'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 »

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

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, , , , ,

Photos: Follow an American soldier for 27 very real months

soldier060

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.

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

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

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, , , , ,

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, , , , , ,

For U.S. journalists, two good reasons to stop complaining

iran protest

Taking photos of the Iran protests landed countless journalists in jail. (Image by buridan via Flickr)

It’s a sad, woe-is-me kind of time for journalists. Newspapers shuttered! Internet ruining everything! No jobs! Ads disappearing! But two excellent stories in my favorite paper of record give a little perspective.

The first, from Iran, is the gut punch: Journalists there are not only losing their jobs at a record clip — 2,000 in recent months, by some reports — but they are being jailed, tortured, and exiled. The New York Times gets the story of one riveting escape, a photographer who made it to the comparative safety of northern Iraq:

For two months Ehsan Maleki traveled around Iran with a backpack containing his cameras, a few pieces of clothing and his laptop computer, taking pictures of the reformist candidate Mir Hussein Moussavi during the presidential campaign. He did not know that his backpack and his cameras would soon become his only possessions, or that he would be forced to crawl out of the country hiding in a herd of sheep.

The second, from a small town in New Mexico, is maybe equally inspiring. In it, we learn about the new life of the ex-D.C. correspondent for a now-shuttered western paper. Moving to tiny Guadalupe, M. E. Sprengelmeyer could either afford to buy a house… or one of the town’s two weekly newspapers. He chose newsprint over stucco:

Eight months ago, Mr. Sprengelmeyer, 42, worked as the sole Washington correspondent for The Rocky Mountain News, the Denver newspaper that went out of business in February, but his job these days is a far cry from the Senate press gallery.

In August, he embarked on a new life in this isolated little town as owner, publisher, editor, primary writer and sometime ad salesman, photographer and deliverer of the weekly Guadalupe County Communicator, circulation about 2,000.

Sprengelmeyer is actually making pretty good money, he says, and he’s even considering bringing his new paper out twice a week. “I couldn’t do this if I had a family,” he tells the Times. “But it feels like it matters, and I’m having fun.”

So as we mourn the apparently bygone days of Conde excess, Time Inc grandeur, Hearst munificence, and Times Co glory, don’t underestimate the scrappy reality on the ground.

For every laid-off Senior Editor in Manhattan there are 500 wildcats roaming foreign lands with pen and paper, braving FSB intimidation or Basij batons. And for every jettisoned Staff Photographer in L.A. there’s a wily entrepreneur doing it her own way in small-town USA.

Buck up! Others actually do die — or at least move to New Mexico — trying.

Extra credit: Check out Sprengelmeyer’s bitchin’, unapologetic story about owning two of Jack Abramoff’s old suits.

via Reporter Resurrects Career – Buys His Own Paper – NYTimes.com.

via Iranian Journalists Flee, Fearing Retribution for Covering Protests – NYTimes.com.

Filed under: Don't be lazy, Economy, Jobs, Journalism, New York Times, , , , ,

Are Arab dudes here really getting calf implants?

35/365: My new tat

Is there silicone in them there calves? (Image by Mr.Thomas via Flickr)

Gross. A  friend here in Riyadh told us last night about his gym, where buff Arab dudes from Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan get even more ripped. How do they get so monstrous? Partly, it’s steroids, partly it’s hard work. But our friend told us something else that blew my mind: Some men here get implants inserted into their calves.

And here is a U.S. clinic — with offices in L.A. and Miami — that can do it for you, too! So it’s not just swarthy meatheads in the Middle East. (In the clinic’s defense, the website says such implants can be valuable for victims of polio and other wasting diseases.)

Still, regardless of such legitimate applications, calf implants are giving me nightmares. I wish for it not to be true. But here I am — in Saudi Arabia of all places — learning for the first time about another sick thing people do to themselves to look “good.” Signs of the apocalypse abound, even so close to Mecca.

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Filed under: Economy, Health, Islam, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, , , , , ,

Twins embrace ancient art of NY bartending

USA 2006 (October 9th) New York, New York City

New York: It's hard -- always has been. (Image by Paraflyer via Flickr)

I do feel sorry for Kristy and Katie, twins from the Midwest who’ve lived difficult and unrewarding lives in New York for a year. College graduates and aspiring journalists, the ladies describe their year-long job search to The New York Times:

SEVENTEEN months out of Rutgers University, they live in an unwelcome continuum of mass rejection. Between them, Kristy and Katie Barry, identical twins who grew up in Ohio, have applied for some 150 jobs: a magazine for diabetics, a Web site about board games and a commercial for green tea-flavored gum; fact-checking at Scholastic Books, copy editing for the celebrity baby section of People.com, road-tripping for College Sports Television.

The story —  by N.R. Kleinfield — goes on to list the pair’s travails. Highlights include:

  • Eating too many canned beans.
  • Busking for business cards — networking! — not money.
  • Having their mom tell them she’s embarrassed by them.

Like I said, I am sympathetic to the ladies: It sucks to tend bar and be broke and eat beans and wonder if things will work out. (Hint: They will or they won’t.) But I’m still annoyed.

After all, aside from a select few — the rich, the lucky, the talented, or a combination thereof — most everyone’s first year in New York is less than glamorous, not the “lush time of stimulating work, picturesque travel and a rich social orbit” the twins say they expected. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Economy, Islam, Jobs, Journalism, New York City, New York Times, , , , , ,