Grand Visions Fizzle in Brazil

The NYT has an incredibly depressing view of the way that Brasil is moving forward; while much of it is shared by the citizens of that country the article is overly one-sided and generally lacks a comprehensive understanding of why some of the cost overruns and setbacks have happened. We read that environmental protections and efforts to work with aboriginal people’s have led to railroads being delayed: why were there such expectations of a smooth and quick development of such railroads in the first place? Perhaps because the ‘frictions’ of such development (i.e. environment and people living on the land) had been cast aside?

What is largely missing throughout the piece is the context: why were certain projects put forward and then abandoned? In the absence of such context we’re left with the impression that the setbacks are the result of poor management and bureaucracy but is this the case, or simply the projection of American values onto specific South American infrastructure decisions?


Notes EM: Disorder as resistance


I found this in the Letters section of the latest issue of The Times Literary Supplement (dated March 15, 2013). It doesn’t seem to be online:

Binder families

Sir, – In David Winters’s review of The Demon of Writing by Ben Kafka he mentions a clerk who saved the actors of the Comédie-Française during the Terror, by soaking their death warrants in a tub and throwing the balls of pulp out of the window (February 15). In the 1960s I worked as a welfare case worker, along with several hundred others, in a vast office in downtown Chicago. Each of the families of my 300 clients existed, bureaucratically speaking, as a large binder filled with forms and written notes. When the families had been on welfare for several generations, the binders were equivalent to two or three large telephone books.

Overwhelmed with an avalanche of forms, telephone calls, clients waiting for hours downstairs to see me, home visits to the high-rise housing projects in which they lived, I was taught by the veteran case workers to simply go into the huge library where the binders were stored, alphabetically on endless shelves, and “accidentally” file binders out of place. Then I could innocently plead that I was unable to take any action on the case because I could not find the binder. Without the binder nothing in the status of the clients could change, their cheques would continue to arrive, and I could “miraculously” locate their binder if I needed to. Sadly, we were on the verge of the computer age, the information was beginning to appear on IBM punch cards, and the binders were soon to become obsolete, signalling the beginning of a far more ruthless era in which no clerk could make inconvenient facts disappear.

MICHAEL LIPSEY 75 San Marino Drive, San Rafael, California 94901.

This speaks volumes to the humanity that “inefficient” bureaucratic organization can enable. Further, it foregrounds how contemporary drives towards efficiency and order can obviate some historical means of bureaucratic resistance, resistance that was significant for maintaining and improving people’s daily lives.