly $1000. No, Amazon is not responsible for the creation of the "Harvard Classics", nor any of the other books. But the ease they make them all searchable and downloadable, is no small matter. The fact that I was able to download all 51 volumes of what some still consider the greatest collection of literature in history, for less than one dollar, had a pretty profound effect on me.

But since sis started this because she was mostly interested in getting us to watch Netflix, I tried watching it on the tablet, but didn't like to. So I did some research and found that for about $40 (when it was on sale) one could by Amazon Fire TV. This enabled one to access Netflix via Amazon and watch it on one's own tv. And for someone who did not until recently even watch television, this was (to put it mildly) "a revelation". I not only understood now what some of my more cultured and sophisticated friends had been saying when the said, rather matter-of-factly, that "TV was much better than the movies". I always assumed they were either exaggerating or had completely gone of the deep end. And I also understood why my sister had been so insistent on us viewing "The Crown". It was, indeed, one of the three best things I have ever seen on screen. This led to "House of Cards", "Homeland", ad infinituum.

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I was in the American cultural mainstream (for better or worse..) once again.

While these particular programs aren't Amazon originals, Amazon, of course, does have their own. But what distinguished Amazon in this regard was not necessarily their own original programming, but how they made their movies available. They do so in a way that even Netflix can't compete with. I've made a point of comparing the two, and Amazon does a couple of things that are quite extraordinary. For one, Amazon has far, far more films available free than does Netflix. Netflix fans might doubt this. But try, for instance, to search on "Opera" on Amazon and then on Netflix. Amazon actually has a lot of operas available, Netflix none. Or search on certain directors or even actors. You'll be struck by the difference. Netflix also tends to have high name recognition features or series. But, I've even watched a 3 hour live action film (a really great one) on an obscure 9th Century Hindu philosopher. Or, try searching on, say, Jackie Mason (or George Carlin). On Amazon all kinds of things come up for free. Netflx zilch. But another thing Amazon does that Netflix doesn't (or won't) is show you everything that is available for free, or for a nominal charge to rent (usually for 2 or 3 bucks), or even if it is available on another service, such as HBO, Showtime, Tubi, Starz, Cinemax, Starstruck, and on and on. They all come up at the same time in the same place. Also, with Alexa, you can just say (into the remote) "James Bond Movies from the 80s" and not only will they all come up, most of them will be available free. Not so with Netflix.

No, I am not an Amazon plant here. I have no relationship with them other than my peraonally bought Kindle and Fire TV. But one thing that a number people aren't aware about Bezos and consequently Amazon, is that Bezos' business model and business philosophy are very, very unusual and may be as much responsible for the kind of impact Amazon is having as the simple fact of technological innovation is. After all the same technology is available to everyone, but there is still only one Amazon.

I heard Bezos say in an interview that (believe it or not) he is not in competition with other businesses. He says that what Amazon does it, first, to figure out how best to serve the consumer, i.e. how to make them the happiest, and they then work backwards from there. You may say that every business does that, and to some degree you may be right. But what Bezos is saying is that he doesn't look at other businesses and say "How can we beat them?". He ignores them completely. And I tend to believe him. That would actually explain why he isn't spending billions of dollars advertising how, by most objective criteria, Amazon Prime is far superior to Netflix, and that you can get it for less money (I, of course, now have both), and get a boatload of other perks (which I won't go into detail here) that Netflix isn't even in the business of providing. All for less than the subscription to Netflix.

And now we come to what really put me over the edge. For $79 per year (and 3 months to actually just try it out for free) you can listen to virtually any piece of music ever recorded. From pop to jazz to classical to rock to soul... 55,000,000 pieces of music. I cannot tell you what a number this has done on me. And trust me, I spent many hours testing it. How may of you remember Lord Sutch from the 1960s? I see one hand out there? I wouldn't be surprised. He was one of those one hit wonders ("Don't You Lay No Boogie Woogie on the King of Rock & Roll") from the era. So I figured, hey, if they have this guy... They have about 3 albums by him. Or how about one of the truly original rock bands, "The United States of America"? They only made one album ("The price is right, the cost of one admission is your MIND...") They have this record. Along with every song or album ever recorded by, the Stones, Beatles, John Coltrane, Pink Floyd, Django Reinhhart, Andres Segovia, the Manhattan Transfer, Daniel Barenboim, Bobby Short, on forever....

For me, to be able to say "Someone to Watch Over Me" into a remote and have everyone who ever recorded the song come up, and to be be able to save it in my online collection, has had a much of an impact on me as just about anything in my adult life. And this alone, had it been made available 15 or 20 years ago, would have changed life on the planet as we know it. But, I'm not aware of any kind of major (or even minor) marketing push to make people aware of it.

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Yes, I'm sure Bezos is probably violating any number of moral, ethical and social standards which we should all be cognizant of and vigilant to oppose. So I've withheld the last 1/2 of a cheer.

:)

But hey, this is friggin' amazing s***...

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Al Hirschfield Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

US Tax Attorney with a somewhat radical political bent.

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I've had Amazon Prime for years but obviously haven't been taking full advantage of it. Thanks for the pointers to things I never knew I could do. One question: I don't have Alexa so how hard is it to access some of this from just a keyboard?

Submitted on Tuesday, Apr 2, 2019 at 6:48:31 PM

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Reply to June Genis:   New Content

You just click on the "search" icon and type in what you're looking for. But if you do get Fire TV Alexa is built right into the remote.

Submitted on Tuesday, Apr 2, 2019 at 7:32:22 PM

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Art Costa

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Yah and Adolph Hitler was a paid puppet for American international industrialists like Ford, et al, but I sure do like Ford SUVs.

Submitted on Tuesday, Apr 2, 2019 at 7:29:29 PM

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Al Hirschfield

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Thereya go!

:)

(Yes, I'm assuming you're just kidding...)

Submitted on Tuesday, Apr 2, 2019 at 7:34:31 PM

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No. I was hoping you write this a day late for April Fools.

Submitted on Tuesday, Apr 2, 2019 at 8:00:02 PM

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Reply to Art Costa:   New Content

No, everything I said is actually true. How about you? Do you really believe that everyone richer than you is a Nazi? Bezos, as I said repeatedly, is far from perfect. But so are you and I. He just has a lot more to show for it.

Submitted on Tuesday, Apr 2, 2019 at 8:13:51 PM

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Reply to Al Hirschfield:   New Content

Mr. Hirschfield, I won't bother you with the history, 20th C to the present on why I made the comparisons. It has nothing to do with me and my "wealth". And Jeff Bezos is not simply "far from perfect". He's of the power elite, just like the titans of industry in the past.

What this whole Amazon thing does raise is a great little book by Neil Postman "Amusing Ourselves to Death". Never truer.

Submitted on Tuesday, Apr 2, 2019 at 9:42:57 PM

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Al Hirschfield

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Reply to Art Costa:   New Content

Being part of the "power elite" (and when was there never a "power elite"?) doesn't mean one gassed millions of people in ovens and attempted to ethnically cleanse the entire planet. I think there are a few gaps in your understanding of the history of the "20th C."


It is interesting, though, how people need other people to be "Nazis" in order to feel morally superior to them.

Submitted on Tuesday, Apr 2, 2019 at 11:20:40 PM

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Bezos nexus with those US industrialists from the last century (the ones who provided the means for Hitler's rise) is the power he wields and the monopolistic nature of his business model. It is truly vast empire and has undermined much of the economy for everyday people. (He uses price wars to eliminate the competition, and than, like Walmart, increases those prices once he's captured the market.) He got his "nose" bloodied in NYC, but he usually wins.

Btw, I don't walk around thinking about moral superiority.

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 12:32:28 AM

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Al Hirschfield

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Reply to Art Costa:   New Content

Well apparently no one is going to stop you from linking Bezos to the Third Reich. So, you go for it, buddy!!!


Namaste.

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 12:52:29 AM

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Reply to Al Hirschfield:   New Content

Bezos is a modern version of those 20th C industrialists. This is not my prerogative. His control of a major news outlet coupled with his deep ties with DoD/NSA/CIA and big fossil speaks to the financial and political power he possess (at least for now). His holdings are far more vast and monopolistic than those 20th C industrialists, or any other single individual in the world.

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 1:23:04 AM

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Al Hirschfield

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And if you believe that reading the Harvard Classics and listening to Beethoven is "amusing" one's self to death, then I'd say your understanding of Postman is on par with that of the rest of the 20th C.

Submitted on Tuesday, Apr 2, 2019 at 11:42:40 PM

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Reply to Al Hirschfield:   New Content

My Public Library has served me just fine. No need to get hooked in the Amazon web.

But you're free to do so. I can get all those Harvard classics and Great Lectures and much more at my Public Library. We need to support one of the most vital public spaces.

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 1:09:03 AM

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Al Hirschfield

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Well, judging from the above, one might question just how well your public library actually has served you. But if you're happy, then I'm happy.


btw: As I said at the outset of the article and again at the end, my purpose wasn't to defend Bezos ethically or morally. But to try to look at how he has actually changed life in the 21st Century. But, as I also said, I realized that there would be a strain of OENers who were either incapable of, or simply refused to, do anything but hate and vilify.


But I believe I "got said" what I wanted to say, regardless.

And you pretty much behaved as predicted.

Good night.

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 1:24:50 AM

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Reply to Al Hirschfield:   New Content

You know I don't recall attacking you, but I've noted at least twice you've done precisely that.

Regarding your purpose not to defend Bezos, it seems each of your responses to me was just that.

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 1:32:56 AM

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Al Hirschfield

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You remind me of the fellow who, after repeatedly kicking someone in the shins, finally gets whacked himself and responds in disbelief, "Hey what's da mattah wit ya? I didn't do nuuttin'..."

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 2:08:55 AM

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It sounds like you may have a problem with your over sensitive "shins".

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 12:10:46 PM

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Reply to Al Hirschfield:   New Content

It's not how rich someone is, it's how he got that way that needs discussion.

Can we "blame" someone for doing exactly as the developing world has taught him, in order to get rich? Technically (legally), of course not.

But Bezos is not the real target of the disdain. He's just a "face" of what's wrong with society. Like Trump is the "symptom" of a larger disease, Bezos is another symptom of the same disease.

This doesn't take away from the need to "treat" the symptom, while looking for a "cure". I have contempt for what Bezos represents, and recognize the need to push back against his business model, for the good of the "body".

Contempt could be said to help treat the symptom, and lack of support on a mass scale addresses the disease. If you don't have contempt for his character, you're not alive. If you support the Amazon economy, you are part of the disease, whether you realize it or not.

Submitted on Tuesday, Apr 2, 2019 at 9:54:16 PM

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Al Hirschfield

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Nice picture. Good likeness?

Submitted on Tuesday, Apr 2, 2019 at 11:23:31 PM

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Pretty much. Except, I don't think I got my chin right.

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 12:47:52 AM

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Al Hirschfield

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Nice picture. Good likeness?

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 12:39:11 AM

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Al Hirschfield

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Nice picture. Good likeness?

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 1:08:43 AM

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Very similar TV experience to Al's -- after decades of just using the set for DVD's, we bought an FireStick and now my wife and I get to watch some quality shows a few nights each week. We're probably the only people in town who never even heard of Frazier, for example. Currently we're working our way through season 4 of Downton Abbey, a great series produced by Amazon, I believe. We share Prime with our daughter and are one of 3 users sharing a Netflix account. We watch telenovelas on Netflix with subtitles on to practice our Spanish (Casa de Rosas and Grand Hotel).

It's a real problem how to think about Amazon's crummy working conditions and the effect it's had on local businesses. We shop local when we can and enjoy Prime's free shipping when we can't. We can't afford to go to local movie theaters and the selection in drek anyway.

Submitted on Tuesday, Apr 2, 2019 at 9:19:45 PM

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Amazon's prices are cheap because Bezos keeps ambulances outside his warehouses in case workers pass out from the heat because he won't pay for air conditioning. You don't become a billionaire without being an a$$hole.

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 12:21:37 AM

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Al Hirschfield

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(Member since Jan 20, 2019), 3 articles, 14 quicklinks, 27 comments
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Reply to Lois Gagnon:   New Content

Wow! Since Amazon has over 600,000 employees, one would think that even such a heartless, skinflint like Bezos might balk at the cost of keeping all those ambulances ever-ready, all day long, for all of those employees going without air conditioning! One might even think that it might have even been cheaper to simply spring for the frigging air conditioning...

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 12:43:42 AM

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IndentIndent

Devil's Advocate

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Reply to Al Hirschfield:   New Content

Well actually, it's only one ambulance. But it's parked right outside. There's no driver waiting in the vehicle or on the premises, but they have a number on a preset, in case they actually need to page one.

I'll leave you to figure out if that's joke or not.

Submitted on Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 at 12:56:09 AM

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j dial

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Both Google and Amazon are not only quietly working with the US military on weapons of war.


Both companies are also assisting fossil-fuel companies in automating extraction methods, improving quantities extracted, and out-competing (suffocating) green-energy start-ups.


Most people start out with good intentions ("Do no evil"). But once greed implants its hooks, the addiction is all that matters.


Submitted on Thursday, Apr 4, 2019 at 1:23:30 AM

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Al Hirschfield

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Reply to j dial:   New Content

And you and I are supporting the US military (ARE the US military...) by making it possible with our taxes. We are also continuing to be citizens of a country who enslaved millions of people, exterminated its own indigenous population, and has violently overturned the democratically elected governments of many nations.

Submitted on Thursday, Apr 4, 2019 at 7:20:43 AM

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Al Hirschfield

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Reply to j dial:   New Content

And let's not forget how we pay the petroleum industry to bring the world ever closer to environmental annihilation every time we put gas in our cars.


How do we manage to even go on living being sooooo evil?

Submitted on Thursday, Apr 4, 2019 at 9:18:41 AM

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Al Hirschfield

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Reply to j dial:   New Content

And yet, I don't see either of us making the complete works of Charles Dickens and/or Aristotle available, free-of-charge, to everyone for the asking.

Submitted on Thursday, Apr 4, 2019 at 9:58:02 AM

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