'Not From Here,' stories by Nathan Deuel

A visit to Faisal Shahzad's Pakistan village

The gate is locked at terror suspect Faisal Shahzad's family home in Pakistan. (Screen grab courtesy of The New York Times.)

A major shout-out for friend and colleague Adam B. Ellick, who submits another one of his knockout videos for The New York Times. Ellick is one of a new kind of journalist: a so-called “one-man-band,” who can parachute into a difficult place and assemble both front-page print stories AND three- to ten-minute video reports.

His latest dispatch is from the ancestral Pakistan village of terror suspect Faisal Shahzad. Check out the video — and see how Ellick’s reporting compares to other print pieces you’re reading now. Video’s pretty good, huh?

Previously: Ellick contributed an moving and challenging video primer on the spread of extremism in Pakistan’s Swat valley.

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Filed under: Faisal Shahzad, Islam, Pakistan, Religion, Taliban, Terrorism, World, , , ,

Did conservative attack dogs eat one of their own?

David Frum. Image source is a screen shot from...

Former Bush speechwriter David Frum. (Image via Wikipedia)

Can the Republicans get anywhere by being the party of “no?” This is the question The New York Times takes up in a wide-ranging and provocative new piece.

At the heart of the essay, though, is the human tale of David Frum, a former George W. Bush speechwriter. In the wake of the health care reform bill, Frum wrote a searching, honest post, in which he pondered the Republicans’ position of no-compromise and the bulling, silencing power of the conservative “entertainment industry”:

We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat.

There were leaders who knew better, who would have liked to deal. But they were trapped. Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible. How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother? Or — more exactly — with somebody whom your voters have been persuaded to believe wants to murder their grandmother? I’ve been on a soapbox for months now about the harm that our overheated talk is doing to us. Yes it mobilizes supporters — but by mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead …

So today’s defeat for free-market economics and Republican values is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry. Their listeners and viewers will now be even more enraged, even more frustrated, even more disappointed in everybody except the responsibility-free talkers on television and radio. For them, it’s mission accomplished. For the cause they purport to represent, it’s Waterloo all right: ours.

via Can ‘No’ Revive the Republicans? – Opinionator Blog – NYTimes.com.

In the wake of the post, which went viral, Frum was reportedly called in to meet with the head of the conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute, where he had long been a resident scholar. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Healthcare reform, Media, New York Times, , , , ,

A word of caution: Finding truth in Haiti disaster news

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI - JANUARY 12:  Survivors...

Survivors at a clinic in Port au Prince, January 12. (Image by Getty Images via Daylife)

New York Times media genius David Carr wrote an excellent column in the wake of Hurricane Katrina that should be reread today. In the dizzying swirl of terrible rumor that posed as news that late summer and fall, Carr took a hard look at news creators such as Tucker Carlson and Greta Van Sustern, who had repeated unsubstantiated but compelling reports of rape, murder, and widespread looting — none of which was ultimately proven to have  occurred, at least on the lurid scale so bitingly promised.

The column begins:

DISASTER has a way of bringing out the best and the worst instincts in the news media. It is a grand thing that during the most terrible days of Hurricane Katrina, many reporters found their gag reflex and stopped swallowing pat excuses from public officials. But the media's willingness to report thinly attributed rumors may also have contributed to a kind of cultural wreckage that will not clean up easily.

via More Horrible Than Truth: News Reports – New York Times.

Carr adds his own perspective from the day the Twin Towers fall. Victims still covered from ash told him that they’d seen men fighting on ledges, women tossing babies out windows, and other ultimately unsubstantiated stories. In the relative calm of the next few days, the real story began to emerge: People trapped were far too high to be seen in any detail. The ultimate record of 9/11 was no less horrifying, but far more true.

Haiti is undeniably suffering mightily now. And there are powerful stories being written that will indeed go down as the first draft of history. But before people begin to draw broad conclusions, beware the perils of reporting on the first days of disaster. Read, watch, and donate — by all means — but history and reporters like Carr remind us to reserve final judgment. Victims deserve both immediate attention and then, when time permits, a more thoughtful referendum, and hopefully one that helps prevent future disaster. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Haiti, Media, 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, ,

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, , , ,

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, , , , ,

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, , , , ,

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, , ,