Day 1: Building Empires

Seattle, like so many of America’s mid-sized cities, has a preposterous over-representation in international popular culture. You’ve got the music scene – which I’m going to touch on at some point, though can I say – like, just to get it out of the way – that despite being all great and hyper-influential and everything, Nevermind isn’t the best Seattle record, or even the best Nirvana record? Okay cool. What Seattle does have in its soil are the roots of two of the biggest companies of the last half century or so, both loved and loathed by hundreds of millions: Starbucks and Microsoft.

My girlfriend hates Starbucks. Won’t go near it. First date we went on, we were going for coffee and ended up going to the third cafe we found because the first two were Starbucks. Now, in her defense, she’s Italian, so less-than-world-class coffee is kind of an insult to her national heritage. And in countries with a good coffee culture, like Italy or Australia, there really is no excuse to go to a Starbucks, unless you’re super desperate for free wi-fi. A few years back, Starbucks was forced to close down something like 80% of their Australian stores, including all of them in my home state. But here’s the thing about Starbucks. At all of their stores, anywhere in the world, you’re guaranteed a certain quality of coffee. Call it a 6.1 – the kind of score which, were it applied to an album, wouldn’t have you rushing to download it (incidental proof of how I am somehow already an old man: the first time I wrote this sentence, it said “rushing out to buy a copy”, which may as well talk about taking a horse and cart to get it for all the relevance that statement has these days), but would still describe an album ten times better than, say, anything Nickleback ever put out. So in a country where coffee is of variable (Canada) or generally rubbish (UK, Germany) quality, Starbucks is actually a pretty solid bet.

As for Microsoft – well, despite really enjoying my iPod and considering an iPhone, I’m not an Apple person. Apple computers, I’m sure I’m not the first person on the internet to point out, have some applications but for me they’re not enough usefulness for too much money. Plus there’s the fact that Bill Gates is basically second only to Warren Buffett for doing charitable work and being a positive class traitor (also, that awesome mosquito stunt) while Steve Jobs went out of his way to cancel all of Apple’s corporate donations to charity, let alone give away any of his personal wealth.

But seriously? Right now, I’m kind of proof of this whole thing. As critical and anti-globalist as I could be here, I’m sitting in a Starbucks with a grande americano next to me, and I’m writing this on a computer running Microsoft Windows. The line to point out that doing this means I’m a hypocrite and am not allowed to talk about economic or social change at all starts just off the side of that bridge there.

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