mm443: Don’t you feel like this guy?

July 18, 2008

 

MUDGE’S Musings

Can anyone still doubt our national (perhaps global?) economic distress? Runs on the banks. A tank of gas edging toward Benjamin territory. Someone you know (or mayhaps many someones you know) out of work and/or looking. Or giving up looking. Starbucks (Starbucks!) closing 600 stores.

Let’s have a show of hands: How many of you (U.S.) readers believe that this Spring’s tax refund “stimulus” could have been an order of magnitude larger (that’s 10 times), and still not been enough?  Two orders (that’s times 100)? smile_sad

It doesn’t go away, our concern with the dire state of the economy.

Paul Krugman, economics professor and columnist of the NYTimes has been consistent in identifying our present financial dismay, and he has some grim news — it’s not going to get better very quickly.

nytimes

L-ish Economic Prospects

By PAUL KRUGMAN | Published: July 18, 2008

Home prices are in free fall. Unemployment is rising. Consumer confidence is plumbing depths not seen since 1980. When will it all end?

The answer is, probably not until 2010 or later. Barack Obama, take notice.

Read the rest of this entry »

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mm241: The "Wal-Mart of Coffee?" Actually, no…

January 2, 2008

MUDGE’S Musings

Before Starbucks, yr (justifiably) humble svt never set foot in a coffeehouse. Especially in MUDGE’s college town, coffeehouses were scruffy places filled with scruffy grad student types, and not tremendously inviting as a result.

Then along came Big Green. Absolutely not scruffy. Took a while to learn the slightly twee lingo; still not entirely comfortable ordering my “5-shot venti Americano,” but I do, pretty regularly, and I am a coffeehouse convert as a result. Although, mainly Starbucks.

It’s a phenomenon of retailing: their stores have sprouted everywhere; in many big cities it’s not inconceivable to pass several while walking from one’s parking space to one’s downtown destination. Sometimes they’re even across the street from each other.

So, I always imagined that the invasion of Starbucks into an area meant that smaller chains, like Peet’s and Caribou, and locally owned independent shops, were a rapidly disappearing endangered species.

A recent story in Slate.com set me straight:

slate

Don’t Fear Starbucks

Why the franchise actually helps mom and pop coffeehouses.

By Taylor Clark | Posted Friday, Dec. 28, 2007, at 7:35 AM ET

The first time Herb Hyman spoke with the rep from Starbucks, in 1991, the life of his small business flashed before his eyes. For three decades, Hyman’s handful of Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf stores had been filling the caffeine needs of Los Angeles locals and the Hollywood elite: Johnny Carson had his own blend there; Jacques Cousteau arranged to have Hyman’s coffee care packages meet his ship at ports around the world; and Dirty Dozen leading man Lee Marvin often worked behind the counter with Hyman for fun. But when the word came down that the rising Seattle coffee juggernaut was plotting its raid on Los Angeles, Hyman feared his life’s work would be trampled underfoot. Starbucks even promised as much. “They just flat-out said, ‘If you don’t sell out to us, we’re going to surround your stores,’ ” Hyman recalled. “And lo and behold, that’s what happened—and it was the best thing that ever happened to us.”

Sure enough, when I began to think about it, I realized that, while Starbucks was expanding from the one store in the center of our town, to the five or six today, at least one of which has a drive-through window, there are more non-Starbucks coffeehouses in town than ever before, many of them having opened and are still open after Starbucks started to sprout like dandelions in our suburban lawns.

So what’s happened is, rather than clobber the independents and the smaller chains, in the manner of Wal-Mart (which has for all of its over 40 years eviscerated locally owned Main Street stores wherever they open) Starbucks has simply increased the market for everyone.

It’s the law of unintended consequences at its best, because they’d like nothing better than to squash their competition. Instead, Starbucks has built their own business big time, and made the world safe for coffee drinkers and smaller shops everywhere.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Why Starbucks actually helps mom and pop coffeehouses. – By Taylor Clark – Slate Magazine

Some caffeinated observations:

  • The most expensive short-term job I ever had was located in a downtown Chicago office building with, what else? a Starbucks in the lobby. Finished the three-month gig with seemingly less money than I started with!
  • Many members of MUDGE’s immediate family do not share his preference for Starbucks; most call it too strong or bitter, preferring, interestingly enough, Dunkin’ Donuts, for example. I find that particular coffee okay but bland.
  • An example of a thriving mom and pop coffeehouse is found in our son’s trendy neighborhood. It recently changed hands, and the energetic 2nd generation Americans running it are doing very good business, if one can believe anecdotal observations of the frequently crowded store. It’s just a quarter block east, and across the street, of a similarly busy Starbucks. A rising tide, indeed.
  • Of course the other thing you should know about your correspondent is that, fan though he is of Starbucks, most of the time these days (yes, even in the dead of winter) he prefers his caffeine carbonated and cold: DMD (Diet Mountain Dew). But Pepsi has not built friendly shops in which to sip a Dew while reading a newspaper, or connecting to the ‘Net. Go figure.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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mm104: There She Blew: Books: The New Yorker

August 17, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Danger! Literary Content!

Run Away!

For centuries, American whalers’ basic method of capture and killing remained remarkably unchanged.

ILLUSTRATION: JACQUES DE LOUSTAL

For centuries, American whalers’ basic method of capture and killing remained remarkably unchanged.

It is only appropriate that a posting on Starbucks be followed by a story about the whaling industry. Go ahead, ask me why. In the analytic spirit of the week, that just shed important light for me about why I so enjoy the coffee boutique chain: I’ve never ever gotten over “Moby-Dick.”

It wasn’t that long ago that L-HC discussed reading (all right, listening) to books on tape. One of my recent pleasures was to revisit Melville’s “Moby-Dick” this summer for the first time in 32,264 years, since a senior in high school (then it was the rare cave-painting edition).

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Arts and Letters Daily blogroll2 should have found this review a month or so after its publication; it’s their style. And, it is probably the nature of the Internet that everyone is writing about everything every moment, so encountering this topic was absolutely not a coincidence. I imagine that any subject I can think of is out there, 4,387 times today alone, 5,100 times tomorrow.

And I used to think it was a challenge to keep up with my daily newspaper!

To the whales:

newyorker

There She Blew

The history of American whaling.

by Caleb Crain July 23, 2007

If, under the spell of “Moby-Dick,” you decided to run away to the modern equivalent of whaling, where would you go? Because petroleum displaced whale oil as a source of light and lubrication more than a century ago, it might seem logical to join workers in Arabian oil fields or on drilling platforms at sea. On the other hand, firemen, like whalers, are united by their care for one another and for the vehicle that bears them, and the fireman’s alacrity with ladders and hoses resembles the whaler’s with masts and ropes. Then, there are the armed forces, which, like a nineteenth-century whaleship, can take you around the world in the company of people from ethnic and social backgrounds unfamiliar to you. All these lines of work are dangerous but indispensable, as whaling once was, but none seem perfectly analogous. Ultimately, there is nothing like rowing a little boat up to a sixty-ton mammal that swims, stabbing it, and hoping that it dies a relatively well-mannered death.

After a short diversion that I’ll leave to faithful reader to enjoy without tipping it in advance, the review continues:

It is difficult to follow in Melville’s footsteps if you can’t tell when he’s fibbing, but there is no shortage of whaling histories for a Melville aficionado to turn to. (“Though of real knowledge there be little,” Melville wrote, “yet of books there are a plenty.”) In the latest, “Leviathan” (Norton; $27.95), Eric Jay Dolin offers a pleasantly anecdotal history of American whaling so comprehensive that he seems to have harpooned at least one fact from every cetacean text ever printed. “Leviathan” is a gentle book about a brutal industry. By ending his story when America stopped whaling, Dolin omits the most gruesome years of international whaling history, when new technology increased killing capacity approximately tenfold. He presents whaling in a more innocent age, when it was the fifth-largest industry in America and a source of national pride—in the time before ecology, as well as before steamships, as it were.

The review is here:

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

There She Blew: Books: The New Yorker

I must admit that, listening with 17,000 year old ears is astoundingly different than reading with 17 year old eyes. Melville captured in quite glorious and infinitely descriptive detail the brutal business that is whaling, brutality that weighs much heavier on MUDGE that is than on fetal MUDGE of 78,325 years ago.

The review discusses the decline of the American whaling business; my instinct had always been that it was a matter of declining stock due to overfishing, as this seems to be a growing tragedy in our oceans. But not so:

In 1838, a whaler wrote in his journal:

There was a time, (so says my rhyme,
And so ’tis prosed by many)
Sperm whales were found on “Japan Ground,”
But now there are not any.

But the economists tell us that whales are innocent of having damaged the whaling industry by becoming scarce, and nineteenth-century whalers had to keep searching for new grounds because whales in much-hunted areas grew more canny. Americans never caught enough sperm whales to throw them out of equilibrium. They did harm the populations of grays and bowheads, it seems, and maybe of right whales, too, but too late to have contributed to the decline of American whaling.

No, it was economics — the discovery of petroleum in Pennsylvania just before the Civil War was only one of the last blows, the war itself providing further harm to the business.

But, what an incredibly modern novel “Moby-Dick” is, for 1851 (where it must have seemed like science fiction to Victorian sensibilities), for 1965, for 2007. Melville was an absolute genius. This opinion has been firmly held since those cave painted days, and has not changed a whit. Indeed, having read a few things in the interim, MUDGE‘s belief in the astonishing modernity of Melville has been reinforced by a few orders of magnitude.

Read “Leviathan,” I plan to because the history of technology is one of my major avocations. Had I found an educational institution as interested in the topic as I was, then, my own personal history might read differently. Now, it’s an in subject. Then, zilch. Sigh.

But then please go re-read “Moby-Dick.” Makes this poor slob’s attempts at putting his thoughts out in front of a nanopublic seem blunderingly, comically crude in comparison.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

Note!: the links to bookstores used in the final paragraphs above are for the convenience of faithful reader and represent no commercial relationship whatsoever. Left-Handed Complement should be so fortunate as to ever collect remuneration of any kind for this endeavor. I can link, so I link. It’s technology. It’s cool. Deal with it.


mm103: How to hack Starbucks. – Slate Magazine

August 16, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Starbucks — what else is there to say?

Quite a lot actually, at Slate.com today.

slate

Hacking Starbucks – Where to learn about the ghetto latte, barista gossip, and Nicole Kidman’s usual.

By Michael Agger
Posted Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2007, at 7:02 PM ET

Starbucks Coffee Cups. Click image to expand.Starbucks coffee

Perhaps you’ve noticed: The Internet has an obsession with Starbucks. Maybe it’s because the two have grown up together. In 1995, Starbucks had just launched its master plan to become “a third place for people to congregate beyond work or the home,” while the Web had a lot of gray pages with text and “hyperlinks.” Now, the coffee chain has become the new McDonald’s (44 million customers a week), and the Web has become a 24-hour global exercise in collective intelligence gathering. Gourmet coffee culture and Internet culture have fed off each other, and Starbucks in particular has become a punching bag for the indie spirit that pervades the Web. So I wanted to discover who has the upper hand: Does Starbucks dominate us with its convenient locations and potent caffeine, or do we, thanks to the Web, ultimately call the shots?

Exhibit A in the online cheekiness and wariness toward Starbucks is an old monument: the Starbucks Oracle, which went online in 2002. You enter a drink, the oracle spits out a profile. Here’s the response to my regular order, a tall coffee:

Personality type: Lame

You’re a simple person with modest tastes and a reasonable lifestyle. In other words, you’re boring. Going to Starbucks makes you feel sophisticated; you’d like to be snooty and order an espresso but aren’t sure if you’re ready for that level of excitement. … Everyone who thinks America’s Funniest Home Videos is a great show drinks tall coffee.

Please go ahead and finish this article, and be sure to check out the videos referred to. 171 Starbucks…

… is about 10 minutes long, but worth the time.

And Bryant Simon’s scholarly examination of the Starbucks phenomenon is 18 minutes long; I recommend taking your laptop into your neighborhood ‘Bucks, settling down with your drink of choice, and enjoying it.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

How to hack Starbucks. – By Michael Agger – Slate Magazine

I admit it freely: I really enjoy Starbucks coffee and the atmosphere of the stores. Until Starbucks came into my life, I didn’t frequent coffee shops — they seemed so counter-cultural and/or collegiate in my town.

I don’t consider myself an addict — this post is not the place for MUDGE to discuss his addictions save to assure faithful reader that Starbucks is not one of them — but I am definitely a fan (and full disclosure of another type: a holder of a fewer than 50 shares of its stock [blast! can’t retire on that!], which lately has been a disappointing experience).

As a person perpetually on a diet, or recovering from the guilt of falling off one, or reeling from guilt in general, a black venti Americano (go ahead and check out Starbucks Oracle regarding MUDGE‘s drink of choice — I resemble that!) represents a guiltless pleasure. How often does that happen?

Read the Slate stories — they caffeinated my day, less expensively than usual.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE