Friday, February 25, 2011

On Architecture And Protesting In Beijing

You may have heard that, this past weekend, calls went out online for protesters to start a "jasmine revolution" in China. In the end, though, the demonstrations didn't amount to much. I have posted before on some of the reasons why I just don't see this movement (so to speak) catching on in the Middle Kingdom.

There is one additional feature of Beijing, the physical layout its parks, neighborhoods, and public areas, that I want to highlight. This feature greatly increases the difficulty of large masses of people assembling in short order. Big gatherings are, of course, not impossible. But they are, from a logistical point of view, really hard to pull off.

The aforementioned non-protest was planned for out in front of the McDonald's on Wangfujing. This is a main pedestrian thoroughfare that is popular with domestic and international tourists. (Beijing shoppers tend to stay far away, as better deals can be found pretty much anywhere else in the city.)

So why was this particular McDonald's identified as the launching point for a potential revolution? Well, Tiananmen Square is off limits. Just to set foot on the square, you have to go through security check points that squeeze access into a few well policed entrances. Public parks in the center of Beijing, such as Beihai, all cost money to get into and also have gates that make it essentially impossible for masses of people to gather quickly. In short, all of the kinds of places we might take for granted in the West as being ideal for political action are physically set up in such a way that large scale protests are a virtual impossibility.

When viewed in this way, Wangfujing is one of the only places left in the capital city that can handle quick surges of pedestrians. Cars are prohibited on the main shopping blocks. It is located not that far from Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.

Based on what almost happened this past weekend, I wonder how long it will be before Wangfujing becomes a gated enclave like the rest of Beijing. Although such a move would be bad for business, it might be viewed as good for social harmony.

~Steve

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Some Weird China Connections

In the past few days, there have been two parts of our lives that ordinarily have nothing to do with China that have all of a sudden exhibited unexpected connections.

Clarence Clemons Blows His Horn at Shanhaiguan. You may know that the little, out-of-the-way town where the Great Wall meets the sea has been a favorite getaway of ours in recent years. Z especially has pioneered the extreme sport of sand-dune jumping. Imagine our surprise, then, when we came across the accompanying picture of the Big Man doing his thing on our hallowed grounds. Now there's an image we never expected to see! (Sidebar: Apparently Clarence went to China to find himself. You can click here to see the trailer for the resulting documentary.)

Coach K and the Dukies will be playing games this summer in China. Fresh off the first-ever Chinese language broadcast of one of its games, the Duke man's basketball team will hit the hardwood in three Chinese cities, including the Balla East hometown of Beijing. You can click here to read the entire press release. When finding out that the Beijing game is scheduled for August 22, Desi had this to say..."Well, I guess we'll have to stay longer this summer!"

In her next breath, a bit perturbed by all of this attention being lavished on "her" China, Desi suggested to the three of us that we'll need to find some farther off-the-beaten-path place to call our own. Does that mean that the Great Balla China Experiment is over, Des?

~Steve

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Here's What's Keeping Me Busy These Days

A few months ago, I was awarded a contract by a federal government agency, the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS), to conduct a study and formulate recommendations in an area that I have been researching ever since my dissertation. This is something a bit unusual for me in that, as an academic, I ordinarily publish my research and let the findings stand on their own. With this project, I am extrapolating from the research I and others have done, as well as from the opinions of experts inside and outside the government. The aim of this extrapolation is to come up with statements about how government policies and procedures might be changed for the better.

For those who might be interested, here is the link on the ACUS website to my project. The text from this link is copied below...

Agencies conduct most rulemaking proceedings via the process of “notice and comment.” Under this process, an agency publishes notice of a proposed rule in the Federal Register, gives the public a period of time in which to comment, and then issues a final rule after considering the comments received. See 5 U.S.C. § 553.

The Conference is currently conducting a study of a variety of legal and practical issues that arise in connection with the “comment” phase of notice-and-comment rulemaking and that were raised in the Interim Report on the Administrative Law, Process and Procedure Project for the 21st Century issued in December 2006 by the Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law of the Committee on the Judiciary of the U.S. House of Representatives. The study will examine issues related to timing, availability and confidentiality during the “comment” phase of notice-and-comment rulemaking as well as any agency’s duty to reply to comments made.

The consultant for this study is Steven J. Balla, Associate Professor of Political Science, Public Policy and Public Administration, and International Affairs, The George Washington University.

Check back here for updates on the progress of this study including any ACUS Committee work related to this study.

~Steve