'Not From Here,' stories by Nathan Deuel

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?

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

Saudi Terror Alert: Two Qaeda suspects, policeman shot dead

Third Saudi State (present day) (Saudi Arabia)

Image via Wikipedia

This report from southern Saudi is not good:

RIYADH — Two suspected members of Al-Qaeda were killed and a third was arrested in a firefight in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday that also resulted in the death of a policeman, the interior ministry said.

The official SPA news agency quoted ministry spokesman General Mansur al-Turki as saying the early morning shootout took place at a police checkpoint in Jizan province on the southern border with Yemen.

Turki told the agency that two of the three suspects, who had been on board a vehicle, were wearing women’s clothing and wore explosives vests and carried grenades.

“More grenades, automatic weapons and bomb-making materials” were also found in the vehicle, he added.

More info as we get it.

Update: No more info readily available. The Saudi security forces apparently did a good thing, and had the instincts to share right away. But that may be the last we hear about this specific case for some time.

via AFP: Two Qaeda suspects, policeman shot dead in Saudi.

Filed under: Al Qaeda, Islam, Politics, Religion, Saudi Arabia, , ,

In a land without vice, Saudi men LOVE to smoke

I took this photograph.

You can't always get what you want. (Image via Wikipedia)

I live in Riyadh, where booze is officially absent, movie theaters are banned, music in public is basically nonexistent, most women are covered head-to-toe in black, and the call to prayer rings out six times a day from mosques that seem to pop up every ten blocks across this dusty metropolis of several million people.

So what do Saudi men do all day? Smoke. Not all of them, but a significant proportion of them. In fact, a pretty standard image of a modern Riyadh Saudi male is a goateed 24-year-old, expensive watch on one wrist, Bluetooth headset in one ear, immaculate white thobe covering body from head to neck, fancy pen in breast pocket, red-checked head scarf in place… and a cigarette in one hand, the smoke mingling with heavy perfume.

Coffee and tea are the other principle releases (along with Whoppers and Pepsi, though slightly less ubiquitously) but again and again, it seems the picture of a male here is almost always incomplete without a burning butt.

All this is mainly a prelude to sharing this image: I walk through a mall here every day around 10:45 a.m. It’s mostly deserted at this time, except for the far western end, which is home to several offices of a major bank. Without fail, there are always two dozen to three dozen Saudi men standing around, smoking, their office IDs swinging from smoke-spewing necks.

What caught my eye today was this: The glass wall they often congregate along was tattooed with a brilliant smear of hand-prints, of all sizes, each illuminated by the weak morning light. Sizing up the crowd, I thought to myself how much the smudged glass wall was a kind of accidental art, a result of smokers leaning against glass in a mall and simultaneously a strange throwback to the ancient cave paintings in France and elsewhere. What of equal durability could any of this leave behind?

With that question unanswered, I quickened my pace, fleeing the tobacco haze, happy at least to have excavated beauty out of habit.

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Filed under: Health, Politics, Religion, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, , , , ,

Wife witnesses Yemen, Saudi bureaucrats foiling refugee aid

Third Saudi State (present day) (Saudi Arabia)

Image via Wikipedia

I don’t have anything particularly enlightening to add to the discussion, which has included theories that Yemen is the new hotbed for Al Qaeda. That said, I do want to point out with some pride that one of the journalists mentioned in this story, from the Saudi-Yemen border, is my wife! She’s the best.

ALB, Saudi Arabia — Yemen and Saudi officials stopped a UN aid shipment destined for refugees from fighting between Yemen troops and Shiite rebels on Saturday, unable to agree on border procedures.

Three trucks laden with tents, mattresses, soap and other necessities were halted by a dispute over how to transfer the goods from Saudi trucks to Yemeni trucks at the border.

This delayed for at least another day the delivery of much-needed humanitarian supplies for 3,000 hard-struck Yemenis sandwiched between the Saudi border and the centre of fighting further in to Saada province.

The aborted delivery, witnessed by journalists traveling with the convoy, underscored how local distrust and bureaucratic inertia can prolong the suffering of people who have lost homes and face food shortages in war-torn northwest Yemen.

Wife travels with convoy; husband writes about it. More importantly — if there is a point — is a reminder that the people behind all these weird stories from far-off lands are just that: people, with husbands. Yessir.

via AFP: Yemen, Saudi bureaucrats foil refugee aid shipment.

Filed under: Al Qaeda, Politics, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, , , , ,

Will Saudi religious police attend tonight's concert in Riyadh?

A Saudi holds up his entrance ticket to see th...

A ticket to a film screened without a hitch this December in Jeddah, Saudi's comparatively liberal city on the Red Sea.

This evening I’ll be among men and women, watching live music played on a stage.

Such a scene would be typical in many parts of the world. (Oh, how envious I was of a barn-burning show in New York Monday night!) But I live in Saudi Arabia, where a delicate brew of competing interests helps discourage co-ed, public gatherings — especially if they aren’t connected to Islam or traditional Saudi culture.

As such, it’s worth noting that the Mexican Embassy here is sponsoring a three-piece marimba band. More noteworthy still is that this trio will be playing to a mixed crowd at a venue that holds 4,000 people.

This is the third event of this kind at the venue, Riyadh’s King Fahd Cultural Center. (The first, in May 2008, was a night of classical music; the second, in February 2009, was a crew of traditional Japanese drummers; and a previous contender for the third, a concert this spring by a Cajun band sponsored by the U.S. Embassy, was canceled at the last minute.) But whereas the classical music and drumming hearkened centuries back, this is the first time men and women are permitted to gather together in a public space to hear something akin to contemporary music.

And that’s why I’m eager to attend. This summer, organizers at the same venue attempted to show a feature film. Titled Menahi, the film grappled with modern life in Riyadh, portraying the plight of a rural Saudi who’d relocated to the capital. But on the first night, conservative Saudis attempted to disrupt the screening, reportedly yelling at attendees both before and during the show. (Religious police told a local newspaper the intruders “were not commission members and the commission did not have any role in the disruption”; I wasn’t there but have heard differently, including a report that chairs were thrown.)

Will there be another such disruption tonight, perhaps with an official visit by the religious police, known as the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice? Or does such an event no longer merit their attention? Will men and women interact without incident? Or, out of practice and unaccustomed to such freedoms, will there be an incident?

Bonus: Wonder what happened to the Cajun band’s Riyadh stand? It was insane.

Update: In the end, there was no commotion. Still, the night was as interesting as they come, and I’ll have a full report for you soon.

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Filed under: Islam, Journalism, Music, Politics, Religion, Saudi Arabia, , , , ,

Saudi prince chides Obama for kissing babies

Prince Turki Al Faisal Al Saud and Anne Dwayne

At Left: Prince Turki, a former Saudi intelligence chief and critic of Obama. (Image by Auren Hoffman via Flickr)

A silver-tongued Saudi muddies some compelling ideas about oil policy by trying to suggest Saudi isn’t a dictatorship. He started out strong. Writing in Foreign Policy, Saudi’s influential former ambassador to the U.S. calls energy independence a bunch of bull:

“Energy independence” has become a byword on the American political scene, and invoking it is now as essential as baby-kissing. All the recent U.S. presidential candidates employed it, and to this day, the White House Web site lists as a guiding principle the need to “curb our dependence on fossil fuels and make America energy independent”. . . But this “energy independence” motto is political posturing at its worst — a concept that is unrealistic, misguided, and ultimately harmful to energy-producing and -consuming countries alike. And it is often deployed as little more than code for arguing that the United States has a dangerous reliance on my country of Saudi Arabia, which gets blamed for everything from global terrorism to high gasoline prices.

It’s interesting to suggest talk of engery independence is a kind of hollow posturing. Better than demonizing Saudi and oil, Obama should — as the Prince suggests — give a more nuanced picture of the realities of both the world energy situation and the U.S. relationship with Saudi. But where al-Faisal goes a bit overboard is how little he accounts for the real reasons Saudi has such a complicated image abroad. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Oil, Politics, Religion, Saudi Arabia, , , , ,