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Close Your Eyes, Imagine Biting Canadian Apple Pie: Opening Line

August 26, 2014

Hortons Coffee and Donuts

“The coffee is middle-of-the-road OK, the food is good (but only by coffee shop standards), and the people are generally friendly. Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

When the news broke in 2008 that Anheuser-Busch was being acquired by InBev, the Budweiser-’til-we-die crowd turned red, white and mostly blue at the thought of this corporate icon in the hands of a foreign company.

“I was actually drinking a Bud Light when I heard, and I couldn’t even finish it. That’s the honest-to-God truth,” a St. Louis man man told CNN at the time. (We don’t believe him.) Another righteous yet beer-swilling American said he had been “proud to drink Budweiser, not any more” because the beer was “a great piece of American history.”

Well, the Czechs might have something to say about that, but whatever.

Up in Canada, the notion of the Tim Hortons restaurant chain falling back into the American hands in its proposed acquisition by Burger King is stirring up the same emotions -- again. Canadians were finally getting used to the company being Canadian again after about 10 years of being owned by Wendy’s, and now this.

An Internet survey taken yesterday at the Globe and Mail, one of Canada’s two national newspapers, showed 60 percent opposed to the merger, with 23 percent in favor and 16 percent unsure. At the website of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, readers were upset.

“No, say it ain’t so. It’s a Canadian icon,” the CBC quoted one reader as saying. Another wrote, “Their ads almost always seem to point to or mention something related to Canada, such as a father and son bonding over a hockey game. Timmy’s becoming owned by non-Canadians may tarnish their identity with us.”

For Canadians, this qualifies as histrionics.

Tim Hortons (THI) -- there should be an apostrophe for the possessive, but there isn’t -- is comfort food up there, both literally and figuratively. First, the chain was founded by a beloved hockey player who died in a car wreck at 34 years old, just as his playing career was drawing to a close.

But beyond that, we’ve only stopped in a couple times and have none of the deeper sense of it. So we turned to a real Canadian.

“Why is it so popular? It’s part of the national mystery,” Doug MacKay writes from Toronto. MacKay is the former editor-in-chief of the Halifax Daily News and former assistant managing editor of the Winnipeg Free Press. We met him when he worked for Bloomberg. He’s at the CBC now.

“The coffee is middle-of-the-road OK, the food is good (but only by coffee shop standards), and the people are generally friendly. Hockey is part of it, for sure, but also the chain’s presence in small towns across the country [and] its links to the Maritime provinces,” MacKay writes.

The shops are everywhere, he says. They even set up an outlet at the airfield in Kandahar, Afghanistan, when Canadian troops were stationed there in 2006. ("Tim Hortons is just called Tim’s in Canada, or ‘Tims,’ omitting the apostrophe, because everyone knows what you mean,’’ MacKay writes. “Just as everyone knows what a large double-double is, or a Timbit, or roll up the rim to win.")

Canada dislikes apostrophes, evidently.

‘‘My guess is optimistic Canadians will see this as a chance to rule Burger King, never mind that the whole enterprise will be controlled by a Brazilian company,’’ MacKay writes.

His guess is probably more educated than most.

Tom Pirko, president of food and beverage consulting company Bevmark LLC, told the National Post -- the country’s other national sheet -- that Canadians should see this as a conquest, not a loss.

‘‘Tim Hortons is a better-run company that can use Burger King to position itself as a real player in the U.S. coffee wars, ’’ Pirko told the newspaper. ‘‘Nothing is going to change in Canada. You’re going to be looking at it as [a point of] national pride.’’

In that case, Burger King should buy the Maple Leafs.

***

Today’s U.S. economic indicators are durable-goods orders at 8:30 a.m. EDT, the FHFA and Case Shiller house price indexes at 9 a.m., and the Conference Board’s consumer confidence index at 10 a.m.

Best Buy, DSW Inc. and Bob Evans Farms are among the few earnings reports today.

***

- U.S. planes are flying over Syria. - Egyptian planes are flying over Libya, joined by the U.A.E. - Qatar is trying to free four more U.S. hostages held in Syria - Putin and Poroshenko will find each other in Minsk, Belarus, one day after Poroshenko announced he dissolved Ukraine’s parliament. On Twitter. - Brazil’s candidates for president meet for their first televised debate at 10 p.m. in Sao Paulo, 9 p.m. EDT. - Time Warner (TWX:US)’s Turner Broadcasting division will offer buyouts to about 500 senior staff today, the Financial Times reports. - Primaries are being held in Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma and Vermont. - Car bombs in and around Baghdad killed at least 58 yesterday and another 11 so far today. - A Kurdish tanker waiting off Texas for a month amid a legal dispute over who owns its oil can come ashore, a judge ruled. - Amazon.com will spend roughly $1 billion to buy a streaming-video service with which people watch other people play video games. Book publishers gnash teeth. - Bill Ackman is totally kicking ack this year, when he’s not in front of a slideshow. - The militarization of U.S. police forces extends to college campuses. - How bad is the California drought? This bad. - China is helping itself to U.S. health-care data. - Emmys were awarded last night to ‘‘Breaking Bad” for best drama and “Modern Family” for best comedy. Sarah Silverman won one, but she probably won’t remember. - New Auschwitz trials are being considered in Germany. - Nail polish is being created with the ability to detect date-rape drugs. - Irony. - Surf’s up in Los Angeles. Way up. - Americans are still not over the War of 1812.

***

All earthquakes break things -- sometimes homes, bridges, even families. By that measure, the quake that struck northern California on Sunday scarcely stands out. It will be hard to forget, though, because of the specificity of its target: the heart of American wine-making, Napa Valley.

At Dahl Vineyards in Yountville, a barrel containing $16,000 worth of pinot noir fell and was ruined, according to the Associated Press. It said another wine-maker, B.R. Cohn, reported losing as much as half its wine.

Inevitably, following a natural disaster, talk is turning to whether the federal government will open its toolbox of disaster aid, mostly low-interest loans. No decision has yet been made on whether President Barack Obama makes a disaster declaration.

If so, Tea Partyers will no doubt be delighted by the idea of U.S. tax dollars flowing to a popular vacation destination for the well-off. Truth be told, the disaster-declaration game does seem to have become something of a presidential boondoggle.

There were just seven major disaster declarations in 1958, and seven more in 1959, according to a handy chart on the website of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The annual number climbed through the 1960s and 1970s and spiked to 75 in 1996 and an all-time high of 99 in 2011. It’s not like the frequency of hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires and other natural disasters has grown at the same pace.

As the Congressional Research Service put it in a 2011 report, “Questions have been raised about whether federal aid is needed at all after some catastrophes. Some have contended that political considerations, as much as estimates of need, contribute to the costs of disaster relief as well.”

Two studies cited by the CRS report found a connection between a state’s political importance and the likelihood of it being granted disaster relief. And yes, if you haven’t noticed, California does have a smidge of political pull.

Perhaps the Napa region deserves aid purely on the merits. As Alan Bjerga and Lydia Mulvany report, the earthquake -- the strongest in northern California in 25 years -- hit during harvest season, when effects such as disruptions to electrical power have added economic impact.

So since we all pay our taxes anyway -- we do, right? -- there’s not much we can do but raise a glass to two great American traditions: wine-making and aid-giving.

Cheers.

***

Early research into the potential health effects of fracking is, not surprisingly, doing little to calm the furious debate over the method’s pros and cons.

Isaac Arnsdorf, in his summary of research so far, reports concerns about the health of babies born near hydraulic fracturing, where chemicals, sand and water are blasted deep underground to extract fuel from rock.

Some of the studies are still under peer review, and some reports of health impacts, such as a spike in stillbirths, are just that -- reports. Even Lisa McKenzie of the Colorado School of Public Health, whose research showed a 30 percent increase in congenital heart defects in babies born to mothers living close to gas wells, says that finding could be the result of genes or environmental causes other than fracking.

Thirty years ago, remember, there was a growing debate on whether it was dangerous to live near high-tension power lines, which were thought to increase the risk of childhood leukemia, among other cancers. Decades of research, some of it authorized by Congress, tempered the debate but hardly settled it.

In the end, “science is unable to prove a negative,” the Health Physics Society says on its website.

***

The feel-good philanthropic story of the summer is attracting more backlash.

The whole basis of the ice bucket challenge social-media campaign was odd in the first place, of course: Dump ice water over your head, or else give $100 to charity? Sounds more like extortion.

To their credit, participants -- ranging from average Jane and Joes to celebrities and former presidents -- seem to be giving money and not just posting videos of themselves getting doused. The ALS Association, which found itself the lucky beneficiary of the phenomenon, had raised almost $80 million from July 29 through yesterday, money it will use to assist people who have, and research into, Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Which is all fine and good. The ALS Association wins high marks for its stewardship of funds, unlike many other nonprofits. Still, how many ice-bucket givers looked into that matter before sending money? A $100 donation represents a not-insignificant piece of many households’ annual philanthropy. Can we urge careful, considered giving at the same time we celebrate spontaneous check-writing driven by Facebook, Twitter and Vine?

“(G)iving money to a disease-specific charity is a very odd, and peculiarly ineffective, way of spending your philanthropic dollar -- especially when your donation is a one-off thing,” Felix Salmon writes at slate.com. Thirty years of research has produced little in the way of potential cures, he writes, so “there’s no particular reason to believe that we’re $100 million away from finally getting somewhere.”

Jacqueline Herrera, co-founder of a nonprofit that helps orphans and orphanages, asks an uncomfortable question at huffingtonpost.com: “If one organization doesn’t have a catchy viral hook, are they not worth the time, if no one can see and applaud you for being involved?”

We know of some people who have dumped the bucket and written the $100 check, sending the money instead to a charity they hold as as their personal or family priority. Newspapers in recent days have run columns praising the work of the ALS Association but also noting other good causes that could use some viral giving.

Maybe instead of a monthlong campaign focused on one charity, Americans could spend a single day focused on philanthropic giving to any charity of their choice.

Oh, one already exists. It’s called Giving Tuesday, and it takes place Dec. 2.

***

It’s always been a little weird when you see pro athletes out of context at another sporting event. Sometimes a bunch of your local NHL players will show up in the baseball stands or, even more dissonant, when a bunch of NFL players are found at a hockey game.

Wait, they follow other sports? Well of course they do. What do they know about hockey? About as much as the next person, probably.

But we still got that feeling when reading Erik Matuszewski’s story today about the fantasy football league that’s springing up in the clubhouses of Major League Baseball teams on behalf of local charities. How could professional baseball players or any other pro athlete in the middle of a season have any time to give that much thought to another sport.

Then it started to come together.

“I’m passionate about fantasy football,” New York Mets third baseman David Wright told Matuszewski. “I study hard and keep track of everything.”

Really? As hard as you’re studying pitchers this year while batting .266, on track for the second-worst batting average of your career? Your .958 fielding percentage isn’t exactly terrible but with 13 errors, you’re only sitting above three other third basemen.

That is, when you actually make it to the field.

Maybe a bucket of cold water would help.

***

Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Nick Kyrgios were among the winners on the men’s side yesterday at the U.S. Open.

Among the women, Maria Sharapova, Venus Williams, Caroline Wozniacki and Agnieszka Radwanska were winners.

To contact the reporters on this story: C. Thompson in Wilmington at cthompson1@bloomberg.net; Laurence Arnold in Washington at larnold4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Marty Schenker at mschenker@bloomberg.net


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