Monday, 28 January 2008

Excerpt from "Danse Macabre"

Here's yet another excerpt. I'm not sure I quite agree with Stephen King's assesment of literary analysis, but it sure makes for an amusing read.

To enter the world of horror fiction is to venture, small as a hobbit, through certain mountain passes ... and into the equivalent of the Land of Mordor. This is the fuming, volcanic country of the Dark Lord, and if the critics who have seen it firsthand are few, the cartographers are fewer. This land is mostly white space on the map . . . which is how it should be; I'll leave more detailed map making to those graduate students and English teachers who feel that every goose which lays gold must be dissected so that all of its quite ordinary guts can be labelled; to those figurative engineers of the imagination who cannot feel comfortable with the comfortable overgrown (and possibly dangerous) literary wilderness until they have built a freeway composed of Cliff's Notes through it--and listen to me, you people: every teacher who ever did a Monarch or Cliff's Notes ought to be dragged out of his or her quad, drawn and quartered, then cut up into tiny pieces, said pieces to be dried and shrunk in the sun and then sold in the college bookstore as bookmarks. I'll leave the longer arrows to those pharmacists of creativity who cannot feel totally at ease until each tale, created to hold some reader spellbound as each of us was at one time held spellbound by the story of Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, or The Hook, has been neatly dehydrates and poured into a gel capsule to be swallowed. That is their job--the job of dissectors, engineers, and pharmacists--and I leave it to them, along with the fervent wish that Shelob may catch them and eat them as they enter the Dark Lord's land, or that the faces of the Marsh of the Dead will first hypnotize them and then drive them mad by quoting Cleanth Brooks to them eternally in mud-choked voices, or that the Dark Lord himself will take them up to his Tower forever or cast them into the Cracks of Doom, where crocodiles of living obsidian wait to crunch up their bodies and silence their quacking, droning voices forever.
And if they avoid all that, I hope they catch poison oak.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

A List of Non-Fiction You Should Read


In a previous post I give a list of fiction ( I think people should read (though I slipped a non-fiction in there anyway). Now I'm giving you a list of non-fiction.

The Truth About Stories by Thomas King: I've included this in the fiction list, so you can go there for my first impressions. I want to caution readers that Western tradition, contrary to what you may read here or hear from other sources, has ample oral culture in non-official, but still very influential, culture.

Danse Macabre by Stephen King: This is King's exploration of horror (novels, films, radio programs, short stories, and television). He discusses what it does, how it works, why people are drawn to it, and what purposes it serves. I suggest you first read Dracula, 'Salem's Lot, and at least a synopsis of Frankenstein (the real one by Mary W. Shelley) and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Also, watch some horror movies (my suggestion: Psycho and Alien).

Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis: This also snuck into my fiction list. Sorry.

Ways of Seeing by John Berger: This is highly interesting. It's about the reading of pictorial images (art and advertising). I will warn you, though, that it's rated 18A for sure, and I think I'd bump that to R, for nudity.

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson: It's been a while since I read this, but I recall it being a fascinating read. I think the title is a bit of a misnomer, though I doubt Bill does. It is a parallel history of scientific thought and history of the physical development of the universe. Bryson seems to think that this does constitute everything, though I'd disagree. We see into the personal lives of explorers, innovators, and discoverers; we find out about how the forces of the earth works; we read amusing anecdotes and asides. It is also reader-friendly. However, it is also founded in rational materialism and (inevitably, it seems) atheism.

The Science of Harry Potter: I once had this book, and then managed to misplace it. This misplacing really disappointed me, since it's such an interesting read. It has two parts; the first explains magic in Harry Potter using cutting-edge scientific discoveries or inventions, and the second examines the belief in magic as a sociological phenomenon. Again, this presumes rational materialism, which is problematic, but it is still an interesting read.
[Edit 1 Dec 2009] I found this book again. It was written by Roger Highfield, and is subtitled How Magic Really Works.

The God Gene by Dean Hamer: This book is an account of Hamer's attempt to locate the gene(s) that determine a person's likelihood to be spiritual. This seems to be the third book in a row that I've listed which presupposes rational materialism, but in this case Hamer qualifies that his research has no bearing on the existence of God, gods, Buddhist 'emptiness', dharma, or what have you. To some extent I think this must be Faustian, but it's worth looking at, if only because of its intriguing asides and experiments.

[28 Jan 2008]

Radical Gratitude by Mary Jo Leddy: Considered by some to be an antidote to our society's sicknesses or answer to the middle class's entropy, this book gives radical gratitude as the solution for our spiritual malaise. And trust me, Leddy means it when she says 'radical.' I found that this expressed a lot that I already knew and gave insight into how I can start fixing the problem. It hasn't been particularly easy, though.

[3 July 2008]

Freakonomics by Stephen Levitt and some other guy: I've heard some people suggest that Levitt's work is questionable, and I'm certainly no economist, so I can't judge. That being said, I think it is insightful, witty, and more hopeful than you'd expect. And it's a lot of fun to read about crooks getting caught by clever strategies... As a synopsis, Freakonomics looks at a myriad of everyday events and highly specialized situations and applies to them basic principles of economics to ask new questions, find surprising answers, and solve a few crimes--or at least misdemeaners--along the way.

[1 September 2008]

The Serpent and the Rainbow by Wade Davis is an account of the author's exploration into the hidden world of vodoun zombis that reads like adventure fiction instead of academic fieldwork. It is at once exciting, intriguing, informative, and challenging. In the form of a scientific/religious studies mystery plot, it asks us to question our assumptions about death, secrecy, knowledge, and reality, while simultaneously showing us the social realities of 80's Haiti and the lives of real people in that society--academics, high school girls, ex-colonials, doctors, vodoun priests, vodoun sorcerers, former zombis, and the members and presidents of secret societies, among others. I've written a longer review of it here, and I strongly encourage you to grab the book now.

[5 October 2009]

Anatomy of Criticism by Northrop Fyre is a work in literary theory, but fortunately does not call you, as a reader, to be overly familiar with the field before reading this book. Frye argues for a conception of literary analysis which is neither subjective nor reductionist, neither anachronistic nor irrelevant. I think that his book is fairly readable, though I suppose my knowledge of what's readable to the average high-school-or-higher educated Westerner is so far gone that it's in that hazy patch just before the horizon. He does mention many many books, poems, etc., and you can feel a little lost at times, but I haven't read a lot of what he references, so I'm sure most people will be OK. (The Book of Job is a must for getting him, though.) My point is that, if think of yourself as an intelligent person, you should give it a whack. At least take it out from the library for a bit and give it a whirl.

[1 Dec 2009]

God in the Alley by Greg Paul is great. I can't believe I haven't put it on here yet. The full title is actually God in the Alley: Being and Seeing Jesus in a Broken World. This is good stuff. I guess this will do much more for you if you're a Christian, but I'll just recommend it anyway. I sort of wish people who weren't Christian would read more Christian lit, since so many non-Christians have a weird and skewed idea of it is Christians think and do. But anyway...
The thing about this book is that the author is honest, the people are real, and the situations are fascinating (and heartbreaking and inspiring). On the cover there is a quotation from Eugene Peterson, which reads, "Greg Paul tells stories of whores and crazies, misfits and rejects, that sound as if they stepped out from the pages of the Bible."
If none of this appeals to you, then all I have to say is that this book floored me, and everyone I've spoken to who's read this agrees with me.

[26 March 2009]

The Wayfinders by Wade Davis, the second of his books that I've read, shows the breadth of the author's knowledge as The Serpent and the Rainbow shows the depth. The Wayfinders explores the numerous ways different endangered cultures around the world have looked at the world, and the dangers inherent in losing these perspectives. A central question in this book is, What would happen if we had focused all of our creative intellect since the Enlightenment not on science, philosophy, and industrialism, but rather on something else--peace, sustainability, self-knowledge? Davis shows us cultures which have done just that, including the titular Wayfinders, the pre-compass navigators of Polynesian open-sea canoes who know the oceans better than the Western world's best.
A word of warning: this book was written to be enabling, but the pall of destruction that hangs behind Davis' explorations set me on a multi-day bout of despair. Perhaps that was just my reading, though.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

How to Make a Casserole

I should be doing readings for class right now, but will instead tell you how I cook. This is primarily for people who believe they can't cook. If you can cook, this will probably not help you at all.

You will need:

1) An oven.
2) A stovetop, 2+ burners ideal
3) A casserole dish (glass, rectangular, medium-deep)
4) Any of the ingredients discussed.

To my way of thinking, a casserole consists of roughly 6 elements. These are generally interchangeable, but some go better with others. We will get to this later. However, on to the 6 elements.

1) Base/sauce.
I say 'base/sauce' not because it could be one or the other; they are the same thing. I say 'base/sauce' because it is best to think of it in terms of both. This is supposed to hold your whole dish together as far as flavour is concerned, and I usually put some of it in the bottom. It shouldn't be too subtle; the whole casserole should be flavoured by the sauce. On the other hand, it shouldn't be too strong, since that would overpower the other elements. Further, it should be fairly thick, or else the other parts will be swimming in the sauce, and that has poor presentation value. I usually use either tomato/pasta sauce ('original', not flavoured, whenever possible), alfredo sauce (original, not garlic), or cream-of-something soup (chicken, celery). More often than not, I mix the tomato sauce with one of the other elements. Feel free to experiment.

2) Starch.
I'm not talking about cornstarch here. I mean either potatoes, pasta, or rice. I have never used rice, but I imagine you could. If you use pasta, make sure it is something fairly small and easy to use with a fork or spoon: so no fettecini, no spaghetti or spaghettini, and no tortellini or capuletti. Penne, rotallini, shell, elbow, and the like are ideal. If you use potatoes, go for small chunks or thin slices. You will want a lot of this.

3) Meat.
Make sure you check your guests' dietary restrictions before deciding on this one. I usually use ground beef or ground pork for this, but this also works if you have leftovers you'd like to finish. Do you have some roast beef or a pork roast in the fridge you want to get rid of? I've used a mix of ground beef and pulled pork from a leftover roast and found it worked very well. You could use slices of sausage. You could also use tuna. However, I will note here that tuna is better with alfredo or cream-of-x soup than with tomato sauce, and better with pasta than with potatoes. Other meats go equally well with either.

4) Veggies.
If you find that you or your guests have difficulty getting their veggie count in, this is a good way of filling that. The easy solution is one of those frozen veggie mixes, but if you want a bit better quality you can chop up any combination of carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, and peppers for this. These should be available in the local supermarket during any season. These all have different cooking times, though, so watch that. Peas are very good if you want the veggies to blend in, and I find canned corn an excellent option that keeps in the cupboard a while. Corn, carrots, and cauliflower look less like vegetable for those carnivores you might know, but have less of the green-veggie nutrients. Spinach or zuchinni would be interesting options, I think, but I've never tried them before. Generally, I put the green veggies in alfredo or cream-of sauces and the less green veggies (corn, pepper, cauliflower, carrots) in the tomato sauce. I do this because the colours look better together: the tomato sauce does not lack vibrancy, and thus does not need augmentation, while the alfredo does lack it and thus could use the green to add some flair.

5) Spices, herbs, and some other special tricks.
I have some favourite herbs and spices that I use a lot. In alfredo or cream based dishes, I use thyme, rosemary, and parsley. In tomato-based dishes, I use paprika, cumin, cayenne pepper, oregano, and basil. I don't stick to these rules, however; you could through parsley in tomato or oregano and basil into alfredo. The real trick, though, is to use ingredients other than spices to add personality. I use raisins whenever I can (that is, whenever I have guests who will eat them), and I also add oatmeal to thicken the sauce and add some fibre. Sometimes I use tiny pieces of real bacon (I know, I know; bacon is meat. But it functions as a surprise, and that's the point). You can have fun with this: look through your cupboards and fridge and see if there are any odd or unconventional ingredients you can throw in and surprise people with.

6) Cheese.
This is crucial. I like to use two or three kinds whenever possible. For instance, I will mix old cheddar and mozzerella. If you have a marbe, though, that might work. Parmesan is also a nice choice to go with a heavier block cheese. If you don't have a cheese grater, something crumbly is likely your best bet. Otherwise, you will be forced to use slices and those do not work as well. Colby, I find, crumbles fairly well. Feta in small quantities also goes over well, but make sure you use something other than feta as well.

These are the six elements. Feel free to mix and match as you will. Now for composition.

1) Begin the vegetables. Chop up anything fresh. Throw it all in a pot with a little bit of water, and start boiling/steaming. You may want to keep in mind how long it takes each elements to cook, but if some of it is overcooked, don't worry. Just make sure the carrots are soft. If you're using potatoes, you can add them to the veggies. Note that carrots and potatoes will take the longest to cook. Canned veggies will not need to be cooked.

2) Start preparing the meat. If it isn't ready to eat, don't put it in the casserole yet. Brown the beef, boil (or BBQ) the sausages, fry the bacon; do whatever you need to do to make the meat edible. You can likely do this while the veggies boil/steam.

3) Once the meat is done, or while the meating is cooking if it's something you're boiling, prepare the starch. Make sure the pasta or rice are already edible, though it could be a little firmer than you're used to.

4) Arrange your sauces and 'extras' so that they are easily accessible.

5) Put some sauce (about half of what you plan to use) in the bottom of the casserole dish. It should cover the bottom, about a quarter-of-an-inch think at most. If you are using multiple sauces, I'd suggest using only one at the bottom.

6) Put in the starch. If you cooked potatoes in with veggies, then the veggies can go in as well. Drain the pasta, potatoes, or stove-cooked rice, of course.

7) Select one spice or herb and sprinkle it over this.

8) Pour over the remaining sauce, about twice as much as you put in the bottom.

9) Start pre-heating your oven. I suggest 325-350.

10) Pour in the meat and veggies. Any spices and 'extras' (ie. raisins, oatmeal, bacon) should also go now. Feel free to include some of the herbs. Of course, drain the veggies of water and the meat of grease before you do this.

11) Grate the cheese over the casserole. You could grate it over a cutting board and then transfer it, but grating it over the casserole dish itself uses fewer dishes and requires less guesswork concerning quantity. Make sure the entire surface should be evenly covered. Recall that once the cheese melts, it will look like less.

12) Throw parmesan and any last herbs on top of the cheese.

13) Put it in the oven for about 15-20 minutes. Basically, since everything is already cooked, we're looking to heat it throughout, melt the cheese, and allow the flavours to mingle.

14) Serve.

I'm not giving quantities because it's all play-by-ear anyway. I usually use 2 lbs of meat, twice as much pasta, 16 oz. of sauce, and then figure the rest out from there. That serves 3-4 guys, and we're usually full and have left-overs. I don't really use quantity directions anyway. I just figure it out as I go.

Very importantly, that order doesn't matter. The cheese should go on top, but I often find I mix the pasta and sauce in together and things like that. You could also have fun lining the edges with carrot slices or something like that. You could arrange sausages slices on top of the cheese, too. Anyway, the point is to try new stuff and have fun!

Sample ingredients combination: ground beef, tomato sauce, cream of chicken soup, fresh broccili, rigatoni noodles, thyme, rosemary, oregano, cheddar cheese.

Or: left-over pork, tomato sauce, frozen green beans, fresh carrots (sliced), potatoes (sliced), cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, raisins, cheddar and parmesan cheese.

Or: sliced sausage, tomato sauce, alfredo sauce, penne noodles, a fresh red pepper, thyme, parsley, paprika, cayenne papper, cumin, cheddar cheese.

Friday, 11 January 2008

Mystery Solved!

The mystery of the Diced Ham Cookies has been solved! CaraKay has on a previous post commented her discovery, and I had some others (JW, you know who you are) reply as well.

Here is a link:

Monday, 7 January 2008

Diced Ham Cookies: Real Chunks of Ham!

I just saw this ad on Hotmail half an hour ago, and I have no idea what it's about. I doubt it's real--it'd be disgusting if it were--but I have no idea what it's about. Granted, I didn't click the link because I was in the middle of an e-mail, so maybe I could have found out.

Any ideas?

Friday, 4 January 2008

Lakotah Nation

I just saw this on Wikipedia, and I think it's interesting news.

On December 25, 2007, a man named Russell Means and, presumably, supporters of his idea declared the Lakotah peoples withdrawn from their treaties with the United States of America. According to him, the Republic of Lakotah is an independent sovereign state within the geography most of us recognise as part of the States. He discusses issuing passports and driver's licenses in the nation's name.

(Note: in case you don't know, Lakotah are Native American people, part of the Sioux. They occupy land mainly in North and South Dakota.)

The Republic of Lakotah would be run as the post-contact Lakotah nations were: this is described as a libertarian, decentralised government with caveat emptor (buyer beware, loosely) and posse comitatus (the right of a sherrif to conscript abel-bodied men for police duty) legal systems. Taxation would be local and strictly consentual. They likely would not operate under a currency system like that of Canada or the US.

As it stands, the Republic of Lakotah has no where been recognised as a sovereign nation, though Means claims Ireland and a few other countries are interested--whatever that means. The some of the elders of the other Lakotah reservations have said that Means has made this declaration without their consent, and in fact has done so despite the lack of support from the Lakotah people themselves. The US government's official stance is that this declaration is irrelevant coming from Means because he has no authority to make the decision. In my ill-informed opinion, I suggest that this will blow over sometime in the fairly near future because the declaration has no real sticking power.

This event instead serves to highlight the mistreat of Aboriginal peoples by the American government--and, need it be said, by the Canadian government as well. It asks that we re-examine our relationship with previous sovereign nations (though the system of sovereignty has left them out, I suppose because they were not part of its founding in Eurasia) of our continent. I will state clearly that I do not suggest that it is possible or even necessary to grant sovereignty to Native American tribes or attempt to return all claimed land. Land return is problematic because a) the nomadic lifestyles of pre-contact American society does not mesh well with borders and b) the original territories are under dispute be parties that warred pre-contact. Further, I don't care for the idea of disinheriting people who, in their own actions and not of their ancestors, have done no ill in the acquisition of land. However, that being said, the relationship is strained and needs examining, and this incident shows this well.

For my sources of information:

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Excerpt from Stephen King's "Song of Susannah"

It's probably somewhere between illegal and immoral for me to post this, but if someone has a problem with it that can message me and I'll remove it.

Anyway, I don't think this'll spoil the plot for anyone. It's a partial explanation of the history/mythology King created for The Dark Tower series (and by association all of his work, it seems to me), by a character named Mia to another named Susannah. However, if you do wish to not read it in fear of spoiling the book, I understand. I've paraphrased in some places to focus specifically on what I want to examine.

"How many Beams do there be, Susannah of New York?"
"Six," Susannah said. ...
"Six, aye. And when the Beams were created out of that greater Discordia, the soup of creation some (including the Manni) call the Over and some call the Prim, what made them?"
"I don't know," Susannah said. "Was it God, do you think?"
"Perhaps there is a God, but the Beams rose from the Prim on the airs of magic, Susannah, the true magic that which passed long ago. Was it God that made magic, or was it magic that made God? I know not. ... But once upon a time all was Discordia and from it, strong and all crossing at a single unifying point, came the six beams. There was magic to hold them steady for eternity, but when the magic left from all there is but the Dark Tower, which some have called Can Calyx, the Hall of Resumption, men have despaired. When the Age of Magic passed, the Age of Machines came."
"North Central Positronics," Susannah murmured. "Dipolar computers. Slow-trans engines." She paused. "Blaine the Mono. But not in our world."
"No? Do you say your world is except? What about the sign in the hotel lobby?"...
...When she'd said Not in our world, of course she had been thinking of 1964--the world of black-and-white television, absurdly bulky room-sized computers, and Alabama cops more than willing to sic the dogs on black marchers for voting rights. Things had changed greatly in the intervening thrity-five years.The Eurasian desk clerk's combination TV and typewriter, for instance--how did Susannah know that wasn't a dipolar computer run by some form of slow-trans engine? She did not.
"Go on," she told Mia.
Mia shrugged. "You doom yourselves, Susannah. You seem positively bent on it, and the root is always the same: your faith fails you, and you replace it with rational thought. But there is no love in thought, nothing that lasts in deduction. only death in rationalism."
"The magic went away. Maerlyn retired to his cave in one world, the sword of Eld gave way to the pistols of the gunslinger in another, and the magic went away. And across the arc of years, great alchemists, great scientists, and great--what?--technicians, I think? Great men of thought, anyway, that's what I mean, great men of deduction--these came together and created the machines which ran the Beams. They were great machines but they were mortal machines. They replaced magic with machines, do ya kennit, and now the machines are failing. In some worlds, great plagues have decimated whole populations."
"The Crimson King's Breakers are only hurrying along a process that's already in train. The machines are going mad. You've seen this for yourself. The men believed there would always be more men like them to make more machines. None of them foresaw what's happened. This...this universal exhaustion."
"The world has moved on."
"Aye, lady. It has. And left no one to replace the machines which hold up the last magic in creation, for the Prim has receded long since. The magic is gone and the machines are failing. Soon enough the Dark Tower will fall. Perhaps there will be time for one splendid moment of universal rational thought before darkness rules forever. Wouldn't that be nice?"

I want to draw attention to the notion of rational materialism, etc., in this piece. Think about how it's represented: temporary, flawed, inferior--a poor replacement for magic. Further, what are the reprecussions of this replacement?

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

New Year

Apologies for the extraordinarily long time since I've posted. I'll try really hard in the future.

In the meantime, here's an article I read on-line that interests me.

It comes from, accessed January 1st, 2008.

hey, wait a minute: The conventional wisdom debunked.
Don't Fear StarbucksWhy the franchise actually helps mom and pop coffeehouses.By Taylor ClarkPosted 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."
Ever since Starbucks blanketed every functioning community in America with its cafes, the one effect of its expansion that has steamed people the most has been the widely assumed dying-off of mom and pop coffeehouses. Our cities once overflowed with charming independent coffee shops, the popular thinking goes, until the corporate steamroller known as Starbucks came through and crushed them all, perhaps tossing the victims a complimentary Alanis Morrisette CD to ease the psychic pain. In a world where Starbucks operates nearly 15,000 stores, with six new ones opening each day, isn't this a reasonable assumption? How could momma and poppa coffee hope to survive? But Hyman didn't misspeak—and neither did the dozens of other coffeehouse owners I've interviewed. Strange as it sounds, the best way to boost sales at your independently owned coffeehouse may just be to have Starbucks move in next-door.
That's certainly how it worked out for Hyman. Soon after declining Starbucks's buyout offer, Hyman received the expected news that the company was opening up next to one of his stores. But instead of panicking, he decided to call his friend Jim Stewart, founder of the Seattle's Best Coffee chain, to find out what really happens when a Starbucks opens nearby. "You're going to love it," Stewart reported. "They'll do all of your marketing for you, and your sales will soar." The prediction came true: Each new Starbucks store created a local buzz, drawing new converts to the latte-drinking fold. When the lines at Starbucks grew beyond the point of reason, these converts started venturing out—and, Look! There was another coffeehouse right next-door! Hyman's new neighbor boosted his sales so much that he decided to turn the tactic around and start targeting Starbucks. "We bought a Chinese restaurant right next to one of their stores and converted it, and by God, it was doing $1 million a year right away," he said.

Hyman isn't the only one who has experienced this Starbucks reverse jinx. Orange County, Calif., coffeehouse owner Martin Diedrich started hyperventilating when he first heard a Starbucks was opening "within a stone's throw" of his cafe, yet he reported similar results: "I didn't suffer whatsoever. Ultimately I prospered, in no small part because of it." Ward Barbee, the recently passed founder of the coffee trade magazine Fresh Cup, saw this happen scores of times. "Anyone who complains about having a Starbucks put in next to you is crazy," he told me. "You want to welcome the manager, give them flowers. It should be the best news that any local coffeehouse ever had."
Now, lest we get carried away with the happy civic results of Starbucks' global expansion, I hasten to point out that the company isn't exactly thrilled to have this effect on its local competitors' sales. Starbucks is actually trying to be ruthless in its store placements; it wants those independents out of the way, and it frequently succeeds at displacing them through other means, such as buying a mom and pop's lease or intimidating them into selling out. Beyond the frothy drinks and the touchy-feely decor, Starbucks runs on considerable competitive fire. Consider Tracy Cornell, a former Starbucks real-estate dealmaker who found and locked up a staggering 900 North American retail sites for the company in her decade-plus career. "It was sort of piranha-like," Cornell told me of her work for Starbucks. "It was just talking to landlords, seeing who was behind on their rent. All I needed was an opening like that, where the landlord wanted out. I was looking for tenants who were weak."
As much as independent coffeehouse owners generally enjoy having a Starbucks close at hand, most of them seem to have a story or two of someone from the company trying to undercut them. And occasionally a new Starbucks will hurt a mom and pop—even drive them out of business. For example, in 2006, cafe owner Penny Stafford filed a federal antitrust suit against the company, alleging a nearby Starbucks illegally sank her Bellevue, Wash., coffeehouse. Starbucks employees were passing out samples right outside her front door, Stafford claims, even though the company's nearest outlet was over 300 feet away.

But closures like this have been the exception, not the rule. In its predatory store placement strategy, Starbucks has been about as lethal a killer as a fluffy bunny rabbit. Business for independently owned coffee shops has been nothing less than exceptional as of late. Here's a statistic that might be surprising, given the omnipresence of the Starbucks empire: According to recent figures from the Specialty Coffee Association of America, 57 percent of the nation's coffeehouses are still mom and pops. Just over the five-year period from 2000 to 2005—long after Starbucks supposedly obliterated indie cafes—the number of mom and pops grew 40 percent, from 9,800 to nearly 14,000 coffeehouses. (Starbucks, I might add, tripled in size over that same time period. Good times all around.) So much for the sharp decline in locally owned coffee shops. And prepare yourself for some bona fide solid investment advice: The failure rate for new coffeehouses is a mere 10 percent, according to the market research firm Mintel, which means the vast majority of cafes stay afloat no matter where Starbucks drops its stores. Compare that to the restaurant business, where failure is the norm.
So now that we know Starbucks isn't slaughtering mom and pop, the thorny question remains: Why is Starbucks amplifying their business? It's actually pretty simple. In contrast to so-called "downtown killers" like Home Depot or Wal-Mart, Starbucks doesn't enjoy the kinds of competitive advantages that cut down its local rivals' sales. Look at Wal-Mart. It offers lower prices and a wider array of goods than its small-town rivals, so it acts like a black hole on local consumers, sucking in virtually all of their business. Starbucks, on the other hand, is often more expensive than the local coffeehouse, and it offers a very limited menu; you'll never see discounts or punch cards at Starbucks, nor will you see unique, localized fare (or—let's be honest—fare that doesn't make your tongue feel like it's dying). In other words, a new Starbucks doesn't prevent customers from visiting independents in the same way Wal-Mart does—especially since coffee addicts need a fix every day, yet they don't always need to hit the same place for it. When Starbucks opens a store next to a mom and pop, it creates a sort of coffee nexus where people can go whenever they think "coffee." Local consumers might have a formative experience with a Java Chip Frappuccino, but chances are they'll branch out to the cheaper, less crowded, and often higher-quality independent cafe later on. So when Starbucks blitzed Omaha with six new stores in 2002, for instance, business at all coffeehouses in town immediately went up as much as 25 percent.
The key for independent coffeehouse owners who want to thrive with a Starbucks next-door is that they don't try to imitate Starbucks. (As many failed coffee chains can attest, there's no way to beat Starbucks at being Starbucks.) The locally owned cafes that offer their own unique spin on the coffeehouse experience—and, crucially, a quality brew—are the ones that give the Seattle behemoth fits. Serve an appetizing enough cappuccino, and you can even follow Hyman's lead and take aim at almighty Starbucks, where automated espresso machines now pull consistently middling shots at the touch of a button—no employee craftsmanship required.

After all, if Starbucks can make a profit by putting its stores right across the street from each other, as it so often does, why couldn't a unique, well-run mom and pop do even better next-door? And given America's continuing thirst for exorbitantly priced gourmet coffee drinks, there's a lot of cash out there for the taking. As coffee consultant Dan Cox explained, "You can't do better than a cup of coffee for profit. It's insanity. A cup of coffee costs 16 cents. Once you add in labor and overhead, you're still charging a 400 percent markup—not bad! Where else can you do that?" Until Americans decide they need to pay four bucks a pop every morning for a custom-baked, designer-toast experience, probably nowhere.

As is always the case, I strongly advocate that you examine biases and weaknesses is data ... but as far as I can tell from preliminary considerations, the 'arguement' (there hardly is one) isn't flawed and the information doesn't seem too preposterous.
It seems to me like we have to go easy on our corporate-bashing, yet again.

Update: A Canadian survey shows that 66% of Canadians buy their coffee at Tim Horton's.
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