Economy

Love It Or Hate It, Amazon May Be Impossible To Live Without

Amazon is upending the commercial status quo. And yet, as much as people like to complain about it, the temptation to use it can be irresistible.

An Amazon warehouse in Pforzheim, Germany
An Amazon warehouse in Pforzheim, Germany
Kurt Kister

-Analysis-

MUNICH — The stock market isn't just an indicator of economic success and power relations. It also tells us much about the current state of society, and about the unprecedented impact of the internet in particular.

The five biggest companies in the world are Apple, Amazon, Alphabet (Google's parent company), Microsoft and Facebook. All of them — except for Facebook — have either passed or are nearing the $1 trillion threshold. Those Big Five could not exist without the internet, and without them, the internet would be very different from what it is today.

Indeed, there is no event, evolution or process in the history of humanity that has changed and influenced the entire world and the individual lives of billions of people the way the internet has in just two decades. Even the scientific and technological revolution in the 18th century — which brought mechanics, electricity, mass production, new means of transport — took much longer than this new, modern revolution.

With the internet, the world has gone through a complete transformation. More and more people live, love, hate and work with and through the web. Politics, working life, travel and communication have all been transformed, to the point that they're nothing like they were in 1998. If a person of the 11th century ended up in the 15th, they could adapt, given a bit of time. But if someone fell through a time-fold from 1850 to 2018, they would end up in an incomprehensible world.

The great shopping shift

Amazon is one of those phenomena that define the beginning of the digital age. We no longer buy from local stores. Instead we purchase what we need from our smartphones and computers. For online purchases that aren't data streams (films, series, music, electronic books), delivery still consists of a mix of modern methods and older technology — poorly paid messengers bring the assembled product from poorly paid packaging workers. But this too will likely change in the near future through automated logistics and delivery systems controlled, in large part, by what we call artificial intelligence.

Either way, about one-third of online commerce in Germany is already dominated by Amazon. It is possible that physical stores and online shopping will exist side by side for quite some time. From a practical standpoint, however, we will need fewer and fewer stores in certain locations. Shops will survive where they can convey an experience — speaking to a person instead of a robot, strolling through actual aisles instead of scrolling.

Visiting a shopping street is a social experience. This is similar to the gradual switch to music streaming, as opposed to listening to music on old-fashioned stereos. Amazon does both: It sells vinyl records and CDs, but also offers streamed music at a fraction of the cost. Little wonder that Amazon has also opened bookstores here and there. Proper bookstores, with shelves!

Amazon Books store near Portland — Photo: Steve Morgan

In a sense, an Amazon bookstore is sort of a re-enactment club for history buffs. It's like those people who dress up in period uniforms and pretend they're back in the U.S. Civil War. The re-enactor believes he is experiencing something that used to be normal. Anyone entering an Amazon bookstore is, in that sense, a re-enactor of the what used to be normal, what used to be the present. Anyone entering an Amazon bookstore is a re-enactor of the 20th century.

Putting the cart before the horse

Amazon exemplifies another inverse evolution, one in which trade precedes manufacturing. For centuries it was the other way around: People made things, and later, if they had a surplus and wanted other things, they would sell their goods or barter. Amazon is different: It put trade first. But then, after being wildly successful on that front, the company realized it could further promote trade through its own production. As a result, there are now plenty of things — ranging from films to food to textiles — that Amazon now produces in-house.

Who has never bought from Amazon?

Incidentally, the same principle prevails in another area that Amazon is cultivating: publishing. Almost anyone can publish a book on Amazon. You don't need to work with agents anymore, or arrogant editors, or publishers and bookstores — because Amazon is all that. If the writing sells, it is fine. If not, well at least the self-publishing author can take comfort in the fact that Franz Kafka didn't sell many books either.

Yes, for people who grew up in the 20th century, the dominance of these digital companies is unsettling. And yet, who except avid watchers of Bibel TV (Bible Television) doesn't have a cell phone and use the internet? Who still uses a film camera? Who has never bought from Amazon?

Amazon destroys bookstores. And because I think bookstores are more important than grocery stores, I try not to buy things through Amazon. But then I wanted the fourth season of a particular series. I also wanted the collected works of the explorer and adventurer Sir Richard F. Burton, something I'd have to pay a fortune for in an actual bookstore, provided I could even find it. On Amazon, the 18,350 pages of all of Burton's works cost 99 cents. You load them on the Kindle electronic reading device designed by Amazon and then you can always have them with you.

Thus, bookstores are disappearing. Amazon is worth a trillion dollars. And I'm stuck with a guilty conscience, though I do, at least, have Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah & Meccah on my e-reader.

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food / travel

The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire


According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA

Unsplash/@nemo23


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council


Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire


The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

Unsplash/@hkblind


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke


During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press


Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

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