trains, the latest knitting project, and Bhopal

The Brit I mentioned earlier was on the train again last night when I went to choir. He gets on at the same stop as I do, and this time I noticed him sitting in the shelter, again on his phone. I’m starting to wonder if he does some kind of anxiety counselling by phone, because he was talking about how he felt about various things that happened earlier in the day in a way that sounded very much like an interaction with a counsellor. Who else would want to have a lengthy discussion about how missing the train to work affected how you felt about the rest of the day, in such detail?

After a while, he started talking about how he had fallen and bashed his chin against the platform, which caught my attention, because I’d noticed some blood on the cement when I walked by. It didn’t look like enough to mean serious injury, so I didn’t think about it for long, but it was interesting to find out the cause. The person he was talking to seemed concerned that he would need stitches, but he insisted he’d be fine with a bandaid. I resisted the urge to turn around and look.

I’m currently engaging in what I’ve heard described as stealth knitting. I really ought to be working on the next hat, because I’m making a few of them as Christmas presents, but instead, after having cold toes all day yesterday, I decided to start a pair of socks. This is my first attempt at starting with the toe, and I’m about ready to rip out the row of crochet holding one side of the toe stitches and start with the main part of the sock. I’m curious to see how far I can get on this in a week. If I’m not done by then, I’ll have to set them aside and get back to the hats.

Today is the 20th anniversary of the disaster at Bhopal. How can a corporation be allowed to have such indifference to who it hurts? The people living there still suffer health effects, the land is still contaminated, and not nearly enough has been done to hold the company accountable or give resistution to the victims.

Things like this get me thinking about how to avoid buying things that support such enormous crimes. So many companies are tied together, and it can be an huge effort to try to identify which brand names go with which corporations. I remember a picture assembled by Adbusters showing the large variety of products owed by a cigarette company. They commented that it was changing constantly, as companies are acquired or sold off. It’s a daunting task to try to sort that out.

5 responses to “trains, the latest knitting project, and Bhopal

  1. I posted this on the LJ feed but Erin said that you probably wouldn’t see it there, so I’m reposting here:

    Well, strictly speaking, the corporation — Union Carbide — was held accountable; it died — that is to say, went out of business. Its corpse/assets were bought by Dow Chemical, but does that mean Dow is responsible for the actions taken by Union Carbide? Humans can’t (in the US) inherit debt — why should corporations?

    Also, Union Carbide did make restitution — they paid the government of India (in accordance with Indian law) $470 million US. That little of that money went to the victims is purely the fault of the Indian government.

    Don’t get me wrong — Bhopal was a terrible, and forseeable and preventable, tragedy. Union Carbide is hardly an angel. But the worst they’re guilty of is criminal negligence and some weaseling afterwards. But I think calling it an “enormous crime” is going a bit far. It’s no worse than what the USSR government did at Chernobyl, or many other incidents. At the risk of invoking Godwin’s Law, I think the Holocaust is much more fittingly called an enormous crime — Bhopal doesn’t even come close.

    But hey, I could be wrong.

    –david

  2. I think that there’s an obligation there that goes beyond what the law can force the company to do. To say, “we handed over some money, it’s not our fault if nothing got fixed” is beyond weaselly. They handled things in a way designed to get rid of future liability, not to really fix what happened.

    When a company buys the assets of another, that’s not really inheritance. It wasn’t bequeathed to them, they puchased it. So yes, I think that means that they bought the past crimes as well as the assets.

    And you know better than to suggest that worse crimes should temper this one. It demeans the people harmed to claim that it’s not so bad, on the grounds that Chernobyl was worse.

  3. What do you think UC should have done other than pay out a huge (unthinkably huge, to the Indian people involved) sum of money? I mean, it’s not like they have a corps of trained doctors on call for such a situation. You and I may not like it, but money is intended and designed to be exactly the tool for that sort of thing — allowing you to obtain services (like medical care or environmental remediation) that you aren’t qualified to do yourself.

    And no, I’m not claiming Bhopal was “not so bad” because Chernobyl was worse and I don’t think what I am claiming is demeaning — that on the scale of crimes Bhopal is pretty far down[1]; it was an enormous industrial accident and a middling-sized (as such things go) tragedy. Hell, I was just last night reading about an earthquake in 1976 that killed 255,000 people (vs. Bhopal’s 2800). Bhopal was terrible but it’s not “enormous”.

    I’m curious, have you read UC’s site on the subject (leaving aside for the moment the question of whether or not you consider it credible)?

    [1]: I’m completely ignoring UC’s sabotage theory here, which is another matter.
    [2]: WTF does blogger disallow <sup>? And <br>?

  4. What do you think UC should have done other than pay out a huge (unthinkably huge, to the Indian people involved) sum of money?Instead of handing the problem of figuring out how to provide relief services to a government known for being slow and bureaucratic, they could have directly funded relief and remediation services, from their corporate base in India. It would almost certainly have been a lot more effective.

    And no, I’m not claiming Bhopal was “not so bad” because Chernobyl was worse and I don’t think what I am claiming is demeaning — that on the scale of crimes Bhopal is pretty far down[1]; it was an enormous industrial accident and a middling-sized (as such things go) tragedy. Hell, I was just last night reading about an earthquake in 1976 that killed 255,000 people (vs. Bhopal’s 2800). Bhopal was terrible but it’s not “enormous”.It just seems like you’re telling me not to be angry or condemn this particular incident so harshly, on the grounds that worse has happened. And I think that’s pretty insulting. I was disturbed to realize, on the anniversary of the event, how little has been done for the victims and the state of the site. It has nothing to do with whether something worse has happened to other people elsewhere.

    I’m curious, have you read UC’s site on the subject (leaving aside for the moment the question of whether or not you consider it credible)?I actually did, yeah. It seemed like it focused heavily on the sabotage story, and generally looked like a PR attempt to distance themselves from the incident. I wasn’t particularly impressed.

    [2]: WTF does blogger disallow sup? And br?No idea.

  5. To respond out of order…

    It just seems like you’re telling me not to be angry or condemn this particular incident so harshly, on the grounds that worse has happened. And I think that’s pretty insulting. I was disturbed to realize, on the anniversary of the event, how little has been done for the victims and the state of the site. It has nothing to do with whether something worse has happened to other people elsewhere.That’s not what I mean. I’m not at all trying to tell you not to be angry or to condemn the incident. I certainly think you should do so. I’m just criticizing your terminology. Which isn’t terribly important in the grand scheme of things.

    I agree that it’s a tragedy and that people should be angry about it and should condemn both the people and the practices that made it possible.

    And I think that most people (who know about it) do so, including (particularly) the chemical and industrial engineers who work in the field and design these sorts of systems. Nearly every textboot on failure and reliability talks about Bhopal at great length.

    Instead of handing the problem of figuring out how to provide relief services to a government known for being slow and bureaucratic, they could have directly funded relief and remediation services, from their corporate base in India. It would almost certainly have been a lot more effective.
    But that’s exactly what they did, to the greatest extent possible. They brought in all sorts of medical support from outside the country, gave tons of money to the Red Cross and other charities, etc etc. The huge check to the government came much later (and then, only because the government took over all the cases against UC and declared that they would be the ones to argue the case and take the money) There’s a serious limit to what a private company can accomplish against the will of an unfriendly government. In fact, I really believe that the government of India is the worst offender in this mess.

    But aside from that, why do you think that it’s more effective for an industrial chemicals company to provide aid directly than for them to fund the government to do so? If Bob’s Widgets Plant explodes and a flying widget hits you in the head, would you rather that Bob perform neurosurgery on you, or give money to someone qualified? Governments exist, among other reasons, to provide disaster recovery services to their population; corporations don’t.

    Shrug.