'Not From Here,' stories by Nathan Deuel

Rare Saudi poll: The kids are alright

A woman carries shopping bags at a mall in the...

Good luck trying to get her to talk. (Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife)

Saudi Arabia isn’t an easy place to gather hard data. Women are shy, men are brusque, and notions of privacy could make approaching a stranger difficult, if not dangerous. In such a traditional and closed society, there simply isn’t any precedent for allowing a stranger to nose around asking questions.

That’s what makes this survey — a poll of 1,000 representative Saudis undertaken by a U.S. firm this November —  so interesting.

The numbers indicate a populous that is generally positive about the future but concerned more immediately by slipping  economics and the problem of corruption. All this is generally good news for a world looking for rationality and reform out of the Islamic Kingdom. But then there’s the percentage of those polled who support Al Qaeda…

Economics:

Forty percent of respondents reported their situation had deteriorated in the last year, compared to 36 percent who said things had improved.

Religious extremism:

A large percentage of both men and women see religious extremism as a problem, but the difference is telling: 48 percent of men see it as a problem while the number jumps to 59 percent for women.

Youthful optimism:

Fifty-nine percent of Saudis aged 18-24 years old said the country was moving in a positive direction, compared to 51 percent those in the 55-and-over age bracket. With a quarter of the population under 24 years old and an unemployment rate that some say puts one out of three youths without a job, it’s interesting to see such optimism.

Corruption:

Maybe the most important fact is that a supermajority — 63 percent — said that corruption is a serious problem. As evidenced by the outpouring of anger after more than 100 Saudis died during flooding in Jeddah this winter — anger that was voiced on the youth-oriented venues of Facebook and YouTube — there’s some reason to believe that younger Saudis will not only disapprove of corruption, but make noise about it.

Al Qaeda:

But at the same time, the survey revealed that one out of five respondents expressed “some support” for Al Qaeda. While it’s true that most Saudis polled didn’t express support, in a country of nearly 30 million people, that’s still a constituency for the bad guys of several million.

BONUS:

So how did they do the polls? Read the rest of this entry »

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Filed under: Al Qaeda, Islam, Journalism, Media, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, World, Writing, , , , , ,

Last night, at the checkpoint

Biometric United States passport issued in 2007

I need one of those, the blogger said, eying my passport. (Image via Wikipedia)

The blogger stood beside his compact green sedan, the police lights washing over his polo shirt, jeans, and sneakers. I coasted over, surprised at how slight he seemed in person. The gears of my Chinese-made bike clicked, and I felt in my breast-pocket for the comforting heft of my U.S. passport.

My wife had explained to me that her Saudi visitor would need someone to meet him at the gate of our walled compound. But we no longer rented a car — I had become terrified of traffic and the idea of blood money — so I would face the checkpoint police born on the unenviable conveyance of two wheels.

The night air was cool, and men with guns swarmed. Stretching beyond the guards was a long line of vehicles, each waiting to gain entry. Next to an armored personnel carrier, two heavy-set soldiers in berets sat smoking in the shadows. I noticed the glowing red bulb of a burning cigarette. It was the gunner manning the .50-caliber cannon. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Journalism, Media, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, World, Writing, , , ,

If you read only one Salinger tribute

White Mountains National Forest, New Hampshire...

New Hampshire: It's really not at all like the Lower East Side. (Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr)

At least for this week or so, J.D. Salinger is as brilliantly alive to a world of readers as he has been any day for decades. Among the many moving tributes, one by The New Yorker’s Lillian Ross stands above the rest. A friend of Salinger’s for five decades, Ross writes a tribute with feeling and intimacy. Several moments stand out.

He loved children:

After watching his son, Matthew, playing one day, he said, “If your child likes—loves—you, the very love he bears you tears your heart out about once a day or once every other day.” He said, “I started writing and making up characters in the first place because nothing or not much away from the typewriter was reaching my heart at all.”

Salinger was generous with writers he admired:

When he read a story of mine about kids skipping around a Maypole in Central Park, he wrote to me, “The first and last thing you’ve done is to redeem everything, not just make everything bearable.”

He found simple pleasures:

He told me that one day he went out and bought an iron, and had his housekeeper iron his shirts. “How it cheered me up,” he said.

Interesting how a man — whose work is alreadly immortal — gains, in death, a strange flare-up of deeply human presence among a world of many who may have long taken his body for granted. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Books, Death, Entertainment, Journalism, Media, Writing, , , ,

Reporting Live From the Saudi-Yemen Border

Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Nasser bin Abdul Azi...

A prince surveys the front, where more than 100 Saudi soldiers have died. (Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife)

Straight from the field:

Dying camel in road. Sprawling tent city. Shops closed. There actually was a war here. Victory march likely.

Kelly McEvers is on a Saudi military C130 right now, headed for the country’s southern border with Yemen, where fighting has raged off and on for several months. En route to a base near the Saudi city of Jizan, she’s traveling with an undisclosed number of other journalists, who have all been invited by Saudi officials to get an on-the-ground update on the military situation. This is in the wake, yesterday, of a reported peace deal on offer from Houthi rebel leader Abdul Malik. More than 100 Saudi soldiers have reportedly died in fighting so far.

She’ll be text messaging me all day, and I’ll be posting live updates here, and on her Twitter feed @kellymcevers.

UPDATES, from newest to oldest:

Junket over. At least we can finally write about this war.

Correction: Oasis of cars belongs to soldiers, not refugees

Khaled bin Sultan: #Saudi will only agree to cease fire if Houthis stop sending snipers over the border and return 6 Saudi prisoners

Prince to review troops, spread good news.

‘They did not withdraw. We destroyed them.’ Then why are we hearing shells and gunfire?

Journo in heels just fainted. It’s hot up here. And still not clear if the war is over.

Gunner nests dug in side of mountain. Flag at summit suggests happy speech imminent.

Jackknifing up mountain on newly cut road in heart of combat zone.

Dying camel in road. Sprawling tent city. Oasis of cars that once belonged to refugees. Shops closed. There actually was a war here. Victory march likely.

Now in convoy of sand-covered Nissans on way to #Saudi southern command HQ

– Landed in Jizan, herded into carpeted splendor. War zone? Maybe.

– Today should yield #Saudi response to #Houthi truce offer

– On a fancy C130. Apparently “five star” means “tricked out in the 80s.” Heading to #Saudi-#Yemen border.

UDPATE: And here‘s the story she filed for NPR.

Filed under: Al Qaeda, Islam, Journalism, Kelly McEvers, Media, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Shiites, Sunnis, War, Yemen, , , , ,

The best Haiti reporting yet

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI - JANUARY 13:  A man hol...

On the streets in Port-au-Prince. (Image by Getty Images via Daylife)

As I wrote earlier this week, beware the first reports from a disaster scene. Often it’s in these hectic first days that some of the wildly inaccurate work gets slammed down. We’re at day six now. And Jon Lee Anderson just arrived.

For those who don’t know his work, Anderson is one of The New Yorker‘s most impressive staff writers. All his stories are must reads: His reporting from Afghanistan and Iraq was surprising, tender, and never typical and a recent piece from Brazil just as the Olympics were announced there was almost enough of a national black eye to start some kind of riot. And Che, the definitive biography Anderson spent ten years writing, is a masterpiece.

Some time in the last hours Anderson passed through the unmanned gates of the DR/Haiti border and is sending text messages to his editor Amy Davidson.

Check out the whole dispatch. No surprise: He’s already coined one of what will likely be the most succinct distillations of the situation: “Haiti has been out of sight and of of mind for far too long; it is like a Lower Ninth Ward of almost 10 million people.”

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Filed under: Haiti, Journalism, Media, The New Yorker, World, , , ,

BREAKING: Harper's Index now searchable

“Fruit Basket”, oil on wood

The Index is like an old painting. (Image via Wikipedia)

Now we can carve at that fabulous archive with search terms that will lead to filling mental meals and surprising fruit you should have already tried.

A sampling for Manhattan:

5/85: Percentage increase in members of Manhattan’s West Side Rifle and Pistol Range since the Goetz shootings: 30

5/97: Ratio of the number of telephone lines in sub-Saharan Africa to the number in Manhattan: 2:3

7/00: Rank of Manhattan among New York State counties using the largest amount of pesticide in 1997: 1

2/08: Ratio of the total square footage of the world’s Wal-Marts to that of Manhattan: 9:7

What if nothing happened if it’s un-Indexed?

Filed under: Journalism, Media, ,

In Mexico, drug lords turn enemies into food

White pozole (one of the variations of pozole)...

Pozole is delicious. Drug lords are vicious. (Image via Wikipedia)

I’m still in travel limbo, making it difficult to publish rich posts. But this Times story — memorably headlined “Mexican Known for Stewing Victims Arrested” — caught my eye, gut, etc.

The piece is by the consistently solid Marc Lacey. Dag:

When it comes to gore, Mexico’s drug traffickers seem to compete among themselves for the title of most depraved. One will chop off the heads of victims. Another will string dead rivals from bridges or torch their genitals. Recently, hit men removed the face from a dead man and sewed it onto a soccer ball.

On Tuesday, Mexican authorities announced the capture of one of those who they said had been particularly active in this game of one upsmanship, Teodoro Eduardo Garcia Simental, described as a ruthless drug lord based just south of the American border in Tijuana. Mr. Garcia’s trademark, the authorities said, was boiling his victims in barrels of lye in what has become known as Pozole, or Mexican stew.

via Mexican Known for Stewing Victims Arrested – NYTimes.com.

Filed under: Journalism, New York Times, World, , , , , ,

Life in Tokyo is annoying and unfair

Night view from Westin Tokyo

This is true: Tokyo. (Image by Joi via Flickr)

This is the opening paragraph of a gorgeously bizarre story in today’s New York Times:

Life in Tokyo, as everywhere else in the world, is annoying and unfair. The good men are all married. Co-workers clip their fingernails at their desks. Laundry comes back from the cleaners still dirty. Society is too competitive. It is impossible to get enough sleep.

via Complaint Choirs Make Whining an Art Form – NYTimes.com.

Any idea what the rest of the story is about? It might not matter.

Reading the news doesn’t always have to be about gleaning facts and information. Sometimes it’s just the pleasing serendipity of paragraphs like this.

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

David Rees is unstoppable

David Rees is unstoppable.

Rees: Still getting his war -- with what? -- on.

After 9/11, when we were all flailing and searching for direction, I drank too much. We all did. We hand-rolled cigarettes, listened obsessively to NPR, and got really familiar with all the -Stans.

In the midst of all the epic Sy Hersh stories and On Point broadcasts from Boston, there began circulating these insane cartoons. Illustrated only with clip art, the strips were searingly critical, explosively funny — digs at us, at you, and at them. No cow was sacred.

The name of the new phenomenon was as strange as the content was sophisticated: My New Fighting Technique Is Unstoppable. We were entranced. Then suddenly it was Get Your War On. We still sought it out, even trying to make contact with the writer. Then just as quick, the work was appearing on the editor’s letter page in Rolling Stone.

We moved on. But the writer kept working. I lost track.

Now — and for some time — he’s lived on True/Slant, where his fiery production continues. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: 9/11, Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, Entertainment, Journalism, Writing, , , , , , , , , ,

NYT bosses should cover whatever they like — except puppies

Bill Keller, editor of the New York Times, at ...

Bill Keller: presidents, not puppies. (Image via Wikipedia

When New York Times bossman Bill Killer’s byline appeared on articles datelined Tehran last spring, media watchers were confused. Was this hubris, a desperate and dangerous move for an embattled editor, or something more sinister? Or on the other hand, was it a laudable moment when the general takes the rifle from his private and hops over the hill to show his men how to fight?

Keller is a highly decorated reporter, of course, having filed definitive dispatches from among other places, Russia, which is where he earned his 1989 Pulitzer. But he also worked in South Africa, which is why we have this:

As president Mr. Mandela could be surprisingly approachable — he once allowed me, the New York Times correspondent in South Africa at the time, to shadow him during a day of his presidency, something I can scarcely imagine an American president allowing. But since stepping down in 1999, and especially since his memory began to fail him, he has become more reclusive, protected by a staff that worries he might embarrass himself. But he obliged Mr. Freeman.

via Film – Morgan Freeman as Mandela in ‘Invictus’ – Rugby as Statecraft – NYTimes.com.

It’s part of a lengthy film review Keller filed this week of Invictus, in which Morgan Freeman plays South African leader Nelson Mandela. I’ll leave the matter of his critical chops to the true film aficionados, but as a regular and eager reader of the paper, I feel justified in saying this: Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Journalism, Media, New York Times, Russia, Writing, , , ,