Let France Be France

The brouhaha over a number of French towns’ banning the “burqini”, a whole body-covering women’s swimwear somewhat resembling a wetsuit, has caught the attention of news media in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Germany.

Der Spiegel:

Banning the burqa is irrelevant to the fight Islamist fundamentalism and to the battle for the liberation of Muslim women. It would merely save us from having to look at them. What we should instead be doing is extending a helping hand to those who are suppressed in the form of language courses, neighborhood meetings or invitations for a coffee. We should be confident that our way of life is attractive enough that it encourages imitative forms of emancipation.

Asma T. Uddin in the New York Times:

Washington — Fifteen towns in France have issued bans on the full-body swimsuit worn by some Muslim women and nicknamed the “burkini,” citing public order and security concerns. According to the ordinance in Cannes, “Beach attire that ostentatiously displays a religious affiliation, while France and places of worship are the target of terrorist acts, is likely to create risks to public order.”

How do pants, a long-sleeve shirt and a head covering made of swimsuit material threaten public safety?

According to France’s prime minister, Manuel Valls, the suit is part of “the enslavement of women.” In a newspaper interview, the mayor of Cannes, David Lisnard, said: “The burkini is the uniform of extremist Islamism, not of the Muslim religion.”

Ben Quinn in the Guardian:

The Nice tribunal ruled on Monday that the ban in Villeneuve-Loubet was “necessary, appropriate and proportionate” to prevent public disorder after a succession of jihadi attacks in France.

The burkini was “liable to offend the religious convictions or (religious) non-convictions of other users of the beach,” and “be felt as a defiance or a provocation exacerbating tensions felt by” the community, it added.

The ruling by the state council, France’s highest administrative court, will provide a legal precedent for towns to follow around the country.

Over the period of the last two centuries the foundations of the modern French state have rested on a single French language, a single French culture, and secularism, laïcité. Rejecting the French language, conventional French dress, and French mores isn’t just a statement of preference. It’s a political statement and one that, from the point of view of many of the French, challenges the very basis of modern France.

Like it or not it is up to the French to decide what it means to be French. If you don’t like it, go elsewhere. Let France be France.

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The Whales of August

As I write this, my wife is watching The Whales of August, on demand. If you’ve never seen it it’s a very good movie, a drama about two elderly sisters and their elderly friends and their interactions as they spend time together in the sisters’ summer home in Maine.

Even if it were not a good movie it would be an important movie, an artifact, since it stars Lillian Gish (in her last movie role), Bette Davis, and Ann Sothern. When it was made the three veteran actresses had nearly 200 years of movie-making experience all together. We will never see their or its like again.

There’s a famous anecdote about the making of the movie. After shooting a scene the director, Lindsay Anderson, said to Lillian Gish, “Miss Gish, you’ve just given me a perfect close-up.” To which Bette Davis responded, “Of course she did. She invented them.”

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Why Does It Resonate?

Since Rodrigo Duterte took office as the president of the Philippines at the end of June, 1,900 people have been killed, mostly by police, in the crackdown on drug dealing he ran on. The BBC reports:

The head of the Philippines police has said more than 1,900 people have been killed during a crackdown on illegal drugs in the past seven weeks.

Ronald dela Rosa was speaking at a senate hearing into the sharp rise in deaths since Rodrigo Duterte became president.

He said police operations had killed about 750 people, but the other deaths were still being investigated.

Mr Duterte won the presidency with his hard-line policy to eradicate drugs.

He has previously urged citizens to shoot and kill drug dealers who resisted arrest, and reiterated that the killings of drug suspects were lawful if the police acted in self-defence.

He also threatened to “separate” from the UN after it called his war on drugs a crime under international law.

Dubbed “The Punisher” by Time (after the Marvel Comics vigilante), President Duterte clearly won office as a consequence of rather than despite his hardline stance.

I’m not particularly well-informed about Filipino current events or politics. Why does this issue resonate with the people there?

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The Music Goes ‘Round and ‘Round


I’ve been avoiding remarking on the presidential campaigns as their Mighty Wurlitzers spin out. However, this comment by Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post on the latest revelation about Hillary Clinton’s emails caught my attention:

To be clear: Clinton has already been cleared of any official wrongdoing in the matter by Comey. And Comey and the FBI were aware of this latest batch of emails — hell, they found them! — when he rendered his judgment on Clinton.

Is that actually what happened? Maybe my opinions are clouding my judgments and my recollection. What I remember is that, after laying out a prima facie case that Sec. Clinton had actually broken the law he declined to request an indictment anyway, saying that the didn’t think he had a winnable case and presumably to take the pressure off his boss and her boss.

That didn’t clear Sec. Clinton of anything. A case could be brought later as new evidence emerges or old evidence that makes Director Comey’s and by extension the administration’s position untenable is revealed.

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They’re Too Old

At Stat Dylan Scott presents a dispassionate analysis of the health of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, based on their physicians’ reports. Basically, they’re both in pretty good health, particularly for their age, 68 and 70, respectively.

There are studies that have found that the incidence of heart failure in individuals over the age of 65 is about 20 per 1,000 person-years. Stress is a substantial contributing factor to risk. My impression is that the presidency is a pretty stressful job. Probably more stressful than Secretary of State or business executive. I don’t have any statistics on the incidence of heart failure without prior indications among those over 65.

IMO both of these candidates are too darned old to be elected president.

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Priorities

In his post at Buzzfeed on why our European cousins can’t find the jihadis in their midst, Mitch Prothero suggests that it’s a combination of inefficiency, political correctness, and the fractured nature of their societies.

Based on my experience in Europe, their investigators probably only work from 9-5 with scheduled breaks for lunch and coffee and they don’t work at all during the month of August. I’d think those would pose problems.

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Designed for Conditions That Don’t Exist

The graph above was taken from this post by Donna Pavetti at RealClearPolicy. “TANF” is the federal program Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Basically, it’s what now exists of what used to be called “welfare”. How do you interpret it?

Here’s how I interpret it. The program was working fine as long as jobs were being created rapidly but when that stopped in 1999 or thereabouts and the states changed their budgets to adapt to new conditions and consistent with their own priorities (mostly paying for healthcare and past and present employees) it stopped working.

I’d also like a little more detail on the definition of the groups represented by the graph. It could be that some of the changes were a consequence of changing demographics within the target population.

There’s really no substitute for economic growth in promoting the general welfare, to use the Constitution’s phrase. As long as policymakers are content with our present slow/no economic growth, policies that were adopted assuming faster growth, which include TANF and Social Security, won’t function as they were intended. They were designed for conditions that don’t exist.

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Autonomous Vehicles and the Foreseeable Future

At Mashable Lance Ulanoff comes closer than most commenters to expressing my views of autonomous vehicles:

It’s time for some real talk about self-driving cars: they’re not coming around any time soon.

You won’t find a bigger fan of the technology than me. I love robots, autonomy and artificial intelligence. I can still remember visiting Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and standing a few feet away from the car that nearly won the DARPA Grand Challenge in 2004.

But I’m also a realist — and despite recent promises by Uber and Ford, I know that self-driving cars are decades away from becoming a significant part of our lives.

Despite all of the hype we’ve been hearing lately (Ford producing fully autonomous vehicles by 2021, Uber being on the cusp of deploying a fleet of autonomous vehicles, etc.).

Consider the following.

  • To the best of my knowledge there’s not a single street legal consumer level fully autonomous vehicle on the road today.
  • Even if Uber has its fleet, it can’t use them presently in Pennsylvania (where they’re claiming to be putting their pilot program).
  • Even if Ford starts producing fully autonomous vehicles, they would only be legal in a handful of states, e.g. Florida.
  • It takes twenty years for the American passenger vehicle fleet to turn over completely.
  • Software problems are different from mechanical problems. Every software problem is a failure of workmanship.
  • We haven’t even touched on the security problems.
  • Big, rich companies with deep pockets will be irresistible targets for liability suits.
  • The first liability suit could deep six the move to autonomous vehicles for the foreseeable future.
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Just the Facts

Former U. S. ambassador W. Robert Pearson opens his post at RealClearWorld, “The Syria ‘What If’ That May Haunt Obama”, with the following statement:

On Aug. 21, 2013, the Syrian government murdered more than 1,400 innocent Syrians in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta — including several hundred children — in a nerve gas attack.

It is presented as an unassailable fact. That is, indeed, the U. S. government’s position. Is it true?

Since August 2013, the Nobel Prize-winning Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and a group of weapons experts have produced independent reports which arrived at the conclusion that the attack was perpetrated by jihadis. Over the period of the last two years there have been multiple instances of the use of chemical weapons that were unquestionably by the jihadis, lending credence to those findings.

I don’t know the truth of the matter. I do know that the truth of the matter makes the most difference when your primary argument for more forcible U. S. intervention in Syria is the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people. I hold no particular fondness for the Assad regime. I merely think that stability in the Middle East including Syria is in our national interests, that chaos in the Middle East is against our interests, and the path to stability in Syria resides with the Assad regime.

It might be helpful to try explaining President Obama’s subsequent actions. The closest Amb. Pearson comes is an oblique sideswipe at the president’s motives.

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Shorter Leashes

I don’t comment much on sports here at The Glittering Eye. It’s just not one of my interests. However, I did want to remark on the sorry incident involving a U. S. swimmer (who, by the accounts I’ve read, is a well known shmeggegie) in Rio.

Like it or not the athletes on the U. S. Olympic team are ambassadors. They represent us not just themselves. And in a world of 24 hour news when every smartphone is a videocamera it’s not possible to hush up athletes’ misbehavior as it used to be.

Either we should start taking character into account when awarding positions on the U. S. Olympic team or we should be keeping our team on shorter leashes from the time they arrive in the host country until the time that they leave.

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