The Null Device


Multinational coffee chain Starbucks have announced that they will close 61 our of their 85 Australian outlets. That's just under 72%.

What surprises me is that they had 85 outlets in Australia in the first place. Thanks to large-scale Italian immigration in the 1950s and 1960s, Australia has very high standards for what constitutes a good cup of coffee. The inner cities of Australia are full of cafés with espresso machines and baristas who know how to use them well, to the point where cafés in the UK advertise their staff's Australian training, and the locals' expectations of coffee is at a level well above Starbucks' ability to compete, even with their resources.

Who could possibly have patronised all those Starbucks outlets? Surely there wouldn't have been enough risk-averse American businessmen passing through to justify 85 of them.

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One of the arguments for giving the Olympics to China—a contentious choice, 12 years after the crushing of the Tienanmen Square protests—was that such an event would force China to improve its human rights. Even while we couldn't expect China, a totalitarian state, to become a model nation in this respect, the argument went, surely the eyes of the world upon it would cause the situation to improve somewhat.

This argument has been shattered by a recent Amnesty International report, which finds that the Olympics have actually made things worse, with the Chinese authorities stepping up repression, censorship and arbitrary imprisonment and relocation to make sure that the games run smoothly.

The report says that Chinese activists have been locked up, people have been made homeless, journalists have been detained, websites blocked, and the use of labour camps and prison beatings has increased.
"We've seen a deterioration in human rights because of the Olympics," said Roseann Rife, a deputy programme director for Amnesty International.
The authors of the Amnesty report have the extraordinary naïveté to suggest that this has "undermined" the "Olympic values" of human dignity. Surely the values that would go best with putting on a huge spectacle of commercialism and national chest-beating would be those of totalitarianism; making the trains run on time, crushing any uncomfortable dissent, and all, and China would be a more natural host than any liberal democracy which would be obliged to pass uncomfortable laws suspending civil liberties (as Sydney did in 2000; the laws, still on the books, have since come in handy for other mass spectacles, such as the Catholic Church's World Youth Day this year). Meanwhile, with the exception of a few granola-eaters and Guardian readers, the West doesn't care as long as they get their entertainment product shipped into their sitting rooms through the TV.

Perhaps when the location of the next Olympics is decided, the IOC should consider North Korea; after all, coordinating mass events with ruthless precision is one thing the Hermit Kingdom excels at.

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