Saturday, 27 August 2016

Faking It



I bet you think this is a bumble bee visiting a flower. But you'd be wrong. It is a hover fly, specifically, Volucella bombylans. This one is var. plumata, which mimics the Garden Bumble Bee Bombus hortorum or the Small Heath Bumble Bee B. jonellus with its long face, fluffy white rear end and bright yellow hair around the midriff. Another fine example of Batesian mimicry, where a harmless species has evolved to resemble a more formidible species.


This species is quite commonly found, from May to September, in open woodland and scrubby grassland. Females, like this one, will lay their eggs in a wasp Vespula spp or bumble bee Bombus spp nest. The larvae feed on debris inside the nest, or occasionally the larvae of the host, especially if they have been abandoned. They are scavengers rather than parasites.

This one was photographed near Chaumussay in mid-August on a Field Scabious Knautia arvensis.

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The Burkini Ban: Yesterday at the pool I overheard an elderly white middle class French woman talking about the burkini ban. She had seen the news footage of the protest outside the French Embassy in London. Whilst she thought the burkini ban was absurd, she was even more astonished (and rather affronted) that a group of British women should feel that they needed to express their opinions so publically. According to her it is a domestic issue -- 'our problem, not theirs'. 

In my opinion, the French authorities, as usual, have handled the issue of what Muslim women wear in public extremely badly. Their approach is insensitive and bigotted, to the point that many women, Muslim or not, feel like parading around at every opportunity wearing the offending garments. According to a survey reported in the Independent, 64% of French people are in favour of the ban, 30% are indifferent and 6% are against the ban. 

Listening to French people interviewed on the news I've noticed that about half those asked support the ban, on the grounds that Muslims need to integrate and adopt French values. The others shrug and roll their eyes in exasperation at the absurdity of the ban, its vagueness and yet obvious targeting of Muslims. One young woman from Nice I heard said it was all provocation, by both sides. A man from the area said that he had never seen a burkini until after the ban.

We have someone who swims at the pool in Preuilly regularly. She always wears a headscarf and her little girl wears a wetsuit. I've always assumed she wore the scarf as an alternative to a swim cap, but maybe she's Muslim. I don't know, and I'm not going to ask her, because, frankly, who cares. I assume the child, like several others who come swimming in wetsuits or outfits that look like pyjamas, is being protected from the sun. From what I understand, Muslim women who want to dress modestly at the beach generally don't bother with the expense of a burkini. If they want to swim they wear light pyjama style garments and a headscarf. But up to now that may simply have been in the absence of swimwear they felt comfortable in. And given the number of Muslim women who have adopted modest dress and combined that with being total fashionistas, I think we can assume that the burkini is as much fashion as halal. 

Personally I think the burkini ban is the sort of thing that gives laïcité a bad name, and for that reason I'm with the exasperated eye rollers.

Anyway, about an hour after I wrote the above, the Conseil d'Etat announced that it was banning the ban. The reason given was that burkini bathers pose no threat to security and should be allowed free access to the beach. The Secretary General of the French Council of the Muslim Religion hailed the decision as one demonstrating good sense that will décrisper (defuse) the situation.

16 comments:

  1. Burkini... Think this way...Crowded beach, burkini clad person with large explosive belt hidden underneath... BOOM BOOM. I can understand the initial ban given past attacks in France. Many other places have had beach attacks...

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    1. Many other places? Where besides Tunisia? Which is not to say that beaches aren't a possible target of course. And why would you bother with a burkini? All you would have to do is go down on the beach fully clothed, or with a beach bag, like almost everyone on the beach does! Does that mean that any woman in a wet burkini can stay, as she clearly isn't wearing a suicide belt...

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  2. What I find ironic is that wearing a bikini which exposes almost every inch of one's backside and/or going topless is perfectly acceptable. Of course, no bombs there LOL.

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  3. but men can wear wetsuits when they surf...the ban is ridiculous

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  4. I think the burkini ban is ridiculous too, but C & E might have a point. There is a lot of paranoia these days. Also, the Socialists, especially Vals, are taking a hardline stance, probably for electoral reasons. On the subject of swimwear, I've never understood why men going to a public pool are not allowed into the water wearing trunks. They are required to wear Speedo-style bathing suits.

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    1. Swim trunks (ie tight fitting lycra shorts) are allowed at our pool in Preuilly (and depending on who you are and Etienne the pool manager's mood, you can even get away with board shorts, which technically are banned). Having seen signs in Australia in the outback at pools saying you are not allowed in the pool wearing shorts (meaning you can't just go swimming in the clothes you've been wearing all day, you have to change into dedicated swimwear) I would guess the board shorts ban is to stop people bringing dust and other unsavoury things into the pool. Having a rule that people wear swim trunks or swim briefs ensures that people change into dedicated swim wear that is likely to be clean.

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    2. How dirty would the cotton, loose-fitting swimming trunks have to be to carry dust dirt into a pool that wouldn't arrive airborne anyway? Oh well.

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    3. In other words, why don't they just require the wearing of swimwear, not street clothes, in the pools, and then require you to take a shower before going into the pool? I've never heard of restrictions like this in the U.S. Maybe swimming pool water is so highly chlorinated over there that it doesn't matter what people wear to swim in. I think it is very French to have specific, required attire for different functions and occasions and seasons. Here, there is a "right way" and a "wrong way" for every situation.

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    4. With the Australian pools we are talking about the outback in the days when blokes used to roll up in their un-airconditioned utes and jump straight in the pool, barely pausing to remove their boots. They could have been covered in all sorts of things.

      I agree about it being very French to have to have specific outfits for specific activities, which you change into immediately before the activity and change out of immediately afterwards (no popping into the café or boulangerie in your jogging pants...)

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  5. I have no problem with a burkini ban per se.......... except that it's a burkini ban. If full length nuns (really scary) and priests in skirts (just wriong...) were banned as well it would make sense.

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  6. Priests and nuns wear a "uniform" to identify themselves. They chose to enter the vocation. Wetsuits are practical and have no religious connotation. I am against the burkini ban but i dont like to see women dressing "modestly" with headresses, burkinis or burkas as i see this as a control mechanism. This culture starts in the home. Men seem able to wear exactly what they like. Women always have to conform, otherwise they are judged. however, i was offended at the supermarket yesterday by two topless, sweaty pot bellied males who certainly should have been told to cover up! Stop trying to control women and they will stop pushing back.

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    1. Nuns wearing full length are just as much victims of a control mechanism as women wearing burkinis are wearing a "uniform".

      Who needs to identify a nun?

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    2. I agree that rules about clothing can work as a control mechanism, but it works both ways and in all societies. (And I'd rather see a woman wearing a scarf than a wig if her religious beliefs dictate that she covers her hair. That one has always struck me as eye rollingly ridiculous...) In my twenties I often wore outfits which were outside the norm for provincial Australia. I was always astounded by people (complete strangers) who thought that they had a right to come up to me and comment negatively on my dress. I've heard a young Somali woman complaining that there is more and more pressure for Somali women to adopt the hijab and salwar kameez, neither of which are traditional for their culture. Traditional Somali female dress is distinctive and I'm not surprised she was fighting the pressure to change. On the other hand I have heard a female Palestinian journalist say that she wears a burqa because being anonymous is a positive advantage in her job and people will talk more freely. There are lots of very credible Muslim women who speak and write about choosing to wear the hijab and a real fashion movement has developed. On the other hand, not all Muslim women favour the burkini. It doesn't work for its stated purpose of modesty if you actually go swimming, and they point out that a normal well cut not too revealing swimsuit was acceptable a generation ago, so why not now. The thing is, dress is a red herring, an easy target. I think that a lot of the negative associations of modest dress have to do with poverty and education levels. Solve those and you more or less solve the dress issue. Mainly, like you, I resent the finger-wagging hypocritical way the ban was rolled out and policed. The burkini was not actually named in the regulation, but it was only women who were clearly Muslim who were targeted.

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  7. Maybe everyone should wear more covering clothing, especially when out in the sun. Reduces the chances of skin cancer. And covers up some of those pot-bellied dudes whose uncovered appearance is truly gag-inducing.

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    1. Australians are already at that point. And it's enshrined in health and safety regulations - employers must provide protective clothing. You should see what Australian roadworkers wear. I was astonished last time I went back. Lots of kids wear sunproof swimwear in Australia too. I'm uncomfortable about targetting the pot-bellied dudes. That's just as easy as targetting dress and body shaming of any sort is to be avoided I think.

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