accountabilitybloke (old blog)

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Shoddy work in China and Belfast….

One of Sennett’s observations reflects on a visit he made to a suburban housing complex in the Soviet Union in the months before the regime’s collapse. As a case example to highlight the costs of an over bureaucratized material culture that is indifferent to the human urge for craftsmanship, he takes note of the shoddy construction of the housing units and the obvious lack of care or concern (and perhaps corruption) by those who built the units.

Two recent news stories came to mind when reading that passage in Sennett. The first involved the tragic circumstances behind collapse of schools in China when the earthquake struck. Certainly the power of the quake had much to do with the collapse, but the news stories noted that other buildings nearby — including schools attended by wealthier students — withstood the shocks. From the outset of their on-the-scene coverage, the NPR crew took note of the feeling among the locals that the high number of deaths among the children was due to the poor construction of the buildings — and immediately fingers were being pointed in the direction of local officials….

The second story emerged on the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s fateful voyage, and focuses on a recent book that raises questions about the role poor material (specifically, rivets made of substandard steel) and poor workmanship played in the sinking of the ship. The folks at the Belfast firm that built the ship (yes, they are still around) challenged the report which was co-authored by a metallurgist who has been making the rounds of TV interview shows to peddle her book. She would certainly have Sennett on her side….

May 29th, 2008 Posted by | accountabilitybloke | no comments

Scenes of contrition and political accountability in China….

Our collective attention turns increasingly toward China these days, and one can stumble across some pretty interesting media coverage. Some of the coverage is, of course, linked to the unexpected earthquake (see especially NPR’s coverage) — but most of the in-depth documentaries now (re)surfacing have been scheduled to coincide with the Olympics.

Case in point: “Morning Sun,” a PBS/Global Voices documentary originally aired several years ago that is now popping up on some channels (in the Boston area we are blessed with several WGBH channels, including WGBH World which is a constant source of current and quality replays of PBS news shows and documentaries). It is a history of the Cultural Revolution, and provides some fascinating insight into the politics that drives China today.

For example, it helps make sense of the front page story in yesterday’s New York Times that featured a picture of a local Communist Party official literally begging on hands and knees in response to shouting protesters/mourners. The caption states that the official is begging them to stop their protests, but the pose is strikingly similar to some pictures of the public humiliation of Party officials during the height of the Cultural Revolution.

There are all sorts of interesting questions about China’s political regime and political culture raised by both the documentary and the stories of current protests. Since I am obsessed with things “accountable”, I view this process of public contrition as a formidable accountability mechanism in a political culture in which (supposedly) other forms are suppressed. There are similar forms of accountability (e.g., truth and reconciliation forums, for example) that beg for comparison and analysis….

And then there is the story of the shoddy construction of those schools that so quickly collapsed during the earthquake — which is worth its own separate post….

May 29th, 2008 Posted by | accountabilitybloke | no comments