You Owe Starbucks a Debt of Gratitude

Recently, the Starbucks chain of coffee shops announced a series of store closures, indicating an economic retrenchment after many years of rapid growth. In some circles, this stumbling on Starbucks’ part has been met with cheers of satisfaction, as if a hated style of music had fallen on hard times.

One of the phenomena of our popular culture that has amused me over the last ten years or so is the almost religious hatred that some people have for Starbucks. Unwittingly turning the power of successful branding on its head, these people take it upon themselves as a badge of honor to reject Starbucks as a kind of self-awarded validation of their middle-class rootedness.  Even some very wealthy people do this. Think Mike Barnicle, for example.

They embrace, say, Dunkin’ Donuts as their coffee source of choice as if to say, “I’m a regular guy, ’cause I hate Starbucks”. But in fact, coffee costs pretty much the same at either shop. So it’s not an economic issue.

So go on with your smug, self-satisfied rejection of Starbucks. Because that has everything to do with your self-image; reject the comfy furniture, the calming wood interiors, the soft lighting, the idiotic substitution of foreign-sounding words for “small, medium or large”, or the availability of wi-fi so that a pretentious doofus can sit at a table for a few hours with their laptop pretending to workfor whatever reason.

The irony is, that no matter where you do enjoy getting your coffee from, that coffee is better because of the existence of Starbucks. In fact, Starbucks is the one core reason why good coffee is available nearly everywhere nowadays. But not too long ago, that was not the case.

Fifteen or more years ago, Dunkin’ Donuts, along with virtually every other place that served coffee, did so from one of those “Bunn-O-Matic” hot plate-heated glass carafes, using some crappy generic ground coffee obtained through a food distributor who probably also provided the napkins and the Sweet-n-Lo.  That coffee was made by some disinterested person opening up the store in the morning, and it sat there until it was gone and someone had to make more. Or, if the place wasn’t busy, it would sit there on the burner and get burnt. Or, perhaps someone put in too much water and you drank hot brown water.

I often hear how people who claim to hate Starbucks do so because they don’t like the coffee. “It tastes burnt”.  “It’s bitter”.  However I’ve found that many of those same people don’t drink their coffee black. Of course, that’s a matter of taste, but if you’re one of those people who dumps three sugars and half a cup of milk into their coffee, then your opinion really doesn’t matter. Because you don’t really care what real coffee tastes like. Or smells like.

But for those who actually like the smell and taste of good coffee, say a big “thank you” to the fact that Starbucks exists. Because they raised the bar for everyone. Before, you couldn’t find a dependably good cup of coffee anywhere. Now, local coffee shops thrive in virtually every town, because people now know what good coffee tastes like, and they demand it. McDonalds has great coffee now because of Starbucks. And yes, Dunkin’ Donuts has great coffee because of Starbucks.

For what it’s worth, I like Starbucks. And Dunkin’ Donuts. And McDonalds. And I’m glad I can get a really good cup of coffee at any of them. But I also know why that is.

And now, so do you.


The Heck with the Canadian Healthcare Model, Let’s Adopt the German One

Woman sues over hospital boobs

A German woman is suing doctors after she checked in to have wrinkles removed – and woke up with a new pair of breasts.

Ingrid Bruelling, 33, had the operation in the German city of Kassel.

She wanted to give herself firmer skin and remove the wrinkles after losing 16 stone on a crash diet.

But when she woke up after the operation she found doctors had put two silicone implants into her breasts, increasing their size from a C cup to a D.

Doctors said the woman should not complain as the best way to tighten the skin and remove the wrinkles was to make her breasts bigger.


(emphasis mine)



God’s Will?

One doesn’t want to be thought of as intolerant, or insensitive at a time of a family’s crisis, but after yet another example of a ‘faith-healing’ family’s child dying needlessly, I’m going to spew.

Does it ever dawn on these people that perhaps, just perhaps, God, the Holy One, blessed be He, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, gave us the ability to reason so that we could discover medicine and scientific breakthroughs and actually heal the sick with that intelligence and capability?

Why do these morons insist on cloaking themselves in stupidity and ignorance in the name of God?

Can’t faith and intelligence coexist?

Of course, this raises a whole set of discussions on faith and behavior, e.g. evolution vs. creationism and intelligent design, religious wars, intolerance between religions, etc.

Fine. Discuss.


Putz Out of Action for 15 days

Someone had to.

Of course, this is what it’s actually about.

Could also have been, “Seattle to Go 15 Days without Putz”, or similar. Feel free to contribute your own.

I’m so juvenile, I know.

Fantasy Football 2007-2008 Roundup

Stevenators - Final SquadWell, the season has ended, and I have to say I’m pleased overall with the performance of The Stevenators. Despite a dreadful slump in March and early April, they rallied to finish 6,225th overall out of over 1.7 million teams! That’s the top 3/1000th of a percent!

We also finished 194th out of all Americans, of which there were 55,514, with a similar ranking!

In this, my second season of participation, I improved overall from 1778 points and 144,412 ranking overall, to 2217 points and an overall rank of 6,225.

Not bad!

Clearly, I benefitted from the amazing performance of Cristiano Ronaldo, who was captained most of the time, as well as the first half heroics of Cesc Fabregas. But overall the team was heavy with representation from Everton and Aston Villa, who had good seasons and fairly consistent performance.

So, I’ll bask in the meaningless glory of our performance and look forward to August!


The Great Escape (2008)

Well it didn’t have Steve McQueen, James Garner or Richard Attenborough, but in many other aspects Fulham managed to pull off a Great Escape similar to that of the famous 1963 WWII classic.

An international crew consisting of British and Americans (with a smattering of other cultures) tunneled their way out of the prospect of imprisonment in the League Championship (read: Division 2) with some late-season heroics.

Three consecutive away victories, where previously there had been none, were capped with a final, last-game triumph over Portsmouth.

Fulham, whom I sometimes like to refer to as Team America World Police, features several Americans including veteran keeper Casey Keller, former NE Revolution star Clint Dempsey, and long-time international standouts Brian McBride and Carlos Bocanegra.

I don’t know if Fulham have a ‘theme song’, the way Liverpool have “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, but I can’t help but think that the famous Elmer Bernstein theme from the Great Escape could be the ad-hoc theme for the coming season.

A good outcome for both American soccer fans as well as those who admire Fulham as a London-based club retaining some of the characteristic charm of English football despite the overwhelming influence of huge money on the game.


Chelsea Fans: You Don’t Know What You’re Saying

Avram GrantI watched the great Chelsea v. Arsenal game yesterday in which Chelsea came from behind to beat Arsenal at home 2 to 1. Now, those of you who either know me personally or read this blog enough know that I personally don’t care who wins. I’m just an American who loves English football and I have the luxury of not being a supporter of any one team. I like to see great team play, great individual talent and execution and, when it happens, great tactical adjustments by managers.

Now, if you’re still reading at this point, it’s likely because you like English football,  so I don’t have to recap the entire history of Chelsea’s change in management this year – the whole “cult of Mourinho” vs. Avram Grant and so on. Suffice it to say that it seems clear that the Chelsea fans, despite the successes the team has had since Grant’s assignment, still somehow feel that Mourinho is the only person who could possibly lead the team to the Premier League title.

So, with Chelsea down one-nil in the second half, when Grant made a daring double substitution inserting Anelka and Belletti in place of Ballack and Makalele, many in the crowd at Stamford Bridge started the mocking chant “You Don’t Know What You’re Doing”, along with invocations of Mourinho’s name.

Because soccer substitutions are permanent for the course of the game, they represent major strategic and tactical choices. The only American analog I can think of is in baseball, where the removal and substitution of a particular pitcher or hitter at a critical moment in a game can make or break the eventual outcome of that game. However, in my experience, while the fans may boo or moan, they don’t call the manager out in the same way as they do in soccer, where chants and songs are more traditional and commonplace. Instead, fans call up sports talk shows after the game is over and, with perfect 20-20 hindsight, proclaim their brilliance and insight.

Well, in this case, divine justice prevailed as Grant’s substitutes made an immediate and beneficial impact on the game, setting up two Didier Drogba strikes within eight minutes of each other, and giving Chelsea the victory. And although Grant, in an interview after the game, stated that he didn’t notice the fans’ mocking and disapproval, one can only speculate that he had, at least internally, a sense of personal satisfaction.

From my distant vantage point, I do not see or hear the day-to-day commentary or experience the cultural mood that comes with being a Chelsea fan. But it seems to me that Grant has come to Stamford Bridge under very challenging circumstances, produced excellent results and has comported himself with class. You’d think the Chelsea fans would appreciate that fact and enjoy it.

But clearly, “They Don’t Know What They’re Doing”.