The Pasty Little Putz, Dowd, Kristof and Bruni

We are spared The Moustache of Wisdom, who is off today.  The Pasty Little Putz decided to bend his attention to “The House’s Immigration Dilemma.”  He pondered deeply, and decided that there are risks wherever Republicans look.  MoDo, gawd help us, has decided to squeal about sex appeal.  She’s still in Paris, and in “The Tortured Mechanics of Eroticism” she gasps that a museum exhibition reveals the secret of centuries of sex appeal: industrial-strength underwear.  Between these two I’ve already lost about 50 IQ points.  Mr. Kristof is in Danja, Niger.  In “Where Young Women Find Healing and Hope” he says the next stop on this year’s win-a-trip journey is a new fistula hospital in Niger that is changing women’s lives with help from Times readers.  In “Tweeting Toward Sacrilege” Mr. Bruni tells us that musing on Egypt and sexual violence, Joyce Carol Oates saw that when you question religion, all hell breaks loose.  Sigh.  Just thinking about twitter-twatting just cost me another 25 IQ points…  Here’s The Putz:

The first thing you need to know about the House Republican view of immigration reform, the fate of which now rests with John Boehner’s restive caucus, is that there is no single House Republican view of immigration reform.

Instead, as the Democrats have come to march in lock step on the issue — dropping the old union-populist skepticism of low-wage immigration in favor of liberal cosmopolitanism and Hispanic interest-group pandering — many of the country’s varying, conflicting opinions have ended up crowded inside the Republican Party’s tent.

So there are Republicans who would happily vote for the Senate bill as is, no questions asked, and Republicans who might never vote for a bill that contains the words “comprehensive” and “reform,” let alone “immigration.”

There are law-and-order Republicans who care only about border security and E-Verify, pro-business Republicans seeking new guest-worker programs and religious-conservative Republicans for whom amnesty is a humanitarian cause.

There are libertarian Republicans who believe “the more, the better” is the only answer on immigration policy and communitarian Republicans who worry about the impact on wages, assimilation and cultural cohesion.

There are calculating, self-interested Republicans who think immigration reform will save their party from extinction, and calculating, self-interested Republicans who worry that it will create millions of new Democratic voters.

This diversity of views makes it difficult to game out exactly how the House might proceed on the issue. But right now, there seem to be two directions that Republicans could ultimately take.

The first is a kind of lowest-common-denominator approach suggested by the majority leader, Eric Cantor. It would advance two ideas that command broad Republican support — more spending on border security and more visas for high-skilled immigrants — alongside an idea many Republican representatives opposed in the past but seem to be warming to right now: a new version of the Dream Act, which would offer citizenship to illegal immigrants who arrived as children.

This combination would probably poll well, minimize intra-Republican divisions and focus on the policy area, high-skilled immigration, where there is the strongest consensus about the benefits to the nation. It would also vindicate the Republican Party’s (often notional) commitment to offering incremental alternatives to bloated liberal bills.

But such incrementalism would punt on the question of how to handle the bulk of the existing illegal-immigrant population, and thus wouldn’t be anything like the game changer sought by many Republican strategists worried about the Hispanic vote. And politically, it would have been much more clever months ago, before the Senate bill raised expectations for how sweeping a reform should be. In the shadow of Rubio-Schumer, a House that passed incremental bills and then refused to negotiate its way to something bigger might well receive the same kind of “do nothing” coverage as a House that did nothing at all.

Hence the (quiet, for now) appeal of the second option, mentioned last week by The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein and The Huffington Post’s Jon Ward, in which the House would find a way to go along with a version of amnesty that either didn’t include the promise of citizenship or made the path so long and arduous that few immigrants would take it.

To its supporters, this combination would deliver illegal immigrants the security and stability that pro-legalization activists are seeking, without running afoul of either the principled Republican desire to avoid rewarding people who have broken America’s laws, or the more cynical Republican desire not to have the newly legalized showing up to vote for Democrats.

But it, too, would come at a cost. We’re living through an era of stratification, a period of mass unemployment, an economic “recovery” in which working-class wages aren’t actually recovering. This is a strange climate in which to create — and then augment, via guest-worker programs — a permanent tier of explicitly second-class, mostly low-skilled residents, deliberately curtail their political leverage and then ask low-wage native workers to compete with them for jobs.

And it’s a particularly strange climate for a Republican Party struggling to shed its “party of the rich” label to identify with such a policy, and give up one of the few issues where it has some credibility with working-class voters.

The party faces risks whatever it does: killing comprehensive reform might further alienate Hispanics, as the conventional wisdom has it, but then again going along with Charles Schumer and a flood of corporate money might exacerbate the kind of “who’s looking out for me?” disaffection that kept many conservative-tilting, economically strapped voters from the polls in 2012.

But a clever-sounding deal that legalizes immigrants as laborers but not as citizens risks disaster on both fronts: rejection by Hispanics as insufficient and ultimately insulting, and rejection by many of America’s tired, poor, huddled workers as another example of the political class’s indifference to their fate.

The party faces its main risks from being run by a gaggle of barking lunatics.  Now gird up your loins — here’s MoDo:

The French may feel shaky about the underpinnings of the economy. But about the underpinnings for the body, they are as rock solid as the Arc de Triomphe.

During a summer when the French are drooping, the best uplift can be found in the Louvre complex at the Museum of Decorative Arts, which has mounted a dazzling exhibition on undergarments and embellishments dating from the 14th century on: corsets and bustles, hoops and push-up bras, crinolines and codpieces. The exhibit, titled “Behind the Seams, the Mechanics of Underwear: An Indiscreet History of the Silhouette,” provides a fascinating contrast between the industrial-seeming tools used to shape the body and the sexiness that results.

Only a French museum would take fine washables so seriously. The word lingerie, after all, derives from the French word linge, meaning “washables.”

Seismic social changes have always been reflected in fashion, and the politics of lingerie can be incendiary. Consider recent reports about Ritu Tawade, a city official in Mumbai who has responded to the horrific rapes in India by crusading to remove lingerie-clad mannequins from store windows, fearing they incite rape.

It was only two years ago that Saudi Arabia, hypocritical home to many racy lingerie stores, compelled them all to employ women instead of men.

In “The Heat,” Melissa McCarthy’s Boston cop warns Sandra Bullock’s F.B.I. agent that her Spanx squish internal organs. It’s the same argument a bloomer brigade of feminist reformers used in the belle époque to denounce corsets — stays that stayed around for 500 years.

Jean Cocteau wrote amusingly in 1913 about the women at Maxim’s: “It was an accumulation of velvet, lace, ribbons, diamonds and what else I couldn’t describe. To undress one of these women is like an outing that calls for three weeks advance notice, it’s like moving house.”

Denis Bruna, the curator of the exhibit, said he has studied the human form in art through the centuries and has read countless ancient texts instructing women to be beautiful and men to be virile. He even tried on the intimate items from the time of the ancien régime.

“It feels good,” the 45-year-old said in French with a droll smile. “It makes you stand up very straight. You feel noble.”

He explained that the hard corsets were mostly worn by aristocratic women who wilted standing at court all day and needed bracing. If you were rich and had servants, you could have stays laced in the back (in the squeezing-the-breath-out-to-get-back-an-18-inch-waist style of Mammy and Scarlett O’Hara). Lower-class women had their stays in the front, so they could lace them on their own.

As though women weren’t trussed up enough, the rigidity was accentuated by a busk, a concave piece of metal, horn or whalebone that was inserted into the front of the corset to hold the torso erect. Sometimes these busks had portraits or love messages engraved on them.

The most wince-worthy displays: iron medical corsets from the 16th century for correcting curved spines; miniature corsets worn by infants and toddlers, because physicians of yore insisted that children’s soft bodies needed support; and corsets for pregnant and nursing women (the latter with little shutters).

The Marie Antoinette “grand habit” silhouette, with the wasp-waist corsets often made from bone at the roof of the whale’s mouth, and 12-foot-wide paniers at the hips were so broad that the side cages had to be retractable by hand so the ladies could get through a door. Was this why French doors came into fashion? Picture them all crashing into one another at court.

The paniers were balanced by pouf hairdos, built on a scaffolding of horsehair and wire, covered with powder and topped with toy sculptures like a little farm or a battleship.

“The lower parts of the woman’s body were less noble, so they were hidden,” Bruna said. “They thought the legs were ugly and sheathed them in pantaloons. The shape represented a pedestal base to make the top prettier.”

Finally, in the World War I era, Coco Chanel began helping women come into their own, unstrapping them from their hourglass constrictions and sheathing them in supple jersey. Maybe that’s why you see Chanel’s image here more often than Joan of Arc’s.

Yesterday’s aristocratic underwear morphs into today’s fetishistic outerwear. The show illustrates the influence of the ancient fashion on modern designers, including a Vivienne Westwood bustle frock and an Alexander McQueen corset dress.

Mirabile dictu, there are even new variations on Renaissance codpieces, or braguettes, a bragging-rights style bound to disappoint. “They’re already being sold in gay shops in France and on the Internet,” Bruna said.

It was commonly thought that the point of lingerie was to incite the lust of men. Yet, as this exhibit shows, women have also used underwear to assert their power and status.

As we celebrate Bastille Day, note this: The mannequins wearing the aristocratic undies have no heads.

I may be driven to putting gin on my corn flakes this morning…  Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

They straggle in by foot, donkey cart or bus: humiliated women and girls with their heads downcast, feeling ashamed and cursed, trailing stink and urine.

Some were married off at 12 or 13 years old and became pregnant before their malnourished bodies were ready. All suffered a devastating childbirth injury called an obstetric fistula that has left them incontinent, leaking urine and sometimes feces through their vaginas. Most have been sent away by their husbands, and many have endured years of mockery and ostracism as well as painful sores on their legs from the steady trickle of urine.

They come to this remote nook of Niger in West Africa because they’ve heard that a new hospital may be able to cure them and end their humiliation. And they are right — thanks, in part, to you as Times readers.

There is nothing more wrenching than to see a teenage girl shamed by a fistula, and I’ve written before about the dreams of a couple of surgeons to build this fistula center here in Danja. Times readers responded by contributing more than $500,000 to the Worldwide Fistula Fund to make the hospital a reality. Last year, the Danja Fistula Center opened.

This is my annual win-a-trip journey, in which I take a university student along on a reporting trip to shine a spotlight on global poverty. So with my student winner, Erin Luhmann of the University of Wisconsin, I dropped in on Danja to see what you as readers have accomplished here. What we found underscored that while helping others is a complicated, uncertain enterprise, there are times when a modest donation can be transformative.

The first patient we met is Hadiza Soulaye; with an impish smile, she still seems a child. Hadiza said she never went to school and doesn’t know her birth date, but she said that her family married her off at about 11 or 12. She knows that it was before she began to menstruate. She was not consulted but became the second wife of her own uncle.

A year later, she was pregnant. Hadiza had no prenatal care, and a traditional birth attendant couldn’t help when she suffered three days of obstructed labor. By the time Hadiza was taken to a hospital for a Caesarean delivery, the baby was dead and she had suffered internal injuries including a hole, or fistula, between her bladder and vagina.

“I didn’t know what had happened,” she remembered. “I just knew that I couldn’t control my pee, and I started crying.”

Hadiza found herself shunned. Her husband ejected her from the house, and other villagers regarded her as unclean so that no one would eat food that she prepared or allow her to fetch water from the well when others were around. Villagers mocked her: “They would laugh at me and point to my dress,” which was constantly wet with urine.

She endured several years of this ostracism. Worldwide, there are some two million fistula sufferers, sitting in their homes feeling ashamed, lonely and hopeless.

A few months ago, Hadiza heard about the Danja Fistula Center and showed up to see if someone could help. Dr. Steve Arrowsmith, a urologist from Michigan who helped plan this center and has repaired more fistulas than any other American, operated on Hadiza and repaired the damage. He warned her not to have sex for six months to give the repair time to heal.

It typically costs $500 to $1,000 to repair a fistula and turn these women’s lives around. There is no one more joyous than a woman who has undergone this surgery successfully, and Hadiza was thrilled to return to her village.

Yet life is complicated. When she returned home — dry and cured — her husband summoned her to his bed.

“I didn’t have a choice,” she says. “I was his wife.”

The husband tore open the fistula, and she began leaking urine once more. He then threw her out of the house again, so now Hadiza is back at the hospital. She vows that this time, if she can be patched up, she will never return to her husband.

As in Hadiza’s case, a fistula is often a result of a child marriage. Here in Niger, about three-quarters of girls are married before the age of 18.

“Some of these ladies here have never had a period,” Dr. Arrowsmith noted. “They became pregnant the first time they ovulated, and then their uterus was destroyed.”

Aside from repairing fistulas, the Danja center also conducts outreach to improve maternal health and encourage women to deliver in clinics. It has set up a system so that taxi drivers are guaranteed payment when they take a woman in labor to a hospital.

The Danja Fistula Center is also conducting research on how best to treat patients. One approach pioneered here may allow fistula hospitals to move patients out of recovery wards in half the time, effectively doubling capacity.

The fistula center was conceived by Dr. Arrowsmith and Dr. Lewis Wall, an obstetrics professor at Washington University in St. Louis, and it partners with Serving in Mission, an American Christian charity with long experience here in Danja. It also gets backing from the Fistula Foundation, based in the United States. But, in line with the original vision, the Danja Fistula Center is run by Africans, with Dr. Arrowsmith training Dr. Itengré Ouedraogo, a surgeon from Burkina Faso, to be medical director.

Fistulas may be a grim topic, but this center you readers have helped to build is a warm and inspiring place. Women who have suffered for years find hope here, and they proudly display skills they are learning, such as knitting or sewing, that they can use to earn a living afterward. As they await surgery, their dormitories echo with giggles and girl talk. They are courageous and indomitable, and now full of hope as well.

This fistula center continues to exist on a shoestring, struggling for operating funds. But the exuberance of the patients is contagious, and I wanted readers to know that your generosity has built a city of joy. These women may arrive miserable and shamed, but they leave proud, heads held high. And in a complicated world of trouble, that’s a reason to celebrate.

And last but not least we have Mr. Bruni:

I wasn’t sure which to bring up first with Joyce Carol Oates: the Muslims or the llamas.

She had tweeted about both in the days before I dropped by to see her last week. This said something about the breadth of her interests. Or about Twitter’s way of playing midwife to mischief.

I veered in the safer direction.

“So where are they?” I asked, looking out the back window of her house here, across a yard as empty as it was green. Nothing grazing. Nothing woolly. Certainly not the “53 llamas” that she had suggested, in a tweet, that she was purchasing to satisfy “a metaphysical yearning.”

She explained that she’d been riffing facetiously off a story in The Times about rampant llama love. “There’s really not room here,” she said. “We only have three acres.” Plenty for Oates and her husband. Not for an Andean offshoot of the clan.

That subject dispensed with, we proceeded to the missives that had really lit up cyberspace and had really prompted my visit.

In the first days of July, Oates, one of America’s most celebrated writers, was monitoring news from Egypt and was struck by something that I’m sure many other people noticed as well. It certainly caught my eye. Amid accounts of street protests were reports of sexual violence, an odd expression and ugly byproduct of the rage.

On her Twitter feed she saw a statistic that chilled her. And she tweeted, “Where 99.3% of women report having been sexually harassed & rape is epidemic — Egypt — natural to inquire: what’s the predominant religion?”

This wasn’t an isolated query. It belonged to a stream of musings that day, all 140 characters or fewer, on Egypt, Islam and women.

She wrote, “If 99.3% of women reported being treated equitably, fairly, generously — it would be natural to ask: what’s the predominant religion?”

She also wrote, “ ‘Rape culture’ has no relationship to any ‘religious culture’ — how can this be? Religion has no effect on behavior at all?”

Fellow writers and intellectuals freaked. On various byways of the Internet, she was blasted for anti-Muslim bigotry. A “furor,” The Wall Street Journal called it, and in a headline no less.

I wondered if she wanted to take it all back.

“Well, I’m not a confrontational person, so I wouldn’t do it again,” she told me, at least not with the exact language she used. She said that she might instead have written, “If all these women are being harassed and raped and so forth, it’s natural to ask what are the social conditions.” You tweet and you learn.

That she tweets at all is astonishing. Where does she find the time? She teaches a full load at Princeton. She also writes long, deeply researched literary reviews. And then there’s her principal vocation and claim to prolific fame: churning out at least a book a year — the novel “The Accursed,” all 670 history-packed pages of it, is her most recent — along with poems, essays and more.

Now 75, she cannot off the top of her head even quantify her oeuvre, which makes anyone else’s look like a lazy internship. More than 100 titles. That’s for certain.

The 99.3 percent figure that she cites for Egyptian women who report having been harassed is questionable, from a United Nations survey that defines harassment broadly. And she hasn’t researched the “epidemic” nature of rape in Egypt. She’s never been there, or anywhere in the Middle East.

But in a world in which sexual violence remains as unconscionably prevalent as in ours, shouldn’t anyone who cares about women — about human rights — be asking all sorts of questions, including delicate ones? And why are questions that stray beyond the secular considered so particularly delicate?

Look critically at someone’s god and gird for the lightning.

Oates calls herself a humanist, rejects the conventional notion of divinity and told me, “I don’t have a sense that there are sacred institutions. To me, all religions and all churches are created by human beings.” In that regard, she added, “They’re not that different from, say, the whole legal culture or the medical culture or the scientific culture.” About which you can say or ask almost anything at all.

SHE finds certain barriers and etiquette curious. “If you thought that women were being mistreated 50 miles from where you are, you might want to go help them,” she said. “But if you were told it was a religious commune or something, you’d think, ‘Uh-oh, that’s their religion, maybe I shouldn’t help them.’ It’s like religion is under a dome. It gives an imprimatur to behavior that shouldn’t be tolerated.”

Is she saying that Islam oppresses women?

Although she expressed concern about Shariah law, she didn’t go that far, and she noted that most religions were patriarchies.

Islam stands out for her in terms of the extra-special sensitivity surrounding discussion of it. She said that while religion in general is still coddled in the United States, where churches get tax exemptions and God is on money and in inaugural speeches, we’ve indeed become less reluctant over time to poke fun or hurl barbs at Christianity or Judaism. She pointed to the unapologetic examination of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests.

“We can have cartoons about the pope,” she said. “Making fun of the pope just seems to be something that a Catholic might do.” She added, “But if you have a cartoon, or make a film, about radical Islam, then you’re in danger of your life.”

She did neither. She just tweeted, and isn’t sure why a format seemingly designed for uncensored, spontaneous, imprecise musings, not nuanced manifestoes, should become grist for such outrage.

“Once I said that the doorway to Hades was in our basement — I discovered it!” she told me, referring to a past tweet. That’s the degree of literalism she brings to the arena.

Yet readers parse the words they want to and cling to those of their choice. After all, I arrived at her doorstep expecting, on the basis of a single tweet, to meet a herd of exotic pets.

She shook her head, looked toward her llama-less yard and said, “It’s a little surprising to me that social media have turned out to be kind of prissy and prim and politically correct.”

I don’t have a whole lot of time for her books either…


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