The Pasty Little Putz, Dowd, Friedman, Kristof and Bruni

The Pasty Little Putz has seen fit to tell us all about “The Texas Abortion Experiment.”  He thinks that he knows what Dublin’s experience means for Dallas’s future.  Because Ireland and Texas are SO alike, right?  In “A Tender Gangster Romance” MoDo breathlessly tells us all about how in a Boston courtroom, a rat-a-tat-tat Romeo reminisces about the old days.  The Moustache of Wisdom says “Welcome to the ‘Sharing Economy’,” and excitedly asks a question:  Who knew the spare bedroom could pay the monthly mortgage?  Apparently all those unemployed folks can make money by renting themselves out to strangers…  Mr. Kristof is writing from the Abgadam Refugee Camp in Chad.  He says “Darfur in 2013 Sounds Awfully Familiar,” and that Sudan is revving up its slaughter in Darfur. He then asks what will it take to get the international community, including President Obama, to speak out more forcefully?  In “Of Love and Fungus” Mr. Bruni says separation isn’t necessarily a test for committed relationships. Sometimes it’s what keeps the feelings fresh and the mold away.  Here’s The Putz:

What happens to a modern society when abortion is restricted? This question is at the heart of the debate over Texas’s new abortion law, which bans abortions after 20 weeks and issues health regulations that could thin the ranks of state abortion clinics, making even first-trimester abortions harder to obtain.

The law’s actual impact may be less sweeping than critics argue. But suppose for the sake of argument that they’re right and that the legislation will dramatically curtail legal abortion. Then further suppose that it somehow survives the inevitable court challenge. What consequences are likely to ensue?

One possible answer is that Texas will make a forced march into squalor, misery and patriarchal oppression. Women’s lives will be endangered, their health threatened, their economic opportunities substantially foreclosed.

To the extent that this case rests on facts rather than fear, it’s based on cross-country comparisons. Around the globe, countries with abortion bans often do have worse outcomes — more poverty, fewer opportunities for women and, yes, often more abortions as well.

But there’s a problem with these comparisons: They don’t compare like to like, or control for the host of variables that separate, say, sub-Saharan Africa from the United States and Europe. They tell us that underdeveloped countries are more likely to ban abortion, but they don’t tell us whether those bans actually hold back progress and development.

To prove that case, you would need to look at how abortion restrictions play out in a wealthy, liberal and egalitarian society. Here two examples are instructive: Europe in general and Ireland in particular.

In the first case, many European countries already have versions of Texas’s late-term abortion ban on the books. France, Germany and Italy all ban abortions after the first trimester, and impose waiting periods as well.

Notably, these nations tend to have lower abortion rates than the United States, and none of them are exactly reactionary dystopias in the style of Margaret Atwood’s “Handmaid’s Tale.” So the European experience suggests that at least some abortion restrictions are compatible with equality and female advancement.

Then there is the specific case of Ireland, which has maintained a near-absolute abortion ban throughout its history. This ban does not mean that no Irish women obtain legal abortions: some go abroad for them, to Britain or Continental Europe. But that actually makes the comparison to Texas more apt — because even if abortion were somehow banned outright in Texas tomorrow, it would still be available to women with the resources to travel out of state.

So if liberal fears about the Texas legislation’s impact are correct, one would expect the Irish ban to have produced obvious, disastrous side effects. At the very least, one would expect Ireland to lag in female mortality, health and economic advancement.

Maternal health is indeed a fraught topic in Ireland. The abortion debate there has mostly revolved around how to interpret the “life of the mother” exception, and the high-profile case of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian immigrant who died unnecessarily during a miscarriage, recently prompted the Irish Parliament to widen that exception.

But there is little evidence that the Halappanavar tragedy reflects a larger trend. Ireland’s maternal health outcomes have long looked much better than those of its neighbors, and even a recent report that produced a higher estimate for maternal mortality still placed the country well within the European norm.

Meanwhile, international rankings offer few indications that Ireland’s abortion laws are holding Irish women back. The country ranks first for gender parity in health care in a recent European Union index. It was in the middle of the pack in The Economist’s recent “glass-ceiling index” for working women. It came in fifth out of 135 countries in the World Economic Forum’s “Global Gender Gap” report. (The United States was 22nd.)

Now it’s also true that Ireland, like most of Europe, is to the left of Texas on many economic issues. All the abortion restrictions described above coexist with universal health care, which Rick Perry’s state conspicuously lacks.

So perhaps, it might be argued, abortion can be safely limited only when the government does more to cover women’s costs in other ways — in which case Texas might still be flirting with disaster.

But note that this is a better argument for liberalism than for abortion.

It suggests, for instance, that liberal donors and activists should be spending more time rallying against Perry’s refusal to take federal Medicaid financing than around Wendy Davis’s famous filibuster.

It implies that the quest to “turn Texas blue” should make economic policy rather than late-term abortion its defining issue.

And it raises the possibility that a pro-life liberalism — that once-commonplace, now-mythical persuasion — would actually have a stronger argument to make than the one Texas’s critics are making now.

I’ll remind you he actually gets paid, and paid well, to drivel on like this.  Now we have MoDo and the thugs:

It was a subtle distinction, for a psychopath.

“I loved her,” Stevie “The Rifleman” Flemmi said of his onetime girlfriend, Debbie Davis, a sparkling blond Farrah Fawcett look-alike, “but I was not in love with her.”

That’s fortunate, since it would have made it ever so much harder to plan the 26-year-old’s 1981 murder, look into her eyes as she was strangled in your parents’ house, strip off her clothes, yank out her teeth and then dig her grave in marshland by the Neponset River.

Deterring identification was his specialty. He was the one who pulled the teeth out of corpses. He was so meticulous at his job that his partner in the Winter Hill gang, Whitey Bulger, had his girlfriend, the dental hygienist, get Flemmi a proper set of extraction tools.

It’s hard to imagine now, seeing the two old wiseguys snarling expletives at each other in court — Dracula battling Frankenstein, as one Boston lawyer told The Associated Press. The 79-year-old Flemmi is hard of hearing and wears a cheesy windbreaker. But back in the day, Stevie and Whitey fancied themselves rat-a-tat-tat Romeos. Flemmi has said he was more adept with the ladies, but then, his taste ran to under-age girls.

The primary triangle in the Winter Hill gang involved Flemmi, Bulger and an F.B.I. agent named John Connolly.

Whitey and Stevie got close in 1974, drawn together, funnily enough, by their clean-living ways. “He didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke, he worked out regularly,” said Flemmi, who described their relationship as “strictly criminal.”

And, though Bulger risibly keeps denying it, he worked as a rat for Connolly, another Southie who had grown up in awe of Whitey and his political kingpin brother, Billy. Connolly and Bulger took walks on the beach, and Bulger gave the F.B.I. agent a diamond ring for his girlfriend and envelopes full of cash for vacations and at Christmas.

In return for being that most loathed thing in Irish culture, an informant, and providing information about the Mafia, Bulger got protection and tips from Connolly. That allowed him to play Jimmy Cagney, dispatching underworld enemies. He also got the signal to go on the lam.

“It’s always good to have connections in law enforcement” to survive, Flemmi said, noting that they had about a half-dozen F.B.I. agents on the payroll.

“Zip” Connolly began swanning around spending his ill-gotten gains — $230,000 over the years — on flashy clothes and a boat.

Whitey made the agent sell the boat, and he cut back on Zip’s cash payments. “If he needed it,” Flemmi said, “he was going to have to explain what he wanted to do with it.”

Flemmi was also a rat, recruited even earlier by a different corrupt F.B.I. agent. The 83-year-old Bulger, neat and upright in jeans and sneakers, must have been seething as his former “associate” fingered him for his “numerous, numerous” meetings with the F.B.I., even though everyone already regards him as a cheese-eating rat fink, the inspiration for Jack Nicholson’s character in “The Departed.”

Then there was the other deadly B-movie triangle. The 38-year-old Flemmi met Debbie Davis, who was working for a fence, when she was married and 17. Both got divorces, and Flemmi lavished her with a Mercedes, jewelry and vacations.

Whitey — “a low-key sort of a guy,” according to Stevie — was once more upset by the ostentation. And the competition.

“He wasn’t too happy with my relationship with her because it started to interfere with my business,” Flemmi said. “She required a lot of attention. She was a young girl.”

Whitey called one night to summon Stevie while they were out celebrating Debbie’s birthday. “She said, ‘You meet him all the time during the day, why do you have to meet him now?’ ” Flemmi recalled.

Trying to assuage her, Flemmi “blurted out inadvertently” that they needed to see their F.B.I. connection, Connolly.

Flemmi said that when Whitey learned of the slip, he ordered her killed because they owed it to Connolly.

“I couldn’t do it,” Flemmi said. “He knew it. He says, ‘I’ll take care of it.’ ” They continued to work together until 1994, but the sour taste lingered. “It affected me, and it’s going to affect me till the day I die,” Flemmi said.

Stevie lured Debbie to the house in South Boston — facing Billy Bulger’s house — under the pretext of wanting decorating tips. Whitey claims he would no more kill a woman than be a rat. But Flemmi says Bulger grabbed Debbie by the neck as soon as they walked in and strangled her “all the way down to the basement.”

One juror cried as Flemmi told the grisly tale of wrapping Debbie in a tarp, throwing her in the trunk and driving her to Quincy.

“I dug the hole,” Flemmi said, while Whitey sat on the side and watched. In a weary, bitter tone, the Rifleman concluded, “That’s what he does.”

Next up we have The Moustache of Wisdom:

It all started with air mattresses.

Brian Chesky’s parents wanted just one thing for him when he graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design — that he get a job with health insurance. He tried that for a while with a design firm in Los Angeles, but he got fed up and packed up his Honda Civic and drove up to San Francisco to crash with his pal, Joe Gebbia, who agreed to split the rental of his house with Chesky. “Unfortunately, my share came to $1,150 and I only had $1,000 in the bank, so I had a math problem — and I was unemployed,” said Chesky. But they did have an idea. The week Chesky got to town, in October 2007, San Francisco was hosting the Industrial Designers Society of America, and all the hotel rooms on the conference Web site were sold out. So Chesky and Gebbia decided, why not turn their house into a bed and breakfast for attendees?

 The problem was “we had no beds,” but Gebbia did have three air mattresses. “So we inflated them and called ourselves ‘Airbed and Breakfast,’ ” Chesky, 31, recalled for me in an interview. “Three people stayed with us, and we charged them $80 a night. We also made breakfast for them and became their local guides.” In the process, they made enough money to cover the rent. More important, though, it spawned a bigger idea that has since blossomed into a multimillion-dollar company and a whole new way for people to make money. The idea was to create a global network through which anyone anywhere could rent a spare room in their home to earn cash. In homage to its roots, they called the company Airbnb, which has grown so large, so fast that it is now the equivalent of a major global hotel chain — even though, unlike Hilton, it doesn’t own a single bed. And the new trend it set off is the “sharing economy.”

I first heard Chesky describe his company two years ago and thought it was a quaint idea that would find limited traction with niche travelers. I mean, how many people in Paris really want to rent out their kid’s bedroom down the hall to a perfect stranger who comes to them via the Internet? And how many strangers want to be down the hall? Wrong. Turns out there is an innkeeper residing in all of us!

On July 12, Chesky told me, “Tonight we have 140,000 people around the world staying in Airbnb rooms. Hilton has around 600,000 rooms. We will get up to 200,000 people per night by peak this summer.” Airbnb has 23,000 rooms and homes listed in New York City alone, and 24,000 in Paris. Worldwide, “we have listings in 34,000 cities and 192 countries,” added Chesky. “We are the largest short-term rental site of its kind in China today, and we have no office there.”

Chesky then fires up his iPad and shows me on the rooms and homes being offered for rent: “We have over 600 castles,” he begins. “We have dozens of yurts, caves, tepees with TVs in them, water towers, motor homes, private islands, glass houses, lighthouses, igloos with Wi-Fi; we have a home that Jim Morrison used to live in; we have treehouses — hundreds of treehouses — which are the most profitable listings on our Web site per square footage. The treehouse in Lincoln, Vt., is more valuable than the main house. We have treehouses in Vermont that have had six-month waiting lists. People plan their vacation now around treehouse availability!”

In 2011, Prince Hans-Adam II offered his entire principality of Liechtenstein for rent on Airbnb ($70,000 a night), “complete with customized street signs and temporary currency,” The Guardian reported. You can rent any number of Frank Lloyd Wright homes — and even a one-square-meter house in Berlin that goes for $13 a night.

While it sounds like Chesky is just a global rental agent with more scale, there is something much bigger going on here. Airbnb’s real innovation is not online rentals. It’s “trust.” It created a framework of trust that has made tens of thousands of people comfortable renting rooms in their homes to strangers.

To rent a yurt in Mongolia, you go to the Airbnb Web site, sign up for it and pay Airbnb by credit card. It takes 6 percent to 12 percent of the fee from the guest and 3 percent from the host. The fee is paid to the renter after the first night. Through Airbnb, guests and hosts can verify each other’s driver’s license or passport, e-mail address and phone number, and connect Facebook profiles. No one is anonymous. They work out their own exchange of keys.

Afterward, guests and hosts rate each other online, so there is a huge incentive to deliver a good experience because a series of bad reputational reviews and you’re done. Airbnb also automatically provides $1 million in insurance against damage or theft to nearly all of its hosts (some countries have restrictions) and only rarely gets claims. This framework of trust has unlocked huge value from unused bedrooms. “In the last 12 months in Paris, we’ve generated $240 million in economic activity,” Chesky said.

Airbnb has also spawned its own ecosystem — ordinary people who will now come clean your home, coordinate key exchanges, cook dinner for you and your guests, photograph rooms for rent, and through the ride-sharing business Lyft, turn their cars into taxis to drive you around. “It used to be that corporations and brands had all the trust,” added Chesky, but now a total stranger, “can be trusted like a company and provide the services of a company. And once you unlock that idea, it is so much bigger than homes. … There is a whole generation of people that don’t want everything mass produced. They want things that are unique and personal.”

There’s more. In a world where, as I’ve argued, average is over — the skills required for any good job keep rising — a lot of people who might not be able to acquire those skills can still earn a good living now by building their own branded reputations, whether it is to rent their kids’ rooms, their cars or their power tools. “There are 80 million power drills in America that are used an average of 13 minutes,” says Chesky. “Does everyone really need their own drill?”

More than 50 percent of Airbnb hosts depend on it to pay their rent or mortgage today, Chesky added: “Ordinary people can now be micro-entrepreneurs.” Jamie Wong, co-founder of, a platform through which locals anywhere can become custom tour guides of their area, told me: “I moved out of my apartment in central San Francisco, rented a cheaper annex in a friend’s home, and ‘airbnb-ed’ my apartment for $200 a night and earned about $20,000 in a year. It enabled me to bootstrap my start-up. Airbnb was our first round of funding!” And just think how much better all this is for the environment — for people to be renting their spare bedrooms rather than building another Holiday Inn and another and another. … The sharing economy  — watch this space. This is powerful.

Good gawd…  Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

Asiya Tahir , 20, had her 4-month-old baby, Mariam, on her back in April when three armed men in Sudanese military uniforms seized her and her sister at a well in Darfur.

The soldiers beat Asiya and then — according to both sisters who were interviewed separately — pulled Mariam off her back and laughingly checked to see if she was a boy or a girl. Grabbing Mariam by one arm, a soldier flung her into the distance.

“You’re lucky she’s a girl,” Asiya remembers one of the soldiers saying. “If that were a boy, we would have cut his throat.”

Mariam survived the throw but still has health problems from it. That’s Darfur this year, as Sudan’s state-sponsored genocidal machinery revs up again.

The resumption of mass atrocities in Darfur, after a bit of a lull, has led villagers to flee to this refugee camp, Abgadam, in southeast Chad. It is full of Darfuris who have arrived in recent months after Sudanese government-sponsored militias began a new spasm of murder, rape and pillage against two minority ethnic groups.

Survivors tell the same stories: Armed men, often in army uniforms, burned their villages, killed men, raped women and took everything they had, while calling them slaves or saying that their tribe would be wiped out in Darfur.

It is now 10 years since the Darfur genocide began, and we in the news media have mostly tired of the issue. It’s no longer news that the Sudanese government is slaughtering its people.

Yet our silence empowers Sudan’s leaders to pick up where they left off in Darfur. Indeed, survivors say that one of the leaders in this year’s attacks was Ali Kushayb, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes committed in Darfur a decade ago.

Because of the resurgence of violence, the United Nations Refugee Agency has hurriedly built this camp for the Darfuris, and it is saving lives. But, while the world is willing to spend more than $1 billion annually assisting survivors of attacks in Darfur, it seems unwilling to stand up to President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan or even speak out very forcefully.

The world has moved on, but the killing continues.

This is the last stop on my annual win-a-trip journey, in which I take a student on a reporting trip to the developing world. The winner, Erin Luhmann of the University of Wisconsin, and I hope to shine a bit more light on the continuing slaughter in Darfur — and on the courage and resilience of the survivors.

Sheltering under one tree here in the Abgadam camp were three small children, all orphans from bloodletting in Darfur. The oldest is a 9-year-old girl named Asiya who is now effectively mother to her brothers, Muhammad, 7, and Yasin, 2. The mother and father were shot dead in their home by a Sudanese government-backed militia, villagers say.

The victims in this year’s wave of attacks are members of two Arab ethnic groups that have not previously been singled out in Darfur, the Salamat (including the three orphans) and the Beni Hussein.

Sudan apparently drove out the Beni Hussein because government officials covet gold that has been discovered on their land. It seems to be expelling the Salamat because it distrusts them and prefers to give their land as a reward to a more loyal Arab group, the Miseriya.

The United Nations has estimated that more than 300,000 Darfuris were displaced in the first five months of this year — roughly as many as in the last two years combined.

Halima Ahmed, 28, told how a convoy of pickups with mounted machine guns arrived at her village, and soldiers in Sudanese military uniforms then started shooting.

“They shot my husband, and he fell down,” she said. “And then they cut his throat.”

Hawa Mansal, 35, said that all five of her brothers were shot, four fatally. Soldiers debated whether to shoot her as well, but then decided that they shouldn’t kill a woman, she said.

Those killed seem to have been overwhelmingly adult men, but also small numbers of women and children. One Beni Hussein leader here in the Abgadam camp, Sheik Abdullah al-Nazir, told me that five of his sons had been shot dead in the family house; the youngest was 3 years old.

There are no easy solutions when a government commits serial atrocities. But there are steps that the United States and other countries can take — including speaking out much more forcefully — that raise the cost to Sudan for this kind of behavior.

International criticism has sometimes moderated the brutality of President Bashir. When there’s a spotlight on Darfur, killings and rapes tend to subside a bit. Bipartisan legislation — the Sudan Peace, Security and Accountability Act of 2013 — aims to create such a spotlight. It’s not a panacea, but it may help at the edges.

In the mid-2000s, an ambitious senator from Illinois complained eloquently that the White House was too silent in the face of evil in Darfur. Is it too much to ask that President Obama recall his own words — and speak out again?

And now we get to Mr. Bruni:

Woody and Mia had opposite sides of Central Park. Tom and I have opposite sides of the East River.

We’re hoping for a better outcome.

For the four and a half years that we’ve been together, we’ve been apart, me in Manhattan, Tom in Brooklyn, at least most of the workweek, and during chunks of the weekend, too. We tell our friends that it’s a borough standoff, a game of Big Apple chicken, but that’s just a line and a lie, a deflection of the questions you field when you challenge the mythology of romance.

Moving in with each other: that’s supposed to be the ultimate prize, the real consummation. You co-sign a lease, put both names on the mailbox, settle on a toothpaste and the angels weep.

But why not seize the intimacy without forfeiting the privacy? Establish a different rhythm? One night with him, one night with a pint of Chubby Hubby and “Monday Night Football” or a marathon of “Scandal,” my wit on ice, my stomach muscles on hiatus, my body sprawling ever less becomingly across the couch. Isn’t that the definition of having it all?

Others think so. On Wikipedia there’s a phrase, a page and an acronym devoted to the likes of Tom and me, a tribe grown larger over the last few decades. We’re “Living Apart Together,” and we’re not loopy, we’re LAT, just as Woody and Mia weren’t freaks, just trailblazers, until he blazed his trail to a less trammeled pasture. By one estimate at least 6 percent of American couples married and unmarried — Tom and I belong to the latter group — don’t cohabitate. For Western Europeans, naturally, the figure seems to be higher. They have their problems and their airs over there, but they’ve always been expert at leisure and love.

The LAT life is healthy, according to all the studies. O.K., one study, admittedly puny in scope, but it just came out. Published in the current issue of the Journal of Communication, it closely followed 63 couples, about half of whom lived together and half of whom couldn’t, separated by circumstance rather than choice. The couples in commuter relationships said that their conversations were less frequent but deeper. They confessed more, listened harder and experienced a greater sense of intimacy. Absence worked its aphoristic magic on the heart. Fondness bloomed, no doubt because covers didn’t get stolen and someone else’s dishes weren’t left in the sink.

Just as there are couples with distance forced on them, there are couples with no option other than proximity, given the cost of two households or the kids in the mix. But there are also couples like Tom and me. We’d made our own homes before meeting each other. We’d tailored our budgets accordingly. We relish a measure of independence, can vanquish loneliness with a subway ride and don’t feel much loneliness in the first place. He’s in my head all the time.

Or he’s on my screen. That’s the thing about our wired age: apart is actually the new together, because alone isn’t alone anymore. On top of calling, there’s Skyping, e-mailing, texting, sexting: a Kama Sutra of electronic intercourse. Why bother with movers and bicker over wall art?

Even in earlier eras, before the ready meeting place of cyberspace, this sort of arrangement worked. Fannie Hurst, a hugely popular short-story writer in the early 20th century, and her husband had separate studio apartments in the same building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. They made appointments to see each other. She explained that most of the other marriages she’d observed were “sordid endurance tests, overgrown with the fungi of familiarity and contempt.” Tom and I don’t want to be fungal. On this we’re resolute.

Hurst also said that she was trying to keep her marriage “high-sheen damask” rather than “a breakfast cloth, stale with soft-boiled egg stains.” And this was no pose. “I want to emphasize our freedom from faddism,” she said of herself and her spouse, a musician named Jacques Danielson. “Neither my husband nor I lives in Greenwich Village or wears horn-rimmed spectacles.”

Danielson, meantime, weighed in with this: “Whenever I find the ache beginning to set in for the comfortable sag of the patent rocker, I need only to drop in at Miss Hurst’s for one of the delicious homemade dinners her maid of five years’ permanency knows so well how to prepare.” You know that question you sometimes get, about the three people, living or dead, whom you’d most enjoy meeting? Hurst and Danielson just made my list.

There are romantic partnerships that crumbled not because a spouse traveled too much, but because he or she stopped doing so. There are partnerships whose endurance may well hinge on extra elbow room. It seems to suit Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter, who have adjacent houses in England.

If Tom were always at hand and forever underfoot, we could divvy up more of the labor, true. But I don’t always want to. I like being able to make a big meal without him seeing the sweat and the mess and the dread that go into it. I like playing the music I prefer, at the loudness I choose, while the Cuisinart whirls. Later on he can arrive to a neatly set table, a perfectly roasted chicken, a play list for two, the volume set to his specifications.

MORE to the point, he can arrive, period, his presence a bit of an event, something vaguely thrilling and never taken for granted, a shift in the very weather of my apartment, like the humidity breaking or the sun fighting its way through haze.

It won’t last. I mean the LAT life. Another 6 or 12 or 18 months and we’ll probably wind up together-together, our glassware a mongrel collection, two of every pan. We could use the savings. We’re not rich. Besides, at a certain point, it wears you down: the murmurs that you must not be fully confident in what you have; the nagging worry that you’re being indulgent or adolescent or just perverse.

And a shared home will have its advantages. I’ve bolted upright from a nightmare at 3 a.m. with Tom just inches away, and I’ve bolted upright with him across the river, which at that hour might as well be across the universe. I prefer the former. It’s the difference between wearing a warm coat on a frigid day and feeling utterly exposed.

But for now: this. On a Saturday morning, he’s here. On a Tuesday morning, he’s not. The week, like the year, has seasons. We get to wear different outfits for each.


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