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Old 05-29-2018, 12:49 PM   #106
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As a practical matter, as has been suggested, I think there's a lot of value in popular history as an introduction, as a gateway, as something to pique one's interest. I like academic history myself, but I'm not necessarily going to want to dive into one as my introduction to a subject. And sometimes, the "popular" version is enough. One can't be an expert on everything.
I think popular history serves a very important role. NOT everyone needs to be an academic expert on everything. But the more people understand history, the better chance we have to avoid repeating it. (GMOs, nanobeads, etc, come to mind, where the effects are not clearly understood but we've jumped in regardless.) Beyond that, I thought this example of popular history was less well written than a recent selection of the former MR Book Club -- Hidden Figures. Of course, Margot Lee Shetterly had access to more in the way of primary sources. But both served an important role in helping us to understand a not well understood but important role women played in our lives today.
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Old 05-29-2018, 04:47 PM   #107
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But I'd like to raise a tangential question. Do people think "popular" history as this obviously is, is valuable? Or are there inherent flaws which invalidate it? I myself see no reason why a history shouldn't focus on the human aspect of a story and after that, it's an issue of execution and balance. But that's no different from any history, where the very concept of "revisionism" attests to changes in attitude and interpretations - and sometimes I think out of sheer contrarianism.

It's a pity that Moore resorted to fictionalizations which undermined the factual aspects of her narrative, especially since she had both the resources and the ability to make them unnecessary. But that said, is there a compelling reason why a particular narrative shouldn't focus on the personal, as opposed to the corporate or legal?
I agree. Many times other peoples misfortunes in the abstract do not have an emotional impact on us, where the suffering of an identified person will move us.

Erich Maria Remarque said in Der Schwarze Obelisk (The Black Obelisk):
"It’s strange, I think, all of us have seen so many dead in the war and we know that over two million of us fell uselessly—why, then, are we so excited about a single man, when we have practically forgotten the two million already? But probably the reason is that one dead man is death—and two million are only a statistic."

It becomes real when it's personal.

I remember in 2015 there was considerable debate in Canada over the question of accepting Syrian refugees. After the publication of pictures of Alan Kurdi's body on a beach in Turkey, his aunt Tima Kurdi, living in Vancouver, was interviewed and her stories helped make him a real person to many people. It became an issue in the federal election that fall. I don't think that would have happened just on the abstract knowledge that millions of Syrians were refugees.

For the same reason, many fundraising appeals try to tell a story about a named individual, describing the problems that person is facing.

I also agree with you about the dangers of fictionalizing.
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Old 05-29-2018, 05:17 PM   #108
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I remember in 2015 there was considerable debate in Canada over the question of accepting Syrian refugees. After the publication of pictures of Alan Kurdi's body on a beach in Turkey, his aunt Tima Kurdi, living in Vancouver, was interviewed and her stories helped make him a real person to many people. It became an issue in the federal election that fall. I don't think that would have happened just on the abstract knowledge that millions of Syrians were refugees.
I am perhaps more sanguine than you about what we would have done with the whole refugee crisis, but I absolutely agree that the Alan Kurdi case had a profound impact on the Canadian consciousness. As did the case of the two refugees who lost their hands to frostbite crossing over in Manitoba, though not as dramatically as with the Kurdi case.

Seeing these women as individuals, not statistics, is an important step to understanding the cost and pain. But that didn't require the fictionalization, as I think we all agree.
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Old 05-29-2018, 05:42 PM   #109
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I don’t think that anyone has mentioned this so far, but Kate Moore did an extended 70 minute interview about The Radium Girls. It’s available on YouTube as Kate Moore: The Radium Girls.
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Old 05-29-2018, 07:14 PM   #110
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It seems to me that by focusing on the length of time it took for symptoms to manifest and the lack of concrete knowledge about the effects of working with and ingesting radium, one is not giving enough weight to willful ignorance, the unwillingness to examine the situation in light of new evidence, the stonewalling and the outright lies, especially in a situation of human life v. corporate good.
[...]
As a practical matter, as has been suggested, I think there's a lot of value in popular history as an introduction, as a gateway, as something to pique one's interest. I like academic history myself, but I'm not necessarily going to want to dive into one as my introduction to a subject. And sometimes, the "popular" version is enough. One can't be an expert on everything.
I do think there is great value in popular history. If something can make a subject more accessible to a wider audience then I think that is a good thing. But I still want the history to be as balanced and true as the author can manage, and I want to be able to trust those elements that are presented as fact.

For example, with what we've just read the statistics were apparently 1-in-20, or thereabout. That's not all that helpful when it comes to understanding the true depth of suffering that the women who did get ill went through. So putting a sense of reality to those faces is a good thing (although going over top has, for me, the effect of making it seem like bad-fiction rather than reality). But dropping the statistic altogether, and writing in a way that gives the strong impression that all or most got ill, is simply wrong. The fact that it was only 1-in-20 (or even less at the start) is actually part of what these women went through, one of the difficulties they faced.

I agree that the lengthy discussion looking for why it took so long to identify the problem (of which I am the particularly guilty party) did not give enough weight to what came later. Part of that was in reaction to the book, because I think Moore goes far too far the other way. But it's also an example of argument/discussion taking on a life of its own, and this is one of the realities that the women ran into.

If you are prepared to accept that, at the start, the companies could not reasonably have predicted what would happen to the women, then you can begin to follow the path/logic for how they got further and further into such messy situations. This is not intended to excuse the outright lies and appalling behaviour that came later, but in understanding the progression it may become possible - in the future - to identify when this progression starts and to avoid it spiralling out of control as it did here (and in so many cases since, because no one has yet learned this lesson from history).

What went particularly wrong for me in this book was that I lost trust in the author. By the time we got to the examples of the companies doing overtly appalling things, Moore had given me such a strong impression of bias that I no longer trusted that she was presenting the situation appropriately (and I am still not convinced she did). I wondered if I was reading "fake news" and so started to look for alternate explanations in everything she presented.
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Old 05-29-2018, 07:17 PM   #111
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Are you thinking of the Waterbury Clock Company, where it seems there were at least a couple of likely cases? I can't remember clearly now, but I think there were differences in labor law in Connecticut which limited looking for any causal link.
Ah thank you issybird - that was the one I was trying to remember.
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Old 05-29-2018, 07:40 PM   #112
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I certainly agree on the value of popular history. It has an important role in helping people understand events and people’s motivations. I do agree with gmw’s final paragraph on this book: there was so much fiction mixed in with fact, and a lack of balance in the way the story was told, that I mistrusted the author’s accuracy.

Overall though, I think the book is true, and I certainly feel enormous sympathy for the women and their families.
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Old 05-29-2018, 08:08 PM   #113
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with what we've just read the statistics were apparently 1-in-20, or thereabout. That's not all that helpful when it comes to understanding the true depth of suffering that the women who did get ill went through. So putting a sense of reality to those faces is a good thing (although going over top has, for me, the effect of making it seem like bad-fiction rather than reality). But dropping the statistic altogether, and writing in a way that gives the strong impression that all or most got ill, is simply wrong.
I just never had that impression, or (what would have been far worse) thought that Moore was trying to create that impression. It seemed obvious to me that she was singling out those who would/did get sick and telling their stories. That wasn't an issue for me. It was easy enough to infer, correctly, from the scenarios presented that the particular cases were the exception. Realistically, if this were a plague situation where the girls were dropping like flies, the companies wouldn't have been able to wage such successful defenses for so long.

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What went particularly wrong for me in this book was that I lost trust in the author. By the time we got to the examples of the companies doing overtly appalling things, Moore had given me such a strong impression of bias that I no longer trusted that she was presenting the situation appropriately (and I am still not convinced she did). I wondered if I was reading "fake news" and so started to look for alternate explanations in everything she presented.
Similarly, I didn't find her biased. Not that she didn't have a point of view and a case she was presenting, but I don't think it rose to the point of bias. I wish she hadn't played the violin quite so frequently, but other than obvious embroideries about hair pomade and private thoughts which while entirely deplorable were also easy enough to identify not only because of what they were, but also because she copiously footnoted in other respects, I thought she was scrupulous.

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Old 05-29-2018, 08:14 PM   #114
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If you are prepared to accept that, at the start, the companies could not reasonably have predicted what would happen to the women, then you can begin to follow the path/logic for how they got further and further into such messy situations. This is not intended to excuse the outright lies and appalling behaviour that came later, but in understanding the progression it may become possible - in the future - to identify when this progression starts and to avoid it spiralling out of control as it did here (and in so many cases since, because no one has yet learned this lesson from history).
This is why you're driving me nuts!

To me, it's obvious where the progression starts--with the company willfully failing to provide any safeguards for the women who were dealing with a potentially dangerous substance. And you keep coming back and making excuses for them--they didn't know, it was something/ new, they thought it was safe in small quantities, etc. But they should have known there was at least a possibility of the radium-infused paint being dangerous to the women who were ingesting it.

Did they know that it was going to affect these women as terribly as it did? No, most likely not. But it's the initial failure to take any steps to protect the women that led to the spiral of lies and denials and bad behavior.

Here's the lesson I see--that a company has a responsibility to its workers to make the workplace as safe as possible, to inform workers of potential hazards, to provide compensation if the workers become sick or injured as a result of workplace conditions. They did none of these things, not at the beginning and not at the end.

I'm baffled that you seem to think the companies had some valid, compelling justification that Moore fails to include. Perhaps she simply didn't see one; I know I don't.
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Old 05-29-2018, 08:30 PM   #115
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I don’t think that anyone has mentioned this so far, but Kate Moore did an extended 70 minute interview about The Radium Girls. It’s available on YouTube as Kate Moore: The Radium Girls.
Thanks. Here's the link to the interview. I've bookmarked it to watch later.

There's also a YouTube video of a play called Radium Girls, and another called These Shining Lives. YouTube has other versions of these plays as well; they seem to be student productions.
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Old 05-29-2018, 08:46 PM   #116
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[...] Similarly, I didn't find her biased. [...]
What do you call this?
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‘I don’t remember the name,’ replied Roeder coldly. The dial-painters weren’t important enough for him to recall such insignificant details.
This was one of a constant stream of painting characters on the corporate side with negate phrasing (coldly), and snide asides that - as far as I could tell - had no reason to be there except to prejudice the reader.

Perhaps Roeder did say it coldly and perhaps he really did think the women were insignificant, but he might just as well have genuinely not recalled, because a number of years had passed. (If it was just this one example I'd let it pass, but there are a great many more.)


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This is why you're driving me nuts!
This only proves that even a century on, people can still disagree on the subject - proving that there can indeed be more than one way to look at these things. I can only ask you to believe that I am not an evil, mean-spirited person. I do care, I just don't think that - back then especially - it was as simple as you would have it. ... But we've been through that.
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Old 05-30-2018, 06:26 AM   #117
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Thanks. Here's the link to the interview. I've bookmarked it to watch later.

There's also a YouTube video of a play called Radium Girls, and another called These Shining Lives. YouTube has other versions of these plays as well; they seem to be student productions.
Thank You
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Old 05-30-2018, 08:07 AM   #118
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This was one of a constant stream of painting characters on the corporate side with negate phrasing (coldly), and snide asides that - as far as I could tell - had no reason to be there except to prejudice the reader.
Fair enough. I didn't give any weight to the imagined scenarios as they irritated me; I didn't find Moore biased in her presentation of the facts. But bias is slippery; when does a reasoned POV slip into bias? By focusing on the girls rather than the legal case, for example, a tendency was established, but I didn't think that damning in itself. I still think that was the best way to approach the story.
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Old 05-30-2018, 08:26 AM   #119
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This was one of a constant stream of painting characters on the corporate side with negate phrasing (coldly), and snide asides that - as far as I could tell - had no reason to be there except to prejudice the reader.

Perhaps Roeder did say it coldly and perhaps he really did think the women were insignificant, but he might just as well have genuinely not recalled, because a number of years had passed. (If it was just this one example I'd let it pass, but there are a great many more.)
Isn't it legitimate for a historian to interpret, based on her knowledge and research? Do you think she should have limited herself to simply copying the trial transcript? (Copying it full, I suppose, since otherwise one might claim she was biased in her selection of what to include.)

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This only proves that even a century on, people can still disagree on the subject - proving that there can indeed be more than one way to look at these things. I can only ask you to believe that I am not an evil, mean-spirited person. I do care, I just don't think that - back then especially - it was as simple as you would have it. ... But we've been through that.
People can disagree, but that doesn't mean there's equal validity to every point of view. There's evidence on one side, and only excuses and alibis and claims of ignorance on the other. It is simple.
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Old 05-30-2018, 09:12 AM   #120
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Fair enough. I didn't give any weight to the imagined scenarios as they irritated me; I didn't find Moore biased in her presentation of the facts. But bias is slippery; when does a reasoned POV slip into bias? By focusing on the girls rather than the legal case, for example, a tendency was established, but I didn't think that damning in itself. I still think that was the best way to approach the story.
A lot of Moore's imagined scenes with the women were supported by quotes that appeared to be taken from correspondence. I'm guessing such sources would have fed well into the sort of thing she wanted, and I would not be surprised to find a lot of her embellishments with the women had reasonable justification. Whereas, I'm still guessing, there was much probably much less personal detail available on the other side (either it was not available for she didn't go looking). One thing I find sort of amusing is that examples like the snippet I quoted above would have been just as effective (or more so) left at the simple quote of what was said (which I presume was taken from transcript). Most of her audience would have happily filled it in exactly as she wanted - we've seen enough of evasive witnesses on TV to make this stuff up for ourselves. (Whether our reactions reflect reality or not.)

Have you done additional research to verify that the facts were impartially presented? I have not done so yet, so my charge of bias must limit itself to the presentation style for the moment, but that Claudia Clark book mentioned by AnotherCat is tempting to try when I have more time.
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