Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro fired the head of the agency which monitors Amazon deforestation. “Fired” is an unfortunate word here – flames sweep across the country and down into Bolivia. Scientists and environmentalists have been alarmed by how quickly their predictions, that Bolsonaro’s aggressive anti-conservation agenda would boost deforestation, have come to pass. Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (Inpe), publishes monthly deforestation alerts and has reported around 80,000 wildfires in Brazil since January, 40,000 of them in the Amazon rain-forest.
Bolsonaro was incensed as first the local, and then international media started picking up what are publicly-available statistics. “Most of the foreign press has a completely distorted image of who I am and what I intend to do here with our policies and for the future of our Brazil,” he said. “I perfectly understand the level of the poisoning that is done to Brazil by the foreign press.” He declared that the data from the Inpe space research institute was a pack of lies and set off down the well-trodden right-wing Conspiracy Road. Read more »
“Life—that is: being cruel and inexorable against everything about us that is growing old and weak….being without reverence for those who are dying, who are wretched, who are ancient.” (Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science)
A recent article by George Packer in The New Yorker about Amazon is both eye-opening and thought-provoking. In “Cheap Words” Packer describes Amazon's business practices, the impact of these on writers, publishers, and booksellers, and the seemingly limitless ambitions of Amazon's founder and CEO Jeff Bezos whose “stroke of business genius,” he says, was “to have seen in a bookstore a means to world domination.”
Amazon began as an online book store, but US books sales now account for only about seven percent of the seventy-five billion dollars it takes in each year. Through selling books, however, Amazon developed perhaps better than any other business two strategies that have been key to its success: it uses to the full sophisticated computerized collection and analysis of data about its customers; and it makes the interaction between buyer and seller maximally simple and convenient. It also, of course, typically offers lower prices than its competitors. Bezos' plan to one day have drones provide same-day delivery of items that have been stocked in warehouses near you in anticipation of your order is the logical next step in this drive toward creating a frictionless customer experience.
Amazon's impact on the world of books has been massive. Over the past twenty years the number of independent bookstores in the US has been cut in half from four thousand to two thousand, and this number continues to dwindle. Because Amazon is by far the biggest bookseller, no publisher can afford to not use its services, and Amazon exploits this situation to the hilt. Publishers are required to pay Amazon millions of dollars in “marketing discount” fees. Those that balked at paying the amount demanded had the ‘Buy' button removed from their titles on Amazon's web site. Amazon used the same tactic to try to force Macmillan to agree to its terms regarding digital books. And of course Amazon's Kindle dominates the world of e-books, another major threat to traditional publishers and booksellers.
The argument for viewing Amazon in a positive light is not difficult to make.