Saturday, January 20, 2018

(The Big Disrupt) Amazon: Why Amazon May Regret Making Its 2nd HQ Bidding Process Public

Large companies since the beginning of time have been using their scale to extract tax breaks and other incentives out of increasingly desperate states but never has this age-old practice been so naked, public and shameless as Amazon effectively pitting every city of note in country against each other for which may end up being a bag bargain in the long run  

Rarely have so many proud states, cities and towns fall over themselves to woo a single company offering them eye watering tax and other incentives that has had critics tag the whole process as a "race to the bottom", a term usually reserved to describe small to mid-size nation states offering super business friendly incentives to attract large multinational companies like Amazon usually at the expense of the taxpayer and crucial investment such as infrastructure or education. 

IAmerica's worst kept secret that Amazon is slowly becoming the most powerful member of the gang of four (Facebook, Amazon, Google and Apple) and while the other three could have mayors falling over themselves to persuade them to build new HQ's in their cities, neither of these companies wouldn't dream of starting a public bidding war that displays just how powerful these companies really are. 

All four companies go to the lengths of earth to obfuscate their vast monopoly power but out of the four, Amazon is by far the least shy about flexing their considerable muscle despite possibly being the biggest target out of the quartet to be broken up. 

The balance of power between states, cities and large corporation has long been in favor of the latter with large corporations using their influence (ether through the jobs it creates or economic activity it stimulates in the local area) for tax breaks, subsidies, or favorable legislation but Amazon has effectively made this practice a very public and ugly spectacle that could come back to haunt them. 

It should come as no surprise that 238 states, cities and metropolitan areas threw their hat in the ring as many languish in growing municipal debt overburdened by obligations they barely can afford to meet. 

The palpable desperation among America cities was hard to ignore as cities like Gary, that had no chance of landing Amazon's new HQ based on Amazon's population requirements alone, played its long odds anyway. 

Nothing signaled just how dire things have become for Gary and many troubled small and mid-sized cities like it with their mayor taking an ad out in the New York Times effectively begging Amazon to consider them despite Gary shrinking population and its high unemployment and crime rates making the ailing city arguably the most investment proof city in the union. 

For a company that prides itself on "doing hard things well"regenerating small and mid-sized cites with a new HQ would be one mighty challenge that Amazon would be highly credited for taking on and would go a long way to taking the antitrust target off its back but Amazon won't and never will because they don't have to and can get a better deal elsewhere. 
This is no slight on Amazon as it would take a lot more than five billion in capital investment and 50,000 high paying jobs to fix the chronic problem that plague cites much larger and richer than Gary plagued with similar problems. 

However, for a company that leans on its well-earned reputation for innovation and disruption, rebuilding troubled American cities such as Gary and Detroit would arguably be the best thing the company has ever done in its 24-year history. 

In sum, Amazon may come to regret making the selection process so public and brazen but in the short-term Amazon look set to win either way

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Walking Dead Season 8 Midseason Finale Review: ‘How It’s Gotta Be’

(Photo Credit: AMC)

The Walking Dead
Season 8 Midseason Finale

The first half of season eight of The Walking Dead has been a whirlwind, to say the least. And, although ratings for the show have been down, there were aspects of this season that I genuinely enjoyed. If you’ve been following my reviews, you’ll know how pleased I’ve been with this year’s increased use of multi-storyline episodes. Also, there haven’t been any agonizingly slow filler episodes, as most weeks have featured an engaging, consistent level of action that’s been missing in seasons past. However, right off the bat, season eight was plagued by a massively confusing central plot that left out key details to the orchestrated attack on the Saviors. This resulted in a string of episodes, starting with the premiere, that were basically impossible to follow. The writers stumbled into something of a solution, as the overall plan naturally became more clear as the story progressed. However, this natural progression was not enough to completely save the season, which would have been much better served with a more explicit explanation of Rick’s plan.

Because we never get this explanation, though, a lot of the repercussions we see in this episode, after the plan fails, are hard to contextualize. We’ve inferred that the original plan called for members of Alexandria, the Hilltop, and the Kingdom to arrive at the Sanctuary, at the same time, to induce the Saviors’ surrender. But why are Carol and Jerry the only ones that get there? Why are Maggie and the Hilltop so late to the rendezvous that, not only do the Saviors escape, but they manage to trap the Hilltop convoy in the middle of the road, with a fallen tree, and then sneak up behind them, cornering them with cars of their own. We never even find out how the Saviors escaped the walker-filled Sanctuary, to begin with- a disappointment beyond just the illogical omission of crucial plot points, given that the Savior-centric moments of this season have probably been its main highlights. Overall, “How It’s Gotta Be” mostly serves as a prime example of what happens when earlier unaddressed plot holes finally catch up with you.
(Photo Credit: AMC)
So much of this episode is just such a blur, with too many key moments that are easily missed, either because they happen too quickly, or because they occur in the literal dark. The midseason finale is sloppy, to put it simply. Even with a 90-minute runtime, vital narrative details are left by the wayside in favor of fancy explosions, and yet another stoic face montage. And sure, you could spin this into a positive- mainly that it's better to have more content, than not enough. And, in general, the first half of season 8 has done a good job of avoiding the kind of filler that has consistently hampered The Walking Dead, since its inception. But, a part of me thinks that the writers intentionally withhold important plot information, and try to misdirect viewers, in order to easily build a cheap level of suspense. After the disastrous season six finale, which pretty much wrote the book on this tactic, it’s hard to give the writers any benefit of the doubt. Ultimately, though, all they’re really doing is constructing a contrived, unenjoyable narrative that’s harder to follow than one of Eugene’s mumbling analogies.

This is an episode that fans will be talking about for a while, but not for the reasons that AMC, and showrunner, Scott Gimple, would probably hope for. Rather than giving us a compelling plot woven together with meaningful character development, we get a midseason finale that, in true Walking Dead fashion, forces itself to rely on misdirection and cheap shock value in an attempt to entertain viewers. Shock value was great back when the series was in its infancy- when a stray walker popping out from the shadows, and latching onto some poor soul’s neck region, was legitimately gripping. But, as the Walking Dead has aged, so too have our expectations.
(Photo Credit: AMC)
In this sense, I think it’s fair to say that the events of the midseason finale at least try to shake things up, by providing an opportunity for the show to depart significantly from the comics. The rules have clearly changed regarding the idea that some characters are untouchable, and that’s an effective way for the writers to potentially keep things fresh going forward. Whether you like the ending of this episode or not, we’re probably going to see some real, lasting changes in characters like Rick and Enid. In addition, it’s pretty obvious from the packed to the gills plot of the midseason finale, as well as the constant (though welcome) jumping around between multiple characters and storylines throughout season 8, that The Walking Dead needs to desperately start trimming the fat from its cast, which again, this episode makes progress in achieving.

However, this does not mean that The Walking Dead should turn into a contest of, ‘which character’s going to die a surprising and horrifying death, next?’ (Although, I can’t really blame you if that’s what you already think this show is all about.) Instead, The Walking Dead needs to ignore, or get rid of, the characters who don’t matter, and start doubling down on the characters who do- the ones who made it the most popular show on cable, in the first place. This shift in character focus needs to feel real and dynamic, and not just a reemphasis of the same traits that we’ve already seen time and time, again. We know that Daryl’s downfall has always been his emotionally-charged reactions. But, now it’s time to see some growth out of the series’ consensus fan favorite character. We’ve seen glimpses of these kind of changes with Maggie, and they’ve been great. But, now let’s see more of it.


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