The Nutella Cafe – Nope

A latte and a crepe with banana slices and whipped cream.

Yesterday night, my wife and walked past the Nutella Cafe on 13th Street at University Place in Manhattan on our way to New York Health and Racquet Club. My wife commented that the line had finally died down, though the place was still busy inside. My first thought was that it was the middle of the week, but thinking about it, this place has had a line out the door and around the corner of the block since it opened early last month.

We went to check it out right away too. Without realizing it, we got in the line to get inside the restaurant after it had already been closed to new customers. When the guy watching the door noticed, he let us in anyway. Maybe he didn’t want to disappoint potential new customers, or he was trying to maximize the cafe’s earnings that night. I don’t know. I’m not even sure if he just worked the door or he owned the place.

The ordering process was pretty straightforward, though the selection seemed pretty limited. Most of the things on the menu weren’t all that exciting and looked like the sort of stuff that would be pulled out of a freezer and reheated in a microwave oven. The crepes are basically carrying the menu, and that’s what we ordered.

Was it worth it? Not really. Not for the prices they’re charging. You get a crepe with some Nutella. You want fruit? Extra. You want whipped cream? Extra. I’d be ok with the “extra” if it was a reasonable price, but if I remember right, the crepe pictured above wound up being about $10 and there wasn’t even that much banana in it. Maybe just a quarter of an average sized banana, and that doesn’t really make sense. I can two bananas for what they charged to add it as a topping.

The latte was good, but I could get a better crepe at Mitsuwa Marketplace in Edgewater, NJ. Probably in Manhattan, too. And in any of the boroughs. And for less money. With Nutella, and with more fruit.

So how do you get away with selling decent coffee and so-so desserts at inflated prices? You make it fashionable by throwing a name on it and hyping it up. The higher price itself is part of the plan. You make it fashionable to go there. Showing up at the Nutella Cafe becomes less about the quality of what you’re consuming and more about the image you’re projecting. Like Starbucks, where you pay $6 for coffee that tastes like burnt asshole so you can show everyone you have a Starbucks holiday cup when you get to the office. As much as I shit on Dunkin’ Donuts, at least they don’t pretend that they’re selling a premium product.

Nothing about the Nutella Cafe really thrilled me and I wouldn’t go back. For a better cafe atmosphere, The Bean is nearby on Broadway and 12th. For better desserts, Veniero’s is over on 11th and 1st, and it’s really worth the walk.

A dessert I picked up from Veniero’s and brought home. The cheesecake (Italian/Sicilian/NY Style) is amazing too.

Dashcam Video – Driving in NYC during Thursday’s Snowstorm

About 44 minutes of dashcam footage of various parts of the city. Links to locations available in the video description on the YouTube page.

Last Thursday, I was out and about in the city, driving around. I run a dashcam, because you can really never be too safe. Plus, there’s always the chance that something consequential or bizarre will happen and get caught on camera.

I didn’t expect the snowstorm to be as bad as it turned out to be. The weather report predicted 1-3″ followed by warmer weather and rain that would basically wash the snow away. I found out later that we wound up getting about 6″ total, but I knew we were getting more than 3″ while I was out there in the street.

This was the first time I’ve ever driven around during a snowstorm. We had a lot of snowstorms last year, but I just left the car parked because we knew in advance it was going to be something I didn’t really want to drive around in. Not that driving around in the city is ever that much fun anyway, but you know what I mean.

I was pretty happy with how our 2017 Honda CR-V handled the snowy streets. I only lost traction two times. Once was because I braked too hard and slid up to a stop sign instead of decelerating towards it. The other time was when I was making the U-turn near the Governor’s Island Ferry to head north on the FDR. I was going just a little too fast.

But, I never got stuck, which is more than I can say for some other people out there on the road. Not that it’s really too different from usual, but people were driving really stupid out there on Thursday.

First of all, people in 2WD cars were out there driving. That’s pretty dumb to start with. I saw a guy pushing a car on the FDR that was stuck on an incline while the driver floored the accelerator. That sounds like a good way to have a car slide backward and crush you. Here he is:

Second, it seems that snow means that you have an obligation to block intersections on north-south avenues and prevent crosstown traffic from getting past you. My experience looked basically like this:

And, of course, people were cutting each other off, jumping between lanes, and speeding, as usual. I had a guy cut in front of me to make a left turn and just expected I would be able to stop as usual. I’m glad I have an AWD vehicle with tires that don’t suck.

Travel time in the city was insane. Looking at stuff on Twitter and in the news now (regarding the kids being stuck on school buses) it looks like most people were experiencing vehicle commutes that were 5 times longer than usual, like 5 hours instead of 1. And most of that pain was self inflicted. To all of you out there that were blocking intersections, I hope your cars throw a rod. Jerks.

Anyway, I left my car downtown and took the train home. I was home in about the same amount of time as it usually takes me to get to Union Square. And, thankfully, the city used some common sense and canceled ASP rules for Friday morning, so I didn’t have to rush back downtown to get my car. That wasn’t really the point of it, of course. It was to keep people from circling in that snowy crap Thursday night trying to find parking that was good for all of Friday.

So, I read that this winter is going to suck, basically, because of El Nino. It’s supposed to be ~8 degrees cooler than usual in January and February. It’s pretty cold right now, actually. A lot colder than usual, and we don’t normally get this kind of snow until January or February anyway. So it’s probably just going to be a bad winter season all around.

I need to get some winter cycling gear.

Cyling with a GoPro Hero 7 Black

Testing out the GoPro Hero 7 Black at night.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I bought a GoPro Hero 7 Black. We’d been thinking about making the purchase for about a month and finally decided it’s something we’d enjoy having, and it has been kind of fun being able to record most or at least some of our rides. The battery life leaves something to be desired, but we solved that by just buying more batteries and another charger.

Like driving, cycling in New York City was something I said I would never do. Also like driving, cycling is now a regular part of my daily routine. I’ve found that riding a Citibike is easier as the last leg of my commute than waiting on the L train or taking the bus. It’s also faster, which is kind of sad. Maybe that will change when 14th Street is closed to all but bus traffic at the beginning of next year. Who knows? But we’ve also found using Citibikes to be a faster and more enjoyable way to get around Lower Manhattan when we’re out on the weekends. And it’s exciting, and having a camera on your head to record the rides is also fun, especially if something crazy happens.

My wife has used the camera a few times but every time I’ve wanted to over the last two weeks it has either been raining or I just haven’t had time to bother with it. I finally took it for a spin last night. The video looks great on my phone while watching both the local video and the YouTube upload, after it finished encoding at 1440p. It looks like crap on my laptop, but I don’t think it can display 1440p anyway, which is annoying, but that wasn’t why I bought it, I guess.

It’s a nice new toy. I’m thinking about getting another one so we don’t fight over the one we have. I kind of want a Pixelbook too though, so I have a more portable typing device that I can take with me when I’m out of the apartment. Decisions, decisions.

Here’s another video I took in the Union Square train station. It looks clearer, which makes sense given that there’s more light in the station.

My head wasn’t in the helmet when I recorded this. You’d have to be crazy to lean in that close to a train coming into the station. People get hit by trains every day. Someone died on the platform near where I recorded this a few years ago after they leaned out to check for the train and the train struck their head. That was pretty sad, because it was just a kid.

Thoughts on “The View From Flyover Country”

When I picked up The View From Flyover Country by Sarah Kendzior, I thought the book was going present a conservative or at least rural perspective on life and politics in the United States. I’m bombarded with the liberal and progressive viewpoint every day in almost every single news broadcast and social media post. The right-leaning viewpoints that do get airtime seem to be too far to the right of the political spectrum to be worth listening to. I was hoping for something center right, or traditional right, I guess.

Unfortunately, this book is written by a liberal from a Midwest city. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that. It’s just not what I wanted. The book is a collection of essays and, after having finished reading the book, they come across as kind of mixed bag. The most impressive point of the book so far is how prescient some of the author’s insights were, considering that she wrote most of the essays prior to the 2016 election cycle for Al Jazeera.

Kendzior’s diatribe against gentrification is well-intended but comes across as shallow and offensive. She had an opportunity to look at how class differences and the concentration of wealth were playing out in urban environments. Instead, she uses the issue to present whites as evil oppressors of minorities, forgetting that not all gentrifiers are white because not all wealthy people are white. “Hipsters” are a visible and catchy way to present gentrification but it ignores economic realities. Gentrification isn’t a race issue; it’s an economic issue and a class issue. Kendzior could have used gentrification as a segue into a discussion of income inequality but she chose to go the easy and provocative but less informative route of blaming white people.

The section on underemployment and low pay are masterful. Kendzior isn’t saying anything that I haven’t heard before, but she said it before it was common discourse and her arguments are clear and well made. The situation she describes is maddening. Kendzior’s essay sounds more like she’s describing the plot of a dystopian fiction than reality.

How does an adjunct lecturer work for a college for decades and die making penniless while still only making $10k a year? It sounds like the money in universities, like in the rest of US society, is being funneled into bureaucratic bloat instead of into paying educators. It should be illegal for companies to pay wages so low that costs are shifted onto taxpayers in the form of social welfare programs.

But how can we implement a system of enforcement that won’t result in companies further reducing their workforces and overworking those who remain? It is something that will have to be forced. And it can be done. Companies paid living wages before. We had living wages and dignity. We can get there again. Will it take massive riots and strikes before our aristocratic Congress finally acts on behalf of the American people? Before they remember that they work for us and not for corporations?

Regarding how Islam is portrayed, she writes under the assumption that US news organizations want to tell the news in an accurate and unbiased way, but they don’t. Of course, she probably had her suspicions about that when she was writing, but the true extent of the news industry’s dishonesty didn’t become apparent until after the 2016 election, when people simply couldn’t reconcile Hillary’s guaranteed win with the actual outcome. It’s almost as if the media industry was trying to create reality and expected the American people to act according to the narrative that they had presented.

The disillusionment and shock people felt after the 2016 election cycle was heightened all the more by the clash between what they thought the US was, what they thought it stood for, and the reality of the country’s situation. Honesty and complex reporting don’t get clicks. It doesn’t generate ad revenue. It doesn’t sell because most people don’t want to read the truth. They don’t have time. With the wealth disparity in this country, most people spend so much time working or thinking about working, that they can’t find the energy or will to engage with social or political discourse in any meaningful way. So, they look for cheap entertainment that doesn’t require thought. They want to hear about Snooki’s butt implants, so news producers have turned reporting news into another form of reality entertainment. The more spin there is, the better for ratings, ad impressions, and revenue.

For me, there were two big takeaways from The View From Flyover Country. One, the impact of income inquality, the wealth gap, on US society has far reaching consequences. Combined with a failure by our news organizations to maintain journalistic principles and keep the public informed can undermine our republic and cause more damage to US society than any foreign attacker.

Podcasts Addressing ISIS returnees to Western countries

A screenshot of the BBC iPlayer page for "Back Home from ISIS", a podcast about an ISIS returnee to the UK

A screenshot of the BBC iPlayer page for “Back Home from ISIS”, a podcast about an ISIS returnee to the UK

Podcasts on ISIS Returnees

Back Home From ISIS” is a BBC documentary podcast. Along with the Caliphate series by Rukmini Callimachi at the New York Times, it is a great introduction to the problems that Western governments and societies face when ISIS members (former and current) leave the war-zone and return to their countries of citizenship. In the podcast, the BBC interviews an ISIS widow who returned to the UK after spending time in the Middle East and a Turkish prison.

The Caliphate podcast series focuses on an ISIS returnee to Canada. Abu Hussayfa, as he prefers to be called, discusses the time he spent in Syria and how he is trying to reintegrate into Canadian society. The podcast goes on to cover interviews with victims in the Middle East and an exploration of ISIS documents discovered while in the field.

As, or if, I find more podcasts related to the topic, I’ll come back and list them here.

Thoughts on ISIS Returnees

What do you do with ISIS when the Caliphate collapses? I had a conversation about this with members of a Facebook group called Muslims for Progressive Values. MPV is essentially an interfaith group with members who are Muslim, non-Muslim, agnostic, atheist, and/or secularist. The group discusses primarily Muslim and Islam-related issues. Someone posted a link to a story about a Glasgow student who had her UK passport stripped from her after the UK determined that she had traveled to Syria to be the wife of an ISIS member.

Stripping Citizenship

Stripping former (and probably current) members of ISIS of their citizenship for engaging in terrorism is a pretty solid move. It effectively prevents those people from entering a Western country that they’re ideologically at war with and carrying out attacks. It’s also a great punishment. If you don’t like “the West”, then why should you have the privilege of being a citizen of a Western country? And why would we give you access to a place you want to destroy?

I found out later that the UK is only doing this to people who hold dual citizenship, which is also fine, but that leaves the problem of what to do with people who only have UK citizenship (or single citizenship of any country). I believe that terrorists should be denied re-entry to their country of origin and should be returned to Iraq or Syria to be tried and sentenced for the crimes they committed there. Why should they get to avoid what could and should be a harsher sentence by being tried under the laws of a Western country?

Extraterritoriality and Justice

Another commenter in the MPV group disagreed and said ISIS members shouldn’t be left in Syria or Iraq because of the lower quality of the justice systems there, which seems absurd to me. In a way, it reminds me of when the Taliban refused to turn Osama bin Laden over to the US for trial and insisted that he be given a trial in a neutral third-party country instead. The same MPV commenter also expressed concern about Western countries “dumping” ISIS members on Syria and Iraq, though I don’t think Iraqis and Syrians see it that way. Perhaps I’m just projecting, but I believe they’d be happier having the ISIS fighters remain there so they can seek justice.

The idea that someone shouldn’t be subject to the laws and judicial system of a country where they’ve committed crimes is a colonialist mindset. It’s a status called “extraterritoriality”. It was weaponized and used against the Ottoman Empire in the 1800s to undermine the government’s sovereignty. Plus, it’s just common sense that you would face charges in the country where you committed a crime. It’s also an accepted international practice. If you commit a crime in a country and manage to flee, the government of the country where the crime took place requests that you be extradited for trial.

The quality of the judicial system where the crimes took place or how the penalties stack up compared to what’s common in Western countries shouldn’t matter. These terrorist jackasses traveled to the Middle East and tried to build a terrorist state on the burning remains of Iraq and Syria. They committed murder, rape, ethnic cleansing, theft, destruction of cultural heritage, and who knows how many other crimes against both individuals, groups, and the countries themselves. Why would they not be made to face justice in those countries for crimes committed both in and against those countries?

Let them hang

Why would we not want to allow victims to get justice? These days, the only people with a form of extraterritoriality are diplomats, who have diplomatic immunity from lawsuits and prosecution unless that immunity is waived by the diplomat’s home country. Michael Fay got caned in Singapore for theft and vandalism in 1994. He didn’t get a pass. Why should terrorists? If they get hanged, they get hanged. If they’re beaten to death by a mob that drags them out of the jail, well, that’s not a great way to die, but for an ISIS member? I don’t really have any pity.