Price controls to help the poor

Last sentence of article:

“President Hugo Chavez decreed price controls on coffee and other basic food staples in 2003 to counter inflation and protect the poor.”

First sentence of article:

“CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) – The government on Monday said it was raising the regulated price of ground coffee in stores by 60 percent in a bid to end a dispute with producers that has caused a crisis around Venezuela’s beloved drink.”

In between, a case study of price controls making a mess of the market and hurting the very people they’re meant to protect.

[Via Coffee and Caffeine.]

Sexter to become a reality?

Back in 2003, one of my satire articles in The Slant was about a Friendster spin-off called Sexter, a kind of sexual social networking site. A bit later, a Worcester, MA nightlife site came up with the amusing whobangedwho.com. So far these sites have just been parodies, but BoingBoing reports that the sex.com domain has been purchased for $14 million dollars by a Web development company promising to put a social networking service there, among other things.

The actual news reports make it sound less like a social networking site along the lines of Friendster and more like an adult content portal that includes a personals feature, so the Sexter idea will probably remain pure fiction. But the story behind the contested ownership of sex.com is really very interesting, as described in this 2003 article from Wired.

On a more serious note, this weekend I joined the social networking site LinkedIn. It’s oriented toward business contacts, keeping the emphasis on professional information and forgoing user photographs or relationship status. Unlike other networking sites, it seems capable of providing useful information for jobs and business deals once you’re connected. I like to think I’m ahead of the curve on these things, but I was surprised to find lots of people I know were already members.

The site is easy to navigate, but the need to know the email address a person signed up with in order to connect with them can make finding all of one’s initial contacts a little clunky. When you don’t know this information, you have to go through a more time consuming introduction process through an already established mutual contact or upgrade to a paid account to send a message directly. But this is a small complaint about a site that otherwise looks very good so far. If you join, find me there with the address jacob@jacobgrier.com.

Coffee catch-up

Lots of coffee stuff has happened in the past couple weeks. Let’s play catch-up.

Barista Song — Just before this site went down, I received the Barista Song CD from Arizona singer Marianne Murdock. The barista being an underappreciated profession in American song, I was glad to hear of this single devoted to us coffee slaves. It’s a fun, bluesy number with some clever lyrics. Baristi especially should check it out at baristasong.com, where it’s available as a $4 CD or ninety-nine cent MP3 download. Thanks, Marianne!

Caffeinated sex drive — A new study finds that coffee may boost sexual desire in females (as if I hadn’t figured that out already). Caveats: the study was only performed in rats and it may not apply to frequent caffeine users. Still, it’s one more reason to be a barista.

Hat tip to Nikki, who, alas, refuses to drink coffee.

War on caffeine — But one town where the baristas won’t be getting action is Shaker Heights, Ohio, at least if Mayor Judith Rawson has her way. She and the city council have signed a proclamation warning against the dangers of caffeine consumption and declared March to be Caffeine Awareness Month.

The erstwhile Agitator notes that the campaign is run by the Caffeine Awareness Alliance, a non-profit whose founder doubtless finds it quite profitable to get lots of free press mentions for her line of caffeine-free soy coffee alternatives (yuck!). Radley also links to this WebMD article listing the numerous good things coffee can do for you in addition to getting girl mice all hot and bothered.

Cappuccino economics — Tim Harford, author of the recently released book The Undercover Economist, goes undercover at Starbucks to explain why the elusive short cappuccino isn’t on the menu.

CoE and the Clover — The winning lot in the 2005 Brazilian Cup of Excellence auction sold for an incredible $49.75 per green pound. For comparison’s sake, the previous Brazilian record was $13.65. One of the buyers was Cafe Artigiano, who, not coincidentally, will also be one of the first buyers of the revolutionary Clover coffee brewer (see my previous post on it here). For a great post on how the Clover could bring the retailing of single origin coffees to a whole new level, see the latest entry at God Shot.

And we are back

For the second time in the past year, my blog and a few others with the same host have run into some server troubles. This time we were hit with a denial of service attack that led to our upstream provider taking us offline. We don’t know the culprit yet, but suspects include the Starbucks corporation, SmokeFreeDC, and Michael Tacelosky’s secret Lego robot army. Whoever it was, they could only keep us silenced for so long. Now we’re back and ready to get blogging again.

In the mean time, I was unable to receive any emails sent to this domain. Recent emails will come trickling in, while older ones will probably never arrive. If you sent me something and don’t hear back soon, please resend.

Tax it and don’t legalize it

I linked to this in the sidebar, but it’s so amusing I decided to put it here on the main page as well. Apparently Tennessee has decided that just because drugs are illegal, that’s no reason not to tax them. They are now subject to the Unauthorized Substances Tax, 75% of which is used to fight the drug war. The tax must be payed within forty-eight hours of receiving an illegal substance and is supposedly anonymous. But just to clarify…

8. If I purchase stamps, will I then be in legal possession of the drugs?

No, purchasing stamps only fulfills your civil tax obligation. You will still be subject to the criminal statutes of Tennessee for possessing the drugs.

Read the whole FAQ. It’s surreal. Thanks to non-blogging Julian for the tip.

[Update: In the comments, Drug WarRant blogger Pete Guither points out that these kind of laws aren't uncommon and some have been struck down as a form of a double jeopardy. He also duly notes that, like so many other absurdities in the drug war, it's not so amusing when these laws are used to strip people of their property. See his 2004 blog post for more.]

Tales of two coffee shops

In Slate, Michael Idov writes about the shattered dream of owning his own coffee shop:

“You know that charming little cafe on New York’s Lower East Side that just closed after a mere six months in business—where coffee was served on silver trays with a glass of water and a little chocolate cookie? The one that, as you calmly and correctly observed, was doomed from its inception because it was too precious and too offbeat? The one you still kind of fell for, the way one falls for a tubercular maiden? Yeah, that one was mine.

The scary part is that you think you can do better.”

The article goes on to describe monetary blackholes, stressful work hours, and a marriage almost destroyed by the business. [Via Radley.]

In contrast, things are looking way up for San Francisco start-up Ritual Roasters:

…[In] his wildest dreams, [Jeremy] Tooker never would have imagined life could be this sweet: he and business partner Eileen Hassi — who became buds while they both worked for Torrefazione — opened Ritual Coffee Roasters in San Francisco’s Mission District on May 12, 2005, and have spent every minute since riding a wave of popularity that’s been strong, swift and something mighty, even by San Francisco standards… Tooker and Hassi, knowing full well the little neighborhood needed a shot of espresso — good espresso — and fast, took the risk on the high rents of San Francisco. The gamble, obviously, was a good one.

… It’s hard to do anything new in San Francisco, with so much good food and innovative design already in place, indeed, with a population so accustomed to quality. Perhaps the reason Tooker and Hassi have done so well — the lines at Ritual are routinely out the door, and they bust through 250 pounds of roasted beans every week — is because they brought just enough of the Pacific Northwest into Northern California, thereby distinguishing themselves but with enough sense to serve it on a platter of cool.

The full story is in the current issue of Barista Magazine, not currently online.

New year, new blog

After a lamented departure, Mungowit’s End is back for 2006.