Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.

Get out the vote

May 15th, 2015 3:48 pm | By

The marriage equality referendum in Ireland is in a week and it’s close. Aoife at Consider the Tea Cosy is hosting guest posts for equality. Here is The No side’s warped understanding of democracy is a bad joke:

In the course of this referendum debate there have been many complaints, in particular from the No side, about an undemocratic atmosphere of censorship. When No posters are defaced by unknown persons, they behave as if the Yes campaign had ordered an official strike. When a mural depicting two men embracing was permitted on George Street in Dublin, they behaved as though the government was conspiring against them to give the Yes campaign more publicity.

In short, they are trying to pin the actions of some rogue vandals on the entire Yes campaign, as well as attempting to politicise the everyday culture and celebrations of the LGBT community. We, as gay people, feel that we can no longer hold hands in the street without having someone from the No side present to “give balance” to the situation. In the process of indignantly claiming their democratic rights, they’ve virtually censored our lives and personal histories.

Read on. And tell your friends.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Competing goods

May 15th, 2015 3:22 pm | By

A random tweet spotted in a crowd.

…liberalism is about individual liberty & free speech, not about authoritarian rules to protect sensibilities.

Classical liberalism is, but then that’s why classical liberalism by itself isn’t enough.

Or to put it another way, one thing I find increasingly repellent about some classical liberals is this disdain for other people’s “sensibilities” – this assumption that “sensibilities” is all they are, and that they’re kind of a joke. The tweeter checks most of the privilege boxes – male, pale, Anglo, straight, educated – so isn’t subject to the kind of social contempt that people who check fewer boxes may be.

Individual liberty and free speech are good, and so is equality.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

They used that wealth to send their children to college

May 15th, 2015 2:50 pm | By

More Richard Rothstein. NPR, Morning Edition, May 6.


Scenes of West Baltimore’s troubled neighborhoods do raise natural questions. One is why they seem heavily segregated generations after legal segregation ended.


Richard Rothstein studied that question. He’s with the Economic Policy Institute, and he says Baltimore neighborhoods reflect a national legacy of segregation. Generations ago, during President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, the federal government started subsidizing a lot of housing. But they did it a certain way.

RICHARD ROTHSTEIN: The New Deal was a coalition of Northern Democrats and Southern Democrats. The Southern Democrats were segregationist, and in many cases, the Northern Democrats compromised with them in order to get housing programs enacted.

Result: housing programs for white people.

INSKEEP: From the 1930s onward, white people moved into new houses. Many were in new suburbs like Levittown, N.Y. Black people got public housing apartments in the same center cities where they already lived. Decades later, there’s an enormous gap between the grandchildren of one group and the grandchildren of the other.

ROTHSTEIN: In 1947, when Levittown was first opened, homes were sold to white, working-class families for about $8,000 apiece. That is about $125,000 today. African-Americans were prohibited from buying into those developments, even though they had the economic means to do so.

Well, a half-century later, those homes are now selling for $500,000. They are no longer accessible for working-class families. We passed a law in 1968 saying that African-Americans now have the right to buy into Levittown. But giving them a right to buy into a place that’s no longer affordable when they could have bought into it when it was affordable had they been permitted to do so is not a very meaningful right. In that half-century, the white families, working-class families who moved into Levittown gained equity appreciation of perhaps 350-400,000 dollars. They used that wealth to send their children to college. They bequeathed it to their children and grandchildren.

African-Americans living in crowded central city areas were able to accumulate none of that wealth. As a result, today, nationwide, African-American wealth is 5 percent of white family wealth. That enormous difference is entirely attributable to federal housing policy, to suburbanize the white population and keep African-Americans in central cities.

Gruesome, isn’t it.The famous prosperity of the 50s and 60s was systematically confined to white people. I knew that, up to a point, but I didn’t know housing developments were racially exclusive. That’s all the more pathetic coming right after WW2.

INSKEEP: Now, help me connect this history to the news because we’ve been focused on Baltimore because of a police force that is accused of – well, a number of police officers are accused of killing a man, and we have reports of a pattern of this kind of abuse. What is the connection between historic housing segregation and historic wealth gaps and this kind of police behavior in a community?

ROTHSTEIN: Well, the police behavior is something that should be remedied. It’s a terrible criminal operation on the part of the police departments. But it doesn’t start with police departments. When you have a low-income population concentrated in the area, little hope, unemployment rates in places like inner city of Baltimore are two and three times the rate for whites, well, you get behavior in those kind of communities that reinforces police hostility. It becomes a cycle of misbehavior and police aggression, and it’s attributable to the concentration of disadvantaged families in very crowded inner-city communities.

And to the creation of the disadvantage itself. I didn’t know Levittown and Daly City were white-only, but I bet that’s not a secret to the people who were shut  out. Talk about white privilege…

ROTHSTEIN: Well, I do think that Americans have forgotten this history of a purposeful, racial segregation. You know, in 1970, during Richard Nixon’s first term, he had a secretary of housing and urban development, George Romney, the father of the recent presidential candidate. Romney said that the federal government has created a white noose around African-American communities in urban areas, and it was the federal government’s obligation to untie that noose. And he implemented a series of programs designed to force metropolitan areas to desegregate. He denied federal funds for sewers and for water projects to communities that didn’t take action to desegregate, and he actually denied federal funds to Baltimore County because it refused to desegregate its area.

Eventually, the Nixon administration reined him in. The program he was following was terminated. He was forced out [as] the secretary of housing and urban development, and we haven’t had anything that aggressive since. But we once knew, the American public knew, even moderate Republicans like George Romney knew that the federal government had established the segregation, and they understood it was a federal government obligation to undo it. But since that time, we’ve forgotten this history, and we think somehow these ghettos arose by accident and there’s nothing we can do about them to reverse the segregation.

Our glorious history.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The war against infidels

May 15th, 2015 12:11 pm | By

There’s a new audio message that IS says is from its beloved führer Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Whoever it is has a charmingly blunt message for those of us who decline to submit to Allah.

The speaker says: “There is no excuse for any Muslim not to migrate to the Islamic State… joining [its fight] is a duty on every Muslim. We are calling on you either to join or carry weapons [to fight] wherever you are.”

He adds: “Islam was never a religion of peace. Islam is the religion of fighting. No-one should believe that the war that we are waging is the war of the Islamic State. It is the war of all Muslims, but the Islamic State is spearheading it. It is the war of Muslims against infidels.”

So if we give in because of our terror, then we become obliged to join that war of Muslims against infidels. Until every last human on earth has surrendered to the poison, the war will continue.

Their god is a hideous god.

Also, they’re only a mile from Palmyra. That’s terrible news.

Rising out of the desert and flanked by an oasis, Palmyra contains the monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world, according to Unesco.

The site, most of which dates back to the 1st to the 2nd Century when the region was under Roman rule, is dominated by a grand, colonnaded street.

At the southern end of the 1.1km street is the great temple of Bel, considered one of the most important religious buildings of the 1st Century in the East and of unique design.

Syria’s director of antiquities, Maamoun Abdul Karim, said that if Palmyra were to fall to IS, it would be an “international catastrophe”.

File:The Scene of the Theater in Palmyra.JPG

Wikimedia commons

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

It was not the unintended effect of benign policies

May 15th, 2015 11:38 am | By

There was an exceptionally good interview on Fresh Air yesterday with Richard Rothstein, explaining the way ghettoization in the US was an official government policy, along with the fact that it fully accounts for the massive wealth gap – as distinct from income gap – between blacks and whites. Whites were able to buy cheap decent housing in the 40s and 50s while blacks were not, so that became the equity that is now the wealth that while people have while black people have 5% of that wealth. 5%.

5%. That’s a lot of university educations not paid for, houses not bought, equity not built.

Richard Rothstein, a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute, has spent years studying the history of residential segregation in America.

“We have a myth today that the ghettos in metropolitan areas around the country are what the Supreme Court calls ‘de-facto’ — just the accident of the fact that people have not enough income to move into middle class neighborhoods or because real estate agents steered black and white families to different neighborhoods or because there was white flight,” Rothstein tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross.

Or, at least, that it’s a mix of that and more deliberate causes. I think that’s what I thought. But whatever I thought, I did not know the scale of what Rothstein said.

“It was not the unintended effect of benign policies,” he says. “It was an explicit, racially purposeful policy that was pursued at all levels of government, and that’s the reason we have these ghettos today and we are reaping the fruits of those policies.”

They transcribed highlights.

On how the New Deal’s Public Works Administration led to the creation of segregated ghettos

Its policy was that public housing could be used only to house people of the same race as the neighborhood in which it was located, but, in fact, most of the public housing that was built in the early years was built in integrated neighborhoods, which they razed and then built segregated public housing in those neighborhoods. So public housing created racial segregation where none existed before. That was one of the chief policies.

That’s one. I did not know that. It’s so easy for me not to know it, isn’t it.

The second policy, which was probably even more effective in segregating metropolitan areas, was the Federal Housing Administration, which financed mass production builders of subdivisions starting in the ’30s and then going on to the ’40s and ’50s in which those mass production builders, places like Levittown [New York] for example, and Nassau County in New York and in every metropolitan area in the country, the Federal Housing Administration gave builders like Levitt concessionary loans through banks because they guaranteed loans at lower interest rates for banks that the developers could use to build these subdivisions on the condition that no homes in those subdivisions be sold to African-Americans.

And I did not know that. Holy shit. Daly City was another one, just south of San Francisco; all white, thank you very much. Those little houses in Levittown and Daly City? Worth a fortune now. Gee what a shame that African-Americans were never allowed to buy them when they were $10 k. Rothstein broke it down for us: at the time those houses were worth two years at an average wage. Now they’re worth seventy.

Another nice kicker? Rents were higher in black-segregated areas, because segregated housing was scarcer. Lose lose lose every way you turn.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

And all the women you’ve ever met

May 15th, 2015 9:35 am | By

Another CBC reporter offers some thoughts on “punch her right in the face fuck her right in the pussy.”

It was trending on Twitter across Canada Tuesday after it happened to a CityNews reporter outside of a Toronto FC game. Except once they yelled it into her microphone, Shauna Hunt fought back. She asked them why they did it. Now the video of her confronting them has gone viral.

Hunt told them it happens to her ten times per day and I don’t doubt it. My dad called me one evening from Manitoba because he’d seen it happen live on a broadcast — and he fumbled to explain what he heard before I cut him off and told him I knew what they said.

In the past year, it’s happened to me on College Avenue in Regina outside of Balfour Collegiate. It happened twice in one day as I tried to film promos outside of the Country Jamboree in Craven. It also happened to my male colleague, Adam Hunter, three times in one week while he covered a story at the Court of Queen’s Bench just last month. It’s happening all the time.

Remember “How do we beat the bitch?” Said to John McCain at a campaign event in 2007 – by a woman? This reminds me a little of that.

As with any job, there’s a lot of assumed ‘occupational hazards’ when you work as a reporter in the public eye and it does require a bit of a thick skin. You might be subject to unfriendly words from people who don’t like your news station, or the news station they think you’re from, or the news altogether.

I can take that.

But when people yell something vulgar, misogynistic and rude at me or into my microphone, I shouldn’t need to tell them it is unacceptable.

Shauna Hunt asked her hecklers what their mothers would think about them doing that. Please think about your mothers, sisters, friends and other women in your lives when you yell something that’s meant to degrade me, and all the women you’ve ever met.

My workplace is one of my favourite places in the world. Don’t subject me to sexual harassment while I’m doing my job.

Don’t do your bit to create the assumption that contempt for women is universal.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Guest post: A hotbed of apparently unthinking animal cruelty

May 15th, 2015 9:16 am | By

Originally a comment by latsot on Torturing animals, for instance, was just good clean fun.

For some reason the area I live in is a national blackspot for animal cruelty. People around here keep amassing vast collections of animals they can’t look after and then causing them to suffer until someone calls the RSPCA.

It’s a strange kind of cruelty. These people want the animals and presumably care about them in some sense…. but somehow don’t recognise that they’re harming them. Making them miserable. Ruining their health.

There’s a riding school close to my house. The horses look like they’re in good condition but the owner was found to have a dozen dogs in a cage, some of which were found eating the corpses of other dogs that had died from starvation and neglect.

There’s a kind of smallholding, again within half a mile of my house, which for some reason had lots of rare and very expensive goats. They were kept in abysmal conditions. Starving, riddled with painful disease, cruelly confined.

There’s an Iguana rescue centre a little further away. This is the North East of England. Iguanas are among the least likely animals to survive here if left to their own devices. Yet enough people buy them and release them into the wild to warrant an actual Iguana rescue centre. The staff told me that people find these iguanas roaming around and bring them into the centre. Iguanas are not like tortoises – natural escape artists – they aren’t getting out of someone’s house on their own.

I’ve no idea why the North East – and particularly this little part of the North East – is such a hotbed of apparently unthinking animal cruelty, but it is. Drives me crazy that my neighbours are apparently all the time torturing animals and presumably thinking it’s acceptable behaviour.

I felt guilty that one time I overslept and gave my cat her breakfast an hour late.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Guest post: Again the feeling is revulsion

May 15th, 2015 9:10 am | By

Guest post by Michael Šimková, originally a comment on the Facebook autopost of the Torturing animals, for instance, was just good clean fun post; published with permission.

Very interesting discussion. I am not sure what to think about it myself. It does worry me a lot. I believe we won’t survive if we don’t change ourselves to be non-violent, and probably this will require some genetic tinkering. Even if we could survive it is not very pleasant to live in this world of… er… angry chimps.

When I was younger I think in some sense I was more empathic than now, or applied it more universally. I fought my cousin because she cut up live earthworms to see if they would regrow. When there was a mouse in the house my gran boiled up a pot of water to throw on it to kill it, and when I realised what she intended to do I literally flung myself between the mouse and her to stop it. She very nearly threw the water on me. I screamed at a group of four older boys who otherwise intimidated me for thoughtlessly stepping on a caterpillar, even somehow made them carry it around in an attempt at performing ‘intensive care’.

As I got older I think I’ve progressively become desensitised, less inclusive. I’ll smush insects. I do still get the funny feeling, “I’ve ended this little thing’s experiences.” But I do it anyway. I would still try to stop anyone burning a mouse to death, but I doubt I’d fling myself into the path of oncoming boiling water like when I was 6. I certainly wouldn’t start a fight over an earthworm, though I still hate the thought of cutting one up. And of course I have to relativise. “That’s gruesome, but so many random experiences of this world are.” I didn’t relativise as a child because I didn’t know enough.

I’ve noticed at work with my colleagues we play a sort of self-mocking coy game if there is pesky bug around. Who will be the beast who smushes it, and who will feign the moral high ground? You mention revulsion as a factor in stopping violence, but I think it is also precisely our revulsion that often fuels it. It is considered normal to feel revulsion at insects, even those whose presence is benign. It is not considered normal now to feel revulsion at a dog – though some people do anyway. And batterers report feelings of revulsion toward the people they batter. The coy game with the bug is that whoever is overcome first by her revulsion is the ‘beast’ who eliminates the pest for us and we pretend to have nothing to do with such a thing, but are actually relieved and obviously enabling it. The revulsion is the trigger.

I also remember that when I was young, if I got angry or felt put upon, I was much more volatile, and more liable to forego empathy. I could throw myself in front of boiling water to protect a mouse, but if the mouse bit me I might be angry enough to want to hurt it back. As I’ve gotten older I’ve repressed or rationalised that desire away for anything but the worst atrocities. You know, the thing bit me, but it doesn’t even know any better, it’s just anxious, makes no sense to be angry at it. So and so hurt me but it would just bring more suffering to retaliate, better to find a way out of the situation. Things like that, I am much better older. I suppose that is what Janet L. Factor calls the influence of civilisation. Yet instinctive empathising with an earthworm, I was better at younger.

I’ve met people who put mice in microwaves for fun and they joke about it, and laugh about it. It’s funny to them. The suffering of the mouse and my own horror at their telling of it seemed equally amusing to them. That does make me desire to hurt them back, ironically, deep down. Again the feeling is revulsion.

I’ve no doubt a large part of it is learned. My grandmother for example was raised in a culture in which it simply was taken for granted that animals have no feelings. I think she saw them as philosophical zombies. They moved, seemingly with purpose, but were empty inside to her. She believed I was crazy for attributing complex emotions to the dog, while I believed she was blind for not perceiving them. I wonder though if the ability to empathise is a separate thing from sadism, and if revulsion doesn’t play a role in wanting to cause harm rather than wanting to avoid it.

These are just meandering thoughts. I really don’t have a clear picture of any of it.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Non una frustata di più

May 14th, 2015 6:17 pm | By

I did my Freethinker column about the death toll from theocratic murderers over the past few months. It’s not a very cheerful story.

Here’s Amnesty Italy, resisting the trend:

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)


May 14th, 2015 5:29 pm | By

An NPR story from 2011:

During the Holocaust, Nazis referred to Jews as rats. Hutus involved in the Rwanda genocide called Tutsis cockroaches. Slave owners throughout history considered slaves subhuman animals. In Less Than Human, David Livingstone Smith argues that it’s important to define and describe dehumanization, because it’s what opens the door for cruelty and genocide.

“We all know, despite what we see in the movies,” Smith tells NPR’s Neal Conan, “that it’s very difficult, psychologically, to kill another human being up close and in cold blood, or to inflict atrocities on them.” So, when it does happen, it can be helpful to understand what it is that allows human beings “to overcome the very deep and natural inhibitions they have against treating other people like game animals or vermin or dangerous predators.”

Yes, but I think it can also be helpful to understand what it is that allows human beings to overcome the at least somewhat natural (in my view) inhibitions they have against treating sentient animals like…cartoon characters. Killing an animal quickly in order to eat it is one thing and torturing it for fun is quite another.

Human beings have long conceived of the universe as a hierarchy of value, says Smith, with God at the top and inert matter at the bottom, and everything else in between. That model of the universe “doesn’t make scientific sense,” says Smith, but “nonetheless, for some reason, we continue to conceive of the universe in that fashion, and we relegate nonhuman creatures to a lower position” on the scale.

Yes but we don’t want to torment sentient animals (in my view) even if we do see them as lower on a hierarchy of value, at least most of us don’t. We may want to use them and be indifferent to whatever discomfort and fatigue that costs them, but that’s some steps away from deliberately tormenting them.

Don’t mind me; I’m just collecting material.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)


May 14th, 2015 5:12 pm | By

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

This fuss ordered by some liberals

May 14th, 2015 5:03 pm | By

In Chechnya

A journalist has left the southern Russian republic of Chechnya amid fears for her safety, after writing that a teenage girl was being forced to marry a police commander much older than her.

Elena Milashina had written that the local police head, Nazhud Guchigov, had threatened reprisals against the girl’s family if she was not handed over.

The police commander was also said to be married to another woman.

Ms Milashina’s newspaper said she fled after her safety was threatened.

That’s an interesting style of “police head.” Sounds more like a crime boss.

Chechnya’s authoritarian leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a diehard loyalist of President Vladimir Putin, has in recent years outlawed the abduction of brides and underage marriage.

Although polygamy is banned under Russian law, reports say the Chechen leader is in favour of it.

He took to his Instagram account on Thursday to criticise Russian media coverage of “this fuss ordered by some liberals”.

“The girl’s parents gave their blessing to this marriage,” he claimed, arguing that reports to the contrary were filled with lies.

That’s nice, but what about the girl herself? She’s not a power tool, to be loaned back and forth as long as the owner is happy with the arrangement.

Elena Milashina was said to have visited the girl’s village of Baytarki on Thursday, but then left Chechnya after being warned by police officers from Siberia of a potential threat to her safety from Chechen police.

The Chechen interior ministry said it was “extremely surprised” by the alleged threat and accused the reporter of acting provocatively by entering people’s homes in the village.

Right. Just the way Avijit Roy and Washiqur Rahman and Ananta Bijoy Das “acted provocatively” by writing down their opinions about religion. How dare a journalist go to a place and talk to people there?

Oh well, I’m sure the police chief deserves a nice tight teenager.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Even placing it on signs

May 14th, 2015 1:52 pm | By

Mediaite also wrote about Shauna Hunt’s encounter with the pussy-fanciers, with some new (to me) information.

Last fall, female journalists at the CBC penned an op-ed calling for the end of “FHRITP” pranks, calling them “violent and offensive” and saying those who engage in them suggest “that a woman who is doing what can be a pretty serious and intellectually rigorous job can be reduced to simply a sexual object which can be taken at will.”

Of course, less than four months later, a man pretending to be a Delta passenger did just that to none other than MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell.

How did I miss this for so long?!

So, back to November last year.

Even though the first one was a hoax, the phrase “fuck her right in the pussy” has turned into a meme in and of itself, with people shouting it during news broadcasts, in the middle of sports broadcasts, even placing it on signs.

However, they’ve also screamed the phrase at female journalists, two of whom spoke out today against the prank, calling it unoriginal and threatening towards women.

Reporter Morgan Dunlop wrote an op-ed for the CBC, which tastefully edited the phrase to “FHRITP”, arguing that it intimidated women and would hurt their careers:

You are not advancing an organic movement. You are copying what one guy set up as a spoof. We can see your face and hear your voice and so can your girlfriend, your sister, your mother, your daughter.

It’s not funny. It makes women feel uncomfortable. You make women feel uncomfortable.

But that of course is the goal. That’s what makes it “funny.”

The op-ed for the CBC seems to be the video I posted yesterday, of several reporters including one man saying what a crappy idea the whole thing is.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Red shirt

May 14th, 2015 12:34 pm | By

Stewart on Facebook:

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The government is very busy with something else for the foreseeable future

May 14th, 2015 11:21 am | By

The Hindu reports on anger at the inaction of the Bangladesh government over this string of public murders.

The hacking of another blogger-activist to death in Bangladesh has set off a storm of criticism against Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, with noted author Taslima Nasreen saying people had “given up any expectation” that she would act against the killers.

In an exclusive interview to The Hindu, Ms. Nasreen said the “killings prove that the Hasina government isn’t taking action against the groups that are targeting them because of votes. The government thinks if it arrests them they will be considered anti-Islam.”

While much of Mr. Das’ work was on scientific theories of evolution, he had also written a poem eulogising Ms. Nasreen recently, in which he had praised her for “not compromising on feminist principles” despite death threats issued against her over two decades.

Protesting the murder, activists of Shahbagh Gonojagoron Mancha, the group Mr. Das headed, took out a procession and held a rally at Dhaka’s Shahbagh. They also condemned the repeated killings of the bloggers and free thinkers and blamed the murder on the government’s failure to arrest attackers and hold trials.

And the government looked fixedly in another direction.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Suchitra Bhattacharya

May 14th, 2015 10:56 am | By

An important Bengali writer died (of natural causes) on Tuesday. The Times of India reports:

Famed Bengali writer Suchitra Bhattacharya died at her south Kolkata residence late on Tuesday night following a cardiac arrest, family members and the attending doctor said. Bhattacharya, 65, left behind a daughter.

One of the most popular and powerful novelists of contemporary Bengali literature, Bhattacharya dwelt on contemporary social issues mainly affecting the urban middle class which she analysed with an open mind, almost putting the reader before a mirror.

Her pen also highlighted the pains and sufferings of women in contemporary society, and brought out the decadence in the moral fibre in an era of globalisation and crass commercialism.

Her novel “Dahana” (Charred) dissected the trauma, social ostracism and helplessness of a rape victim, that was made into a memorable film of the same name by Rituparno Ghosh.

Among her other novels are “Kachher Manush” (Close to Me), “Kacher Dewal” (Wall of Glass),Hemonter Pakhi (Bird of Autumn), Aleek Shukh (Heavenly happiness), Gabhir Ashukh (A Grave Illness)

Bhattacharya’s creations have been translated into a number of Indian languages like Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam,Oriya, Marathi, Gujarati, Punjabi and English.

Premankur Biswas takes a closer look at five of her novels.

When The Indian Express approached veteran Bengali writer Suchitra Bhattacharya to be a part of a panel to choose best young writers in vernacular literature a few years ago, she took it upon herself to introduce us to the works of the new generation of Bengali writers like Sangita Bandyopadhyay and Tilottama Majumdar. She spoke at length about the genesis of feminist writing in Bengal, the contribution of Ashapurna Debi and Mahasweta Debi, but she never mentioned her sizeable contribution to the cause. She was too humble to do that. The truth is that the women of modern Bengal, the young divorcee from Siliguri, the single mother from Patuli, the homemaker from Burdwan, the ageing widow from Ballygunj, they all owe a lot to Suchitra Bhattacharya. Through her novels, Suchitra Bhattacharya documented their realities, their aspirations and their silences.

Dahan primarily talks about a real-life incident that rocked Kolkata in early 1990s- the molestation of a housewife in the middle of a busy south Kolkata intersection and the subsequent intervention of a young school teacher who tries to bring the perpetrators to the book. But Dahan is much more than that. It gleans out prejudices in the urban, middle-class Bengali society through the tribulations faced by the two protagonists, Jhinuk and Romita. But the character that stays with you is the taciturn, idealistic Thammi, Jhinuk’s fiercely independent septuagenarian grandmother. It was later made into an award-winning film by Rituparno Ghosh.

Clearly a major loss.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Torturing animals, for instance, was just good clean fun

May 14th, 2015 10:21 am | By

How does cruelty and sadism get normalized?

Another passage from the “Humanitarian Revolution” chapter of Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature

Warning: torture, again

But the practical function of cruel punishments was just a part of their appeal. Spectators enjoyed cruelty, even when it served no judicial purpose. Torturing animals, for instance, was just good clean fun.

In 16th-century Paris, a popular form of entertainment was cat-burning,


in which a cat was hoisted in a sling on a stage and slowly lowered into a fire. [p 145]

He goes on, but I yanked my eyes away after the first words; no way I’m going to type them.

Yet people watched it for amusement.

How does this work?

On me it produces a visceral, unavoidable flinching, accompanied by some mild shock-like symptoms.

Now, I’m not a particularly delicate flower. I’m not reporting my reaction to boast of my great sensitivity, because I don’t think my level of sensitivity is at all unusual. I think it’s just normal.

I’ve tried mentally substituting a less charismatic animal, but it doesn’t make much difference.

The explanation is reasonably clear in the case of psychopaths, but they’re a small minority, so that doesn’t help.

There are explanations of how it works when people have to do it in one sense or another – at gunpoint or because they’re part of a disciplined organization and the like, but that doesn’t explain recreational torture-spectating.

I’ve never understood the appeal of bullfights and dog fights and cock fights.

I don’t understand how people can hack a helpless unarmed human being to death with machetes.

I don’t know how this works.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)


May 13th, 2015 5:48 pm | By

City News put together a collection of tv reporters talking about the “Fuck her right in the pussy” harassment they get. There are several women and even one man.

It’s such a peculiar phrase. It sounds like “punch her right in the mouth,” not like anything erotic. I guess that’s the point – it combines punch her right in the mouth with the sexual (but definitely not erotic) note. It does make you think…because it’s so hostile, and so obviously hostile, yet these shits say they think it’s funny. Why is hostility to women so normalized? Why is it so normalized that twisted fucks actually think it’s funny? Why would it be funny? If people kept shouting “kick him right in the head” at male reporters would anyone see it as funny? Would it become funny if it were “kick him right in the balls”? It wouldn’t, would it; it would just be weird. But shouting “Fuck her right in the pussy” at women doing their jobs, that’s seen as funny.

It’s bizarre. I’ll never understand it.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Guest post: The way women are socialized to put up with endless crap

May 13th, 2015 3:03 pm | By

Originally a comment on Oh but it’s so hilarious.

Shawn Simoe, the now ex-Hydro One assistant network engineer (he was paid $106,510 last year; hardly the wage of a peon, stevewatson), is perfectly free to engage in whatever manner of behaviour, public or otherwise, that he wishes, but cannot reasonably expect to do so without risk of negative consequence.

The fact that this apparently didn’t occur to him or his buddies before engaging in on-air sexual harrassment apologetics speaks volumes about the way women are socialized to put up with endless crap in the interest of “getting along” or “being nice” or “having a sense of humour”.

No one, not Hydro One or any other employer, is obligated to employ someone so lacking in judgment or knowledge of acceptable social behaviour as this guy apparently is; as someone pointed out upthread, his unrepentant public behaviour suggests he’s a sexual harassment lawsuit waiting to happen.

More background on the FHRITP meme; according to Mediaite, it started as a hoax by some sleazy guy trying to start a meme in order to sell t-shirts.

(don’t read the comments; it’s full of people insisting it’s hilarious, free speech, people complaining suck the fun out of life, defense of liberty, etc., etc.)

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

How to talk to women

May 13th, 2015 11:28 am | By

Say what?

A blog post by Lilly Rockwell at the Austin Statesman (Austin, Texas, this is).

The newly-elected 10-member City Council, plus the mayor, is the first majority female City Council in Austin’s history, with seven women and four men.

But apparently this represented such a huge change in governance that the city manager’s office thought the city staff who regularly interact with the City Council needed extra training – in the form of a two-hour training session in March with two speakers from Florida – on how to talk to a female-dominated City Council after decades of rule by men.

How…to…talk? Because what, they would all probably burst into tears? Give birth? Pass out Tampax samples?

The first speaker was Jonathan K. Allen, who was a city manager of the relatively small Lauderdale Lakes, Florida. Allen was considered an expert in this field because his local city commission was all-female.

Well thank god they called in a man who is an expert on the subject. Naturally it’s only men who are intelligent and thoughtful enough to probe this difficult issue. Remind him to put the gloves on.

His advice included:

  • Women ask lots of questions. He learned a valuable lesson on communicating with women from his 11-year-old daughter, who peppered him with questions while they were on the way to volleyball. “In a matter of 15 seconds, I got 10 questions that I had to patiently respond to,” Allen said. Allen says female City Council members are less likely to read agenda information and instead ask questions. He says it’s tempting to just tell them to read the packet, but “my daughter taught me the importance of being patient” even when they may already know the answer to the question.
  • Women don’t want to deal with numbers. Allen said in his city they used to have background information and financial analysis on the front pages of agenda forms. Allen says he normally would have presented the financial argument, but that his female commissioners would balk and say “Mr. Manager, I don’t want to hear about the financial argument, I want to hear about how this impacts the whole community.” He said that it may make good financial sense, but if he wants to get the votes, he has to present his arguments “in a totally different way.”

And again I say, thank god they got an expert. Imagine, a non-expert would have no idea how to extrapolate from a conversation with his daughter to all women everywhere. That takes years and years of training.

The city also brought along Dr. Miya Burt-Stewart, who owns a business development and marketing firm, to offer some training, and her session touched on the “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” philosophy:

  • Openly acknowledge gender differences. Burt-Stewart says the author of the “Men are from Mars” book says men act on facts, women act on emotion. She also share such insights such as “Men have egos, women have wish lists,” and that men are more likely to use a “dominating” management style than women, who use a “compromising” style. Men think women ask too many questions, Burt-Stewart said, and women often don’t feel included. Men like acknowledgement, women want to be part of a team. Men, typically, communicate less often than females, she said.

Men like to shout “fuck her right in the pussy!” on the street, and women like not to be shouted at on the street. I can expert too.

But after watching this training session (you can watch the video of the session yourselfhere), I couldn’t help but wonder: Is it sexist to make these generalizations about women, or is there something to the idea that women do process decisions differently?

I reached out to Emily Amanatullah, who studies gender issues and is an assistant professor of management at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas, to help sort this out. “At the outset, it definitely feels archaic, like ‘The women are usually in the kitchen, how do we deal with them now that they have power,’ ” Amanatullah said. “It does reek of old norms and often it’s called benevolent sexism – they are not putting women down, but they are in a way.”

And she said it’s basically bullshit – I mean, she said there’s not much research that etc etc etc. On the other hand there’s one thing –

Amanatullah did agree with one point that Allen made – women do tend to ask more questions. There is research that indicates that women communicate differently, and they are less likely to assert themselves in a group context or meeting, and are more likely to ask a question “as a way to get their voice heard. in a non-threatening, non-aggressive way,” she said.

Hey, you know what? Maybe just maybe that’s nothing to do with What Makes Women So Weird but is rather that getting constantly talked over and interrupted at best, and put down hard at worst, trains women to find ways to get a motherfucking word in edgewise.

Also, asking more questions is a good thing, and it’s certainly a huge improvement on people who make confident assertions without having a clue what the hell they’re talking about.

Or maybe that’s just me. That was your seminar in how to talk to me for today.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)