'Not From Here,' stories by Nathan Deuel

In defense of Dubai's migrant labor system

Emirate of Dubai

There's money here. (Image via Wikipedia)

You’ve read the horror stories from Dubai. Beyond all that glitz and glamor lies a dark underbelly: The wretched lives of the mostly Indian and Pakistani men who actually build the place, clean it, and make sure everything works.

It’s all too typical to read media reports describing these men as being transported like cattle onto scorched earth building sites, where they work all day. At night, the story goes, they are corralled into substandard bunkhouses, where they eat bad food and drink worse water. Much of this is not in dispute.

What is important to consider is the idea that migrant workers in the Gulf are paid badly, or unfairly. Foreigners who come to work in oil-rich Gulf countries can make as little as $125 a month. Some analysts call this income tantamount to slavery. Others go further, calling that level of pay a systematic outrage that makes the world a worse place.

But what if precisely the opposite is true? Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Business, Economy, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., , , , , ,

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, , , , ,

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, , , , ,

If health care is just a numbers game, we all lose

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: She of the million-dollar page. (Image by Getty Images via Daylife)

Rep. Nancy Pelosi: She of the million-dollar page. (Image by Getty Images via Daylife)

A million dollars a page. So went the headline over at Drudge. This was the conservative web warrior’s way of dismissing the 1,000-page-plus health care proposal prepared by Rep. Nancy Pelosi.

It’s a classic gambit of the now utterly dispiriting debate surrounding the reform of health care in this country.

So shrill! So hateful! So selfish! What this argument — it’s too expensive; why should I have to pay for somebody else’s care? — seems to forget is that health care is much like so many other essential government services.

Don’t like socialized systems? How ’bout we do away with fire departments, roads, defense, police, etc. Few — even among the fiercest libertarians — are arguing for that.

And what’s maddening is that so often the most angry voices against a public option for health care are the same pro-military oldsters who benefit from Medicare and consider socialized Veteran’s services essential and patriotic.

The whole debate is painful for fresh ears: On a layover at LaGuardia this summer, my wife and I were aghast at the endlessly looping CNN footage of the town hall debacles. Such rage! Such hatred! Who are these people?

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Business, Death, Health, Politics, , , , ,

Amazing: I actually don't miss NYT food guru Frank Bruni

Image representing New York Times as depicted ...

Image via CrunchBase

When the New York Times announced it was anointing a new food critic, I was nervous. For a lot of reasons, I’d looked around and felt like the good days were over. I’m old and getting older, the Internet sucks, journalism is dying, and the Yankees could barely win a game.

Then things started changing. I have a secret reason to feel young again, I started writing for the Web in a way that pleases me, journalism stopped dying for a minute, and the Bronx boys are booming.

So then what about the neo-Bruni? I’ve already written about how the new critic, Sam Sifton, is maybe being groomed for very big things. I was happy with his first pieces — really happy.

Would it stand up? Yes, very much so. His two reviews this week — one of a lobster joint in Red Hook and the other of a Cantonese palace in Queens — are both lively, surprising, at once intimate and authoritative. Not only do I envy his style, but I trust him and also want to be his friend.

Enjoy:

Time was in New York City that eating Chinese food meant eating Cantonese food, however bastardized: light stir-fries, lots of ginger and scallion, black-bean sauce, crisp chicken, steamed fish. This was true all over the United States. After all, China’s first immigrants to America were from Canton — Guangzhou these days — and on their backs were Chinatowns built. These men — and they were men at first, almost entirely — cooked what they remembered from home. They cooked as best they could without wives and sisters and mothers, and then they adapted the result to the tastes of those who suddenly wanted not just to taste what they smelled cooking in their work camps and crowded urban neighborhoods, but to buy it and often.Thus were Chinese restaurants in America born. That sweet and sour pork you ordered in a mall in Scranton came out of Canton in some way; so too the chow mein you ate in a school cafeteria, the dim sum you had one hung-over morning in a city not your own.

And remember: It’s never over until you give up.

Bonus question: Does food criticism actually matter? I think so — discuss.

via Restaurants – At Imperial Palace, Crab is the Calling Card – Review – NYTimes.com.

Filed under: Business, Entertainment, Media, New York Times, Writing, , , , ,

Sorry: We are no longer watching you die

I just read perhaps the most unnerving result yet of the decline of journalism. Pressed for cash, news organizations are no longer assigning reporters to cover executions.

There’s one exception: Michael Graczyk, based in Houston for the AP. Being that his beat is Texas, America’s leading state for capital punishment, Graczyk has in his 20-year-plus posting witnessed some 300 deaths.

No reporter, warden, chaplain or guard has seen nearly as many executions as Mr. Graczyk, 59, Texas prison officials say. In fact, he has probably witnessed more than any other American. It could be emotionally and politically freighted work, but he takes it with a low-key, matter-of-fact lack of sentiment, refusing to hint at his own view of capital punishment.

So what does it do to a man to watch 300 people die? Graczyk is as subdued as the act itself.

“The act is very clinical, almost anticlimactic,” Mr. Graczyk said. “When we get into the chamber here in Texas, the inmate has already been strapped to the gurney and the needle is already in his arm.”

Witnesses are mostly subdued, he said, and while “some are in tears, outright jubilation or breakdowns are really rare.”

They stand on the other side of a barrier of plexiglass and bars, able to hear the prisoner through speakers. And the only sound regularly heard during the execution itself, is of all things, snoring. A three-drug cocktail puts the inmate to sleep within seconds, while death takes a few minutes. Victims’ family members often remark that the killer’s death seems too peaceful.

It’s hard for met to imagine being able to sleep at night with so much death on my eyes.  Or maybe, worse, having the memory of watching the victims, some of whom Graczyk said give each other high fives.

But this is the kicker, and one I will not soon forget:

One inmate “sang ‘Silent Night,’ even though it wasn’t anywhere near Christmas,” Mr. Graczyk said. “I can’t hear that song without thinking about it. That one really stuck with me.”

This is America. As Thomas Pynchon wrote: “We live in it, we let it happen, let if unfurl.”

via Fewer Reporters Are Covering Executions – NYTimes.com.

Filed under: Business, Death, Economy, Journalism, Media, New York Times, , , , ,

Can a guy named Sam save 'The New York Times'?

Image representing New York Times as depicted ...

Image via CrunchBase

I am addicted to The New York Times. I love it, read it every day, and can not imagine a world without it. It took strong counsel from friends smarter than me not sink the little money I have into Times Co stock.

But people keep saying the paper’s dying, that my beloved source of information is in decline. No! So it was with keen interest that I read a story last week suggesting  Sam Sifton, the new dining critic, would be an excellent candidate to run the greatest paper in the world.

Really? This certainly hadn’t occurred to me when I first read Sifton would be replacing the departing (to an editor at large Times magazine job) critic Frank Bruni. But the article, in Slate.com’s The Big Money, made 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.

So it was with no less interest that I read Sifton’s pieces this week. The flagship one was a two-star review of DBGB, the new beer and food joint on the Bowery. OK, fine: He makes the requisite points about the place being near CBGB and how no one cares enough to retaliate by kicking in the door. Not that different than what I’d expect from Bruni, or any other competent Timesman of Sifton’s age, 43, to write.

But the second piece — a brief on a place called Cowgirl Seahorse — was a kind of sparkling revelation. You should read the whole thing yourself, if you care, but I’ll leave you with this taste:

And so there is on the menu coconut shrimp ($7.95) from Sugar Reef. Sugar Reef was nutso fake Caribbean eating in the ’80s East Village, fun like a fifth-floor walk-up with a pretty girl by your side. The shrimp are weird and wonderful time machines, crunchy and large, not so revelatory in flavor but a pleasant and intense reminder of a neighborhood filled with boys in pegged jeans late to band practice.

If the Times needs to lead the future of newspapers not by breaking news but by being the supreme cultural arbiter and guide, I think a good boss might be the guy who wrote that. (Or we’re all screwed. I just reread the piece and am concerned drug-taking may have been involved. Then again, maybe that’s a good thing, too.)

So where should Sifton do requisite time on the foreign desk? Beijing? Berlin? Bogota? I want to believe the future is bright, not bleak!

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

via Dining Briefs – Recently Opened – Dining Briefs – Cowgirl SeaHorse – Review – NYTimes.com.

Filed under: Business, Jobs, Journalism, New York Times, , , , ,

What almost killed Wall Street? Smart people.

Harvard University

Way to go, Harvard. (Image via Wikipedia)

The always entertaining Calvin Trillin steps out of the pages of The New Yorker to tell the grey lady’s masses how Wall Street went wrong. Recreating the bar-side chat in which the writer himself learned the secret, Trillin assumes we know a bit about Harvard, club ties, and straight-up martinis. That’s OK, right? Because I bet most of you who are reading do.

Anyhow, the really clever idea is that Wall Street for generations had been the reasonably well-paid refuge for the Ivy League’s underachievers — the ones who slept through geology but grew up in Greenwich and figured they, like their dads and granddads, would hit the trading floor and buy a sailboat.

But then Harvard’s smartest — and MIT’s and CalTech’s even — realized they could forgo being professors and lawyers and other relatively less lucrative professions in order to make billions on Wall Street. Seeking fortunes — or at least a way to pay off student loans — Trillin says these top-of-the-class types messed up the stuffy, functionally mediocre world of stocks and loans with their slide-rules and overachieving. Credit default swaps, derivatives, blind short-selling? That’s all apparently fancy stuff that could have only been invented by the new influx of smarties. And no one up top could stop it, because the bosses were all old-school, sub-geniuses who didn’t know what was going on.

“When the smart guys started this business of securitizing things that didn’t even exist in the first place, who was running the firms they worked for? Our guys! The lower third of the class! Guys who didn’t have the foggiest notion of what a credit default swap was. All our guys knew was that they were getting disgustingly rich, and they had gotten to like that. All of that easy money had eaten away at their sense of enoughness.”

Let that be a lesson to you, ye of good grades. Please stay where you belong: Away from the billions, safely ensconced in the various padded cells of privilege, where the most harm you (me? my friends?) can do is write a snotty blog post. And what damage could that do?

via Op-Ed Contributor – Wall Street Smarts – NYTimes.com.

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Filed under: Business, Economy, ivy league, Jobs, New York Times, , , , , ,