July 22, 2014
July 15, 2014
July 11, 2014
June 25, 2014
June 20, 2014
I live near the original Starbucks and often have to walk through the crowds of people taking selfies, standing in long lines for the same coffee drinks they can get anywhere, and taking endless photos of one another. I’m often asked for directions to this Starbucks as I’m walking nearby. The accents and languages suggest that people make this pilgrimage from all over the world.
They spend precious time of their vacation to come there, even while there are several others Starbucks — and, more importantly, several other excellent local coffee shops — within a few blocks.
There’s just a mystique about Starbucks.
And that may explain why so much of the media simply reported the carefully orchestrated press release about Starbucks’ subsidizing college tuition for its employees rather than actually reporting. The story was everywhere on Monday — in print, on TV and radio, and even on The Daily Show, in which even Jon Stewart claims that though it’s out of character, he can’t “hate” Howard Schultz’s announcement that Starbucks will be “the first U.S. company to provide free college tuition for all employees”. Schultz talks at length about Starbucks as a company and explains that “we can’t want for Washington” to solve the problem of college indebtedness. Schultz goes on to argue that private businesses have to step in when government does not.
Yet it turns out that the Plan depends more on Washington than on Starbucks’ bottom line, as was clear by midweek. Just a sample of the pushback that began showing up on social media:
The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that the deal was actually highly subsidized by the for-profit on-line sector of Arizona State, that students would likely be getting federal Pell grants and subsidized loans, and Starbucks would actually be shelling out relatively little.
Tressie McMillan Cottom placed this deal in the broader context of for-profits targeting education for lower-income workers whose education will be subsidized from public coffers. She writes:
My read of that is Starbucks gets to minimize its contribution to tuition assistance by funneling aspirational student-workers into the student aid system and ASU gets to extract profit from student aid on a sliding scale where lower income students are the most profitable human widgets.
The New York Times simply reported that critics were pointing to drawbacks of the “scholarship” program.
Matt Reed at Inside Higher Ed noted that college might well be less expensive if Starbucks employees just went to their local community college for their first two years and then transferred to a four year school.
The Pell Grant program that would in fact pay much of the costs of attending the profit-generating ASU program is already on precarious footing.
Starbucks, meanwhile, joins other huge corporations in seeking tax breaks.
But no one was reporting any of this at first on Monday.
Everyone in the media instead seemed to be lining up and smiling within Starbucks’ orbit, just like all those tourists down the street.
June 18, 2014
This article about a young family’s new cabin on a nearby island in last Sunday’s style section troubled me, but I had a hard time articulating exactly why. It’s not that these features on lovely homes built in the region must contain social critique. And I knew that I did not want to write snarkily about this family because I want to stay focused on the structural and not on individual choices.
It’s just that on Sunday morning, I saw the figures scratched in the margins of the paper version on our kitchen counter adding up the construction costs for such a home (he who shares my daily paper knows about these things), and then there were the talks on our walk in which we totaled up the costs of the land, building, furniture, appliances (likely something close to a million dollars, for all its “simplicity”). I knew that my unease was not just straightforward jealously, though in these past few weeks of a major life transition of elderly, ill relatives who have no money, we’ve been increasingly conscious of those who do seem to take their wealth for granted and the deep social distance between our families and such friends and colleagues.
So on that walk on Sunday morning as we added up the land, the building materials, the two designer sofas, the commercial grade appliances, the solid black granite bathtub, and the boarding of horses, we kept asking “so what is it that we want?”.
In the end, I think that it’s the narrative of this piece that I find most troubling: That a young woman, pregnant, heard a speaker warn against the harm of “nature deficit disorder”, and horrified, set out to create an oasis in nature where her soon-to-be-born son would thrive.
Yet clicking through the website today of the speaker that spurred her to “snag” 10 acres of land on a bucolic island, I find that his work is grounded in the vision of creating a movement toward *all* children having ample access to nature. This family’s (recently remodeled) main home is near one of the largest and most popular parks in the city.
So I think that I’m more clear about what I want, several days later.
I want people to own their wealth and their desire for privacy and luxury and not frame these things within narratives of saving one’s children from harm that might come to them otherwise.
When someone can afford to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a very private second home on an island when one’s children are still very young, I want –for once – for these people to say “we have been very lucky to inherit” and/or “we’re very lucky to earn so much more than others who work just as hard, and to not have student loans, even though we’re still at early points in our careers“, as so many others now do.
I know what I do not want: Narratives in which the wealthy are held up as model parents who upon hearing of the dangers of the modern world, “go right out” to provide acres of weekend woods for their children; narratives that invite us to admire their paint colors and beautiful windows and solid black granite bathtub without asking too many questions about how it is that relatively young parents can ensure that their child has access to acres of his own private salamanders, and especially not to ask too many questions about how all children might have room to grow and thrive, as that speaker that night several years ago likely advised.
That may well be too much to ask of style writers, but not of those about whom they write.