Posts Tagged ‘France’

Spaghetti Tacos: Silly Enough for Young Eaters [via The New York Times]

A visual gag on a Nickelodeon show has spawned a new trend, the trendspotting New York Times reports: spaghetti tacos. Syracuse University pop culture professor Robert Thompson provides some expert commentary: “This combination seems to be an inevitability, sort of like chocolate and peanut butter running into each other on that Reese’s commercial. The amazement should be only that it took ‘iCarly’ to bring it into our melting pot of a culture… Spaghetti tacos has made it possible to eat spaghetti in your car. It’s a very important technological development. You don’t even need a plate.”

Spaghetti Tacos “Expert,” Prof. Robert Thompson, Has Now Been Interviewed by 78 Different NYT Reporters [via NYT Picker]

Perhaps Professor Thompson is overextending himself, the NYTimes Picker says. “But maybe Stapinski’s reportage isn’t so remarkable, after all. In fact, she’s only continuing a longstanding NYT tradition in quoting Thompson — and has become the 78th NYT reporter to do so, in 150 separate stories over the span of almost two decades. We counted! Only last month, Thompson was quoted in four television-related NYT stories over a ten-day period: an advertising column by Abby Ellin, a sports story by Pete Thamel, and pieces by two regularly Thompson-dependent television reporters, Richard Sandomir and Bill Carter.”

Parisian flat containing €2.1 million painting lay untouched for 70 years [via The Daily Telegraph]

Apparently it had been a while since the neighbors had seen Marthe de Florian at her Paris flat, but no one had any idea it had been seven decades. De Florian had left Paris for southern France before World War II and never returned, leaving behind “a treasure trove of turn-of-the-century objects including a painting by the 19th century Italian artist Giovanni Boldini.” When she died at the age of 91, though, her possessions had to be inventoried, leading authorities to unseal the flat. Predictably, they also found a great deal of dust and cobwebs.


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France’s senate yesterday approved by 246-1 (with 100 abstentions) a ban on burqas, a traditional Muslim garment for women that completely obscures the face. The ban comes with some severe penalties: women caught wearing burqas or other obscuring veils in public face a €150 fine and a “citizenship course”; men who force women to wear the garments face a €30,000 penalty and up to a year in prison. France has a Muslim population of five to six million, but only 2,000 women are estimated to wear burqas. However, the ban will also be imposed on tourists.

President Nicolas Sarkozy promoted the bill as a protection for women against wearing burqas or niqabs. “This is not about security or religion, but respecting our republican principles,” Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie told Agence France-Presse. “France, land of secularism, guarantees respect for all religions (but) hiding the face under a face-covering veil is against public social order, whether it is forced or voluntary.” President Barack Obama and many Islamic leaders have decried the ban as a violation of free speech and religion.

It’s worth noting that the ban had at least one female Muslim supporting it. “I support banning the burqa because I believe it equates piety with the disappearance of women. The closer you are to God, the less I see of you — and I find that idea extremely dangerous,” journalist Mona Eltahawy told Salon in July. Her argument is certainly interesting and is poorly served by my brief quotation; I highly recommend reading the entire interview.

According to the BBC, France’s Constitutional Council, the highest constitutional authority in France, now has a month to decide if the ban is legal, and the ban could also be challenged at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. The outcome of that scrutiny will be closely watched; Spain and Belgium are considering similar bans.

With all the recent controversies involving Islam — including the Park51 community center in Manhattan and the Florida pastor who planned to burn Korans on the anniversary of 9/11 last week — could a similar ban happen in America? Or rather, would such a ban be constitutional in America?

An online poll (the height of scientific accuracy!) conducted by Above the Law in May found 57 percent of respondents opposed the ban as a violation of religious freedom.

University of Chicago law professor Martha Nussbaum [another complex and nuanced argument, worthy of a full read-through] examines some of the common arguments from burqa opponents. Security concerns and the need to have faces visible in public are the primary argument, one she tears apart.

 It gets very cold in Chicago – as, indeed, in many parts of Europe.  Along the streets we walk, hats pulled down over ears and brows, scarves wound tightly around noses and mouths.  No problem of either transparency or security is thought to exist, nor are we forbidden to enter public buildings so insulated.  Moreover, many beloved and trusted professionals cover their faces all year round: surgeons, dentists, (American) football players, skiers and skaters. What inspires fear and mistrust in Europe, clearly, is not covering per se, but Muslim covering.

Nussbaum makes similar short shrift of arguments that the burqa objectifies women and is worn only through coercion. She also rejects the claim that burqas are uncomfortable, “the silliest of the arguments.” After systematically rejecting all the arguments for the ban Nussbaum concludes:

We don’t even need to reach the delicate issue of religiously grounded accommodation to see that they are utterly unacceptable in a society committed to equal liberty.  Equal respect for conscience requires us to reject them.

Nussbaum did not specifically examine France’s ban in her post, instead using the hypothetical liberal democracy. In a follow-up, however, she touched on French case law.

The French policy of laïcité does indeed lead to restrictions on a wide range of religious manifestations, all in the name of a total separation of church and state.  But if one looks closely, the restrictions are unequal and discriminatory.  The school dress code forbids the Muslim headscarf and the Jewish yarmulke, along with “large” Christian crosses.  But this is a totally unequal burden, because the first two items of clothing are religiously obligatory for observant members of those religions, and the third is not: Christians are under no religious obligation to wear any cross, much less a “large” one.   So there is discrimination inherent in the French system.

John Yoo, author of the infamous Bush administration torture memos, also weighed in over at Ricochet.

My bet if that the law were written in the way that the French have done it, it might have a chance. As I understand it, the French law does not mention or ban burqas specifically. It prohibits people from wearing masks in public, with certain exceptions for costumes (this being France, where people wander the streets of Paris eating eclairs and dressed up as characters in Dangerous Liasions, I suppose). If a law like that were passed in the US, it would be neutral toward religion on its face, as opposed to a law — like one that banned animal sacrifices, but with an exception for killing animals to eat them — that obviously targeted religion (that too, was another Supreme Court case).

UChicago law professor Richard Epstein, commenting on the same post as Yoo, seemed to be less decided on the matter.

The restrictions are uneasy if the objections to them are symbolic about the place of women in society. There is no reason why a majority of people could make the world seem unanimous by banning the Burqa. But, for one thing, were these decisions made by autonomous women or forced upon them by husbands or religious leaders who are prepared to force women to wear Burqas? At this point the law would be an effort to stop coercion, not encourage it.

Finally, Elise Jordan, writing at the conservative FrumForum, compared the burqa ban to banning KKK masks in an effort to protect blacks in the south.

The courts ruled in favor of equality over free expression because of security.  Men and women had as equal a right to see a face as did the man or woman who desired to cover it.  State laws banned full facial concealment in an effort to stop the violence.  (These laws eventually helped collapse the Klan because KKK membership winnowed in their new era of transparency.)

The takeaway is that if security is a consideration, no matter the sex, religion, ideology, or orientation, we are all equal in our right to view facial expression.  Women wearing burqas are likely not hiding a bomb, but the garment is used too often to conceal terror to be ignored.

Such a ban in the U.S. would face the conflict of restricting religious and speech freedoms in the name of increased security. If a court were seeking to resolve that conflict minimally (something the Roberts court has not been terribly good at) the most obvious solution would seem to be requiring some basic security precautions — say, on flights, or secure buildings, as well as requiring the face to be displayed on a driver’s license — and otherwise letting religion take its course. It would be difficult to prove burqas are in all instances oppressive to women, and with such uncertainty religious freedom would likely prevail.

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Report: More women than men in U.S. earned doctorates last year for first time [via The Washington Post]

Women have been increasingly present in academia, but just recently they passed a new benchmark: for the first time ever, more women that men earned doctorates last year, the Council of Graduate Schools reported. In 2008-09, 28,962 women earned doctorates; 28,469 went to men. “Many women feel they have to choose between having a career in academics and having a family,” said Catherine Hill, director of research at the American Association of University Women. “Of course, they shouldn’t have to.”

France: Senate votes for Muslim face veil ban [via The Guardian]

The French senate approved by 246-1 a ban on face-covering veils traditional among Muslims, including burqas and niqabs. Unless it is challenged soon as unconstitutional, the law will go into effect in the spring. The planned penalty for violating the statute is a €150 fine and a “citizenship course.” “Supporters of the ban – including Nicolas Sarkozy, who has said the full Islamic veil “is not welcome” on French soil – say it is a move made primarily in defence of women’s rights and secularism. Critics of the ban, however, have argued that the law affects a tiny minority – 2,000 women at most – and is expected by many to stir tensions and reinforce marginalisation among some of the country’s five to six million Muslims.”

Fertility Rites [via The Atlantic]

Don’t read this article before eating. In an excerpt from his forthcoming book on chimpanzees, Jon Cohen describes the process by which researchers gather sperm samples from our primate relatives. It’s important to science — researchers are hoping studying chimp sperm will provide clues as to why humans miscarry much more frequently than chimpanzees. If you’re curious, click the link; otherwise, stay away.

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‘Desperate’ Sir Tom Stoppard seeks death by bookcase [via The Daily Telegraph]

Tom Stoppard, the British playwright responsible for “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” said in a recent interview that he would like to be killed by a falling bookcase. “I have a spasm of envy for the person that was killed by a falling bookcase, as long as it doesn’t happen prematurely,” Stoppard says in the October edition of Tatler magazine. “[It] would be a good way to go. You went when you were in a good frame of mind and you were doing something pleasant and interesting. A lot of people would say, ‘I would rather have a heart attack at the height of sexual passion.’ On the whole, I would prefer to be killed by a bookcase.”

Turkey Genome Sequenced More Than 90 Percent, Including Sex Chromosomes ‘Z’ and ‘W’ [via ScienceDaily]

With Thanksgiving only a few months away, researchers are proud to announce that they have completed coding more than 90 percent of the turkey genome. “ ‘Poultry producers may be able to use the knowledge we gain from the genome sequence to grow turkeys faster and healthier, and if they can produce the same size bird in a shorter period of time, they can also save money,’ Virginia Tech researcher Rani Dalloul said. An improved understanding of genetic variation in this species and in breeding populations will also lead to development of new tools that producers can use to breed turkeys that have desirable texture, flavor, and leanness, which will directly impact consumer products.”

Fisherman catches massive 30lb ‘goldfish’ [via The Daily Mail]

A 30-pound orange koi carp—aka a giant goldfish has been caught in a lake in the south of France. There’s really not much more to this story, but the picture is a must-see. [Also, I realize this is the second fishing story in as many days, so I promise to lay off unless someone snags Jimmy Hoffa on their hook.]

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