Thank God It’s The Friday Ethics Warm-Up For The Weekend, 10/8/2021, Dedicated To Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow


Mrs. O’Leary’s cow may be the most unethically maligned animal in U.S. history. On October 8, 1871, something caused flames to spark in the Chicago barn of Patrick and Catherine O’Leary. The resulting two-day conflagration killed 200-300 people, destroyed 17,450 buildings, left 100,000 homeless and caused about $4 billion of damage in today’s dollars. While the fire was still raging, The Chicago Evening Journal reported that it all started “on the corner of DeKoven and Twelfth Streets, at about 9 o’clock on Sunday evening, being caused by a cow kicking over a lamp in a stable in which a woman was milking.” Then a verse to a popular song was added; pretty soon it was the only verse anyone remembered:

Late one night, when we were all in bed,
Mrs. O’Leary lit a lantern in the shed.
Her cow kicked it over,
Then winked her eye and said,
‘There’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight!’

There was never any convincing evidence that a cow started the blaze. The O’Learys had five cows, and they didn’t have names. It’s not even a sure thing that the fire started in the barn, but Mrs. O’Leary was a Catholic woman and an Irish immigrant, and Chicagoans were eager to have a scapegoat, or rather scapecow. One prominent historian who has studied the inquest transcripts believes that the true culprit was an O’Leary neighbor named Daniel ‘Pegleg’ Sullivan, who hobbled into the O’Leary barn to smoke a pipe, which then fell into a pile of wood shavings and subsequently started the fire. Nonetheless, Catherine O’Leary was ostracized, and became a recluse. In 1997, the Chicago City Council officially exonerated Mrs. O’Leary and her cow, which did just about as much good for Mrs. O’Leary as for the cow.

1. A new book shows that I have not lived in vain! Yesterday, a line from a depressing movie called “Kodachrome” sent me into one of my funks. During one of the many arguments between a dying artist and his middle aged son who hates him, the father (Ed Harris) sneers that he may have been a neglectful father, but at least he would leave something of importance when he died, unlike his son, a failed rock band recruiter for a record label. By purest luck, today I received a complimentary copy of “Reginald Rose and the Journey of 12 Angry Men,” a fascinating and thoroughly researched account of how the TV screenplay and the film came to be the iconic works they are. Author Phil Rosenweig also tells the weird story of how Rose lost control of the stage version of his work, and how for years the only script one could legally perform was a hack adaptation of the movie by a writer who didn’t understand it. Well, I’m part of that weird story, as is my old theater company, “The American Century Theater,” which became the first professional theater in the U.S. to present the screenplay on stage. Many were involved in the success of that production, including my wife,Grace, who produced the script by meticulously typing the screenplay from a recording of the movie (this was before the internet), and NPR critic Bob Mondello, who traveled by bus, in the rain, to a converted school auditorium to see the production, which he gave a sensational and much circulated review. There were many twists and turns after that, but eventually Rose’s version of “12 Angry Men” became the play most theaters produce. He got the respect he deserved, the endurance of the play, which is a genuine classic (I directed it four times) is assured, and yes, I was part of the reason why. Rosenweig, who interviewed me, accurately relates my role in the off-stage drama. You can find the book on Amazon, and here.

Now I can die in peace.

2. Good plan! While complaining to my doctor’s nurse about the difficulty of getting a prescription filled on time, both she and later,a pharmacist blamed the same phenomenon. The doctor’s office and the pharmacy are hopelessly understaffed because so many qualified health care workers have retired or quit. “We have been told repeatedly by former employees that they prefer to be paid unemployment benefits than to be working,” I was told in both places.

3. Is this ethical? A 100-year-old man went on trial in Germany yesterday on charges of being an accessory to 3,518 counts of murder because he served in the S.S. during World War II. The suspect, who was identified only as Josef S. in keeping with German privacy rules, is alleged to have worked at Sachsenhausen between 1942 and 1945 as an enlisted member of the Nazi Party’s paramilitary wing. Unlike the case of “Ivan the Terrible,” where a Cleveland autoworker was tried in Israel for war crimes after allegations of unusual cruelty to Jewish prisoners, there seems to be no claims that Josef S’s crimes go beyond serving as a guard.

4. Tales of the Great Stupid, humor crimes division:

  • Sean McDonough, a veteran Boston sportscaster who was calling the final regular season Red Sox game on the team’s flagship station WEEI, mentioned the success of the 107-win San Francisco Giants, saying “A lot of people are surprised by the Red Sox’s 92 wins.Tell me, who saw San Francisco’s 107 wins coming?” “Maybe nobody outside of Farhan Zaidi and [Giants manager] Gabe Kapler;  they just did an unbelievable job,” said broadcast partner Dave Flemming. “And who knows? Maybe we can have a World Series reunion.” Said McDonough after Flemming pronounced Zaidi’s name precisely: “Their GM’s name is ‘High Anxiety’?” (I might have made that joke!) But in San Francisco, the Woke mob is calling for McDonough to be fired for the “racist” act of joking about a Muslim name. Zaidi, a graduate of MIT, is the first Muslim and first Asian American general manager in major US professional sports. McDonough  was recently named as the lead play-by-play voice for the NHL at ESPN, where he also calls college basketball and football. What are the odds that he keeps his job?
  • But then McDonough isn’t black and a member of the superstar club, like Dave Chappelle, Despite being attacked by LGTBQ activists for his now familiar jokes about transsexuals in his latest Netflix stand-up special,  an audience of 18,000, including many Hollywood progressives,  at the Hollywood Bowl gave comedian Dave Chappelle a standing ovation. “If this is what being canceled is like, I love it,” the persistently politically incorrect comic said. “Fuck Twitter. Fuck NBC News, ABC News, all these stupid ass networks. I’m not talking to them. I’m talking to you. This is real life.” Anyone who can find a consistent standard in the treatment of Chappelle by an audience including  Brad Pitt, Tiffany Haddish, Donnell Rawlings and other A-listers compared to the attacks on J.K. Rowling, to cite just one example, please enlighten me. [Source: Hollywood Reporter.]


19 thoughts on “Thank God It’s The Friday Ethics Warm-Up For The Weekend, 10/8/2021, Dedicated To Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow

  1. 4. Sean McDonough is a really reliable, super competent, pretty vanilla announcer, isn’t he? I doubt they can afford to can him. He’s a pretty valuable asset.

  2. 2) “We have been told repeatedly by former employees that they prefer to be paid unemployment benefits than to be working,”

    You know, I don’t buy this and I hear it quite often. I’ve been on unemployment twice in my life the latest being in 2012; it took me 9 weeks to find a job. I don’t know the laws in every state but in NY unemployment only pays you a percentage of you pay based on the last quarter you worked. As a professional (Electrical / Software Engineer) the percentage for me was much greater than the maximum weekly amount payable from unemployment. Let me check …. okay, I’ve been keeping my budge on Excel since 2010 and I see I was paid 354.38 a week on unemployment. If you were on unemployment all year (the max at the time was 26 weeks) it only comes to $18,427.76. How can anyone making a decent wage as a pharmacy technician (I’m assuming Pharmacists wouldn’t be satisfied with unemployment level income) live on that kind of reduced income. Okay, that was 2012, now the maximaum is $508 per week in NY but that’s gross (unemployment is taxable and my 2012 was after tax). Even at $508 that’s only $26,416, but again, you can only collect for 26 weeks unless you somehow qualify for an extension. And that’s the max based on an annual income of >$52,000. I don’t see how anyone can sit home and collect unemployment and be happy about it. It won’t pay the bills because most people just live within their means – not well below there means to save money.

    So, I keep hearing about all these people making more money on unemployment that going to work and it just doesn’t add up for me. Maybe if you had a low wage job and only get job offers from lower wage jobs would unemployment pay more than going BACK to work. Have people really grown this lazy and unmotivated? I never knew anyone in my circles that didn’t try to get back to work quickly. Who are these people that are satisfied with a measly unemployment check – keeping in mind it’s only a fraction of what you were making. Based on the numbers ~26K for $52K it looks to be about 50%.

    I just don’t see how people can say they’re paying people more to stay home than work. It doesn’t work out. 26 week limit (plus maybe an extension) for 50% of what you made before. I’m sure people might milk unemployment to go the full term but eventually it runs out. Anybody that loses a good job isn’t going to be able to make ends meet for an extended period on unemployment. And those making lower wages or minimum wage are going to get a mere pittance in unemployment.

    Doesn’t anyone have any ambition to do well any more? Meaning, when I was younger most people felt shame or embarrassment when they were on any kind of public assistance. You’re never going to get ahead without some kind of effort. If you want a better life you need to put in some kind of effort – not milk the system. You’ll never have anything meaningful without putting in some kind of effort. So, when I hear about people losing decent wage jobs I just cannot believe they are willing to or would rather sit home and collect unemployment. Of course, after the events of the last couple years almost nothing surprises me now.

    • I think it depends on a variety of factors, but one of which during the pandemic was the additional benefits the federal government was paying. If you took that $508 plus $600 for a while last year, that’s $1108 per week. This year, up until recently it was $300 from the feds so it would be $808 per week.

      Additionally there are likely other governmental benefits that might be available, depending on your income level — food stamps come to mind, perhaps rental assistance, health care assistance, etc.

      I think it depends a lot on where you live and just how they figure the unemployment benefits.

      Also, don’t most states require that you put in job applications every week to continue to qualify for benefits? That’s true here, although it was suspended last year during the coronavirus emergency.

      For myself, I’d rather be working (and actually would have a problem physically with the work requirement), but I can see where there could be a segment of folks who could be tempted to just stay home for a while, especially those in low wage jobs.

      • …or simply are willing to take the “pay cut” in order to not have to work with the public (particularly in health care) and thus putting one’s self at a significantly reduced risk of contact & exposure to an infected person.

        And by the way, I have a friend who told me directly last year that, when he’d be laid off from his job because his company simply couldn’t keep operating normally (they did the electronic part of concert ticket sales), that he was making more on unemployment than he did when working . . . precisely because of the additional federal benefits as you described.

        It’s really a thing (or, at least, WAS a thing).


  3. 2. I’ll bet that if people had a guaranteed income that was less than unemployment benefits but that wouldn’t go away if they got a job, then they might be willing to work for lower wages, companies could afford to hire more employees, and the employees wouldn’t be overworked.

    At the very least, the employees would have a better BATNA when it comes to shopping around for jobs with good conditions, and companies would be forced to develop better policies and working conditions.

  4. If you want to divine whether any particular public figure will be ‘canceled’, you just need to use the same calculation that Hollywood does: Would canceling the ‘offender’ be more profitable than supporting them? If they think that an actor, writer, producer, or politician is more useful to them as a scapegoat to signal their moral superiority than he would be as a cash cow (or political pawn), he’s toast.

  5. Were it not for the O’Leary bovine specifically, and Chicago’s unearned cachet generally, this SESQUICENTENNIAL of THE Deadliest Wildfire EVAH might just be seen in a different light.

    Even though 1.2 million largely unpopulated acres burned, the number of deaths (estimated between 1,500 and 2,500 (nearly tenfold that of Chicago!) is positively staggering.

  6. 3) Today, yes, I can see where Germany could be prosecuting men for the crime of belonging to the SS.

    However, 60-75 years ago, when there could have been actually records and witnesses, what percentage of SS members were prosecuted who were active rather than passive participants in mass murders and other war crimes?

    We got quite a number back when it was fresh and the evidence was available first hand. However, all too soon, politics and diplomacy made it more urgent to meld West Germany with NATO and the rest of Western Europe. As well, I seem to recall the Soviets hiring a decent number of former SS and the like for organizations like the Stasi. Their methods weren’t that dissimilar, after all.

  7. 2. Good plan! While complaining to my doctor’s nurse about the difficulty of getting a prescription filled on time, both she and later,a pharmacist blamed the same phenomenon. The doctor’s office and the pharmacy are hopelessly understaffed because so many qualified health care workers have retired or quit. “We have been told repeatedly by former employees that they prefer to be paid unemployment benefits than to be working,” I was told in both places.

    In many venues and on many occasions I have mentioned analysis that shows – or at least strongly indicates – that the best all round system is benefits paid at levels not quite enough for survival, at least in any comfort, that continue even for employed persons, i.e. benefits that operate as a wage subsidy too (see also Extradimensional Cephalopod’s speculations; his intuition is at least partly backed by the analysis, though the levels and time scales do enter into it as well). I won’t go into detail unless asked, but the numbers do add up and the analysis does show why test runs of negative income tax didn’t work out properly and don’t work as experimental testing.

    • The problem with universal basic income is that someone has to pay it. A negative income tax that benefits employees will be either be negated through higher income taxes or through higher prices which will be needed to pay the benefits by taxing the organizations producing the value. We are currently running huge deficits now to pay for subsistence entitlements for a relative few. I would be interested in seeing the analysis.

      • Obviously people making more than a certain amount would be paying more money through taxes even though they’d still be receiving the UBI. The point of UBI is that it creates an income floor that people can build on. It’s a better safety net than the current one, because they current one truly incentivizes people not to work: you stop getting the benefits once you get a job. You still get UBI once you get a job; it just gradually disappears on net as you make more and more money, but by that point it’s not so important to you.

        With UBI, people will be able to invest in themselves more because they won’t have to obsessively save money to pay for all of the maintenance and accidents that come with their cheap car, house, and appliances that wear out quickly but are all they can afford. They’ll also be able to demand better wages and working conditions from employers, because as I mentioned earlier they’ll have a better BATNA. They will have the ability to leave their job without immediately having to get a new one, because it won’t eat through their savings quite so fast.

        I don’t think UBI is on its own sufficient to solve many of the problems we see, but I do think it’ll be necessary to solve many of them.

      • That happens not to be the case, if levels are set properly and if you can get past or (better) avoid transitional difficulties, as then the numbers do work out, just as I stated. But showing you that will take a few days for me to get the analysis together. Meanwhile, you may have the opportunity to chase up the approach of Professor Kim Swales of the University of Strathclyde and his colleagues in the UK, or that of Nobel winner Professor Edmund S. Phelps, McVickar Professor of Political Economy at Columbia University in the USA (see his book Rewarding Work).

      • As I am about to post the material I mentioned, but it might get held up in moderation because it contains links, I thought I should give you fair warning of that.

      • You wanted some detail and analysis of these matters.

        First, here is the bulk of an email I sent to someone about this a few years ago, possibly with some link rot now:-

        You suggested that I email you to clarify my thoughts on the labour market externality issues that I mentioned. Briefly, in a country such as Australia with a developed system of unemployment benefits, we can set up an invariant based on funding those and their on costs. Even in other countries we can do so roughly, on the basis of the Vagrancy Costs of having the unemployed around without support. Either way, these are spread costs – an externality. Even frictional unemployment, promptly relieved by new employment, brings this out; it is merely that then the new employer takes up the cost shed by the old one. In any case, all employers have an incentive towards retrenching over and above whatever is optimal. Even redundancy payments don’t cure that, as the spread costs cut in again because the payments are targetted to a time window and because they bypass those already unemployed anyway.

        On due consideration, it struck me that a good remedy, in the short and medium term, would be the Pigovian one of applying tax breaks per employee to suitable taxes that had their point of impact – not incidence – on actual and potential employers, set to match that invariant, adjusting the notional tax rate to maintain revenue in the short term. G.S.T. is available for that here in Australia though it is far from ideal, not least because many people would misread the higher notional tax rate as what they would actually be paying. However, this system works out as a virtual wage subsidy rather than an actual wage subsidy, as there would be no funds outflow needed and there would be no stickiness issues needing wages to adjust. Even though this approach is only revenue neutral in the short term, it is budget neutral over longer terms as changes in outgoings on unemployment benefits automatically match changes in tax revenue. All this makes it practical to apply the tax breaks across the board, without the targetting that allows direct funding but also allows people to fall out of the coverage and perpetuate the externality.

        I came at this myself through game theory and similar. Then I looked around and found that others had done work in the area, following different paths to get there but often ending up at the same or comparable policy prescriptions. In particular, I found the approach of Professor Kim Swales of the University of Strathclyde and his colleagues (in the U.K. – see, which makes essentially the same recommendations as I came up with, and of Nobel winner Professor Edmund S. Phelps, McVickar Professor of Political Economy at Columbia University (in the U.S.A. – see, or his book “Rewarding Work”). I dumbed down my own proposals a bit and had them published in the (near Distributist) National Civic Council’s magazine “News Weekly” (in Australia – see, and also and following, or my Henry Tax Review submission at, and I have some other related stuff too, e.g. at This describes the proposals as a Negative Payroll Tax, long run equivalent to a Guaranteed Basic Income or a Negative Income Tax but faster acting and without funding issues. If set at the right levels – LOWER than those usually contemplated for a Guaranteed Basic Income or a Negative Income Tax – a Negative Payroll Tax is indefinitely sustainable up to hitting Malthusian constraints, constraints which would be brought forward by capital departure (which includes winding back local capital while foreign capital builds up, as well as simply moving it abroad where it might be seized or might erode without replenishment).

        That last aside leads enquiry towards longer run issues and issues of capital adequacy, which overlap but are distinct, strictly speaking. However, I did look into the broader area … quite a while ago now …

        The virtual wage subsidy approach shows that these things can be sustained indefinitely, if done that way. Professor Swales’s analysis shows that G.D.P. actually goes up under that (as does the general result that fixing harmful externalities also does that, though without giving numbers like those given by Professor Swales’s analysis). That makes it workable and effective short of hitting Malthusian constraints, though unfortunately lockdowns etc. tend to create that artificially, so recovery would also need those to stop.

        Also, there is a simple thought experiment that shows that the virtual wage subsidy approach, an actual wage subsidy approach with real funds paid out, a quasi-Distributist solution that makes everyone into rentiers in a small way, and a Negative Income Tax approach, are all long run equivalent, if they are done right, i.e. if they are set at levels generally corresponding to Vagrancy Costs and/or to the costs of unemployment benefits and if they are applied across the board rather than being targetted to a test group (say). This simple thought experiment is, to consider implementing tax breaks by issuing anonymous, transferrable vouchers at the same value as funds for an actual wage subsidy, to be “cashed in” to trigger the tax breaks; clearly, the vouchers would become money over the long term, and all the approaches would then be equivalent. That also shows that all of them would be indefinitely sustainable once they settled down, though quite possibly there might be unworkable levels during a transition to that (which is why I prefer the virtual wage subsidy approach, at least to start with).

        Clearly, you can’t measure the effects on externalities by giving the Negative Income Tax approach to a targetted comparison group as a test, because much of the spillover will come from the untargetted control group; there won’t then be much shift in wages paid or in incentives to seek work in each group. So the real life tests of Negative Income Tax were badly framed.

        I hope that helps.

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