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Old 05-22-2018, 02:07 PM   #76
CRussel
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I want to go back and address this earlier comment.

I absolutely do not see any moral equivalence between some powerless breadwinner choosing to stay silent so as not to jeopardize his job and his family, and a thriving company blithely continuing to endanger the health and well-being of its workers to maximize profits. No.
Well said. The relationship of forces here is wildly different and the actions and their effects can not be compared.

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I did wonder if everyone was going to let me get away with that uncontested
No chance that was going to happen!

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So the people that are acting to protect the corporation are not necessarily acting for evil or selfish purposes, many are attempting to do the best they can for the company because that best for the employees and customers and shareholders.

None of this is arguing that the company should not be held responsible for their actions, but it is useful to keep in mind that there are real people behind the corporate mask that will pay the actual costs.
Sorry, not good enough. The company that can't do business without torturing and maiming its employees, shouldn't be doing business. And if it fails, those shareholders will pay the risk side of the equation, as they should. There is a tendency (can you say "too big to fail") to think we should somehow protect the company and its shareholders. Wrong. The company is an at risk business and the shareholders took that risk when they bought shares. The employees, however, have not taken on risk when they hired on, in fact the opposite. They don't control their working conditions and have only a single option to protect themselves -- withdrawing their labour. But if they're repeatedly told that there is no risk and they're perfectly safe, how are they to make an informed decision?
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Old 05-22-2018, 04:45 PM   #77
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I did wonder if everyone was going to let me get away with that uncontested
Almost! I had read your comment before finishing the book, and didn't want to respond till I was done; then I nearly forget.

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There is a regrettable tendency for people to see companies as things with no human side, that can stand there and part with money with no ill effects, or if there are ill effects they are seen as deserved - never quite acknowledging the fact that those effects have a real cost that someone has to pay.

In this case the companies obviously had the resources that they could have helped these women, although at some point the insurance companies get involved and things get extra messy. In situations like this there is a real risk that a company might collapse - not necessarily because of what it pays out, but because of reputation loss and related factors. The impacts of this hits management, employees - the man I was speaking of might lose his job anyway - and shareholders (who are not necessarily rich people that can afford the loss).

So the people that are acting to protect the corporation are not necessarily acting for evil or selfish purposes, many are attempting to do the best they can for the company because that best for the employees and customers and shareholders.

None of this is arguing that the company should not be held responsible for their actions, but it is useful to keep in mind that there are real people behind the corporate mask that will pay the actual costs.
The "real people" who are paying the actual costs are the workers and the consumers. Costs simply get passed along to those on the bottom rungs.

But let me try to understand your argument. You seem to be saying that it's perhaps OK for a company to endanger the lives of its employees, because trying to avoid/correct that danger might be expensive and threaten the livelihoods of even more employees.

I suspect that companies and industries have probably pushed back against every safety regulation ever proposed by saying it was too much cost for too little potential benefit, by calling it unnecessary and intrusive.
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Old 05-22-2018, 10:41 PM   #78
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The problem with pulling a particular piece of a post out for discussion is that you lose the original context - the result being that people pretend to paraphrase what you are saying and end up misrepresenting it entirely. Remember that much of this started with a line I was drawing between before and after June 1924. The intention of that comment was to explore what Kate Moore seems happy to ignore: that there are real people involved on the company side and they had their reasons for acting like they did. At the start, at least, those motives were not necessarily immoral, nor even amoral.

Being rich doesn't stop a person being afraid for their future. Being powerful doesn't necessarily mean they don't care, sometimes it just means that they have more to care about - so much more that they don't always see what they should see. Personally, I think outright evil is a rare thing, but ordinary everyday evil is common - and behind this you generally find ordinary, everyday, and very human frailties of the kind that you can understand (not saying condone) if you try hard enough.

Everyone here seems to enthusiastically agree with the idea that this book is a good fit for the history repeating itself theme, and even I agree with that sentiment, but for a different reason: the book itself demonstrates why we keep repeating ourselves, because we refuse to try and see that the other side behaved as they did for a reason, or a variety of reasons.

Trying to find and understand those reasons could help us see how things got so out of hand. By the time we get into court it's too late to be analysing the situation. By then the beast has taken on a life of its own, with lawyers and journalists and reputations all embroiled in scoring points off one another, but with little respect or care for truth or for the suffering of the women.


At no point have I suggested that it was "OK for a company to endanger the lives of its employees", or that a business should be allowed to be "torturing and maiming its employees", and I really wish people would stop putting such phrases in my mouth. I do understand that this is an emotional issue, and I understand that this book has exacerbated that, but please give me some credit.

What I have suggested is that the company had no way, before 1924, of seeing that it was endangering lives in this way*. Before that the known dangers were immediate ones, and the women showed no signs of being impacted by those. Once the long term dangers were known of course situation must be corrected - but the confrontational nature of litigation was always going to make this draw out and bring out the worst.


* Disclaimer: I want to emphasise that my suggestion about when the long term dangers were known is based on the "facts" revealed in this book so far, but I don't have a lot of faith in those facts. The author may reveal more by the time I reach the end, or there may be facts the author didn't think were appropriate to her audience
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Old 05-22-2018, 11:26 PM   #79
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Good points gmw, and ones to bear in mind when we are dealing with a topic like this one. I think it is important to distinguish between what we know now and what was known then, ie 1924.

However, as the book progresses, there is less and less excuse for the claim that the managers didn't know, even allowing for the world being a more isolated place in terms of the availability of such information.

The workers in Ottawa, Illinois, probably didn't read or even have available the New York newspapers, but it is hard to believe that the Ottawa management didn't have at least some idea of what had happened in New Jersey.

(Sorry to be slightly vague, but I had to return the book to the library, so don't have it in front of me to check timing.)
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Old 05-23-2018, 12:55 AM   #80
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Thanks, Bookpossum. I'm still in part 2 and the first case has been settled and the girls are spending their money. The Ottawa girls got a fright from that case but have apparently been appeased by Radium Dial for the time being. But what is particularly interesting to me through here is the report that Hoffman is still insisting the early problems were due to mesothorium, and even Martland - the girls' champion in the trial - who disagreed with Hoffman initially, is making sounds as if the other/normal form of radium (not mesothorium) is less damaging and maybe the girls might recover. Which would seem to add some credibility (if not actual support) to Radium Dial's assertion that their girls would be okay.

So everyone, not just the companies, are still underestimating the long term effects of radium. (In the 1920s they obviously didn't have quite the same cynical world view that we have developed since then - although to little avail it might seem.) But what I'm getting at here is that even later the situation was probably not as clear as this book makes out, and some of that even comes from people that supported the girls in Newark. I am still waiting for Moore to reveal to me that the contents of the Radium Dial medical assessments; that she's holding me in suspense makes me think the company knows more than it's saying (which seems likely). But here, again, it would be interesting to have some idea of the real, human motives behind it all, some idea what they actually believed versus what they simply thought they might get away with (which, in the light of the Newark trial, seems a peculiarly foolish assumption).
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Old 05-23-2018, 08:49 AM   #81
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But here, again, it would be interesting to have some idea of the real, human motives behind it all, some idea what they actually believed versus what they simply thought they might get away with (which, in the light of the Newark trial, seems a peculiarly foolish assumption).
I don't see a lot of cost in pursuing a strategy of trying to get away with it. It maximizes immediate returns and the day of reckoning could possibly be pushed off forever, or at least forever in practical terms. Stonewalling and pursuing a policy of wearing the claimants out can be very successful, especially since, which ties back to a point you've been making, people generally get the justice they can afford, at least in the US; it holds true for both civil and criminal cases.

There are complicating factors which make it not so much an either/or of what they actually believed v. what they could get away with it; add in a huge dollop of wishful thinking and willingness to theorize out of one's fundament - especially when there's a payoff involved in maintaining one's "expert" status.
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Old 05-23-2018, 09:06 AM   #82
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The intention of that comment was to explore what Kate Moore seems happy to ignore: that there are real people involved on the company side and they had their reasons for acting like they did. At the start, at least, those motives were not necessarily immoral, nor even amoral.
....
Everyone here seems to enthusiastically agree with the idea that this book is a good fit for the history repeating itself theme, and even I agree with that sentiment, but for a different reason: the book itself demonstrates why we keep repeating ourselves, because we refuse to try and see that the other side behaved as they did for a reason, or a variety of reasons.

Trying to find and understand those reasons could help us see how things got so out of hand. By the time we get into court it's too late to be analysing the situation. By then the beast has taken on a life of its own, with lawyers and journalists and reputations all embroiled in scoring points off one another, but with little respect or care for truth or for the suffering of the women.
Of course the companies had reasons: self-interest and self-protection. Those are usually the reasons for all sorts of behavior, both good and bad. It's the reason the dial painters acted as they did, too.

But so what? The issue isn't reasons/motives, it's priorities. The companies did not prioritize worker well-being over profitability. They didn't care about the human cost; sure, at the outset it was probably a matter of simply not wanting to believe any problems existed, and as time went on they were so invested in their denials that they ignored and suppressed evidence and doubled-down.

I don't see the company management as mustache-twirling villains who cackled happily as the dial painters died. I see them more as bean counters toting up profits and willfully blind to anything that might cut into those profits.

The result is pretty much the same, though--the women suffered and died.
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Old 05-25-2018, 10:13 AM   #83
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So I finished. (It's a long time since it took me this long to read anything. It wasn't all the book's fault, work has been very heavy.) ... I hope the following might shed some light on my earlier reactions.

I may be naive, but I believe there are very few people in the world that would knowingly put anyone through what these women went through, and because that seems so unlikely to me, I seek other explanations - but this book is the wrong place to find them, the author is too busy using deliberately emotive language that obscures anything more subtle.

I distrust easy answers. The whole evil corporation run by mean-spirited bean-counters thing is a great device for fiction, but it's a cop-out here. And I think it cheapens what these women achieved.

That there is more to it than evil corporations can be seen in the reactions of the other people in Ottawa, and in the difficulties all the women had in obtaining legal representation, and in problems getting a fair hearing from government departments, and in the fickle support of the newspapers. I am not claiming the companies were represented by angels, but to really understand what happened you have to understand more of the context than is made clear in this book.

You can extract some hints at the larger perspective as the book comes to a close. For example:

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Catherine's triumph in court, thirteen years later [after the first attempt], was one of the first cases in which an employer was made responsible for the health of its employees.
This is what the book seems to push to one side in its emphasis on suffering angels and corporate villains. This time was a turning point in industrial relations. These women were dealing with a situation very much out of the ordinary. Radiation was out of the ordinary (the book glossed over, until the epilogue, how important these events were to our understanding of radiation). The amounts involved were out of the ordinary (< 30grams in the WWI, what tiny fraction of that entered the girls' bodies?) The time-frame was out of the ordinary (years between infliction and effect). This was new science in a new world after the first world world war when women were playing a larger part in so many things. In short, the circumstances were a mess, but the author seems intent on making it childishly simple.

The villainy of Radium Dial grew out of the earlier situation, a time when it was arguable that they didn't know better, but they kept making choices that only made it harder and harder for them to ever capitulate and admit mistakes. In some respects it was the extremity that Radium Dial went to that made the ultimate result such a clear marker in history. We see evidence of this from its contrast to the Newark case with Grace Fryer and her friends; a noble attempt by those girls, but the USRC deliberately avoided making it a landmark legal decision.

But I think that in presenting the radium companies in the way she does, Moore reduces the impact of what was achieved by these women. They were not just fighting against corporate exploitation by specific companies, they were (part of) changing society itself. They helped to change the way America saw its corporate and social responsibilities. This was big, much bigger than a handful of girls against a company, and I felt that Moore's deliberately emotive recital obscured that.

Of course the event doesn't stand alone in history, and this outsider might suggest that America still has a lot to learn about social responsibilities, like separating aid-giving from fault-finding. If that had been possible back then, then Grace Fryer's case may have been able to go through to become the landmark it should have been, and so saved the Ottawa girls some of their suffering and troubles (it was too late to prevent it entirely).

Or maybe it wouldn't have made a difference. People can be very fickle in their sympathies. It may be that only finding the girls in such dire straits allowed them to garner the popular support needed to win their cases. Do we as a society really insist on there being desperately suffering victims and absolutely despicable villains before we will instigate change? That's the sort of question that makes history interesting to me, but it's not the sort of question this book considers. Although, once we get to the epilogue, Moore does seem to suggest that the suffering was necessary: "their suffering would provide 'vital insight'". Perhaps Moore is more realistic than I am, but it's not a conclusion I'm comfortable with. I'd like to believe it was the information gained, not the suffering endured, that led to our advancement.

And despite the acknowledgements that Moore makes in her epilogue, explaining how many lives have been saved by what these girls went through, she still manages to offer this direct contradiction: "Radium had been known to be harmful since 1901. Every death since was unnecessary." Is this ignorance, poor editing, or is the author being disingenuous? After all the work she put into this book, and there was obviously a great deal of work, does she still not understand? Someone was always destined to find out the hard way. If this book wasn't inside an ereader I would have thrown it across the room. (One is tempted to suggest that if Moore could not understand it with a century of hindsight, is it any wonder the company executives of the time remained ignorant in their own way.)


Whatever we have or have not learned since, the women deserve recognition for what they achieved, and sympathy for what they were forced go through. The book by Kate Moore, however, I found disappointing and annoying, and I only finished it because of this discussion.

(I do ramble on a lot ... sorry about that.)
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Old 05-25-2018, 06:29 PM   #84
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There’s quite a gap between the importance of the story and the quality of the writing, and there doesn’t seem to be any disagreement about that.

On the plus side, more people are likely to read it than a doctoral thesis, and it’s an important story for people to know about. It’s a case of four stars for the story and two stars for the execution. I’m glad I read it because it was a case about which I had only the vaguest knowledge beforehand.
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Old 05-25-2018, 06:33 PM   #85
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On the plus side, more people are likely to read it than a doctoral thesis, and it’s an important story for people to know about. It’s a case of four stars for the story and two stars for the execution. I’m glad I read it because it was a case about which I had only the vaguest knowledge beforehand.
Funny that... when I was looking for things I wanted to discuss, I DID end up reading someone's thesis on how this case did (or did not) affect US Labor Law.
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Old 05-25-2018, 08:00 PM   #86
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Ah, but that's the lawyer in you! The rest of us poor mortals would rather not, thank you!

I think we're all pretty close to bookpossum's assessment -- 4-5 for the story, one that really needs to be known and mostly isn't, and 2 for the writing.
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Old 05-26-2018, 10:44 AM   #87
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I distrust easy answers. The whole evil corporation run by mean-spirited bean-counters thing is a great device for fiction, but it's a cop-out here. And I think it cheapens what these women achieved.
You opined earlier that your comments were being misrepresented. I think you've misrepresented mine. I did not call the bean counters mean or evil. I said that were not; I said they were willfully blind to the human costs--they did not want to make the connection between their workplace conditions and what was happening to their workers; they preferred the comfortable (for them) status quo to the disruptive reality. This isn't an uncommon tendency for humans--we rationalize and rationalize until we can't anymore. Then we either act, or we lie. They decided to lie.
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Old 05-26-2018, 01:27 PM   #88
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You opined earlier that your comments were being misrepresented. I think you've misrepresented mine. [...]
I was not intending to address your meaning so much as the author's, but since I used your phrasing it certainly gives that impression. Sorry about that.

Quite likely the author has a similar right to say that I misrepresent her meaning as well, since she does not use the words "evil" or "mean-spirited" either. But if I start trying to explain how I got such an impression from the book I will just end up repeating myself, so I'll leave it alone.
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Old 05-26-2018, 02:59 PM   #89
Catlady
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gmw View Post
I was not intending to address your meaning so much as the author's, but since I used your phrasing it certainly gives that impression. Sorry about that.

Quite likely the author has a similar right to say that I misrepresent her meaning as well, since she does not use the words "evil" or "mean-spirited" either. But if I start trying to explain how I got such an impression from the book I will just end up repeating myself, so I'll leave it alone.
I don't disagree that the author sets up the account as the good guys vs. the bad guys. And yes, in hindsight, the delineation is sharper than it most likely was in the beginning days of the use of radium. But what frustrates me is that you seem to be making a lot of excuses for the bad guys, ignorance perhaps being the main excuse.

I think the story can be viewed as a cautionary tale, a reminder not to believe every claim and every assurance from those with a vested interest in a product and a company. I think that excusing the ignorance of a company means this kind of thing will happen again and again, so I'm not willing to say that, at the beginning, Oh, they didn't know, they didn't intend harm. They should have known. They knew enough to try to safeguard the men in the laboratories; did it really never enter anyone's mind that, hey, maybe actually ingesting radium might be a bad idea?
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Old 05-26-2018, 04:36 PM   #90
gmw
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I was not looking for excuses so much as a way of understanding - but yes, I do think there are legitimate excuses to be found in the earlier part of the situation.

The frustration from my side is that you seem to insist on looking at the situation with modern eyes. Radiation was new then. They simply had no idea. Can you imagine anyone in the 1920s (okay, so before that really, by the 1920s these women were already dying, they just didn't know it then) deciding it might be worth taking a decade of study before they let anyone near this stuff? That's what it would have required. We have trouble doing that now.

This is a cautionary tale, but you have to understand the real situation if you hope to learn the real cautions. The corporate shenanigans where appalling, but there is a lot more to this story than that.

Last edited by gmw; 05-26-2018 at 04:38 PM.
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