One of the best terms ever invented in a musical context is chill factor — the spine-tingling sensation caused by the effect of a song. And I can think of no better term to describe this stirring ballad from the movie “Once”.
Archive for February, 2008
“It is a melancholy experience for a professional mathematician to find himself writing about mathematics. The function of a mathematician is to do something, to prove new theorems, to add to mathematics, and not to talk about what he or other mathematicians have done. Statesmen despise publicists, painters despise art-critics, and physiologists, physicists, or mathematicians have usually similar feelings: there is no scorn more profound, or on the whole more justifiable, than that of the men who make for the men who explain. Exposition, criticism, appreciation, is work for second-rate minds.”
-G H Hardy, the opening lines of A Mathematician’s apology.
Posted in miscellaneous, uncategorized musings, tagged cafe, capitalism, coffee, coffee-shop, corporate, drink, economics, experience, howard schultz, life, schultz, starbucks, workers on February 26, 2008 | 1 Comment »
Erm..don’t panic, it is not long-term! All Starbucks stores across the country will be closed for three hours this evening to conduct an in-store education and training program for their employees.
This is how Howard Schultz (founder, chairman and CEO of Starbucks) puts it.
We will close all of our U.S. company-operated stores to teach, educate and share our love of coffee, and the art of espresso. And in doing so, we will begin to elevate the Starbucks Experience for our customers. We are passionate about our coffee. And we will revisit our standards of quality that are the foundation for the trust that our customers have in our coffee and in all of us.
While the above quote is undeniably cheesy, Schultz, it seems, is rather passionate about the cafe experience. Having single-handedly made Americans addicted to coffee, he has nevertheless often been quoted lamenting that Starbucks has lost some of its charm as it has expanded into the behemoth that it is today.
…one of the results has been stores that no longer have the soul of the past and reflect a chain of stores vs. the warm feeling of a neighborhood store. Some people even call our stores sterile, cookie cutter, no longer reflecting the passion our partners feel about our coffee. In fact, I am not sure people today even know we are roasting coffee. You certainly can’t get the message from being in our stores.
Of course, cynics will deride this as a shameless attempt to gain free publicity. While I can’t read Schultz’s mind, there are plenty of blogs out there that tell you how horible Starbucks is, so let me try and be a bit different.
I have always found it amusing how fashionable Starbucks-bashing is. There seem to be two specific accusations (beyond the general rant about capitalism, consumerism, elitism and other horrible “isms”) that people love to make.
One, Starbucks makes terrible coffee and offers a bad cafe experience.
Tastes are of course subjective and so I will only speak for myself. I find the Starbucks experience and their coffee pretty good. In fact, it is always my first choice when I want to go to a cafe to get some work done. I have tried other coffee shops, including chains like Peet’s, Seattles Best and Coffee Bean and nowhere have I found the level of comfort that I get from my neighbourhood Starbucks. In their seating arrangements, lighting, choice of music, balance between privacy and openness … Starbucks gets it right for me.
Two, Starbucks is an evil imperialist monster that ill-treats its workers and runs the local coffee shops out of business.
This is symptomatic of a wider mistrust that people have of the capitalist system, borne out of a basic misunderstanding of how such things work. For the record though, Starbucks treats its workers better than many other chains. It offers better wages and it gives health insurance, not to mention other benefits. As for local independent coffee shops, they, contrary to the claim above, thrive on the existence of Starbucks because it benefits them and drives up their business.
Of course none of this justifies how unenthusing Starbucks’ baked goods range is!
Really, this Hillary ad is so bad, it makes you wonder if it was an Obama plant!
The war of gaffes gets more ridiculous each day. After the frankly irrelevant controversy over Obama using borrowed words in a speech, it is now Cindy McCain’s turn to make a not so subtle point about her patriotism vis-a-vis Michelle Obama’s.
For those who missed it, here is the article.
My first reaction to such news is that there are issues, and then there are issues. Such jabs are common place in election season, and entertaining for the observer but usually of little content. This particular controversy is however of some independent interest for one reason – it reminds us of the visceral need that many people feel to be ‘proud’ of the institution they belong to. They may never know what exactly they are proud of but they pretty damn well know that to be not proud is treachery. Politicians -from Mumbai to Madison - are of course masters at manipulating this pride.
My view of patriotism and related matters is reflected by a reader’s comment on the above linked article.
Give me a break. This is non news. I am roughly the same age as Michelle Obama, and let me tell you, it’s been a while since I’ve been REALLY proud of this country; particularly in the past seven years.
People who think you have to constantly express pride in your country or you’re somehow unpatriotic drive me crazy. I happen to think the opposite is true. If you love this country, you speak up for the changes you believe in and try your best to help make those changes.
People who are trying to dissect this comment and somehow turn it into something it wasn’t just make me laugh. The last thing we need in the White House is another robot spouting blind patriotism as justification for his or her own personal agenda.
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
-C S Lewis
Posted in libertarianism, tagged best interests, bipolar, britney spears, civil liberty, civil rights, conservatorship, freedom, involuntary commitment, legal guardianship, liberty, mental health, mental illness, michael sands on February 16, 2008 | 2 Comments »
No, she has not gone on a cruise. Not yet, anyway. Her father is keeping a tight leash.
Mr. Eardley, an attorney who claims to represent Brit, says that her civil rights are being violated.
As he argues in the papers, Britney Spears is not being allowed to visit her friends, to use phones, or to hire an attorney of her own choosing. Michael Sands has compared this situation to the cases of suspected terrorists who were detained in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, without benefit of counsel as facing similar civil rights violations.
To most, the idea of comparing Britney’s situation (kept an effective prisoner at home by her concerned parents) to those suffering at Guantanamo might seem a bit far-fetched. Yet at its heart, the fundamental issue is the same. The loss of all freedom and the deprivation of due process. There is nothing more humiliating, more painful. And may I add, more counter-productive.
There is no doubt Britney’s antics have been ridiculous. There is no doubt that her bizarre behavior has raised serious concerns about her mental well-being. There is no doubt that she has acted over the past several months in a manner that most of us agree is immature at best and self-destructive at worst.
Yet, Britney is well enough to perfectly understand the meaning of freedom, and consequently, to crave it. She might be a spoilt irrational girl, possibly even suffering from bipolar disorder, but by no means is she mentally incapacitated. She might be a bad driver, but she has not yet been ruled by her psychiatrist or the court to be a “danger to others”. She might be an irresponsible spendthrift, but hell, it is her money!
It is time we let others be. It is time we agree that there is no objective meaning to the phrase “best interests” beyond the individual’s wishes. It is time we realise that our concern at another adult behaving in a manner that seems self-destructive does not give us the right to take over her life without her present or (at the very least) prior consent.
Andrew Sullivan writes,
A meme is developing is that support for Obama is all emotion, fantasy, hysteria, etc. There’s no question that the emotions behind Obama are powerful. And any fool can see why. His oratory does what oratory should. He is the greatest public speaker in American life since Reagan….But the strongest case for Obama is not emotional; it is as coolly rational as he is … On the most critical issues we face – Iraq, the war against Jihadism, healthcare, and the economy – he makes more sense as a president than Clinton. And when you watch the knee-jerk opposition to him, I think it is actually more emotional and less rational than the support for him. Fear is more emotional than hope.
Check out the entire article. It’s worth it, especially the video at the end.
Elsewhere, Sullivan pinpoints the difference between Obama and Clinton in one sentence.
It’s ‘Yes, We Can,’ vs ‘I’ll Take Care Of You.’
And that is also the best synopsis of the libertarian case for Obama.
Posted in libertarianism, tagged censorship, child abuse, civil liberties, civil liberty, explicit content, first amendment, freedom, freedom of expression, freedom of speech, internet pornography, intolerance, karen fletcher, liberty, moral police, nanny-state, obscenity, obscenity case, offended feelings, pittsburgh, police state, policies, pornography on February 8, 2008 | 14 Comments »
A hundred years ago, you could be arrested if your drawing, writing or other form of creative expression was considered obscene by the authorities. Artistic freedom was not as important as preserving public morality. And the idea that a century on, pornography could be displayed and sold in perfectly legal shops was unthinkable.
For good or bad, those times are far behind us. One of the greatest jewels of the United States is her First Amendment, a piece of law enshrined in her constitution and systematically strengthened by the courts through the last century – that guarantees the freedom of expression for all. In modern day USA you can depict anything and not worry about the moral police coming after you. Of course you can still be charged if your work is libelous or directly incites violence or violates someone else’s rights. But other than that, the idea that someone can be put in jail simply for expressing distasteful thoughts or fantasies is preposterous. This is a free country, right?
Karen Fletcher, a reclusive woman living in Pittsburgh, recently began posting short stories on the Internet that describe, in graphic detail, the sexual abuse of children – in order, she says, to cope with her own history of childhood abuse. The internet abounds in pornography, much of it visual. Fletcher’s stories had no illustrations, were obvious works of fantasy, and were not displayed publicly. The only way to read these stories was by paying a modest sum of ten dollars a month, so that – Fletcher says – she could she could keep the website running and also protect children (and unwilling adults) from accessing it. Yet those stories, read by about 29 paying subscribers, have made Fletcher one of the few people facing federal criminal charges for obscenity.
In many ways, Fletcher’s case is unusual. A obscenity charge is rare these days, and almost unheard of in situations where no one has been harmed in the making of the offending material. And a case like Fletcher’s, which involves only the written word, has not been successfully prosecuted in the last thirty five years in this country.
So if this case feels like a throwback to the dark ages, it indeed is. But it should not be viewed in isolation. Recent years have witnessed an increasing clamping down on civil liberties in the US, accompanied by the passage of the Patriot Act, draconian anti-discrimination laws, hate-crime laws and an atmosphere of extreme political correctness. This particular case seems to be an example of the Bush administration’s efforts to cater to the religious right and reinvigorate the Obscenity Act. It is a long, slippery slope. Once a certain level of freedom becomes unacceptable, the bar is lowered and the next act of censorship is not only easier but also more extreme. Intolerance begets greater intolerance and by the time you realise the value of what you have lost, it is too late. Once these freedoms are gone, the wheels of motion are much harder to turn in the opposite direction. Illiberality and offended sensibilities make for excellent political nourishment. Those of us from India will attest to that.
It is possible that Karen Fletcher will not be convicted. If she is, God save us all.
The case is now over, see update (5/21/08)