The Bagels of Spring Break (and More)

Spring break is all about bagels. Anyone who disputes this is an asshole.

Last week I was fortunate enough to have bagels in TWO different countries. In fact, my trek north from Washington DC inadvertently took me through the heart of America’s bagel culture, and on into Canada, giving me a rare opportunity to compare experiences with the crumbs of each day’s previous bagel still stuck in my mustache.


Am I a bagel expert? Not quite, but I have some opinions. And some ideas I want to share.

That bagel sitting on my lap in the picture above? It’s from Montreal.



From what I can tell from online sources, the main stated difference between a Montreal bagel and New York one is the water mixture that the dough is boiled in before it’s baked (Montreal doesn’t use salt or something). The holes are bigger in Montreal bagels but you can’t really tell that in the picture of the one on my lap. If you have a keen eye, you can pretend you notice the difference in the picture above.

But the REAL difference between NY and Montreal bagels? Lines.


I mean, what the hell. It’s just a bagel. In New York, there’s probably a few million bagels in circulation at any given point in the day. You should be able to just wait until one hits you on the subway. These people are all lined up for the fun experience of waiting out in the cold for a bagel. Some of them are probably assholes. This is New York, after all.

When I went to this place with my sister, the woman behind us complained because my sister went around the corner to throw something out, and when she came back the woman insisted that she’d “lost her place in line” and should have to wait in the back. We reminded her what she was in line to buy, and then headed next door to a nice tacqueria where you don’t have to stand in the cold for a bagel.

In Montreal, by contrast, the Saint Viaturs flagship bakeries are in the ulta-Orthodox parts of town and the Hasidim are way too scary for you want to wait in line for a bagel. So me and my friend were able to walk right in and grab a few…FOR EIGHTY FIVE CENTS.

You can have a nice bagel and cream cheese for under two dollars. The bagel itself is tougher and less fluffy than American versions. I know this because that is what it says on the website. But I can confirm this from personal experience as well. Montreal bagels are definitely a doughier experience. They’re also not quite as flashy.

New York bagels are still the best, but even despite their unbeatable deliciousness, delis don’t seem to trust their inherent worth. Blame it on our modern age’s ridiculous trend toward novelty foods, but now you can’t just have some nice lox and schmear on a regular, traditional sesame or poppy seed pastry.


I’m all for having nice things. But the bagel shop in Brooklyn (see picture above) offers bacon egg and cheese bagels (???), salt and vinegar bagels, TWINKIE bagels, and more monstrosities. That bagel on the bottom right looks like it’s hymen hasn’t been broken yet. I’m not sure if I actually care about this, but it gives me something to write about.

Anyway, if you want to do bagel flavors right, you are best off going to Bruegger’s bagel shops, which originated in THE CAPITAL DISTRICT, Troy New York. This might be the only thing that gives me hometown pride.



Bruegger’s has had some silly (but good) bagel flavors. Sourdough. Jalapeno Cheddar. But most importantly, Bruegger’s realizes that you save the crazy for the SPREAD, not the bagel itself? Feeling a little CRAZY? How about pumpkin cream cheese? Or butternut squash salmon? Prickly pear ice cream? Dill yogurt mustard meatloaf? Bruegger’s has a different special flavor every month. Knowing what’s in my parent’s fridge, there’s probably an opened container of raisin cilantro papaya from March 1993.

So in summary, if you want a bagel, go to Montreal. Or go to Bruegger’s. But do NOT buy a fucking FLAGEL.


Just say no to flagels. Don’t encourage them.


I also saw “Cosmos” this week.


I was hesitant to watch the new version at first, because I’m a very big fan of the original version with Carl Sagan, and I have very fond memories of going home after school in senior year and watching all the episodes. Is it irony, incestuous or something else entirely that Neil Degrasse Tyson explains that in his career he had a direct relationship with the former and that Tyson and Sagan’s surviving wife, Ann Druyan, have been trying to produce a new version of the series for the better part of the new millennium?

It’s interesting, then, that Tyson’s cosmos is presented as a supplement or even a homage to the first version. I was initially afraid that the whole thing was just going to be an exercise in rebranding, but it turns out the opposite is true: the new show is actually weakest when Tyson is trying to his best to walk under Sagan’s shadow; when Tyson breaks the format of the original show, and offers his own unique insights, the show realizes its potential.

Some of that is when Tyson is tackling the contentions that have dogged modern science. In Sagan’s time, the biggest controversy he grappled with was nuclear technology and the danger of all-out nuclear war. Quite a bit of the original “Cosmos” is devoted to framing humanity in its cosmological context, including the ominous possibility that some intelligent species reach a point where they destroy themselves with their own advanced technology. Really, it’s still a salient point, but at least today’s hawks aren’t pretending that nuclear war is a defensible, winnable strategy, as they were in the seventies and eighties.


In the second episode, Tyson pulls no punches describing creationists and intelligent design believers as slimy double crossing no good swindlers. Focusing on the development of the eye, Tyson debunks the concept that organisms are too complex or fabulous to have been created by anything other than the hand of god. Nothing about the form of the human eye cannot be explained adequately by the process of evolution, and even if one were to argue that God is the “guiding hand” or initial spark behind (and between) these processes, at that point he/she/it has been reduced to a more spiritual, metaphysical (and abstract) presence, bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the hierarchical personified version that exists in Ken Hamm’s imagination.

Here’s a nice critique of Tyson’s work so far here:

He’s done an excellent job of attacking the idea of “balance” in the argument between evolution and creationism. They are not opposite sides of the same coin. One is science, the other is junk.

Based on hints he’s given in the three episodes so far, perhaps a similar defense of climate change and global warming can be expected as well.

If Tyson can make people understand that climate change is NOT a scientific debate, but currently a POLITICAL (media-driven) one, then maybe he won’t have to stand inside Carl Sagan’s shadow anymore.


Rally of the Damned

I came inside your rally and it was stupid.


The rally took place right outside the White House. I felt bad for Michelle Obama. Barack probably wasn’t there but Michelle had to listen to all this whining going on outside. “Can’t these stupid kids just join the University choir?” she might ask.

Rallies put me in an awkward spot. See, since the college years I’ve become increasingly left-wing on just about all issues (and I wasn’t moderate to begin with), but when I went to this rally instead of feeling like I was amidst like-minded activists instead I felt like I’d just wandered uninvited into a giant circle jerk.

Metaphor time! Gotta get this one out of the way. In the year 2014, rallies are just a masturbatory act. And I mean that in a nice way, sort of. People go to these rallies to act out fantasies of wish-fulfillment, and even if those fantasies are morally laudable, the actual work being done at these gatherings–the ritualistic chanting and sign-holding and occasional networking and pretty college girls jumping up and down–is all about letting off steam.

Which, with all due respect, I would prefer to do alone in my room.

Maybe I’m just bitter because I was too nervous to talk to anyone. But maybe also, it makes me really annoyed that on an issue that is incredibly important like the Keystone Pipeline, which is what this rally was protesting against, all these young people are talking their righteous anger and channeling into a mediocre impromptu musical revue, an green-themed “Les Miserables”.


People hate Tom Friedman. But one thing he said which I think is pretty poignant (and I’m paraphrasing because he said it at a talk he gave at my undergrad college): “This is not a green revolution. This is a party. It will only be a revolution when we see losers and people fighting for their survival.”

He was talking about the broader context of moving towards a greener economy, and the obnoxious labeling of “green” products, but it applies just as well to the other side, of how we take up the challenge of promoting and advancing environmental consciousness, especially in a country where at least half of the population either doesn’t believe in global warming or doesn’t believe it’s worth caring about.

My professor Matthew Nesbit argues excellently in the link below that while the depth of knowledge about scientific issues has been increasing thanks to social media, the breadth of people who partake in this sharing of information has not:


Environmentalists, who are a pretty fragmented bunch as it is, are completely losing the war on fossil fuels and unsustainable development in this country. Obama answered the young people’s plea for an alternative to the XL Pipeline with a big fat “Fuck You”, when the State Department released their environmental impact statement last week. You can see it here:

You can also read about it online, but the joke here, and it’s a good one, is that extracting the tar sands is so inevitable, resistance is so futile, that one need only worry about the negligible impact of the PIPELINE itself. Whose path was fixed so it no longer goes over most of the Ogalalla Aquifer. Problem Solved.

Pipelines don’t kill people. People kill people.

And this is good news to millions and millions of people. As someone put it to me recently, trying to stop the Keystone Pipeline is like trying to get people to eat less fast food by protesting the latest McDonald’s. Now, it’s not quite that simple. This McDonalds will ensure that McDonalds will operate for at least the next 40 years, and that all their food henceforth will have extra cholesterol. But it’s true that the feeble attempts at piecemeal progress are at this point about people trying to feel better about their own guilt. This can extend to some environmental NGOs and advocacy groups as well.

People at the rally were chanting absurd aphorisms like “Every time people have gotten organized and fight, they defeat big business!” “When people get together and care about something, the will of the mighty bends to them!”

History proves this!!!

Stop trying to feel so good about yourself. The truth is that environmentalists need to do more and do better, to find a way to argue their positions more around values and persuasive arguments. To appreciate that this is a “culture war”, which is about finding away to defeat the very powerful business interests that move against them, as well as bringing more Americans into the fold, people who environmentalists normally scoff at and condescend to.

But it doesn’t matter if you think Bible-thumpers in middle America are a bunch of stupid assholes. There are stupid assholes everywhere. You don’t need to convince everyone, but you need to convince a lot of people, and no attempt has really been made at a national level to decouple concern over climate change from partisan politics.

That is one reason why I think bottom-up, grassroots attempts to attend to climate are failing miserably and will continue to fail. They can only attend locally to the localities that already are on board with them. That is how you get pockets of America that are intensely aware of the problem but also intensely ineffectual at accomplishing meaningful progress.

Also consider this:

Early in March, 400 people got arrested and congratulated themselves for it. The are calling themselves “XL dissent”, which is nice except for the fact that they are a theater troup, not a national movement of protesters. People were discouraged from attending the rally who did not attend the “mandatory training sessions.” People were discouraged from attending if they were under 18, as the interpretive dance staged in front of the White House was anticipated and involved getting ‘arrested’ and a $50 fine. I’m trying and failing not to be glib here, the threat/promise of arrest sounds like a noble act, but it really amounts to a participation fee…and also discourages foreigners from joining the rally in a meaningful way because they could get deported. So a handful of rich college kids got themselves arrested. They were expecting ‘thousands’ of people. They got 400.

What’s wrong with a little stage, prepared climate activism? It just doesn’t accomplish anything. It’s not goal oriented, or it is, but the goal is stupid. The goal is to get press coverage, but it’s theater, so the goal really amounts to just getting reviews. They’d be better off if they billed it as “flash mob climate art”, then maybe they’d make the arts section of the paper instead of page 47 next to the obits.

This is what it looks like for the system to be letting off steam. All these kids mean well but along the way they slipped into the exhaust vent and got discharged from the system in a puff of smoke. The politicians can dismiss them. The oil-and-gassholes can dismiss them. Middle America can dismiss them. Canada can dismiss them. James Hansen cries. Dakota McKee takes another xanax. Mother Earth prepares for war on the humans.

We really do need people to elect national-level leaders who will address the issue. We will need to force the political climate to change or for politicians to change the way they discuss the issue. This will require an exponential increase in concern from people in this country. It will require re-framing the debate so that people across party lines or different backgrounds can care about the interrelated issues of climate change and sustainability and do something about it.

If Obama approves the Keystone XL pipeline, his climate legacy is finished. We are ‘losing’ the war. But it’s not over yet. We just need to change tactics.