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September, 2009:

The revolutions we like, and the ones we don’t

Empire State BuildingA few weeks back, supporters of the ill-fated Green Revolution in Iran petitioned to have the Empire State Building lit in green during the week of the United Nations General Assembly. The supporters wanted the lighting as a show of solidarity with the Iranian opposition during a time when the world’s leaders were gathered in New York City. The Empire State Building, however, was not so keen on the idea and turned them down.

However, the Green Revolution supporters were elated to find that the Empire State Building would be green on Thursday, Sep. 24, in honor of the 70th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz (you know, the emerald city and all) and planed demonstrations that night.

The Empire State Building authorities were not amused by this. So at the last minute, they changed the lighting scheme to all red –for Dorthy’s ruby red slippers. Take that Green Revolution!

But tonight, the Empire State Building is more than happy to honor another revolution—one that occurred 60 years ago and brought the Chinese Communist Party to power.

Just goes to show you that in America we will gladly turn the ceremonial lights on for your revolution provided that you:

A: win

B: make cheap shit for us

Your favorite posts from September

September was a big month for Free Refills & Why I Love America.  I switched hosting, redesigned the site and more people visited and commented than ever before.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you continue to visit.

With that, here are the ten most popular posts from September:

Is it time to ban carpooling? At the beginning of the month the campaign against cell phone-wielding drivers was just heating up. But it turns out that driving with passengers is just as dangerous.

MINUTEMEN UPDATE: Senate considering Coke tax I wrote this post several months ago, but it got a lot of hits this month after the New York Times wrote a story on the efforts to tax soda and coke.

Fighting back against credit card minimums A guide on what to do when a shop keeper tries to break the rules and charge you a minimum purchase amount to use a credit card.

Is a “Coke Tax” a threat to Free Refills? Some of the soda tax proposals floating around would levy taxes on fountain drinks as well as cans and bottles. Would this mean the end of Free Refills?

About There were a lot of new visitors this month and apparently they enjoyed clicking on the about page. This inspired me to re-write it to explain the true story behind Free Refills & Why I Love America.

Deep-fried butter. That is all This is fairly self-explanatory.

What makes Europe Stink €2. Nescafé Instant Coffee The real reason Starbucks developed a new instant coffee is to boost its sales in Europe.

#10. Super Big Gulp Few things are as uniquely America as the Super Big Gulp

Why Europe Sucks €3. Cheek kissing It’s not cultural. Old European men are just pervs.

#17. Five-dollar large pizzas What better evidence that Capitalism works than the $5 large pizza?

General Motors is dead, long live Walmart! [polls]

Walmart Supercenter signThere was a time when General Motors = America. This was true both in terms of corporate might and popular imagination. But those days have long past. Today General Motors is literally owned by America! But I digress.

With GM now lying lifeless on the dust heap of history, what mega corporation best represents America today?

According to a poll released by 60 Minutes and Vanity Fair, the answer is Walmart.

48 percent of respondents named the discounter as the institution that best symbolizes America. Google came in second with 15 percent and 13 percent of respondents said Microsoft. There was hardly any love for the National Football League, with only 6 percent of respondents choosing it, just a hair more than the 3 percent who named investment bank Godlman Sachs.

But why wasn’t McDonald’s on the list? After all, its got free refills, clean restrooms, drive-thrus, cheap food and is conveniently located everywhere.

Previous topics mentioned in this post:

#2. Drive-Thrus

€1. Pay toilets

Remember when GM had balls?

What do you think?

Don’t worry, Starbucks doesn’t expect you to drink its bad new instant coffee.

Starbucks Via Ready BrewSo the big news today—at least in the Starbucks at the corner—was that the new instant coffee VIA has finally arrived.

Seeing as I don’t have a coffee maker, I decided to pick some up and give it a shot. The verdict: it sucks, just like all instant coffee.

But that is OK because Americans aren’t supposed to like VIA. Starbucks developed this down-market instant brew for Europeans.

Europeans, you see, have a dirty little secret: they love instant coffee. They drink tons of it, and they don’t just drink it at home either. Order a coffee in any café, restaurant or hotel in Europe and you will be served some barely drinkable Nescafe mixture.

Starbucks, which has about 1,200 locations in Europe, evidently thinks that the reason its sales are still sluggish there is because its coffee is too good. Perhaps exploiting the European penchant for watery instant coffee is the way to conquer the market.

I wish them luck. After all, anything is better than Nescafe.

Previous topics mentioned in this post:

Why Europe Sucks €2. Nescafé Instant Coffee

Delivery just because you can [standing up for America]

DSCN1790Delivery is wonderful, wonderful thing. I would never think of disparaging it. In fact, as I’ve written before, delivery is one of the best things about New York City.

Judging by the vast selection of delivery menus that are shoved under my door, my neighbor is also fond of delivery.

But I had no idea how committed he is to delivery until I got home today and saw a massive pile of empty Fresh Direct boxes in the hall.

Most places this would not be noteworthy. Grocery stores are usually a few miles away, and in places like New York where people don’t drive, grocery shopping can be a real hassle. That is not the case for my neighbor, who I happen to know lives very close to a grocery store. In fact, his building might have the best access to groceries of anywhere in the country.

Let’s review.

The map below shows the apartment location (red dot) and the location of all of the grocery stores within ¼ mile (green dots).  As you can see, there is a Trader Joe’s across the street, a Whole Food’s about 300 yards away, a giant, 9-5 Farmer’s Market that operates 4 days-per-week in the park and a Food Emporium grocery store in the building.


If he wants expensive organic food, he’s got it. Slightly cheaper organic food? That’s available too. If he’s into locally produced food, the farmer’s market carries everything, even beef, lamb, goat and seafood. Or if he is just into normal-person things, like Kraft Mac & Cheese, that is available in the building.

Despite these options, my neighbor evidently decided to sit down in front of his computer and order six boxes of groceries delivered. That demonstrates a serious commitment to the American institution of delivery–one that I must admit, I did not think possible.

I salute him.

Americans don’t support soda taxes [polls]

The Yoga and Tofu set are pushing hard to get new taxes slapped on soda and juice drinks, but the American people aren’t buying it. That is according to a new poll released by 60 Minutes and Vanity Fair.

The poll, which surveyed 1,097 adults, found that only 7 percent of Americans support taxing coke as a way to combat obesity.

The survey didn’t have demographic cross-tabs. But in case you’re wondering, a 2003 Harris Poll found that 6 percent of Americans practice vegetarianism.

The number of Americans who support taxing coke was only slightly higher than the 4 percent who support other fringe ideas, like tax incentives for liposuction.

Previous topics mentioned in this post:

Is a “Coke Tax” a threat to Free Refills?

European-style soda taxes make inroads

MINUTEMEN UPDATE: Senate considering Coke tax

The graph the New York Times doesn’t want you to see

This post has been getting a huge amount of search-engine traffic recently. Thank you for the visits! If you’re looking for more data on the dangers (or lack thereof) of cell phones in cars, check out this post as well.

Regular readers of this blog  will know that the New York Times is waging a sensationalistic campaign to ban the use of cell phones while driving.

To this end, the Times has run at least seven stories, editorialized, released a movie and even produced a (not very realistic, from my experiences) texting-while-driving computer game as part of its ongoing  Driven to Distraction series.

A casual reading of the series would doubtless leave most people with the impression that our roads are getting more dangerous and that cell phones are likely responsible.  But this is not the case.

The truth is that our roads have never been safer.

Yes, you read that correctly. Despite the dramatic proliferation of cell phones over the last decade—more than 80 percent of Americans now use them—driving in America is safer than it has ever been.

The graph below shows the decline of fatal car crashes and the increase in cell phone use over the last fifteen years. I created it with accident data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Pew Center for People and the Press. Traffic fatalities are measured in deaths per 100 million miles driven.


Does this mean that cell phones are actually making us better drivers?

Probably not.  Vehicle fatality rates have steadily declined since cars were first widely available in the 1920s. But the graph does show that cell phones are not making are roads dramatically more dangerous. And they are certainly not the kind of  threat that warrants a three month crusade from the New York Times.

This does not mean that cell phones are not distracting and potentially dangerous. They are. But as a 2006 study from the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute suggests, they are no more dangerous than many other distractions, like passengers, grooming, and eating. Perhaps we should ban carpooling instead. After all, it could save more lives than banning cell phones.

Remember when GM had balls?

GM Renaissance Center HDRRemember the good old days before General Motors was a government company?

Well, it seems those days have come to an end. The Detroit News reported yesterday that General Motors, along with ten other auto companies, has signed on to government efforts to ban texting while driving.


Maybe one day GM will regain a little bit of its old screw-consumers, safety-be-damned, to-hell-with-the-environment swagger. Perhaps then it can lobby for something that will save lives and improve its bottom line, like banning carpooling.

(Hat tip, John R)

McDonald’s in America [progress]

Few things scream America more than the golden arches of McDonald’s. And thanks to the company’s relentless expansion push, you can find the low prices, great tastes and predictability of McDonald’s in over 120 countries across the globe.

But while McDonald’s continues to spread American ideals around the world, it is also expanding here at home.  Stephen Von Worle over at the blog Weather Sealed decided to map out just how ubiquitous McDonald’s has become in an effort to figure out if there is anywhere in the county that is out of McDonald’s reach.

Here is the map he came up with:


Turns out that at 107 miles from the nearest McDonalds, some godforsaken stretch of South Dakota is the pretty much the last place in the lower 48 without adequate access to a Happy Meal.

But while many view this map as a sign of just how homogenous the American suburban landscape has become, I prefer to look at it as a sign of progress. After all, even I find myself stranded between Glad Valley and Meadow, South Dakota, I still know that free refills, clean restrooms and a drive-thru window is only a 2-3 hour drive away.

God Bless America!

Previous topics mentioned in this post:

#2. Drive-Thrus

Why Europe Stinks €. 1 – Pay Toilets

Chain restaurants in NYC: Saturation point or starting point?

#20. Camel Crush Cigarettes [American innovation]

2009-06-29 120With the news out today that the Food and Drug Administration is instituting a ban on flavored cigarettes, I thought it was only fitting to take a look at a positive contribution Big Tobacco has recently made to society:  Camel Crush Cigarettes.

These are no ordinary premium cigarettes. These are special flavor changing cigarettes.*

They are specially developed to transform from a normal cigarette into a menthol when the smoker applies pressure to a small ball located in the filter. Apparently this new product fills the needs of smokers who can’t wait the two or three minutes until they are done with their current smoke to light-up a menthol.

I can’t say I’ll ever use it, but I am happy that the good men and women at RJ Reynolds developed it just in case.

Not to be cynical about this product’s chances, but if you are inclined to give it a try, I might suggest doing it soon. I have the lingering suspicion that it won’t be long before either the FDA bans menthols or the corporate bean-counters send it the way of Crystal Clear Pepsi.

God Bless America and God Bless American Innovation!

*The FDA’s current ban on flavored cigarettes does not apply to menthols.

(Hat tip, Dan H)

Previous American Innovation topics:

Deep-fried butter. That is all

#19. KFC’s “Double Down Sandwich”

MINUTEMENT UPDATE: Because eight pop choices is not enough

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