'Not From Here,' stories by Nathan Deuel

Could Sam Sifton really replace NYT boss Bill Keller?

I love The New York Times. I read it every day, and can’t imagine a world without its pages. (It took strong counsel from friends smarter than me not sink the little money I have into Times stock. And I considering having a small funeral for The City section when it passed.)

So it was with keen interest that I read a Big Money story last month suggesting that Sam Sifton, the new dining critic, would be an excellent candidate some day to run the greatest paper in the world.

Really? This certainly hadn’t occurred to me when I first read that Sifton would be replacing the departing food writer Frank Bruni. But the article, in Slate.com’s The Big Money, makes an interesting case:

What makes Sifton the man who ought to be considered a future editor of the Times is his ability to attack and explore popular subjects with intellectual rigor. Combine that with an ability to attract readers to stories with compelling headlines, art, and ledes, and you have all the tools necessary for leading the Times into the future on the web. Because out there on the flat, infinite plane of the Web, all stories have an equal opportunity to become the story of the day. The challenge for the Times is not to promote the soft news over the hard but to be able show, when relevant, that what happens in the kitchen (or on the playground or on television) can be just as important as what goes on in Afghanistan.

via Eating His Way to the Top | The Big Money.

So it was with no less interest that I began to read Sifton’s first pieces. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Business, Entertainment, Food, Journalism, Media, New York Times, , , , ,

Thanksgiving Bingo: Creative Types edition

An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving

Simmer resentment, salt in wounds to taste. (Image via Wikipedia)

Tara Parker-Pope over at the Grey Lady takes on the grim, often hilarious ritual of family Thanksgiving. Sure, there are those who love the assembling of elders, middlers, and the young — all of whom share blood. But for others, the gathering of the tribe means a litany of abuse, criticism, eye-rolling and more.

Why not make it into a game? Pope quotes two ladies who do just that, assembling Bingo cards with key phrases — “That’s an interesting outfit” or “Your children won’t sit still.” The first to fill her card rushes to the bathroom to call. Rejoice, your family is more maniacal!

I love the idea, but given my own demographic and the background likely shared by many of my readers and colleagues, I thought I’d assemble a list more appropriate to our unique brand of failures, inadequacies, and annoyances. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Family, Food, New York City, New York Times, Thanksgiving, , , , ,

Health debate simplified: Do you value life or money?

WASHINGTON - JANUARY 18:   Political commentat...

Mr. Brooks: A straight-shooter, even if he'd let your neighbor go without care if it'd mean a "vital" marketplace. (Image by Getty Images North America via Daylife)

The most clear-eyed distillation of the health care debate to date is in today’s column by David Brooks. The sides are ultimately drawn along what you value, he writes. Do you prize health for all, or vitality for all?

Reform would make us a more decent society, but also a less vibrant one. It would ease the anxiety of millions at the cost of future growth. It would heal a wound in the social fabric while piling another expensive and untouchable promise on top of the many such promises we’ve already made. America would be a less youthful, ragged and unforgiving nation, and a more middle-aged, civilized and sedate one.

We all have to decide what we want at this moment in history, vitality or security. We can debate this or that provision, but where we come down will depend on that moral preference. Don’t get stupefied by technical details. This debate is about values.

via Op-Ed Columnist – The Values Question – NYTimes.com.

As I’ve written before, I think the health of our individual citizens is the most important thing. I would never want a government program guaranteeing a flat-screen TV for all, or laundered shirts for all. But to me access to doctors for all is just as essential as roads, police, schools, and military. I don’t care how much a public plan costs — for me it is a fundamental public service. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Business, Death, Economy, Health, Healthcare reform, New York Times, , , , ,

In Defense of Verlyn Klinkenborg

Bob Woodward

Bob Woodward: Not a guy you'd ask to review the Pavement tour. Than why have music critic Jody Rosen take on the Times's Rural Life columnist? Image via Wikipedia

For several years now, I have kept in my wallet a few paragraphs by my favorite New York Times writer, Rural Life columnist Verlyn Klinkenborg:

Here is how things stand at midsummer. One of the Tamworth pigs is tame enough to be scratched behind the ears. The other isn’t. Two of the white geese have clubbed together and banished the third white goose from their society. The lame Ancona duck has taken refuge under the old chicken house. We would put her out of her misery, except that her misery is her life. The old Dominique rooster seems to be in a vertiginous state, always leaning and nearly always dozing. During the listless heat of the day, the chickens all lie in the dust beneath the pickup. The horses stand in the hickory shade, incognito in fly-masks, tails flicking.

The vegetable garden has gone feral. The walking onions, the chives and the blueberries are the only signs of civilization there. The less said about that the better. Hopes are high for next year. The crop of chipmunks is incredible. There have never been fatter woodchucks. The pasture is filled with the trial cawing of young crows. The swallows nearly clip me with their wings as I throw hay down from the loft. The bees are populous. The pasture at dawn is covered with spiderwebs that look like the footprints of ethereal elephants. The scarlet bee-balm is in bloom down by the mailbox, and the thistles are purpling. The hollyhocks are coming into blossom and also rotting in the leaf, as they always seem to do.

The days still come in order. Gray light collects in the bedroom long before dawn. Then comes a bleached noon and nearly always the threat of a late-afternoon thunderstorm. The darkness is notated by fireflies, who have been unusually numerous — or is it unusually bright? — this year. The crickets are now whining away, as if they were reeling in August. I am laying in all the thinking I can against a time when summer is in short supply.

via Small Farm Report – New York Times.

I keep this sheet of newsprint, pausing to reread it when perhaps I’m feeling rushed by events, crushed by tasks, or frustrated by something bleak and unappealing. I have come to love Verlyn’s spare, detail-laden writing. His pieces are these quiet detours from the rest of the paper, a chance to reflect and derive great meaning — the same big meat you might get from the Saturday Profile or a big magazine story  — from among the bones of a much smaller animal.

So I was dismayed to see a Slate headline yesterday: The Windiest Windbag in Newspaper History.

I knew instantly the headline referred to Klinkenborg, who most recently filed what I admit is an over-long, mockable meditation on college bicyclists. With that column’s smallish crimes of over-handsome prolixity in mind, I braced myself for a mean-spirited, snide, and unfair critique of the writer’s work. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Journalism, Media, New York City, New York Times, , , , ,

Saudi Arabia: Don't bring a pistol to the party

Spanish M1914 "Liberty" pistol, Cali...

Don't bring this to the table. (Image via Wikipedia)

After living for six months in Mohammad’s apartment – a 1980s unit in central Riyadh with tall ceilings, dark windows, roaches and fluorescent lights – I could no longer dodge his repeated invitations to visit his farm. And so, on a recent Thursday afternoon, my wife Kelly and I loaded up our rented Toyota and headed north.

As we drove further into the desert, I looked hungrily for Exit Four, the only usable clue I had divined from my Saudi landlord’s excited over-the-phone directions. Aware that I had no idea how far north we needed to go, I fought off a mounting feeling of dread by telling Kelly what I knew of our host.

I’d come to know Mohammad gradually, first as we negotiated the rental price, then on an appliance-purchasing trip, then over Pepsi one night at his family’s istriha. He was born, he told me, in 1963, one of 12 sons of an upper-class family. He’d attended junior high in Los Angeles while his father was studying in America. After graduating from a Saudi high school, he began working for Sabic, the sprawling Saudi petroleum and plastics company. He started in the warehouse, rose steadily through the ranks, and eventually was sent by the company to study at Boston University. Upon his return, he did well enough that he could retire in his 40s and move his wife and children from their dark apartment (where I now live) into a Riyadh mini-mansion. Last year, tired of the conservative capital, he bought a farm in the desert.

After an hour of driving, I found Exit Four and looped up and over a bridge that spanned the expressway. One of those Toyota pickups with red racing stripes was speeding toward us, kicking up great clouds of sand. My phone rang, and I picked it up.

“Is it you?” Mohammad purred. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Guns, Islam, Middle East, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, , , , ,

Transgendered pianist at first shunned, now triumphant

A post-concert photo of the main hall's stage ...

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Call yourself Sara and hope bigoted jerks accept that you're a woman now. (Image via Wikipedia)

A story last week suggested America’s cross-dressing teenagers are earning more and more rights at school. The article made me feel both proud and old: Back in my day, you had to be a really brave, badass, or beautiful dude to pull off a skirt. And hapless administrators, when they weren’t too lazy or incompetent, generally always fell safely on the “don’t disrupt class” end of the freedom of expression spectrum.

Now there’s the story of Sara Buechner, who as David had made a successful career as a concert pianist. When in 1998 he began living as a woman, not only did a prominent therapist counsel his mom to choose rejection, but halls and universities began to shun the pianist as well. Too quickly, Sara’s career was over:

In the next years, Ms. Buechner largely disappeared from public view, though not by choice. David had done 50 concerts a year — performing with philharmonic orchestras in New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland and San Francisco — but as Sara, she couldn’t get bookings. “Apart from local gigs, from 1998 to 2003, I did three to five concerts a year,” she said. David taught as an adjunct professor at Manhattan School of Music and New York University, but as Sara, seeking a full-time professorship, “I applied 35 places and wouldn’t even get a response. Behind my back, I’d hear, ‘Is it safe to leave him in a room with undergrads?’ ”

In a really graceful tale, Timesman Michael Winerip shares Sara’s growing success and acceptance. It’s awesome: Read it and marvel at how far she — and all of us — have come.

via Generation B – A Work of Courage and Determination – NYTimes.com.

Filed under: Music, New York City, New York Times, Women, Writing, , , , ,

Saudi Arabia: The world's most dangerous place to drive

3301044-Private_Bus-Riyadh

Riyadh: Among the BMWs and Crown Victorias, a danger lurks

It took more than six months before I was comfortable to drive here. Traffic is terrifying, earning Saudi Arabia tops in the world among road fatalities per capita. People generally observe red lights but aside from gravity, there are no other rules. People turn left from the right hand side at eight-lane intersections; people pass on the right, sometimes popping up on sidewalks at 60 mph to do so; in Crown Victorias so common here, children roam free, unbelted, and I’ve even seen babies stored on dashboards. Oh, and because women can’t drive, it’s not at all atypical to see families resort to putting 10 year olds at the wheel. It’s insane.

So for some time last spring, I rode the bus. Yes, the bus. Owing to what I understand is a tacit agreement with authorities here, there is a fleet of 1970s Toyota minibuses that ply the main thoroughfares here. They don’t actually stop: You have to leap aboard and leap off, but the price is right: About 50 cents. As long as the drivers can keep them running, it seems, authorities let them do their thing.

As much joy as I took in riding among laborers and middle-managers I would otherwise never have met, I knew what I was doing was dangerous. The drivers are notoriously wanton, performing some of the most aggressive traffic maneuvers I’ve ever seen. There are no seat belts in these buses, and the steel bodywork is so old and worn out, I’ve seen cardboard replacing metal on some buses.

This morning I encountered what I’d all along feared. One of these buses was upside down, in the middle of a busy intersection. Where cars usually speed by, there was instead an explosion of glass, the sharp smell of fuel, and the angry twisting of metal. I didn’t see if there were injuries. I hope there weren’t.

All this is a prelude to sharing a piece I wrote about what it’s like to ride. Take a look — it was originally published in The Review — and wear your seat belt.

Riyadh wasn’t made for people on foot. The pavements are willy-nilly, with each business evidently responsible for its own frontage. In sandals one night en route to a bookstore, I scaled a three-foot precipice between two stretches of pavement at different heights and stepped through half a pane of plate glass, which broke in an explosion of glittering shards. For blocks, sweat blinding my vision, choking on exhaust, gingerly taking steps with glass in my foot, I wondered how my wife and I – how anybody, really – could ever make a life in such a harsh place. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, The Review, Traffic, World, , , , ,

Give this man a Genius award

02wallbrain

Christoph Niemann's illustrations have appeared on the covers of The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine and American Illustration.

Have you seen Christopher Niemann’s illustrations yet?

In honor of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, The New York Times is highlighting Niemann’s operatic musing on his own relationship to the city’s legacy.

Past projects have included:

* Icons of his life built in Legos
* Subway lines as shorthand for life
* New York cheat sheets

Every year, the MacArthur Fellow Program anoints 20 to 40 “geniuses,” who each win a cash award that is now $500,000.

Give this man the money!

(Then again, what will he do with it? Come to think of it, I guess I don’t know what other so-called MacCarthur geniuses do with the money. Other than vacation houses, it’d be interesting to know if the cash generally helps or hurts, and if anyone has any demonstrable anecdotes to support either.)

Filed under: New York Times, , ,

Saudi Arabia: Where seeing a woman makes you gasp

Two women dressed in abayas.

Two women in full Riyadh-style covering. (Image via Wikipedia)

In an echoing, blast-chilled Riyadh mall today, I saw something unusual. At a series of tables outside an up-market cafe — rather than a chain-smoking Saudi dude or a pair of ill-dressed European businessmen looking jet-lagged and confused — I encountered a woman.

Usually relegated to the “ladies section,” where women covered head to to in black are packed into smoked-glass booths with curtains, this gal was instead sitting at one of the outdoor tables, sipping an orange juice. She wore the robe-like abaya and a scarf tightly covered her hair. But — behold — her face was utterly there, smiling and very real.

She tapped on a laptop and sipped more juice. It would be an utterly unremarkable scene anywhere else, but this was Riyadh and thusly cause for heart-beating surprise.

A few minutes later, still off-kilter, I passed  a block of shops under construction. On other days Afghan workers trudged in and out, lugging tools. Today, no one was in sight and one of the soaped-over glass doors was thrown open. Among the dusty confusion of plaster, paint buckets, and twisted metal I spied what looked like a pile of women. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Islam, Religion, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Women, , , , ,

Photos: Follow an American soldier for 27 very real months

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Dec. 2, 2008. 9:19 a.m. Iraqis stand in frustration as Ian and Sgt. Buthmann explain why a road is blocked: A vehicle was overturned, and the path needs to be clear for it to be flipped. (Courtesy Blogs.Denverpost.com)

Ian Fisher, barely 18 years old, grants access to Denver Post reporters and photographers, who follow him for the next two and plus years. Over dozens and dozens of images, we see Fisher:

* On his graduation day
* Nursing a wounded elbow on the second day of basic training
* Smoking cigarettes and going AWOL
* Pumping iron at the gym in Iraq
* Getting bigger and older
* Ripping up a picture of his girlfriend

Take a minute to scroll through the months. I guarantee you’ll come away from the experience a little shaken. It’s an all-volunteer Army — and it’s the only one we’ve got.

Follow me on Twitter.

via Captured Photo Collection » Ian Fisher : American Soldier Photos.

Filed under: Economy, Iraq, Photos, U.S. Military, War, , , , ,