Monday, December 26, 2005

Democracy and Environment in China, pt. 1

In Mao's War Against Nature (2001) Judith Shapiro argues that elements of society generally associated with democracy, including intellectual freedom, political participation, government accountability and transparency, and local self governance, lead to good environmental policy, while coercion and authoritarian centralization lead to environmental damage. We read Shapiro’s book last semester in my environmental class, along with a patchwork of a book by Vaclav Smil called China’s Past, China’s Future: Energy, Food, Environment (2005). I used the two books together to pose the question “What mechanisms allowed Mao to completely destroy the environment in China?” Shapiro’s account emphasizes the authoritarian nature of the Mao era, whereas Smil’s account puts more blame on the lack of private property and ensuing tragedy of the commons.

Many, many events in China right now are testing these hypotheses. I wasn’t able to cover them during the semester, other than a quick note about the wave of land-rights riots that has gripped China recently, but I hope to start tracking more of them now. This is a good time to do it, because the Chinese environmental situation is starting to get attention from the American media.

Yesterday’s NYT features another important story in this area. The central government of China is planning a new mega hydropower project: 13 dams to be built along the Nu ("Angry") River in Yunan province. The project would generate more electricity than the current record holder for hydroelectric production, China’s own Three Gorges Dam, helping the nation move away from the dreadful coal power it currently depends on. But it would rip apart Yunan province, which holds most of China’s biological, ethnic, and linguistic diversity. The area is a mountainous, temperate rainforest filled with endangered species and odd ethnic groups who have had little contact with the industrialized world.

But the story is really interesting because of the democratic element. The Communist Party originally wanted to build this dam the same way they built the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangze and before that the Sanmenxia Dam on the Yellow River, that is, they wanted to just march in, announce to everyone that they had to leave and then build the damn thing, regardless of who it hurt, or even whether the dam itself would actually do the job it promised to do. The human cost of the Three Gorges Dam--1.3 million people displaced and countless historical sites lost--is infamous. The Mao-era Sanmenxia Dam quickly became jammed with silt, and could not produce electricity. More gates were constructed to channel off the silt but, as Shapiro reports, “Eventually the dam was so pierced with holes that it became virtually worthless for either flood control or electricity generation” (2001, 63).

The Nu Dam may have been heading the way of its infamous predecessors, but small openings in the dictatorship may block this. China now allows nongovernmental organizations, including environmental ones, and a new law, the China Environmental Impact Assessment Law, was passed in 2002, which requires public hearings and environmental assessments of all major building projects. When Friends of Nature and other Chinese Environmental NGOs started questioning the dam, the project was suspended and an environmental assessment ordered. The victory was only partial, however, as the assessment has never been declassified, and the project remains in limbo.

The Times’ piece pitches this as a story about the growth of civil society in China, rather than a story about the environmental dilemmas China faces. The story is a part of an extended series about the growth of rule of law in China. Government and business in China has been conducted for decades mostly via personal relationships and networking. Many foreign investors are hoping that the industrialization of China will replace this uncertain culture of “face” with a system of explicit regulations consistently applied, something you can build a business plan around. Hence the question: will China obey its own laws and hold public hearings around the Nu dam.

I suppose some environmentalists would prefer to see this simply as a story of a partial victory over an evil dam. Sometimes it seems that environmentalists must automatically be opposed to building dams, the way that we are automatically in favor of fuel efficiency standards and a robust national park system. But let's face it, this is terribly short sighted. Hydro power is clean, and despite rhetoric about rivers running wild and free, it beats the shit out China’s main energy source, coal. The air in Chinese cities is simply Dickensian. Smil notes that many years the mean daily concentration of particulate matter exceeds recommended daily maxima in many cities (2005, 16). That's right: on the average day it is too polluted to go outside. Moreover, the system of dams being built on the Nu sounds like the sort of project that people were proposing as an alternative to hubristic mega projects like the Three Gorges and Sanmenxia dams. It is a system of smaller interventions, rather than a big, Soviet-inspired monument plopped down in the middle of a river.

For this reason, I think The Times took exactly the right angle on the story. I don’t know whether the Nu river dams should be built, nor do I particularly feel like I should tell the Chinese how to manage their rivers. But I am obligated to give support to the democratic process here. A major reason why the Sanmenxia dam was such a fuck-up was that Mao silences all of the experts who tried to warn him that the dam would not work. Shapiro tells the story of Hydro-Engineer Huang Wanli, who warned that the Sanmenxia dam would silt up. The incident was a nasty case of Lysenkoism that some contemporary world leaders should pay attention to. Mao claimed that Marxist ideology disproved any scientific objection to his plan, and Huang replied that he “could not simply order the sun to orbit the earth” (Shapiro 2001, 60). His ideas were repressed and he was sent to be reeducated in a labor camp. The dam silted up in three years.

I am in no position to assess the Nu river project, and I doubt any of my 50 or so readers are either. However I am quite certain that no one, not even the people involved in the project can know anything about it, unless it is subject to proper public debate. (Declassifying the environmental impact statement would be a start.) Without that, at most all one can have is true belief about the project.

Shapiro’s thesis--that features of civil society associated with democracy are good for the environment--suffers from an ambiguity: “good for the environment” is simply never defined. As an environmental philosopher, I can assure you that it is no easy phrase to define, either. I am certain of two things about the good of the environment, however. A good environment is one that is just for the humans that live in it. The burdens of pollution and environmental degradation must be shared justly across a society. If some are to be displaced so that all can have cleaner air, this must because this is the fairest distribution of environmental goods. I am also sure of a second fact about the environmental good: we won’t know what it is unless we approach it with all the tools of good science. Both of these facts tell me that the aspects of civil society associated with democracy are not only good for the environment, they are actually constitutive of it. We just wouldn’t call it a healthy environment if it weren’t managed by other means.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

the grandparental bounty

Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

Caroline got a pink tutu that plays The Nutcracker Suite through tiny speakers when she moves. She also got a toy screw gun with different bits and a plastic car she can disassemble.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

a small, vague bird.

Joey is still sick. The doctor has given us a device called a "nebulizer" to use on him. Molly assures me that the nebulizer is not designed to make our child more nebulous, but I am unsure. He seems a little bit more…indistinct these days. Also, because he is on antibiotics, he has come down with thrush, which I know for sure is a small bird. Apparently my child is turning into a small, vague bird. I’ll keep you updated.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


The problem with having a lot of time to finish your grading is that the grading expands to fill the time you have.

Good sentence from a student paper

Regarding Socrates insistance to people like Euthyphro and Meno that a good definition is not a list of examples, a student writes
If Euthyphro said something along the lines of, “Piety can only be defined as this unseen form in which everything ‘real’ participates in”, then Socrates would agree with him100% and walk away actually having less of an idea of what piety is because of the lack of examples from Euthyphro.
This is actually from much earlier in the semester. I'm only revisting it now because I need to compare drafts of a paper.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Grading the CBL reflection papers

Grading has been going slowly, largely because the children are sick, and I haven't been able to get away from the house much. I have learned, however, that grading is actually less stressful than dealing with a cranky, feverish 3 year old who throws floor tantrums at the mere mention of Daddy leaving the house.

In any case, I just finally read the reflection papers from the Community Based Learning project in my environmental class, and I wanted to post some about the feedback I have received, if only for use as notes to myself.

The feedback was almost all positive, but as usual, the positive feedback was not nearly as educational as the negative feedback. The nicest bit of positive feedback came from the student who said "It is assignments like this that keep me in school." For the most part, though, the compliments were the ones I expected. Working with organic farmers gave students the chance to see the interaction between agriculture and the environment in person. One student noted that working with the Bennetts was especially useful for understanding an ethic of stewardship, a point which made it into one of his papers as well. Also, everyone loves working with Dulli from Birdsfoot. She is truly an inspiration for how to live a happy, harmonious life. You can get a good sense of what it is like to work with Dulli from student journal entries, such as this nice one by Caitlin.

But there are still problems, both philosophical and practical. On the practical level we simply aren't organized enough to get students enrolled and out with the community partners for all the hours we are expecting of them. There are serious problems with delegating authority. Students were not clear who was in charge of what--me, Brenda or Elizabeth. I was only supposed to deal with the educational aspects of this, but I didn't even know where to refer students when more logistical questions came up. It is easy to blame student irresponsibility when commitments aren't met, but we should look at our own practices too. Example: Am I going to get CBL partner feedback forms before Christmas? They are supposed to be a part of the grade.Update: feedback forms received.

A more serious philosophical problem is that most of the actual day to day work is not directly related to the course. While students liked seeing real farms at work, spending several hours planting garlic didn't contribute to the experience. One student noted that he learned as much from the one day field trip to the Greenwood farm as he did from the entire placement at Bittersweet. Right now, I wish I could use the CBL resources to arrange more field trips like that, rather than doing as much community placement.

Of course, we all have this intuition that physical labor, in the right context, is redemptive. So is helping people out. There ought to be something about going and physically helping people that is educational. Most of the time, though, physical labor is just physical labor. And working on a farm can seem to students like a Maoist reeducation camp. It doesn't help that the university actually does use community service as a form of punishment. One of my students was unable to complete her CBL requirement because she also had to follow the SLU grounds crew around as punishment for some minor dorm-room infraction. In general, I'm finding that that school's heavy handed approach to discipline often conflicts with its educational goals without actually solving the perennial problems it is supposed to address, like undergraduate binge drinking.

Friday, December 16, 2005

more on the difference between speech and action

One of the ways I've been avoiding grading is by engaging in a heated debate at Bitch PhD about sex work. Someone named sam has been presenting some very good arguments against legalizing prostitution, based on the lack of real autonomy of most prostitutes. But she also wants to extend this argument to cover all sex work. This strikes me as wrong. My most recent reply relates to things that I said about hate speech and the Mirecki case, so I thought I would reprint it here.


Do your comments also apply to pornography that is only text? or comic book pornography? Anime? What about pornography where the sex is only simulated? or where people simply pose nude?

I will, at least for the sake of argument, classify pornography where real people perform real sex acts as prostitution. I could see, plausibly, regulating them like prostitution. A law against paying for someone to be sexually penetrated, either on film or in person, makes sense to me.

But if you start regulating imagined or simulated sex acts, you are...well for starters you are confusing representations for reality, which is always troubling. But more importantly, you are beginning to regulate people's very thoughts and the way they express them.

There is a parallel here to the debate over hate speech. In an article I regularly assign when I teach hate speech and free speech, a proponent of hate speech regulation says that to him, words of hate aren't words, they're bullets. To this, the author of the article replies: no words are words and bullets are bullets. It is important to know the difference.

And it is. Look, the whole reason humans have this capacity for imagination is that it allows us to consider courses of action without having to do them. We can make mistakes and learn from them without actually getting ourselves or any one else getting hurt. And when i say "the whole reason" I mean that in a very concrete, evolutionary sense. That is why the capacity for imagination was selected for in our species. Now I know evolution can be a lazy and cruel designer, but in this case it did something right and good. We have a tool that lets us experience freely without the consequences of physical experience. Let's fucking honor that.

I dunno if a little paean to the imagination is what people expect here, but it seems right to me. One of the most annoying errors in reasoning, and the one that I see at work most often in seriously askew thinking is mistaking a representation of reality for reality itself.

What is to be done?

9 dialogues (with perhaps 2 more filtering in)
1 character sketch (with perhaps 1 more filtering in)
13 portfolios (with perhaps 31 more filtering in)
21 16 papers
Check for updates on the discussion board

Environment east and west

54 final papers (with perhaps 2 more filtering in)
6 portfolios and CBL papers (with perhaps 21 more filtering in)
An old paper from midsemester
Check for updates on the discussion board

2 Finals (with perhaps 1 more filtering in)

Independent study
1 big huge final paper.

In which I emit a high pitched whine

I am not going to finish all this grading before Christmas. I fell too far behind during the semester. Each time I get through a stack of papers, a student walks into my office and turns in another project. Who told them to do that? Me? Why did I do that?

Molly is having a rough day with the kids. We got so much ice last night I was actually frozen out of my car. I had to walk to school. (Uphill, both ways.) I feel completely exhausted, even though I got a good 9 hours of sleep last night, with only one major interruption.

Aargh. Gark. Grrr. . asdkfdhhwud. slkjsljksljk.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The continuing assault on academic freedom

After Paul Mirecki offered a course which lumped intelligent design in with other religious mythologies, he was beaten by two strangers who felt he was hostile to Christianity. Since then, he has had to step down as chair of his department. The police, alegedly investigating the crime against Mirecki, have confiscated his car and his computer. The Chancellor of his university called some of the statements he made about his course "vile." The right half of the internet is convinced that he beat himself up, their only evidence being that in the past in an unrelated case another academic vandalized her own car and blamed fundamentalists.

What has Mirecki done to earn all this abuse? His statements about intelligent design are simply fact: It is a mythology and not science. His ire toward fundamentalist Christianity is widely shared amongst academics, and indeed almost everyone who is not a fundamentalist themselves.

At this point I feel simply obligated to repeat the things that Mirecki has said, as a gesture of solidarity and because I think they are true:

Fundamentalist Christianity is irrational, bordering on being a form of group insanity. It promotes violence and intolerance. In this respect, it is no different than fundamentalist Islam. While I may have to tolerate the expression of intolerant views, I do not have to pretend I believe they are benign or a purely private matter.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Stupid autocratic environmental policy in China leads to protest, at least 20 dead

One of the stories that has been flying just beneath the media radar these days is the wave of protest against the Chinese government from rural areas. I was aware of it, but never chose to investigate, because, well you know. Now it has bubbled to the front page of the New York Times.

Villagers in the town of Dongzhou, near Hong Kong in the industrial southeast of China, were protesting the construction of a coal-fired power plant wind farm.(see update) China gets most of its power from coal, which has created a thick, Dickensian haze over the southeast region. Protesters feared more air polution, and were also mad that the plan required filling in a part of the bay where many made their living as fishermen. The villagers used fireworks as a part of their protest. "The kind that fly up into the sky," a witness explained. Nevertheless when the fireworks went off, the police appear to have rioted, fireing automatic weapons into the crowd. At least 20 are dead, and fifty are missing.

The times reports that there have been 74,000 riots in rural areast this year, generallay around environmental issues.
Like the Dongzhou incident itself, most of the thousands of riots and public disturbances recorded in China this year have involved environmental, property rights and land use issues. Among other problems, in trying to come to grips with the growing rural unrest, the Chinese government is wrestling with a yawning gap in incomes between farmers and urban dwellers, and rampant corruption in local government, where unaccountable officials deal away communal property rights, often for their own profit.

Finally, mobile telephone technology has made it easier for people in rural China to organize, communicating news to one another by short messages, and increasingly allowing them to stay in touch with members of non-governmental organizations in big cities who are eager to advise them or provide legal help.

Other fun Chinese environmental news include 100 tons of benzene spilled into the Songhua river and a mine explosion that left 134 dead.

Update: It wasn't a coal plant, it was a wind farm, which makes the whole thing more interesting. Villagers are protesting all development projects where their land is siezed and livelihood disrupted (understandably). I will have to blog more about the relationship between democracy and environmentalism soon.

Rejection Number Two

Dear Applicant,

The search committee has now reviewed the 7 million applications for our available position of Junior Adjunct Professor of Spit. We received many fine applications. Unfortunately, yours was not among them. Here's hoping you enroll in one of those government programs where they pay you not to work.


The Job People

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

What is professionalism?

Here's another case of a blogger being punished because his blog was considered "unprofessional": a Marquette dental student has been suspended and forced to take a semester over because of remarks on his blog about unnamed teachers and students. The article only mentions a few examples of his remarks. At one point he calls someone "a (expletive) of a teacher." (The expletive was redacted by the newspaper or someone earlier in the chain of transmission of this quotation, not me.) At another point he revels in a display of incompetence by a student he dislikes.

Let’s look at the remarks themselves before we get to the deeper issue here. The first remark probably isn’t even an insult. Odds are that the redacted expletive is “fuck” and “a fuck of a teacher” is a compliment. I would be overjoyed if any of my students called me a fuck of a teacher on their blog. The second remark expresses an ignoble feeling, but a commonplace one. I myself have written and recorded an entire song about workplace schadenfreude (mp3).

So we know already that the blog is hardly controversial. But there is a deeper issue here. The student was called "unprofessional." Does this raise a higher standard? If the Ivan Tribbles of the world are to be believed, having a personal blog at all is unprofessional. What's really going on here?

A job becomes a profession when its practitioners decide that even though what they do has a profound impact on others, they ought to regulate themselves because they feel that others do not have the expertise to regulate them well. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, and engineers are all good examples of professions in this sense. These are people laymen have to trust because we don't have the knowledge to evaluate what they do, except in the most general way.

The ability to regulate yourself in such a sensitive position is a right that must be earned. It is earned by regulating yourself well. The first rule of regulating yourself well is not to betray the trust of your client by having a secret conflict of interest. (I use "client" to cover "patient" and "student" as well.) This is why the first rule of professional codes since the Hippocratic Oath has been not to have sex with clients. The second rule is to do your job well. Keep your skills up to date. Don't slack off because no one is watching you. many professional societies keep lists of "best practices": the best techniques in general for designing a bridge that doesn't fall down, for instance. An engineer can be sued for not using best practices. It is worth noting here that college teachers are woefully behind when it comes to identifying and promoting best practices.

Way, way down on the list of things that a professional must do is "look and act the part." Professions have lots of tokens of authority: robes, lab coats, Latinate lingo. These are important for evoking a feeling of trust, but really what is more important, evoking a feeling of trust or genuinely deserving trust?

I have encountered a number of unprofessional teachers in my career. Teachers who run extension courses where everyone gets an A without showing up and are curiously popular among full time students looking to graduate on time. Teachers who cancel more that a third of their classes in a semester and never hold the other classes for the full hour. Teachers who actively scoff at the idea of honing teaching skills.

I have never encountered a teacher who was unprofessional because of their blog.


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

People should get beat up for statin' their beliefs

"He wants a shoehorn, the kind with teeth
People should get beat up, for statin' their beliefs" --TMBG

...and on a private listserv no less!

University of Kansas religious studies professor Paul Mirecki offered a course in the religious studies department entitled "Intelligent Design, Creationism and Other Religious Mythologies."

Did he really mean to imply that intelligent design was a myth? Well, this is how he described the course on a listserv for athiests and agnostics: "The fundies want it [ID] all taught in a science class, but this will be a nice slap in their big fat face by teaching it as a religious studies class under the category ‘mythology.’"

Well, after his email was leaked, reprisals were inevitable:
Kansas University religious studies professor Paul Mirecki reported he was beaten by two men about 6:40 a.m. today on a roadside in rural Douglas County. In a series of interviews late this afternoon, Mirecki said the men who beat him were making references to the controversy that has propelled him into the headlines in recent weeks.

“I didn’t know them, but I’m sure they knew me,” he said. ...

He said the men beat him about the upper body with their fists, and he said he thinks they struck him with a metal object. He was treated and released at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.

“I’m mostly shaken up, and I got some bruises and sore spots,” he said.

Well, it sounds like he's ok, thankfully. But the incident should remind us of the importance of distinguishing speech acts from physical acts, and how wrong it is to respond to any speech act, no matter how offensive, with an act of violence.

Discussions of hate speech over the last decade have attempted to push more forms of speech into the category of "fighting words," things that the government can regulate because they are more like acts of violence than speech acts. I never liked this trend: for the sake of a civil society with a vibrant cultural life, we need to say again and again that the morally important line is the line between a speech act and an act of violence, and not the line between polite and impolite speech acts.

In my practical ethics courses I routinely assign excerpts from a book by the libertarian thinker Jonathan Rauch on the debate over hate speech, which I like a lot.
A University of Michigan law professor said: "To me, racial epithets are not speech. They are bullets." This, finally, is where the humanitarian line leads us: to the erasure of the distinction, in principle and also in practice, between discussion and bloodshed. My own view is that words are words and bullets are bullets, and that it is important to keep this straight.
(Well, I've never liked the libertarian tactic of characterizing their opposition as warm hearted but soft headed "humanitarians" whose attempts to help people wind up hurting because they don't see the Hard Realities. This tactic plays on a false dichotomy between reason and emotion, and leads many liberals to think they have to prove their hard headed rationalism by periodically acting against the dictates of compassion by supporting a war or ending welfare or whatever.)

One could plausibly argue that Mirecki's comments were a kind of hate speech, and therefore fighting words, thus apparently justifying his beat down. I believe they are busy doing this over at The Free Republic Right now. The argument sucks, but where is the real breakdown? Should we try to distinguish what Mirecki said from "real" hate speech? It is much easier to continue to draw a bright line between speech and bullets.

via pharyngula

Korean Stem Cell Madness

Just a few links here, because I'm still majorly behind on work and had a debilitating fever over the weekend.


The television show "PD Diary" has aired accusations of major fraud against Hwang Woo-suk, including that the results in the 2004 Science article claiming that stem cells had been derived from a cloned human embryo were "a collection of falsehoods" (Story from Koran news service The Chosun Ilbo)


PD Diary itself has been accused of ethics violations during its investigation into Hwang, including bullying and hounding researchers, and possibly falsifying its information about Hwang's alegedy false information. Hwang, meanwhile, has said that he would not redo the 2004 Science results because it would set a bad precident. (The Shosun Ilbo, again.)

Ack, there's more stuff here than I can read right now--and it all looks so thrilling. The missing scientist, Park Eul-soon, is now being chased by the Korean spy agency. She is described as being the crucial link in the Korean team's success (if they succeeded) having the careful "hand skills" necessary to perform the nuclear tranfer (if it occured).

All this stuff is from and The Marmot's Hole. The discussion at Marmot's hole looks especially interesting.

Friday, December 02, 2005

I should check my helpychalk at yahoo account more regularly, because when it does get mail, it gets goodies like this: The Christmas Resistance Movement!
Together, we boycott Christmas Shopping, Christmas decorations, Christmas cards, and every variety of Christmas Crap. We refuse to support the Holiday Industry. We show our love for friends and family by giving our time and care, not by purchasing consumer goods. We maintain the integrity of giving by giving spontaneously and from our hearts, rather than during a specified season.

You are not alone. Together, we can RESIST CHRISTMAS!

Korean Stem Cell Intrigue

Have you guys been following the Korean stem cell craziness? has had great coverage, and the latest twist is like something out of a movie.

The junior scientist who donated her eggs for the Korean Stem cell project is missing. It turns out her name is Park Eul-soon, and she knows key information about how the Koreans accomplished their breakthrough.

Ok, refresher on the backstory. A Korean team led by Hwang Woo-Suk had a series of breakthroughs involving stem cells from cloned embryos. But allegations of ethical misconduct surfaced, including the accusation that he got his eggs from a junior scientist, giving the appearance that she was pressured by her bosses. The accusations get credence when Gerald Schatten of Pittsburg suddenly backs out of a major collaborative project with Hwang, saying that he has evidence that charges of ethical violations are true. Hwang then admits wrongdoing and resigns as project head.

Now here's what makes these new twists really exciting. Park, the junior researcher, disappeared in Pittsburg, where she had been working some time with...Gerald Schatten. The conservative Korean newspaper Chosunilbo ("the Fox News of Korea" according to one commenter) is speculating that Park may defect to Schatten's camp taking her stem cell secrets with her. Meanwhile, other Korean news outlets are reporting accusations of research fraud--not just mistreatment of human subjects, but misrepresenting data--against Hwang. Are there any Korean stem cell secrets to reveal?

Big fun!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Welcome Prospective Employers!

I am in the process of applying for academic jobs, and this blog is the first entry that comes up when you google my name, so I have no doubt that at least a few prospective employers will find themselves here.

Welcome. To the right, under the heading "my work persona" you can find plenty of material relevant to the job search, including my CV and writing samples. The rest of this blog is not directly a part of my professional work, although I do frequently discuss philosophical ideas here, some of which may wind up some day in professional work. Imagine a group of academics who have a regular date to go bowling. You might expect them to talk shop, and even exchange important ideas and information, but it still wouldn't go in their tenure file. If you want to hear more about my thoughts on how blogging relates to academic professionalism, I recommend you look here.

This post has been changed: Comments about professionalism are now just forwarded to another post.

Meeting Fuck *ff w/ Her Hat

“Bug People”
by Melanie Yazzie, 2000

Melanie Yazzie, who's print "Fuck off w/her Hat" caused a minor stir on campus, just gave a talk at the art gallery, so I had a chance to meet her and see her works in person. First impression: she was short and pleasant and gave me a hug immediately. She said that she had forwarded my blog post about her work to a lot of people, and that it was used for class discussion some places.

At the end of her talk, she told a bit of the history of "Fuck off w/her Hat." It is a part of the "Little Fuckers" series, which grew out of her experience at the Institute of American Indian Art, where apparently she had to do a lot of ambassadorial work with visitors who weren't always themselves diplomatic. The Little Fuckers series was circulated among friends as an expression of what it was like to have to appear short and pleasant and wear a funny hat while really wanting to tell people to fuck off. The Little Fuckers became totems of encouragement, given out to help other artists who were facing unpleasant tasks. It was only at the behest of a woman at Rutgers, who was infatuated with the figures, that one of the Little Fuckers slipped out into the realm of public art.

What a great story, if only because it gets at one of the fundamental functions of "fuck you" art, and one reason why so many people find it so appealing. The language is offensive if it is directed at you, but empowering if it comes from you. Your reaction to a piece of "fuck you" art thus depends immediately on who you empathize with. Really the best way for "fuck you" art to be distributed is informally as a token of empowerment. Fuck you art can be great in more public settings, and I so love Cathy from the Art Gallery for bringing Yazzie to campus and choosing to feature "Fuck off w/her Hat" in the exhibit. But I imagine it was even better to receive a Little Fucker figure from a friend when facing an unpleasant task.

Kristin Hersh has Blog!

Kristin Hersh has blog! How come no one told me? The woman whose CDs sing my children to sleep many nights and whose numerous bands constitute a big chunk of the CDs Molly and I can agree on has a blog!

And it seems to update regularly, not like the dead Sleater-Kinney blog! And it is in easy to access, standard blog format, not like the flash-heavy, gee-gaws-fill-75%-of -the-screen-so-the-text-is-in-6-point Kaki King blog!

In fact, she seems to be using blogger for her software. One of the things I always appreciated about Bob Mould's blog--and real proof that he is still super punk rock--is that he uses the same blogging software that I and a lot of other ordinary bloggers do. I assume he does it all himself: He doesn't have some elaborate site put together by marketing executives. Moby's blog used to look all market-y, but now I see that he has at least given his blog the look of an ordinary blog.