Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin space venture says it's targeting Tuesday for the next uncrewed flight test of its New Shepard suborbital spaceship, with a cargo manifest that should warm kids' hearts for the holidays. The company said in a tweet that it'll fly thousands of postcards that have been gathered through its educational program, known as the Club for the Future. It'll also send up two student-built art projects inspired by OK Go's geeky music videos. This will be Blue Origin's 12th New Shepard test mission, and it will mark the flight of the company's 100th commercial payload… Read More
Alaska will soon close a year that is shaping up as its hottest on record, with glaciers in the "Frontier State" melting at record or near-record levels, pouring waters into rising global seas, scientists said after taking fall measurements. Lemon Creek Glacier in Juneau, where records go back to the 1940s, had its second consecutive year of record mass loss, with 3 meters erased from the surface, U.S. Geological Survey glaciologist Louis Sass told Reuters. Melt went all the way up to the summit, said Sass, one of the experts who travel to benchmark glaciers to take measurements in the fall.
More than 50 polar bears have gathered on the edge of a village in Russia's far north, environmentalists and residents said, as weak Arctic ice leaves them unable to roam. The Russian branch of the World Wildlife Fund said climate change was to blame, as unusually warm temperatures prevented coastal ice from forming. The WWF said 56 polar bears had gathered in a one-square-kilometre (0.4-square-mile) area near the village of Ryrkaipy in Chukotka on the northeastern tip of Russia.
A fresh SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched a recycled robotic Dragon cargo capsule today, carrying 5,700 pounds of supplies, satellites and science to the International Space Station. In contrast with Wednesday's planned launch attempt, which was called off due to excessively high upper-level winds, today's countdown proceeded smoothly to liftoff at 12:29 p.m. ET (9:29 a.m. PT) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Minutes after launch, the Falcon 9's first stage fell away as planned and flew itself back for touchdown on a drone ship stationed hundreds of miles out in the Atlantic Ocean. SpaceX went with an… Read More
More devastating fires in California. Persistent drought in the Southwest. Record flooding in Europe and Africa. A heat wave, of all places, in Greenland.Climate change and its effects are accelerating, with climate related disasters piling up, season after season."Things are getting worse," said Petteri Taalas, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization, which Tuesday issued its annual state of the global climate report, concluding a decade of what it called exceptional global heat. "It's more urgent than ever to proceed with mitigation."But reducing greenhouse gas emissions to fight climate change will require drastic measures, Taalas said. "The only solution is to get rid of fossil fuels in power production, industry and transportation," he said.Seas are warming and rising faster, putting more cities at risk of tidal flooding or worse. Glaciers are melting at a pace many researchers did not expect for decades. The amount of Arctic sea ice has declined so rapidly that the region may see ice-free summers by the 2030s.Even the ground itself is warming faster. Permanently frozen ground, or permafrost, is thawing more rapidly, threatening the release of large amounts of long-stored carbon that could in turn make warming even worse, in what scientists call a climate feedback loop.In a recent commentary in the journal Nature, scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research in Germany and other institutions warned that the acceleration of ice loss and other effects of climate change have brought the world "dangerously close" to abrupt and irreversible changes, or tipping points. Among these, the researchers said, were the collapse of at least part of the West Antarctic ice sheet - which itself could eventually raise sea levels by 4 feet or more - or the loss of the Amazon rainforest."In our view, the consideration of tipping points helps to define that we are in a climate emergency," they wrote.The societal toll is accelerating, too, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in Madrid before the opening this week of the U.N.'s annual climate conference. "Climate-related natural disasters are becoming more frequent, more deadly, more destructive, with growing human and financial costs," he said.For individual extreme weather events or other disasters it can be difficult to fully separate the effects of global warming from those of natural climate variability and other factors. Warming can make wildfires worse, for example - it makes vegetation drier and more combustible - but forest management practices, as well as decisions about where to build, also affect the degree of devastation.Yet a growing number of studies have shown the influence of global warming in many disasters. Heat waves in Europe in June and July, extreme rainfall in Texas during Tropical Storm Imelda in September, the drought that precipitated the "Day Zero" water crisis in Cape Town in 2018 are among many events shown to have been made more likely, more intense, or both, by climate change.Effects like loss of sea ice, more severe heat waves and changes in rainfall patterns were long predicted by scientists and described in reports like those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and, in the United States, the National Climate Assessments produced by federal researchers."So much of what we're seeing is exactly consistent with what's expected from climate change," said Philip B. Duffy, a physicist and president of the Woods Hole Research Center, which studies the environment.At the root of the changes is the basic process of global warming. As carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases build up in the atmosphere, they trap more of the heat that radiates from Earth's surface as it absorbs sunlight.The WMO's state of the global climate report, released at the Madrid talks, said that this decade will almost certainly be the warmest decade on record. And the second half of the decade was much warmer than the first, with global temperatures averaged over the second half about 0.2 degree Celsius (about 0.4 degree Fahrenheit) higher."All the time we're breaking records in temperatures," Taalas said.The records extend to the oceans as well, which absorb about 90% of the excess heat retained by Earth as a result of increased greenhouse gases. Average ocean temperatures this year exceed those of 2018, which were records, the report said.Since the rise of industry in the second half of the 19th century, when widespread emissions of greenhouse gases began, the world has warmed by about 1.1 degrees Celsius.But how fast temperatures will continue to increase, and how much worse things may get, depends in large part on whether the world reins in greenhouse gas emissions, and by how much. After flattening between 2014 and 2016, annual emissions from burning fossil fuels for energy have risen again.The 2015 Paris agreement called for countries to pursue efforts to limit warming this century to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels, with an even stricter target of 1.5 degrees Celsius. But the United States under President Donald Trump is leaving the agreement, and a U.N. report last month suggested that even if countries meet their pledges to cut emissions, and many are far off track, warming would be more than twice the 1.5-degree target.Acceleration of some elements of climate change has been expected, and has now been detected thanks to improvements in measurements. Sea level readings, for example, are now far more extensive, frequent and precise thanks to satellite sensors in use for the last quarter-century. In the past, scientists had to rely on tide gauges.Using satellite data, a 2018 study found that global sea level rise is now about 4.5 millimeters a year, or a little less than one-fifth of an inch. The rate is increasing by about a 10th of a millimeter a year."We knew the rate of sea level rise was increasing, but we had difficulty detecting that," said Steven Nerem, a University of Colorado researcher and lead author of the study.The study estimated that the acceleration would result in sea level rise by the end of this century of 65 centimeters, or about 25 inches, which is more than double the rise if the rate had remained constant.Sea level rise results from a combination of melting glaciers and ice sheets, and the thermal expansion of seawater as ocean temperatures rise. As with most of the projected effects of climate change, there is a high level of uncertainty about future sea levels."No one is terribly sure about what will happen by 2100," Nerem said. "If the ice sheets really start to go, things could change dramatically."Greenland and Antarctica hold enough ice to raise seas by about 220 feet if it all melted. Complete melting would take many centuries, but melting is speeding up on the Greenland sheet, which currently contributes about two-thirds of a millimeter to sea level rise annually, and on much of the West Antarctic sheet."This is a consequence of the warming temperatures of climate change," said Marco Tedesco, a climate scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University."Overall, we do not expect Greenland to slow down," he said. "And we definitely expect an acceleration in mass loss of the West Antarctic ice sheet." While the West Antarctic sheet currently contributes a small amount to sea level rise, eventually it could contribute as much as Greenland, he said.Amid the long term increase in ice-sheet melting there have been some exceptional periods, including this summer in Greenland, when heat from Europe spread north, resulting in temperatures as much as 15 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. Overall this year, Greenland had a net ice loss of about 350 billion tons, about 20% more than the average in recent years and enough to add 1 millimeter to sea levels by itself.A recent analysis by Tedesco and a colleague showed that a rare combination of atmospheric conditions, related to instability of the polar jet stream that encircles Earth at high northern latitudes, led to this summer's melting. Some scientists have suggested that this jet stream instability, or wobbling, is a result of climate change, although the idea is not completely accepted.Warming in the Far North affects more than ice. Louise Farquharson, a geologist and researcher at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, studies the effect of climate change on permafrost. In the Arctic, ground can be permanently frozen from near the surface to several thousand feet deep."We see warming across the board, and generally the rate of warming is increasing," Farquharson said. "But the impact varies significantly."Her recent research found rapid thawing of permafrost high in the Canadian Arctic, where there is little surface vegetation to insulate the frozen ground. By 2016 the permafrost had already thawed at depths not expected until 2090 under a model of "moderate" global warming.While the permafrost at her study sites contains little organic matter, much of the Arctic's permafrost contains large amounts of dead vegetation built up over hundreds or thousands of years. This makes it a huge storehouse of carbon: By some estimates, Arctic permafrost contains about twice as much carbon as is currently in the atmosphere.When it thaws, the organic matter begins to decompose, and the carbon enters the atmosphere as methane or carbon dioxide, adding to warming.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company
REDMOND, Wash. — Representatives of Aerojet Rocketdyne and Lockheed Martin put their signatures on a contract for up to $170 million worth of rocket hardware that'll be installed on Orion spacecraft heading to the moon — with dozens of employees who'll actually build that hardware watching the proceedings. "These are the things you're going to be talking to your grandchildren about," Cheryl Rehm, Aerojet Rocketdyne's senior director of Redmond programs, told company employees here at today's signing ceremony. The ceremony highlighted Redmond's role in NASA's Artemis moon landings. "For the more than 400 employees sitting here in Redmond, there's more… Read More
In a new 2018 report, Business Insider Intelligence defines the opaque US telehealth market, forecasts the market growth potential and value, outlines the key drivers behind usage and adoption, and evaluates the opportunity telehealth solutions will afford all stakeholders.
TUMXUK, China - In a dusty city in the Xinjiang region on China's western frontier, the authorities are testing the rules of science.With 1 million or more ethnic Uighurs and others from predominantly Muslim minority groups swept up in detentions across Xinjiang, officials in Tumxuk have gathered blood samples from hundreds of Uighurs - part of a mass DNA collection effort dogged by questions about consent and how the data will be used.In Tumxuk, at least, there is a partial answer: Chinese scientists are trying to find a way to use a DNA sample to create an image of a person's face.The technology, which is also being developed in the United States and elsewhere, is in the early stages of development and can produce rough pictures good enough only to narrow a manhunt or perhaps eliminate suspects. But given the crackdown in Xinjiang, experts on ethics in science worry that China is building a tool that could be used to justify and intensify racial profiling and other state discrimination against Uighurs.In the long term, experts say, it may even be possible for the Communist government to feed images produced from a DNA sample into the mass surveillance and facial recognition systems that it is building, tightening its grip on society by improving its ability to track dissidents and protesters as well as criminals.Some of this research is taking place in labs run by China's Ministry of Public Security, and at least two Chinese scientists working with the ministry on the technology have received funding from respected institutions in Europe. International scientific journals have published their findings without examining the origin of the DNA used in the studies or vetting the ethical questions raised by collecting such samples in Xinjiang.In papers, the Chinese scientists said they followed norms set by international associations of scientists, which would require that the men in Tumxuk (pronounced TUM-shook) gave their blood willingly. But in Xinjiang, many people have no choice. The government collects samples under the veneer of a mandatory health checkup program, according to Uighurs who have fled the country. Those placed in internment camps - two of which are in Tumxuk - also have little choice.Police prevented reporters from The New York Times from interviewing Tumxuk residents, making verifying consent impossible. Many residents had vanished in any case. On the road to one of the internment camps, an entire neighborhood had been bulldozed into rubble.Growing numbers of scientists and human rights activists say the Chinese government is exploiting the openness of the international scientific community to harness research into the human genome for questionable purposes.Already, China is exploring using facial recognition technology to sort people by ethnicity. It is also researching how to use DNA to tell if a person is a Uighur. Research on the genetics behind the faces of Tumxuk's men could help bridge the two.The Chinese government is building "essentially technologies used for hunting people," said Mark Munsterhjelm, an assistant professor at the University of Windsor in Ontario who tracks Chinese interest in the technology.In the world of science, Munsterhjelm said, "there's a kind of culture of complacency that has now given way to complicity."'Warning to Everybody'Sketching someone's face based solely on a DNA sample sounds like science fiction. It isn't.The process is called DNA phenotyping. Scientists use it to analyze genes for traits like skin color, eye color and ancestry. A handful of companies and scientists are trying to perfect the science to create facial images sharp and accurate enough to identify criminals and victims.Maryland police used it last year to identify a murder victim. In 2015, police in North Carolina arrested a man on two counts of murder after crime-scene DNA indicated the killer had fair skin, brown or hazel eyes, dark hair, and little evidence of freckling. The man pleaded guilty.Despite such examples, experts widely question phenotyping's effectiveness. Currently, it often produces facial images that are too smooth or indistinct to look like the face being replicated. DNA cannot indicate other factors that determine how people look, such as age or weight. DNA can reveal gender and ancestry, but the technology can be hit or miss when it comes to generating an image as specific as a face.Phenotyping also raises ethical issues, said Pilar Ossorio, a professor of law and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Police could use it to round up large numbers of people who resemble a suspect, or use it to target ethnic groups. And the technology raises fundamental issues of consent from those who never wanted to be in a database to begin with."What the Chinese government is doing should be a warning to everybody who kind of goes along happily thinking, 'How could anyone be worried about these technologies?'" Ossorio said.With the ability to reconstruct faces, Chinese police would have yet another genetic tool for social control. Authorities have already gathered millions of DNA samples in Xinjiang. They have also collected data from the hundreds of thousands of Uighurs and members of other minority groups locked up in detention camps in Xinjiang as part of a campaign to stop terrorism. Chinese officials have depicted the camps as benign facilities that offer vocational training, though documents describe prisonlike conditions, while testimonies from many who have been inside cite overcrowding and torture.Even beyond the Uighurs, China has the world's largest DNA database, with more than 80 million profiles as of July, according to Chinese news reports."If I were to find DNA at a crime scene, the first thing I would do is to find a match in the 80 million data set," said Peter Claes, an imaging specialist at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, who has studied DNA-based facial reconstruction for a decade. "But what do you do if you don't find a match?"Though the technology is far from accurate, he said, "DNA phenotyping can bring a solution."Ties to EuropeTo unlock the genetic mysteries behind the human face, police in China turned to Chinese scientists with connections to leading institutions in Europe.One of them was Tang Kun, a specialist in human genetic diversity at the Shanghai-based Partner Institute for Computational Biology, which was founded in part by the Max Planck Society, a top research group in Germany.The German organization also provided $22,000 a year in funding to Tang because he conducted research at an institute affiliated with it, said Christina Beck, a spokeswoman for the Max Planck Society. Tang said the grant had run out before he began working with the police, according to Beck.Another expert involved in the research was Liu Fan, a professor at the Beijing Institute of Genomics who is also an adjunct assistant professor at Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands.Both were named as authors of a 2018 study on Uighur faces in the journal Hereditas (Beijing), published by the government-backed Chinese Academy of Sciences. They were also listed as authors of a study examining DNA samples taken last year from 612 Uighurs in Tumxuk that appeared in April in Human Genetics, a journal published by Springer Nature, which also publishes the influential journal Nature.Both papers named numerous other authors, including Li Caixia, chief forensic scientist at the Ministry of Public Security.In an interview, Tang said he did not know why he was named as an author of the April paper, though he said it might have been because his graduate students worked on it. He said he had ended his affiliation with Chinese police in 2017 because he felt their biological samples and research were subpar."To be frank, you overestimate how genius the Chinese police is," said Tang, who had recently shut down a business focused on DNA testing and ancestry.Like other geneticists, Tang has long been fascinated by Uighurs because their mix of European and East Asian features can help scientists identify genetic variants associated with physical traits. In his earlier studies, he said, he collected blood samples himself from willing subjects.Tang said the police approached him in 2016, offering access to DNA samples and funding. At the time, he was a professor at the Partner Institute for Computational Biology, which is run by the Chinese Academy of Sciences but was founded in 2005 in part with funding from the Max Planck Society and still receives some grants and recommendations for researchers from the German group.Beck, the Max Planck spokeswoman, said Tang had told the organization that he began working with the police in 2017, after it had stopped funding his research a year earlier.But an employment ad on a government website suggests the relationship began earlier. The Ministry of Public Security placed the ad in 2016 seeking a researcher to help explore the "DNA of physical appearance traits." It said the person would report to Tang and to Li, the ministry's chief forensic scientist.Tang did not respond to additional requests for comment. The Max Planck Society said Tang had not reported his work with the police as required while holding a position at the Partner Institute, which he did not leave until last year.The Max Planck Society "takes this issue very seriously" said will ask its ethics council to review the matter, Beck said.It is not clear when Liu, the assistant professor at Erasmus University Medical Center, began working with the Chinese police. Liu says in his online resume that he is a visiting professor at the Ministry of Public Security at a lab for "on-site traceability technology."In 2015, while holding a position with Erasmus, he also took a post at the Beijing Institute of Genomics. Two months later, the Beijing institute signed an agreement with the Chinese police to establish an innovation center to study cutting-edge technologies "urgently needed by the public security forces," according to the institute's website.Liu did not respond to requests for comment.Erasmus said that Liu remained employed by the university as a part-time researcher and that his position in China was "totally independent" of the one in the Netherlands. It added that Liu had not received any funding from the university for the research papers, though he listed his affiliation with Erasmus on the studies. Erasmus made inquiries about his research and determined there was no need for further action, according to a spokeswoman.Erasmus added that it could not be held responsible "for any research that has not taken place under the auspices of Erasmus" by Liu, even though it continued to employ him.Still, Liu's work suggests that sources of funding could be mingled.In September, he was one of seven authors of a paper on height in Europeans published in the journal Forensic Science International. The paper said it was backed by a grant from the European Union - and by a grant from China's Ministry of Public Security.Tang said he was unaware of the origins of the DNA samples examined in the two papers, the 2018 paper in Hereditas (Beijing) and the Human Genetics paper published in April. The publishers of the papers said they were unaware, too.Hereditas (Beijing) did not respond to a request for comment. Human Genetics said it had to trust scientists who said they had received informed consent from donors. Local ethics committees are generally responsible for verifying that the rules were followed, it said.Springer Nature said on Monday that it had strengthened its guidelines on papers involving vulnerable groups of people and that it would add notes of concern to previously published papers.In the papers, the authors said their methods had been approved by the ethics committee of the Institute of Forensic Science of China. That organization is part of the Ministry of Public Security, China's police.On the Frontier With 161,000 residents, most of them Uighurs, the agricultural settlement of Tumxuk is governed by the powerful Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, a quasi-military organization formed by decommissioned soldiers sent to Xinjiang in the 1950s to develop the region.The state news media described Tumxuk, which is dotted with police checkpoints, as one of the "gateways and major battlefields for Xinjiang's security work."In January 2018, the town got a high-tech addition: a forensic DNA lab run by the Institute of Forensic Science of China, the same police research group responsible for the work on DNA phenotyping.Procurement documents showed the lab relied on software systems made by Thermo Fisher Scientific, a Massachusetts company, to work with genetic sequencers that analyze DNA fragments. Thermo Fisher announced in February that it would suspend sales to the region, saying in a statement that it had decided to do so after undertaking "fact-specific assessments."For the Human Genetics study, samples were processed by a higher-end sequencer made by an American firm, Illumina, according to the authors. It is not clear who owned the sequencer. Illumina did not respond to requests for comment.The police sought to prevent two Times reporters from conducting interviews in Tumxuk, stopping them upon arrival at the airport for interrogation. Government minders then tailed the reporters and later forced them to delete all photos, audio and video recordings taken on their phones in Tumxuk.Uighurs and human rights groups have said authorities collected DNA samples, images of irises and other personal data during mandatory health checks.In an interview, Zhou Fang, the head of the health commission in Tumxuk, said residents voluntarily accepted free health checks under a public health program known as Physicals for All and denied that DNA samples were collected."I've never heard of such a thing," he said.The questions angered Zhao Hai, the deputy head of Tumxuk's foreign affairs office. He called a Times reporter "shameless" for asking a question linking the health checks with the collection of DNA samples."Do you think America has the ability to do these free health checks?" he asked. "Only the Communist Party can do that!"This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company
Seattle-based Cyrus Biotechnology says it'll collaborate with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard on ways to optimize CRISPR gene-editing techniques for use in developing novel human therapeutics. CRISPR has revolutionized genetics by making it easier to modify the DNA coding in the genome, but more needs to be done to address safety concerns for human applications. Cyrus Biotech and the Broad Institute will work on ways to reduce the potential for the body to mount an immune response against CRISPR-based therapies. MIT biochemist Feng Zhang, one of the pioneers in the development of CRISPR, will be the principal investigator… Read More
BALTIMORE - Another big Prime Air 767 takes off from Baltimore-Washington International Airport - where Amazon's shipping last year eclipsed that of FedEx and UPS put together - and wheels above the old industrial city. Below, the online giant seems to touch every niche of the economy, its ubiquity and range breathtaking.To the city's southeast stand two mammoth Amazon warehouses, built with heavy government subsidies, operating on the sites of shuttered General Motors and Bethlehem Steel plants. Computers monitor workers during grueling 10-hour shifts, identifying slow performers for firing. Those on the floor earn $15.40 to $18 an hour, less than half of what their unionized predecessors made. But in Baltimore's postindustrial economy, the jobs are in demand.Near the Inner Harbor are the side-by-side stadiums of the Ravens and the Orioles, where every move on the field is streamed to Amazon Web Services for analysis using artificial intelligence. Football players have a chip in each shoulder pad, and baseball players are tracked by radar, producing flashy graphics for television and arcane stats for coaches.Up in northwest Baltimore, a pastor has found funding to install Amazon Ring video cameras on homes in a high-crime neighborhood. Privacy advocates express alarm at proliferating surveillance; footage of suspects can be shared with police at a click. But the number of interested residents has already outstripped the number of cameras available.In City Hall downtown and at Johns Hopkins University a few miles away, procurement officers have begun buying from local suppliers via Amazon Business - and even starred in a national marketing video for the company. Buyers said the convenience more than justifies interposing a Seattle-based corporation between their institutions and nearby businesses. Critics denounce the retail giant's incursion into long-established relationships. It is a very Amazon dispute.As federal regulators and Congress assess whether Amazon's market power should be curbed under antitrust laws - and whether, as some politicians argue, the company should be broken up - The New York Times has explored the company's impact in one U.S. community: greater Baltimore.Baltimore's pleading pitch last year to become an additional headquarters city for Amazon, promising a whopping $3.8 billion in subsidies, did not even make the second round of bidding. But Amazon's presence here shows how the many-armed titan may now reach into Americans' daily lives in more ways than any corporation in history. If antitrust investigators want to sample Amazon's impact on the ground, they could well take a look here.Anirban Basu, a Baltimore economist who has studied the region for years, is skeptical of apocalyptic claims about Amazon, saying Sears and Wal-Mart were both once seen as all-powerful. But he called Amazon a "profit-margin killer" and said it should be scrutinized, particularly because technological trends that include artificial intelligence, driverless trucks, drones and new payment systems all play to its advantage."All these things are a threat to other industries," Basu said. "But they're all good for Amazon. As powerful as it is, Amazon is set to be much more powerful."Ken Knight has felt Amazon's long reach. He plans to close his 152-year-old Baltimore houseware and hardware store, Stebbins Anderson, at the end of the year. He pins most of the blame on Amazon."It's put me out of business," said Knight, 70, who had hoped to pass the business to his son. Knight is especially aggrieved by government subsidies to the company in the name of job creation; he will be laying off 40 employees.Amazon insists, in an argument it is likely to use in antitrust proceedings, that its market power is nothing like what people imagine. Yes, it accounts for 40% to 50% of online retail in the United States - but that is only 4% to 5% of total retail. (Wal-Mart's revenue is still twice that of Amazon, though Amazon's total value on the stock market is the fourth largest among U.S. companies, more than double Wal-Mart's.) And while Amazon may sell nearly half of cloud-computing services, it points out that the cloud makes up a small fraction of information technology spending."We welcome the scrutiny," said Jay Carney, Amazon's top Washington representative and a former White House press secretary for President Barack Obama. "We operate in huge competitive arenas in which there are thousands and thousands, if not millions, of competitors. It's hard to argue that if you're 4% of retail, you're not in competition."Baltimore offers in microcosm the contentious issues that Amazon's conduct has raised nationally. The erosion of brick-and-mortar retail. Modestly paid warehouse work and the looming job destroyer of automation. An aggressive foray into government and institutional procurement, driving local suppliers to partner with Amazon or face decline. A swift expansion in air cargo, challenging FedEx and UPS. The neighborhood spread of video and audio surveillance. And the steady conquest of the computing infrastructure that underlies commerce, government and communications, something like an electric utility - except without the regulation imposed on utilities.Amy Webb, founder of the Future Today Institute, a strategy firm, who lives part time in Baltimore, said Amazon's impact only began with its retail platform."It's the invisible infrastructure that powers our everyday lives," said Webb, who examines Amazon in her book on the tech giants, "The Big Nine." "Most of us don't know 95% of what Amazon is doing."She called the contest for Amazon's second headquarters a "ridiculous parade, a beauty contest" in which communities nationwide offered up inducements while failing to make a clear-eyed assessment of costs and benefits. With its capabilities, market sway and long-term strategy, she said, Amazon now conducts itself like a "nation-state."A River Through Commerce and CultureNone of this was imaginable in 1994, when Jeff Bezos paged through a dictionary in search of a name for an online bookseller and stopped at "Amazon." Not only was it the largest river in the world by volume - it was four times bigger than the runner-up, which appealed to Bezos' outsize ambitions. Books were just the start.Some 25 years later, fueled by customers' addiction to click-and-done convenience and speedy delivery, Amazon has quietly flowed into many areas of life, bringing to more and more arenas its tireless innovation, relentless focus on data, unforgiving employment practices and omnivorous competition. In many homes here, as across the country, it is the ultimate labor-saving device: supplier of electronics, clothes, groceries, books, movies, music, information and security. More than half of U.S. households now have an Amazon Prime membership, and most shopping searches begin on Amazon, not Google. Globally, Amazon, whose critics call it the "apex predator" of digital business, delivered 10 billion packages last year - more than the number of people on the planet.Greater Baltimore accounts for 1% of Amazon's sales nationwide - just about its share of the population, according to data prepared for The New York Times by Rakuten Intelligence, which tracks e-commerce.But as a transportation hub, with Interstate 95 and major rail lines converging near a busy port and airport, Baltimore punches above its weight - originating 2.38% of Amazon's shipments in the United States, Rakuten said.Even with all that shipping and logistics, Amazon ranks just 14th among local employers, according to The Baltimore Business Journal. Yet like an online shopper who realizes one day that half his possessions came from Amazon, a Baltimorean who looks for the company's footprints can find them everywhere.On a midtown back alley, Todd Blatt, one of 18,000 Maryland sellers on Amazon Marketplace, uses a laser printer to turn out little models of the iconic bus stop benches that read "Baltimore: The Greatest City in America," peddling them online with an assortment of toys and bric-a-brac. He's battled counterfeits from competing sellers on Amazon but isn't really complaining: "I haven't had a real job since 2012," he said.When the Baltimore Behavioral Lab, a research organization, conducts consumer surveys, it posts them on Amazon's Mechanical Turk microtask site. Users earn tiny sums of money for participating.Amazon Smart Home is partnering in one Baltimore suburb with Lennar, the country's largest homebuilder, to install Amazon Echo devices, which use voice-activated Alexa to control Amazon Ring video cameras outside. In a tough city neighborhood where drug dealers intimidate neighbors, the Rev. Terrye Moore is organizing a subsidized video setup after hearing a radio promotion for Ring by NBA great Shaquille O'Neal.Public libraries are stocked with digital audiobooks from Amazon's Audible, and browsers can check reviews on Amazon's Goodreads. Down the road in Annapolis, Amazon Studios filmed scenes in the Jack Ryan television series.Amazon owns two Whole Foods grocery stores in Baltimore, is opening a third, and recently began free delivery to Prime members. In a dozen convenience stores, it operates Amazon Lockers, where customers can pick up purchases. It has enlisted Kohl's stores to handle returns. Its trucks and vans are everywhere.Experts at Baltimore's academic medical complexes are discussing whether Amazon is preparing to disrupt their industry, too. In just the past 18 months, the company joined the health care venture Haven and bought the e-medicine pioneer Health Navigator as well as Pillpack, now part of Amazon Pharmacy.Through Amazon Web Services, the biggest provider of cloud computing, the company is building the country's digital backbone. AWS employs a small staff of software engineers in Baltimore - the company declined to say how many - and provides the computing infrastructure for many institutions, from Johns Hopkins to the investment firm T. Rowe Price and the sportswear company Under Armour. Even the secretive National Security Agency, south of Baltimore at Fort Meade, acknowledged that it relied on AWS "for various administrative and mission needs."The arms of Amazon sometimes cross in unexpected ways. Although Under Armour uses AWS, the clothier has had to balance its own online sales with its Amazon.com "storefront." The Maryland Department of Human Services downtown partners with AWS in a cloud-computing effort called MD Think, designed to streamline social services. At the same time, the department said, it provides food stamps to nearly 600 local Amazon employees, largely part-time warehouse workers.Even as its omnipresence draws antitrust scrutiny, Amazon seems unlikely to pull back. In June, Bezos, by most accounts the world's richest person, trumpeted a new Amazon plan to launch 3,200 satellites to provide internet service around the world. He argued that Amazon's size meant it should take on huge new challenges."Amazon is a large enough company now that we need to be doing things that, if they work, can actually move the needle," Bezos said.Bezos, who is renovating a $23 million house in Washington, an hour south of Baltimore, has long pushed the mantra of "customer obsession," and it has paid off. In the Harris Poll on the popularity of major U.S. companies, Amazon has ranked No. 1 or 2 each year since 2012. By comparison, Google fell to 41 this year and Facebook to 94.But putting customers' convenience first, a key to Amazon's spectacular growth, can put a big squeeze on everyone in the company's long supply chains - warehouse workers, independent sellers, delivery drivers, cargo pilots - not to mention smaller competitors.A New Kind of Assembly LineShaquetta Taylor, who goes by Shaq, scanned an item - a bag of glazed pecans. Her screen directed her to "Stow Item," and the digital clock started counting - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 - as she found space for it in the robotic pod. Then there were cactus-shaped tea lights - 17, 18, 19, 20 - and a children's crafting kit and a magnetic door screen ("Actually, I have this myself," she remarked).Taylor - 43, in glasses and a "Toy Story" T-shirt, mother of two sons and grandmother of a 3-year-old - arrived four years ago at Amazon's warehouse awed by the company's cachet. "When I first came here, I thought, 'I'm not good enough for Amazon,'" she said, taking a brief break from Stow Station 3301.But after a year, she was asked to become an "ambassador," helping out newer colleagues at this Amazon Fulfillment Center, shorthand name BWI2, built where GM's Baltimore Assembly Plant operated for seven decades. Its scale is mammoth: 27 acres of floor space, 2,500 employees, 14 miles of speeding conveyor belts.If Taylor doesn't make her numbers, she can be fired. She's thrived because she's fast and accurate over a demanding 10-hour shift with two half-hour breaks, one of them paid.The warehouse is run by Preet Virdi, general manager and an Amazon true believer who moved from India to attend Georgia Tech 13 years ago. Virdi, 35, said his top priority was safety - a whiteboard recently listed 40 head injuries and 109 foot injuries so far in 2019 - and added that his next priority was "how we make the workplace more fun."The real boss is data, however, as it is everywhere in Amazonland. Everything that happens is timed and measured in a way that efficiency experts of earlier generations could only dream about. If the computers said Taylor or other "associates" are too slow or sloppy, they're out. And if Virdi doesn't make his numbers, he'll be out too.That is nothing new in industrial practice. But Amazon, with an unparalleled mastery of digital tools and the coolly calculating tone set by Bezos, has brought it to a rare extreme. The company's astonishing success has made it, in turn, a powerful influence on other companies.Some workers thrive despite the pace. "The day goes by quick," said Robert Taylor, 51, a leader in the warehouse chapter of Glamazon, for LGBT employees. "All these other people go to the gym. Amazon pays me to stay in shape."Some see a path to advancement. Samaira Johnson, 26, a high school graduate with a pet iguana at home, is already a leader among the employees trained to work with warehouse robots. Asked where she saw herself in 10 years, she replied, "Running an Amazon building like this one."Others falter. Sharon Black, 70, a veteran Baltimore activist who has held assembly-line jobs at GM and other plants, worked for a few months at BWI2 last year and found a striking difference: At Amazon, the computers ruled.That wasn't entirely negative, she said. In the application process, Amazon didn't care about age, gender or race - only that a person could walk several miles a day and lift 50 pounds. "They're an equal opportunity exploiter, I'll tell you that," Black said. "You could come in with three arms and they wouldn't care."Black said she quit after two written warnings that she wasn't meeting productivity standards, knowing a third would get her fired."The machines determine so much," she said. "You're clocked from beginning to end. They grind through people."When an employee told the National Labor Relations Board that he had been fired for complaining about working conditions, the company said he had it wrong: He had been fired for working too slowly.In fact, an Amazon lawyer wrote to the NLRB that last year, it had fired "hundreds of other employees" at the Baltimore warehouse for failing to make their numbers. The letter, obtained by The Verge, listed more than 800 workers fired in the previous year, but the company now says the correct number was 309.Automated dismissals are a feature, the letter said, not a flaw. "Amazon's system," the lawyers wrote, "automatically generates any warnings or terminations regarding quality or productivity without input from supervisors." Amazon said termination decisions are ultimately made by managers.Workers at Amazon who run into that kind of trouble have no unions to represent them - a shift from Baltimore's past. GM employees were represented by the United Automobile Workers. At the second warehouse, on the old Bethlehem Steel site, United Steelworkers held sway. At both plants, the pay was adequate to support a family.In the GM plant's final years, line workers made an average of $27 an hour, equivalent to more than $35 today. GM workers could make $80,000 annually with overtime, according to contemporary news reports, equal to $102,000 in 2019 dollars.The vehemently anti-union Amazon has raised its lowest hourly pay to $15.40, which is a little over double the federal minimum wage, the company points out. But even a veteran worker at its BWI2 warehouse would have to put in considerable overtime to get to $40,000 a year, less than half of what a GM worker could make in the past.Nor are the job numbers comparable. The GM plant employed 8,000 at its peak; Bethlehem Steel employed 30,000. Amazon has a total of 4,500 workers at the two warehouses.In a statement, the company called its jobs "safe and innovative," noting that the warehouses were built on "blighted property" that was vacant for years before Amazon "injected life (and jobs)" back into the East Baltimore brownfields.In a city that has shed most unionized industrial jobs, Amazon gets plenty of applicants. Its hourly pay is $2 or $3 higher than at many comparable employers, and benefits are also more generous: medical, dental and vision coverage and a 401(k) with a 50% match. The company will reimburse an employee up to $3,000 a year for further education or give a worker $10,000 to start a business delivering Amazon goods.Under the circumstances, government officials here are grateful for Amazon's presence. The company has gotten $65 million in tax incentives and loans to build the two big warehouses and related smaller facilities, according to the Maryland Department of Commerce.The company said it had spent about $1 billion on infrastructure in Maryland to date; hired about 7,000 full-time direct employees, nearly all at warehouses; and used contractors who hired another 2,100 people.But economists said online shopping has also erased thousands of retail jobs, and critics pointed to other costs, including traffic congestion and environmental effects, so assessing the company's net impact is difficult. Few of the Amazon jobs in Baltimore are the highly paid tech and management positions appearing in northern Virginia, which Amazon chose for its 25,000-strong second headquarters, called HQ2. (Amazon chose New York City for a similar hub but withdrew in the face of local opposition.)Such a boon might have been transformative for Baltimore, a struggling city surrounded by wealthier suburbs. But the city ended up on the company's long list of also-rans, 230 locales that turned over reams of valuable workforce and worksite data to Amazon in elaborate applications - and got nothing in return.In a statement, Amazon said the top criterion for choosing a location was "the availability of tech talent." It added, "Nowhere did Amazon say HQ2 was a project designed to help communities in need."For Black, the former employee, one experience captured what she thought was the eerily inhuman warehouse culture. In November last year, two contract workers were killed when a tornado collapsed a wall of a smaller Amazon warehouse opposite BWI2.Black said she drove to work the next morning, steering around fallen trees, wondering how the company would handle the deaths at the brief standing meeting that began each shift."I thought they'd have two minutes of silence," she said. "Nope. We didn't pause." Instead, she said, there was the usual tribute to the "power picker" - the outstanding performer in her unit, as measured by the computers. Michael Jackson music played, she said, and the supervisor shouted, "Let's have a better day than yesterday!"It was a reference to production levels, not to the overnight catastrophe.Rachael Lighty, an Amazon spokeswoman, said the company offered counseling and hosted the most affected employees for a meal. "We are committed to constantly improving how we communicate with and engage with our employees," she said.Despite the demanding nature of their jobs, many warehouse workers fear Amazon intends to replace them with robots, a worry shared by some experts and politicians like Andrew Yang, the presidential candidate who warns that automation will create mass unemployment. Amazon has begun testing machines that can pack boxes; and humans can be prone to injury, easily exhausted, eager to unionize and outspoken about gripes.The robots that silently cruise through the warehouses, each carrying up to 1,200 pounds of purchases, are none of these things.But Webb, the futurist and technology writer, said she believed Amazon had made a different discovery: that the job of moving products from bin to pod and pod to box is presently more cheaply performed by humans than by robots."It's not that the robots are taking over," Webb said. "It's that we've been relegated to robot status."Asked whether the Baltimore-area might automate further, Lighty, the Amazon spokeswoman, said there was no such plan."We have hundreds of robots here but thousands of people," she said. "And it's the people that make the Amazon magic happen."Buying Local, Via SeattleA marketing video released last spring appears designed to capture some of that magic right in Baltimore. Shots of the city's harbor and iconic row houses alternate with views of the busy Amazon warehouse. "We help Baltimore businesses buy from other Baltimore businesses," said Virdi, the warehouse manager, as packages raced past on conveyor belts.More surprising than Virdi's remarks are enthusiastic endorsements from City Hall and Johns Hopkins, whose chief purchasing officers laud Amazon in the video for helping them connect with local suppliers.It is a glimpse of Amazon's major push into territory it has not yet conquered: purchasing by government and other institutions that relies on competitive bids and fixed-price contracts. At the federal level, Amazon lobbied for legislation - congressional staffers called it "the Amazon amendment" - designed to help it win government sales. At the local level, it has fended off accusations of predatory competition by saying it can actually connect local buyers with local suppliers.Brian Smith, Johns Hopkins' purchasing officer and a subject of the video, said local businesses often found the big university hard to approach. But he met an Amazon representative at a convention, and now Johns Hopkins has a customized Amazon Business page that gets local vendors "in front of a lot of eyeballs here," he said. Erin Sher Smyth, Baltimore's chief procurement officer, noted that Amazon's website flagged such criteria as minority and female owners and made record keeping easy.But like many people who find Amazon both convenient and worrisome, Smyth admitted to a certain ambivalence about its impact."In my role as city purchasing agent, I'm trying to get the best product for the best price, efficiently, and Amazon lets me do that," she said. "In my personal life, I do worry about Main Street shops."Her anxiety is widely shared. As in other cities, many Baltimore shopping districts are anemic and pocked with vacancies. The waterfront Harborplace shopping pavilions, once a symbol of urban revival, are in receivership.The causes include mismanagement, shifting tastes and big-box competition, but Amazon's unstoppable growth is a factor. In Baltimore and its suburbs, the average Amazon shopper makes nearly 40 purchases a year totaling about $1,300 - spending that is up more than 50% since 2016, according to Rakuten.Now, as it moves into institutional procurement, Amazon has sought to persuade civic-minded public officials that it can be a booster. Both the city and the university designated a particular company located about 15 miles southwest of Baltimore, AJ Stationers, as a preferred supplier of office products via Amazon, in part because the firm is owned by a minority woman, Angela Jeung.That has been a windfall for AJ Stationers, said Rusty Balazs, the sales manager, who estimated that annual sales to Johns Hopkins had climbed from $100,000 to $2 million. But AJ Stationers has shrunk from two stores and about 50 employees two decades ago to a website and a dozen employees today, he said.Mike Tucker, chief executive of the Baltimore-based independent office product dealers' association, said AJ was really a "poster boy" whose local deals, highlighted in the marketing video, were a public relations tactic intended to obscure Amazon's impact on small businesses already battered by Office Depot and Staples. (His association, which had 12,000 member businesses in the 1980s, now has 1,500.)"That Amazon convenience comes at a big price," said Tucker, noting that he welcomed the antitrust inquiries down the road in Washington. The price is paid, he said, not just by local dealers but by their myriad business connections, from cleaning services to gas stations, eroding local employment."It doesn't matter that the local business served you and helped you with your problems for years and years," he said. "Amazon does whatever it takes to crush the competition."Addressing such criticism, Amazon said it offered "best-value pricing for education and public-sector organizations" and helped small businesses thrive "because customers are able to discover suppliers."Tucker said he shared the Amazon marketing video with a local office products executive who had seen his Baltimore sales drop. When the executive realized Amazon had moved into his market, his "head exploded," Tucker said.But the executive declined to speak with the Times, Tucker said, for fear of angering Amazon. "He's afraid that they may have to make a deal with the devil to survive," Tucker said.Onward and UpwardAnyone who wants a glimpse of Amazon's expansive appetite might pay a visit to BWI Airport, where a new white warehouse seems to stretch on and on. Workers are putting the final touches on a $36 million, 200,000-square-foot building, financed with tax-exempt bonds, that will dwarf Amazon's current airport operations. There are bays for 93 tractor-trailers to load and unload at once.The growth at what Amazon Air calls its "gateway" - one of 25 around the country - has been rapid. In 2016, Amazon Air, a new division, did not operate through BWI. The following year, Amazon moved more freight through the airport than either FedEx or UPS, the industry leaders. And in 2018, it loaded and unloaded 9,300 metric tons of goods at BWI, more than FedEx and UPS combined, though globally their fleets remain far larger.Morgan Stanley warned a year ago that "the market is missing the risk Amazon Air poses" to FedEx and UPS, knocking down those companies' stocks. Other analysts are skeptical. But FedEx, worried that its longtime partner was becoming a competitor, announced last summer that it was ending air and ground delivery for Amazon.Until recently, the company's BWI expansion here was swathed in secrecy; environmental reports referred only to a "Midfield Cargo Operator," and Maryland's governor, Larry Hogan, spoke last year of welcoming to BWI "a very well-known e-commerce giant." Although its Boeing 767s are often painted with the Prime Air logo, Amazon contracts its flying to several lower-profile operators, including Atlas Air, ABX Air, Air Transport International and Southern Air.One reason for Amazon's reticence may be stormy negotiations between its biggest carriers and the Teamster units that represent pilots. Union records show that Atlas Air, the biggest Amazon flyer, pays pilots about one-third less than FedEx or UPS.Ed Nirel, a first officer for Atlas, said he had flown into Baltimore "at 3 a.m. and 3 p.m." and had watched the operation expand, with a half-dozen Amazon Air jets now sometimes jockeying for docking space. He said the pilot pay gap had led to staffing problems; he has worked as many as 17 days in a row for Atlas, he said, compared with a maximum of four days at his last job with ExpressJet."I'd love to stay at Atlas; it's a great group of pilots," Nirel said. "The Amazon airport operations are pretty cool to see. But if FedEx or UPS offers me a job, I'm going to go. My working life would be better, and it would be better for my family."Robert Kirchner, who recently retired as an Atlas pilot and now is a union negotiator, said Amazon's drive for speedy delivery was stretching the workforce to the breaking point."Atlas' fatigue complaints are through the roof," Kirchner said. "They're wearing the pilots out, and it's a completely unsafe situation." He said the union was closely tracking the still-unexplained crash of an Atlas 767 carrying Amazon cargo into a Texas swamp last February, killing three, to see if fatigue was a factor.Atlas, responding to questions from the Times, said its pilots got a "competitive total compensation package" and flew an average of 42 hours a month, compared with an industry average of 53. It said it was working with the National Transportation Safety Board to understand what went wrong in the Texas crash.Drive five minutes from Amazon's new air cargo hub, and you find a humbler scene: a package delivery station surrounded by Prime tractor-trailers, unmarked white vans used by Amazon contractors and the flex drivers who load their cars with packages for what the industry calls the "last mile." There are new SUVs, compacts with rooftop carriers and banged-up sedans. Drivers use the Amazon Flex app to sign up for "blocks" - $54 for delivering a certain number of packages between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. on one recent day, or $72 between 5:15 p.m. and 8:15 p.m.Amazon just opened a second Baltimore delivery station. Every such station Amazon opens, said Marc Wulfraat, a supply chain consultant, means that about 40,000 packages a day, previously delivered by the U.S. Postal Service and other carriers, shift to Amazon's own operation.One consequence is a steady shift of work from unionized Postal Service jobs to flex drivers, many of them struggling to get by. In August, the Postal Service explained a big third-quarter loss by saying in a filing that "certain major customers" were cutting back on package shipping. In Baltimore over the past two years, the Postal Service share of Amazon deliveries has dropped from about 60% to under 30%, according to Rakuten. Amazon's own share of its Baltimore deliveries has risen to 50% from 20% in 2017.On a private Facebook group for flex drivers working the Hanover, Maryland, station near BWI, the replacements for postal workers and FedEx truckers trade tips and grumble.Several said the station was so jammed they had to load packages outside in the rain. Whoever at Amazon designed the 25-mile route to Sykesville, Maryland, one driver groused, "needs to be drug-tested, like seriously." Another complained that a 28-package nighttime route listed at 2 1/2 hours took her more than four hours to complete, and "a dog came out on me on top of that because it was too dark to see."Net ProfitsBut the most profitable part of Amazon's operations has nothing to do with the clamor of warehouses, airports and trucks. All but invisible to the public, Amazon Web Services hums quietly in the background of a huge and growing slice of American life.Countless Baltimore-area businesses, nonprofits and government programs use AWS. When Baltimoreans stream a movie on Netflix instead of Amazon Prime, they are still using Amazon - because Netflix relies on AWS' cloud computing. (The Times is also an AWS customer.)Many companies see AWS as the computing equivalent of Baltimore Gas & Electric, the local utility: They plug into the cloud - the generic term for rented, off-site computer space - and pay for what they use. Some fret about what will happen when Amazon's cloud crashes, as happens periodically with power companies. But AWS has proved quite reliable so far.Consider T. Rowe Price, the global investment firm headquartered on Baltimore's Inner Harbor, which has steadily replaced its own information infrastructure with Amazon's service.As it adds customers in Asia and Europe, said Nigel Faulkner, chief technology officer at T. Rowe Price, the traditional approach would be to build its own data servers in new markets."With Amazon we can rely on their servers in those places," he said. "That's cheaper." T. Rowe Price can increase or decrease its use of AWS services at any time, paying only for what it uses. And there are hundreds of applications built on AWS offering specialized services, from database management to artificial intelligence.The NFL also uses Amazon's software tools, crunching data from more than 200 metrics in every football game. Data streams to the AWS cloud from chips embedded not just in players' shoulder pads but in referees' jerseys, the football and even the chains used to measure first downs. Machine-learning tasks that used to take all night are completed in 20 minutes using the massive computing capacity of AWS."What we've really done is take a lot of the gut instinct some people have and quantified it," said Matt Swensson, the football league's vice president of emerging products and technology.When the Baltimore Ravens faced the Miami Dolphins, for example, NFL analysts could annotate the video with the time Lamar Jackson took to get a pass off (3.8 seconds), the precise distance of the throw (46.9 yards) and the odds that Marquise Brown would catch it: 32%. (For the record, he did catch it - for a touchdown.)AWS, like its cloud competitors, is especially popular with tech startups, which can pay as they grow, said Chris Sachse, founder of Think|Stack, a Baltimore company that works closely with AWS and provides cybersecurity and infrastructure consulting.Sachse, whose grandfather and father sold trucks for a living and who serves on a state workforce development board, said he saw tech jobs as a potential path for Baltimoreans without higher education because they require expertise but not degrees."A college degree doesn't help you with AWS because it's all brand-new," he said. "A lot of people think the death of industry has made it impossible to have middle-class jobs. I think we have a path to those middle-class jobs."Sachse said he has advised Baltimore startups gratis, including one working to streamline philanthropy and another selling subscriptions to products like razors. He often asks AWS to provide free training and other services, and they usually step up."I'm sure they see the capitalist return on it," he said. "For them, it's, 'The more people we train to use AWS, the more business we'll have.' If these startups hit it big, so does AWS."The Giant and the 'Little Guy'Mike Subelsky, a Baltimore tech entrepreneur, once extolled AWS' virtues at the trendy South by Southwest festival, talking about his email startup while dressed as "Mr. Spam." A regular Amazon shopper, he said Amazon had saved him more than once, recalling its speedy delivery of a crucial Spanish-English dictionary for his middle-school daughter.Yet these days, he's ambivalent. He worries about Amazon's invasive data collection, the influence exercised by its algorithms, the heat generated by its enormous computer centers and the exploitation of its workers. "It's a U.S. company that's hyperdominant and rich and has incredible market power, and they're not in it for social good," he said.His mixed feelings echo those of many Americans about the emerging dark side of digital life."For my generation, the internet was the equivalent of landing on the moon. But the internet seems to have made some things so much worse," he said. "I'm not sure this is the world I want my kids to be growing up in."At Stebbins Anderson, the home products store dating to 1867, a 30% off closing sale is underway. Knight, the owner, recalls the beginning of his long battle with Amazon nearly 20 years ago, when customers would ask for a 6% discount to match the online retailer, which for many years collected no sales tax.Amazon started imposing sales tax after building warehouses in Maryland. By then, it was also receiving loans and tax credits from the state while drawing away more and more of Knight's patrons, he said. Even his own daughters, busy at their jobs, found online ordering irresistible."It would have been nice to get some of the benefits Amazon gets," he said. "But the little guy always ends up footing the bill."Across town, however, there's an unexpected development in the area where Amazon got its start: books. It decimated Borders and Barnes & Noble in Baltimore. But that made room for a small, hardy band of independent bookstores, led by the Ivy Bookshop, which opened a second bookstore-cafe called Bird in Hand in 2016.Like independents making a comeback around the country, the Ivy sells books at full price, making its success all the more striking. Customers will pay $30 for a book they might get with a click for $20 online, in part because they don't like the world they believe Amazon is building, said Emma Snyder, the shop's owner."There's much more consciousness of supporting a bookstore and specifically not using Amazon," Snyder said. "Part of what people don't like is that Amazon debases the value of things. We're commercial spaces, but we fundamentally exist to feed and nurture people's souls."This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company
ATLANTA - In a small suburban park on a muggy morning a few months ago, a woman in elbow-length gloves was armed with a net, a loaf of bread and a tall cardboard box, all in hopes of catching an elusive goose.The goose, whose left leg was tightly wound in fishing line, walked with a pronounced hobble; as it swam, the leg dragged listlessly in the water. Yet despite its condition, animal instinct prevailed. The goose simply refused to be caught.Cindy Rooker, the would-be captor, hoped to retrieve the recalcitrant Canada goose, tuck it into the cardboard box she had brought, and drive it to a wildlife rehabilitation center a few hours away in South Carolina, where the bird would receive medical attention.But after several attempts, Rooker knew it was time to call it a day. Birds are easily stressed, and waterfowl have an inconvenient and frustrating knack for flying right into the center of a pond. Also, she didn't bring a kayak this time.A police officer who lives in Canton, Georgia, Rooker, 56, volunteers for the Wildlife Resources and Education Network (WREN). She started working with the organization at the beginning of the summer, and has since completed about 10 transports, crisscrossing the northern half of the state with the likes of orphaned baby opossums and injured hawks in the cab of her Nissan pickup truck.WREN connects people like Rooker - committed animal lovers in the Southeast with spare time, spare gas money and an empty back seat - with wildlife rehabbers and veterinary clinics that lack the resources to transport an animal on their own.In other words, Rooker and her fellow transporters are Mother Nature's unpaid Uber drivers.Robert Jones, an animal lover whose other pursuits include military history and small-business consulting, started WREN with Liz Crandall in 2016. The two met at the Southeastern Raptor Center at Auburn University, where Crandall worked and Jones volunteered and, later, interned.They formed WREN as a wildlife educational initiative, but with time, sharpened their focus largely on transportation after seeing the same challenge day after day: More people seemed to be stumbling upon injured wildlife every passing year, but few wanted to transport the animals to rehabbers themselves."It's a really large gap," said Jones, 34, who now lives in Jonesborough, Tennessee, and is the executive director of the Tilted Tavern Animal Sanctuary. Nonprofits like the raptor center don't always have the resources or staff to send someone out to fetch an animal, especially one that's hours away.That's where WREN - and a handful of similar organizations, like the Connecticut Emergency Animal Response Service - step in.When I first spoke with Crandall, 46, by phone, she had just finished up "a fawn call" (which, at least in this instance, is not a pun). Crandall, who is the assistant director of the Tilted Tavern Animal Sanctuary, said that she fields roughly a dozen calls a day and manages a handful of transports each week, often across state lines.That number is increasing each year, for reasons both dismal and hopeful: While humans are pushing into wildlife territory more and more, some of them are also becoming more aware of, and attuned to, the wildlife in their backyards."I think people are more conscientious," Crandall said. "They want to help more."WREN uses Slack to communicate to its volunteers and manage logistics, like making sure each transporter has an appropriate container for the animal (typically a cardboard box or a lidded Rubbermaid bin with holes for oxygen).Driving a captured animal requires total silence in the car - no phone conversations, no podcasts or music - sometimes for hours on end."It takes a lot for people to commit to something where they'll get a call maybe once a month, or maybe every day," Crandall said. Working with nature has inherent challenges and frustrations. It requires patience and flexibility, not to mention thick skin: Not every case has a happy ending.One of the organizations WREN works with is the Chattahoochee Nature Center, where Kathryn Dudeck works as wildlife director. Dudeck said that the center fields 400 to 500 phone calls a month, and takes in more than 650 animals for rehab each year.Those cases range from natural causes, like nestlings blown out of their nests in a hurricane, to injury explicitly at the hands of humans: an owl with buckshot in its wings, a red-tailed hawk hit by a car. "Needless to say, Mother Nature didn't invent the vehicle or the gun," Dudeck said. "So, we have a moral obligation to assist."David Crawford is the founder of Animal Help Now, a 911-like website and smartphone app that links people to wildlife rehabbers and transporters like WREN. App usage has increased every year since its inception in 2012, he said."As we expand and build new roads and build new suburbs, you have a lot more interaction with animals," he said. Then, he added, there is climate change: more destructive hurricanes will yield more injuries and habitat destruction; prolonged droughts, raging forest fires and searing heat waves will continue to push desperate animals further into human habitats."People are going to be interacting with wildlife a lot more than they are right now," said Crawford. He estimates that by the end of 2019, Animal Help Now will have been used in 40,000 wildlife emergencies across the country.A week after the first attempt, Rooker was back at Laurel Park. This time, there was a scrum of additional helpers, including Crandall, along with two kayaks. There were, however, no geese.Just before the group split off to search nearby ponds for the flock, Darcell Patterson, a sneaker-shod woman, intercepted the volunteers. Patterson, 66, has walked around the park every day for the last four years, she said, and brings dried food pellets with her to "establish rapport" with the resident ducks and geese.She matter-of-factly informed the group that the injured goose is named Gary, and that his leg has been wrapped in that line for a couple of years. Gary, it seems, can survive on his own, and has not yet been ostracized from his avian comrades.Crandall decided to let Gary be for now, knowing he was under Patterson's watchful eye. As long as the bird can still fly, walk and eat, Crandall explained, the stress of relocation isn't justifiable yet."Gary's got friends in high places," Patterson said.While it wasn't the Disney-worthy victory that the volunteers may have had in mind this go-round, it was still a victory by their standards."Sometimes letting wild be wild is the right thing to do," Jones said. "You teach people what situations need our intervention, and what situations don't."This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company