A Deathly Letter of Recommendation

MAY 14, 2019  /   SUBSCRIBE


“Lottery: A tax on people who are bad at math.”

“Selfish, adj. Devoid of consideration for the selfishness of others.”

– Ambrose Bierce



Amazon’s Payday and Judgement Day: You don’t get to be as big and efficient a company as Amazon without doing something right. Together with Amazon’s direct sales, and the addition of third party sales in Amazon Marketplace, the online retail giant captures 48 percent of all e-commerce. Amazon operates some 75 fulfillment centers (warehouses) and 25 sortation centers in North America, and employs approximately 125,000 full-time hourly employees in the US who are picking, packing and shipping customer orders. Since the company is constantly striving to get deliveries to customers in ever shorter time frames, packers have a high turnover rate. Boxing multiple orders per minute over 10 hours is apparently very taxing.

As a result, in its ongoing efforts to increase efficiency and decrease delivery time, Amazon has worked to automate as many parts of the business as possible. Robotics, scanning machines, and computer systems in the company’s fulfillment centers track millions of items in a day. Now Amazon is beginning to roll out robots to handle the boxing function. The company already installed boxing machines (costing about $1 million each) at a handful of warehouses within driving distance from Seattle and cities in Europe. Presently it plans to add two machines at dozens more warehouses, which will replace at least 24 positions at each location for a total elimination of about 1,300 jobs across 55 US fulfillment centers. The company says the key to its goal of attaining a leaner workforce is attrition, meaning it will just refrain from refilling available packing roles.



Let There Be Light: Italy’s right-wing anti-immigrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has clashed with the Vatican before over migration and other social issues. Now Cardinal Konrad Krajewski has drawn Salvini’s ire (and broken the law) by climbing down a manhole and restoring electricity to some 450 homeless people, including 100 children, living in a disused state-owned building near a Rome cathedral. The building has been home to Italians who had lost their own homes and migrants since 2013. It had been without power since May 6 because some 300,000 euro in electricity bills had not been paid. The 55-year-old cardinal, whose main job is to distribute the pope’s charity funds, broke a police seal to reconnect electrical circuit breakers. “What can I say? It was a particularly desperate situation. I repeat: I assume all the responsibility. If a fine arrives, I’ll pay it,” Krajewski said. (Reuters)

Keep Your Country Close And Leaders Who Agree With You Closer: Hungary’s president Viktor Orban had a formal meeting Monday with a US president at the White House for the first time in over 20 years. President Bill Clinton had invited Orban for a visit in 1998, when the Hungarian leader was a 35-year-old reformist and anti-Soviet activist who had helped his country transition out of communism. The Obama administration limited diplomatic ties with Hungary over concern that Orban was undermining democratic values. Now Orban is one of Europe’s most prominent nationalists who, according to one biographer, runs Hungary like a “soft autocracy,” alarming the European Union. Under Orban, Hungary has rewritten its constitution to strengthen his control over parliament, and gerrymandered the country’s electoral map. His party, which controls parliament, has weakened the courts. Orban supporters control most of the media. Critics are either ignored or vilified, and his administration has cracked down on nonprofits that support migrants and minorities. Some analysts say the Hungarian leader has found a kindred spirit in fellow nationalist Donald Trump. (NPR)

A Six Feet Oversight & A Deathly Letter of Recommendation: A 42-year-old male nurse in Germany is thought to have killed as many as 300 patients under his care between 2000 and 2005. Officials at the Oldenburg hospital where Niels Hogel was working became suspicious about the number of deaths when Hogel was on duty. They barred him from contact with patients and were eventually able to push him out. But they sent him off to his next job at the intensive care unit of Delmenhorst hospital with a solid letter of reference describing him as someone who worked “independently and conscientiously,” handled crisis situations “with consideration,” and was “technically correct.” Within four months his patients started dying. It took over ten years for authorities to conduct a full investigation, including exhuming over 130 bodies in Germany, Poland and Turkey. How Hogel was able to kill uninterrupted for so long raises uncomfortable questions for Germany, including whether the same deference to hierarchy and predilection for procedure that once facilitated Nazi-era crimes was operative. (NYT)

Living In The Grapevine: A new study finds that people spend an average of 52 minutes per day talking to someone about someone else who is not present — in other words, gossiping. However, it also found the vast majority of gossip wasn’t trash talk, but nonjudgmental chitchat. The study was conducted by a psychologist at the University of California, Riverside, who focuses on how people’s social interactions are related to their health and well-being. She and her colleagues analyzed snippets of conversations from people who had agreed to wear a portable recording device for two to five days. The findings are published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. (NPR)

Capitalist Communes: Since the launch of WeWork in 2010, then WeLive in 2016, the concept of shared working and living spaces has gone mainstream. The co-founder says the company isn’t just simply “building a workspace” but is “building a new infrastructure to rebuild social fabric and … the potential for human connection.” The CEO and co-founder of Tribe, a co-living space with seven locations in Brooklyn, says his motto is “We help you make friends.” “New York can be an extremely isolating place, especially if you are here for a new job,” he says. A co-living space can provide residents, particularly recent transplants, with a premade social fabric.

The concept may have started as an oddity but it has become a fixture in cities like New York, Washington DC, Austin, San Francisco, Seattle and Denver, all places that attract young transplants. Hundreds of competitors have launched in cities across the country, with most promoting themselves as incubators of meaningful human interaction. The idea isn’t for everyone. Experts say it can work well for those who, in general, are under 35 and socially and financially equipped to fit in. For the chronically lonely, another expert says placing someone whose brain is in overdrive into a social setting with strangers “could actually make things worse.” (Vox)



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Correlation Without Representation Or Causation: A widely held perception is that a connection exists between illegal immigration and increased crime rates. However, a new analysis finds no evidence to support that belief. The Marshall Project compared local crime rates published by the FBI with estimates of undocumented populations, sorted by metro areas, recently released by the Pew Research Center. This data allowed for a broader analysis than was previously possible of the effect illegal immigration might have had on crime rates between 2007 and 2016. Property crime was either entirely unaffected or fell slightly with rising numbers of undocumented immigrants. Most types of crime had an almost flat trend line, indicating that changes in undocumented populations had little or no effect on crime in the various metro areas under survey. (NYT)



Party Of One: According to the latest Wellbeing Index, almost a third of British adults are eating alone all or most of the time. Solo dining has become a defining feature of modern life: the breakfasting commuter, household members with conflicting schedules, the widow who receives few visitors. For someone who’s had a long day, deciding what to have for dinner can be a challenge. Increasingly, ready meals are aimed at single households but, “as with any form of eating, there’s probably huge diversity in the ways people eat when they’re alone,” says Bee Wilson, author of The Way We Eat Now. “Eating alone has not only hugely changed how and what we eat but also how we talk to ourselves about eating. There’s a constant mismatch between a sense of how we should be eating and how we’re actually eating.” Convenience plays a big role in the rise of eating alone. People are spending less and less time, year after year, on preparing and consuming meals. In fact, about a third of people are eating snacks instead of a proper meal at least once a week. Millennials are the biggest snackers, taking shorter lunch breaks and relying instead on grab-and-go offerings. (Guardian)

A Tale of Two Cities: City Slickers vs. Country Bumpkins: Once upon a time there was a slim healthy rural cousin and a sluggish overweight city cousin. Now a new paper in the journal Nature has turned that preconceived old notion on its ear. The scientific community has been assuming that the three-decades-long rise in obesity levels around the world has been the result of more people moving to cities and adopting the sedentary, gluttonous lifestyle of urban dwellers. But they’ve been wrong. In the most comprehensive analysis of urban/rural weight gain to date, more than 1,000 researchers representing the Non-Communicable Disease Coalition analyzed 2,009 studies of more than 112 million adults from 200 countries. They assessed changes in body mass index, a measure of body fat based on height and weight, between 1985 and 2017. They learned everybody’s getting fatter, but rural residents are getting fatter faster. Turns out the bane of all dietary existence — highly processed junk food — is available everywhere. (NPR)

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