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Archive for February, 2008

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”.

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“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.

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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!

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Because, this study says, Americans stop eating only when the plate is empty (or the TV show is over) while the French stop when they feel full.

(Link via Boing Boing)

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Really, this Hillary ad is so bad, it makes you wonder if it was an Obama plant!

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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.

-Cami.

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“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

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