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The Amazon juggernaut.

Is Amazon indulging in anti-competitive practices?

An article in Fortune magazine would suggest that there is at least the intent to do so.

The June 17 article bylined by David Z. Morris describes a patent taken out by the mega retailer that will block customers shopping in Amazon-owned brick-and-mortar stores from comparison  shopping online while in the store.

The patent’s long title is “Physical Store Online Shopping Control”, and the U.S. Patent Office lists it as Patent No. 9,665,881.

The patent abstract reads as follows: (emphasis added)

Systems and methods for controlling online shopping within a physical store or retailer location are provided. A wireless network connection may be provided to a consumer device at a retailer location on behalf of a retailer, and content requested by the consumer device via the wireless network connection may be identified. Based upon an evaluation of the identified content, a determination may be made that the consumer device is attempting to access information associated with a competitor of the retailer or an item offered for sale by the retailer. At least one control action may then be directed based upon the determination.

Interesting. Not only does Amazon block the signal, but it identifies the content requested and then acts to block it or redirect it to other Amazon products.

Um-m-m, pardon me for asking, but aren’t we having a national paroxysm over similar covert information collection and misuse by Russia right now?

The article does point out that the technology described would only apply to shoppers using the in-store wi-fi network to connect to the internet.  Customers using their own cellular network would not be blocked.

Yet.

The technology exists to block and/or redirect any cellular reception. It’s use is supposed to be subject to certain rules governing law enforcement or clandestine government agencies, but of course, that’s just a genie in the bottle.

The last decade has produced a swarm of mega-mergers, from airlines to banks to now, retail shopping.

From that we have gotten more expensive air travel,  along with a flying experience that bears a remarkable similarity to cattle cars and banks that demand sales at the expense of either legality or morality.

It is often hard to see where that has produced a better product for consumers.

Technically the economies of scale should produce savings for the parent company, and sales psychology  would dictate that the savings should trickle down to consumers.

Some would say that has happened.

However, if you have to pay a parking fee to the venue owners to get into the free dance, is it still free? That’s sort of where many consumers are with having to pay a membership fee for the privilege of getting lower prices.

If you don’t have that pass to the magical money-saving kingdom, Amazon’s prices are often as high or higher than those available elsewhere on the internet.

Right now, Amazon taking over an over-priced trend-following organic food store isn’t a big deal.

But what happens when they buy up their next two largest competitors? Is it really a good idea to have a food, clothing and hard goods retailer with not just a slice of the market, but 7/8’s of the pie?

Do we really need a retail Google in our pantries and closets?

People in favor of government control of everything will be OK with that, because they believe in central control of everything.

For myself, if I want fresh food, I’ll grow it in the greenhouse and harvest the chickens that have quit laying when I want really fresh fried chicken, and I still own a sewing machine.

How about you?  Where will you go when Amazon is the only game in town?

TGIF – June 16, 2017

The news you may have missed this week.

Pipeline under siege again.

A judge just ordered more environmental impact studies  for DAP, and is considering shutting off the flow of oil completely.

That’s the Dakota Access Pipeline, which must surely be one of the most studied construction projects in the United States.

The justification is that the pipeline could hypothetically spring a leak and foul the waters of a lake.

This December 9, 2015 animated map from the Business Insider shows both existing and (at that time) proposed crude oil and natural gas pipelines within the contiguous U.S., as well as the Trans Alaska pipeline in Alaska.

There is hardly a state that doesn’t have one or more pipelines within its borders, and many of them cross or border rivers, lakes, and reservoirs.

The graphics in the animation also points out that as of 2013, 99.99 percent of the product reaches its destination without incident.

Is there a chance that any pipeline could develop a leak, from simple wear and tear?  Sure.

There’s also actual evidence that wind farms kill a lot of birds. They are also unsightly and noisy, and research indicates they alter the micro climates in their immediate vicinity.

That’s not a hypothetical assumption. The data, in the form of dead birds, exists.

Does that mean we should shut them down too? Might as well…fair is fair, after all.

Nothing in life is foolproof. This is not, and never was about the environmental safety of pipelines.

National anthem now a political statement.

According to an ESPN show host, the NFL created the Colin Kaepernick controversy by requiring players to stand for the national anthem.

Respectfully, it wasn’t Kaepernick’s refusal to stand that is the problem.  It’s his contention that the government  and nation of the United States is racist that earned him a chance to enjoy early retirement.

ETSY sales of provocative Trump image ended?

Replicas of the “severed head” prop image used by Kathy Griffin in her tasteless photo shoot could be found on the ETSY website at least through yesterday, according to the Daily Caller.

However, a quick check before publishing this piece shows the item listed as “no longer available.”

It’s mind blowing that any site would have pushed that image for personal gain, particularly by hawking it for kid’s parties. If the item is truly no longer available, and not just hidden, then kudos to ETSY for finally doing the right thing. Better late than never.

Time to put a lid on it.

Well. Where does a politically-themed blog go from here?  In the case of this one, it’s to the people that support it, so that’s what Musings did yesterday.

First, absolutely no one, whether left or right or center, is surprised that the shooting happened. It’s been obvious for months that the level and duration of incendiary rhetoric and yes, hate, was going to trigger some nut case to go off the deep end.

Second, the idea that this incident is going to have some sort of lasting magical healing effect is a pipe dream. There were people on social media praising the shooter from the minute the news hit the airwaves, particularly when it seemed the dirtbag was deliberately targeting Republicans.

The two losing parties immediately started a conversation, not about whether they might be at least partially responsible for the event due to their rhetoric, but, you guessed it, about gun control.

By the time the early evening talk shows aired, you had people returning immediately to themes of sexism, attacking  the President and the gun culture.

It’s fairly obvious that most of the instigation that drove this particular man came from the left.  That’s purely an observation, not a political statement, and is based upon what has been publicly revealed about his long-standing personal war with Republicans. It apparently became even more pronounced after the election.

Mostly though, this was a guy with an apparently tenuous hold on reality that just needed a little push to send him spiraling out of control.

Having said that, there are far right wackos as  well as far left ones. The danger is that this will embolden others to act out in a similar way, either as copycats or in retaliation.

If this is to have any salutatory effect it will have to come from the top down.  That means all the newsmakers, and we all know who they are, need to put a lid on the inflammatory rhetoric. That means doing more than just mouthing the expected platitudes and denouncing violence.

Less than 12 hours after the incident, there was little proof that anyone is prepared to accept that responsibility.

It’s better than an even money bet that a week from now, everyone will be back to attack politics as though nothing had happened.

It is perfectly fine to disagree with people, even strongly, on the basis of policy or behavior. That’s what a democracy is all about.

When that becomes personal attacks on heads of government departments, or people’s families, or their religious affiliations, or calling for the disappearance of whole races and economic classes, that needs to be something society as a whole condemns.

Social media bears some responsibility in this, but we need to remember that Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t write the Facebook posts, nor do Messrs. Stone, Glass, Dorsey and Williams of Twitter.

They do however need to decide just how far they would want free speech to go if someone used it to incite someone to harm  them or their families.

On the other hand the shock jocks, insult comedians, TV hosts and politicians who continue to hide hate speech behind the First Amendment do bear a portion of the blame, if for no other reason than that they egg on the rest.

Unbalanced people will always find some excuse to act out. They don’t need any help or approval  to lead them on.

Remember that the next time you are tempted to stand up for a nitwit and call their hate-filled actions or speech an exercise in free speech.

Putting people before politics.

One of the reasons Donald Trump, candidate, made an impact was his practical, people-centered problem-solving philosophies.

It was no secret early on that he has little interest in the politics of the job if they don’t produce the desired result, and that basic fact is the source of much of the current conflict.

This entire week is dedicated by the White House to correcting the skills imbalance in this country through better workforce development.

In the meantime the over-refined, perpetually self aggrandizing opposition is hard at work ridiculing that agenda as being out of touch with modern realities.

The reality for real people is any type of middle class work has been denigrated as beneath our increasingly effete society members to consider as a way of making a living.

That attitude was made crystal clear by a reporter at yesterday’s press briefing by Secretary Acosta, when that reporter said that “many people” equated modern apprenticeship programs with indentured servitude.

It’s also evident in many businesses today, when they limit even entry-level jobs paying eight to ten dollars an hour to degree holders only.  Then they wonder why college graduates holding tens of thousands of dollars in personal debt won’t even apply.

That reporter’s single, ill-informed and frankly ridiculous question pinpoints why our country is not prospering today.

Today’s apprenticeship programs marry modern technology to human hands.

For instance, the modern auto mechanic may still need to remove a faulty starter manually using hand tools, but the diagnostics are done using state-of-the art technology.

Salary.com lists the median salary for a skilled auto mechanic  in Houston TX at $55,000 annually, with a top of well over $65K. A skilled aircraft mechanic trained to work on jets is listed at over $95,000 median, annually, with the top range well over 100K.

If you can stand a little grease under your nails, that’s not too shabby.

The problem with those two jobs is that you have to acquire the skills necessary by being willing to work hard in conditions that don’t resemble corporate boardrooms much.

Much has been made since the election of the Democrats failure to engage with the working class. That was by design, not by accident.

In truth, they fear the working class, because it by nature is not as susceptible to being chained to Washington with promises of guaranteed incomes and free everything. The party fears what it cannot control, and a prospering people are a lot harder to control.

There may come a time when machines and AI-controlled devices inherit the world, but that day is not today, however much Silicon Valley wishes it to be so.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to growing national revenues by increasing personal incomes, but to deny an entire segment of the population a chance to make a decent living purely for political purposes shouldn’t even be on the table.

What did Trump voters accomplish?

That question was posed over Saturday morning coffee among a group of people who have somehow managed to remain friends, despite representing differing political viewpoints. There were several Trump voters, a Clinton voter, a non-voter, and two who voted for local write-ins as a protest.

It’s a fair question, given that if you only pay attention to the media you might think it’s all about race or religion or economic status or gender.

Ah, the media.  Described by one person as a modern plague of locusts, and by another as the world’s largest sewer. Suffice it to say, these folks don’t form their opinions of Trump based on CNN or MSNBC. Not even the ones who didn’t vote for Trump.

One thing they all recognize…the Stop Trump movement is about stopping everyone that voted for him too. All 62 million of them.

So why did they vote for him?

The overwhelming consensus was that the Trump voters wanted to restore optimism and expose a real threat to the nation.

For instance, they have hope that common sense will replace government interference in people’s everyday lives.

On a local and personal level, one man mentioned that he had a place on his property that always flooded due a low spot in his neighbor’s irrigation ditch.  The ditch got fixed, and the place is dry now, and has been for three years.  Upshot, the neighbor wanted to cut down the willows that had crept in and subsequently died, and bring in fill dirt to fix some erosion.

Only he couldn’t, because it was now considered a seasonal wetland, according to a county official.

Only when President Trump addressed the issue of the Obama-era expansion of EPA regulations, was he able to go in and fix the damage.

That’s just a very local story, but it is an example of how what happens in Washington affects real people.

On a more national scale, another person who didn’t vote for either party’s candidate asked what about all the unrest, the people rioting in the streets, the never-ending media wars, the attempts to stamp out conservatives, all of that.

Interestingly, no one focused on individual symptoms, like college radicals trying to suppress opposing speech or people identifying first as some gender, racial or ethnic group, rather than Americans.

They very much see what’s happening as a battle for the country’s national identity.

Most people felt that bringing into the light how far the country has moved left was a good thing. Sort of a feeling that exposing the enemy within was the first step to combating them.

Everyone agreed that the support for socialism was disturbing. One lady mentioned that her grandparents had immigrated through Ellis Island to get away from that and would be horrified to see how many people supported Bernie Sanders and the far left if they were still living.

Most Trump voters agreed that while it would have been nice to have had a mainstream candidate with shall we say, a bit less polarizing personality in the White House, that person apparently doesn’t exist.

One person put it this way…”It isn’t Trump who is the problem. It’s the country. If the problems weren’t so big, he wouldn’t be so polarizing, because no one would object to rebuilding America.  There wouldn’t be any need for a Donald Trump, and he wouldn’t need to be out there tweeting about his enemies attacking him ”

A woman compared the country to her granddaughter, who is four.

“Kids are really good at emotional blackmail. If I tell her she can’t have a cookie, or that I won’t buy her a certain toy, she immediately says I don’t love her, or that she hates me and turns on the crocodile tears. I raised six kids, so I know that’s just the way kids behave. How she turns out on the other hand, is based on how I behave. If I give in to her every time, she will turn out to be a shallow, self-centered and manipulative adult.

For far too long the people that run this country have been giving in to every demand from first this group and then that one. With identity politics we have many spoiled, manipulative human beings gathered in tight little groups, and politicians pandering to them to stay in power.  Donald Trump got picked to say “No” to the special interest groups when it’s necessary.”

As a group, these folks see the race, religious, gender and other social issues as mere battles in a larger conflict.

And that’s kind of the point. It’s not about Donald Trump.

The country has gone through this kind of upheaval many times in the past, starting with its very inception. It’s one of the side effects of people having the right to disagree with the central government of the moment.

Until recently, it’s always come through the maelstroms with its national identity intact.

Maybe if we can stay focused on the big picture, it will again.

Artistic license…or a call to action?

When is a stage play not just entertainment?

New York City is supposed to be the U.S. cradle of refined artistic expression, of culture and art for art’s sake, rather than crass commercialism in the manner of Hollywood.

It is home to the Museum of Modern Art, the Frick Gallery, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and numerous on or near Broadway theaters such as the Palace, the Helen Hayes, the Hirschfield and the Lyceum, to name a few.

Suffice it to say you don’t get into one of those theaters for an evening performance wearing cargo shorts and flip flops.

In an effort to allow ordinary people exposure to the great playwrights, the city also has such programs as “Shakespeare in the Park” where you don’t have to be able to wear the equivalent of a Tiffany’s showroom to gain entrance. While it does require tickets to attend the Central Park open-air productions, the tickets are free.

The program is sponsor and taxpayer (through the National Endowment for the Arts) funded  and has averaged about 80,000 in annual attendance as reported in 2015.

Plays are one of the oldest forms of performance art, and until literacy became the norm outside of castles and churches, often served as the vehicle for both entertainment and a venue for social and political commentary for the masses.

Which brings us to this season’s offerings. For 2017, the Central Park open air venue is offering “Julius Caesar” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” two of the bard’s most enduring works.

For those that slept through English Lit, the former is the tale of the opposition to, and eventual assassination by means of a gang of men stabbing him to death, the man often reported to be the first emperor of the Roman Empire when it morphed from the Roman Republic to become the world’s greatest superpower of its day.

Shakespeare wrote through the lens of the current events of his day, and many of his plays reflect on basic human nature. Palace intrigue, political polarization and the attendant violence they spawn are as old as the human race itself.

With that in mind, be advised that this year’s NYC offering of Julius Caesar’s rise and fall is not the one that your tweed-garbed literature professor bored you with in school.

This one has been updated to reflect the political climate of today.

That’s known in the literary world as taking artistic license.  Essentially the storyline is a springboard for a playwright or producer to present a viewpoint or highlight a nuance within a previously published work and it’s a perfectly acceptable form of allegorical interpretation.

That observation brings us to the current moment.

2017’s Julius, opening on June 12,  looks an awful lot like Donald Trump, and Calpurnia (Caesar’s wife) speaks with what is described as a “Slavic” accent. His eventual killers don’t much resemble Brutus and Cassius either.

No matter your political leanings, that’s a permissible form of artistic license, bringing the ancient chronicle into the modern world. Many interpretations have existed for as long as the story has existed.

But at that point the adaptation takes a darker turn. While the original conspiracy and assassination was conducted by white male conspirators, this version shows only racial minorities and women stabbing this modern interpretation of Caesar.

Given the political climate of today, that’s either a blatant attempt to garner greater financial support from liberal patrons of the arts, or it has a more sinister objective.

It’s likely that if pressed the producer will opine that the stabbing is simply a metaphor for resistance. To do otherwise would be unwise at best.

Coming so close on the heels of several high profile terrorist stabbing incidents, and the ISIS calls to use weapons at hand,  it’s at least in poor taste, and may stretch the boundaries of free speech a bit too far.

Reviews have generally followed the lines you might expect in the Big Apple. Some find the left-leaning storyline boring. Others of course use it to tacitly support the play’s seeming objectives.

That’s the story…use your own judgment when interpreting it.

Special counsel tainted?

Following his admission under oath that he was maneuvering to get a special counsel appointed because he “knew” Jeff Sessions was going to recuse himself from the Russiagate investigation there are now questions about Robert Mueller as well.

It always did look strange, despite Mr. Mueller’s apparently sterling record as the FBI director immediately preceding Comey, that Comey’s close friend and mentor was appointed to oversee the investigation.

Now it looks just a little too cozy for comfort.

The most remarkable part of Comey’s testimony yesterday was the former director’s repeated assertions that he was too intimidated by the President to even mention that perhaps the private meetings were inappropriate.

How a man grows to 6’8″ and runs the FBI without a backbone to match is somewhat hard to understand.

Yet Comey would have us believe that as the most powerful cop in the land, he couldn’t even work up the courage to say that the private meetings were compromising his investigation.

Somehow, at the end of the public testimony this all felt, sounded and smelled very Hoover-like.

There is no doubt that President Trump was wrong, or at least stupidly naïve, to meet privately with Comey given the ongoing investigations, not to mention the blatant animosity from every former Obama administration holdover.

In fact, following this testimony it might behoove the President to make sure he is never alone with anyone like that ever again.

So which is it? Is Comey a gutless wonder playing both ends against the middle to keep his job, or did he simply get caught trying to run a sting on the President?

If the President’s legal team does in fact press for a deeper dive into the machinations and political intrigue Mr. Comey revealed, this could get a lot smellier than it is now.