Midnight Ethics Curtain Call, 3/25/22: (OK, OK, It Went Up Late, But I Started It Before Midnight!)

This date in 1911, March 25, is one of those special dark days that should be taught in public schools but isn’t, and wasn’t when I was kid either. The Triangle Shirtwaist Company factory in New York City burned down, killing 146 workers in little more than 30 minutes.  Owned by Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, the factory was located in the top three floors of the 10-story building in downtown Manhattan, and was truly a sweatshop literally and figuratively. Poor, lower class workers, mostly immigrants, were stuffed into  a hot, suffocatingly cramped space. The majority were teenage women who spoke no English. There were four elevators,  but only one was worked properly and it held only 12 people at a time. There were two stairways down to the street, but one was locked from the outside; the other opened inward only. The fire escape was crumbling, and couldn’t support the weight of more than a few women at a time.

Blanck and Harris had a nasty habit of deliberately torching their workplaces before business hours  to collect on the large fire-insurance policies they had purchased. Because of this proclivity, the owners refused to install sprinkler systems and take other anti-fire  measures in case they needed another arson job. The 1911 fire wasn’t intentional, but it might as well have been.

The endangered employees were worked 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, and received just 15 dollars for such a week. there were 600 of them on the job when a fire broke out in a rag bin on the eighth floor. The manager tried to turned a fire hose on it, but the hose was rotted and its valve was rusted shut. There was a factory-wide panic. The  only functioning elevator broke down after four trips; frenzied employees, trapped, began jumping down the shaft. Some picked the blocked set of stairs and burned alive. Women trapped on the eighth floor began jumping out of the windows. Meanwhile, the falling bodies impeded firefighters, whose ladders only  went as high as the seventh floor, Their nets were not strong enough to catch the women from such a height, especially since they were jumping in groups.

The guilty owners escaped by climbing up to the roof and jumping over to an adjoining building.

A  union march on April 5 was attended by 80,000 people, protesting the horrible conditions that led to the disaster. Blanck and Harris managed to escape criminal penalties, but the fire became a classic example of how terrible events often have beneficial consequences. The Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire led to major fire prevention laws and factory safety regulations, and it galvanized unions an pro-labor activists, which were already ascending in political power. 

It also began the journey of the Democratic Party, which had only elected a single President since the Civil War, into its role as a reform party and the party of the disenfranchised. [Pointer: James Hodgson]

2. This was, of course, inevitable. Thanks to a recently passed “Equity and Diversity” law affecting educational training, Washington schools are, in some districts, adopting “race-based discipline,” which is exactly what it sounds like, as well as illegal.

The Clover Park School Board, for example, adopted a revised student discipline policy at its March 14 meeting. The new policy holds that disruptive students may face “exclusionary as well as positive and supportive forms of discipline.” The focus  is to keep students in the classroom and provide “equitable educational opportunities.” The policy must meet “individual student needs in a culturally responsive manner” via “culturally responsive discipline,’ with  “culturally responsive” defines as “knowledge of student cultural histories and contexts, as well as family norms and values in different cultures; knowledge and skills in accessing community resources and community and parent outreach; and skills in adapting instruction to students’ experiences and identifying cultural contexts for individual students.”

In other words, Authentic Frontier Gibberish.

When two conservative school board members asked what is meant by the term “culturally responsive discipline.” Deputy Superintendent Brian Laubach  “explained”…

“Essentially they’re referring there, that you look at ‘are you dispersing discipline across the ethnicities, the racial groups equitably,’ right?, So, are you disciplining African-American boys more than you’re disciplining white boys, right? So, are you paying attention to all of that in your data?…What are their backgrounds? Ethnicity? That sort of thing can be commented in that way about it. Then, asking classroom teachers, asking administrators who dispense that discipline, you know, what brought that about over the other forms of discipline you used in your classroom to make a change happen before sending a kid out, perhaps, for a behavior violation.”

Oh. Clear as day.

2. Anything to protect Joe from the facts…CNN and other news sources rushed to explain President Biden’s petty effort to fire Dr. Oz and Herschel Walker from the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, claiming that the two had violated the Hatch Act, and the move was not partisan pettiness. They were flat-out wrong. As I explained to an inquiring reader,

The letters demanding Walker and Oz resign didn’t mention the Hatch Act, and here’s why: The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations makes it clear that a special government employee may indeed run for partisan political office, stating, “An employee who works on an irregular or occasional basis or is a special government employee as defined in 18 U.S.C. 202(a) is subject to the provisions of the applicable subpart of this part when he or she is on duty.”

An SGE is a person who is “retained, designated, appointed, or employed to perform, with or without compensation, for not to exceed one hundred and thirty days during any period of three hundred and sixty-five consecutive days, temporary duties.” This covers appointments to presidential councils and commissions, and the code goes on to cite the exact situation of Oz and Walker as an example of what those people can do when they are not on duty. An appointee to a special commission or task force who does not have a regular tour of duty may run as a partisan political candidate, but may actively campaign only when he or she is not on duty.

This means volunteers can run for office and otherwise engage in partisan political activity. The Hatch Act restrictions [on political activity] apply only during the period of any day in which the SGE actually is performing government business. For example, if one attends an advisory committee meeting from 8:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m., the appointee could attend a political fundraiser at 3:00 p.m. and even solicit political contributions from the attendees.

The council, in normal years, meets only once.

CNN has a legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, who could have lent a hand in helping CNN to get the law right, but, as usual, getting it right wasn’t the objective. [Richard Moore’s excellent substack newsletter performed the task the news media refused to do.]

3. More knee-jerk “blackface” incoherence...Don’t ask why I stumbled on this, but a slideshow ostensibly about problems on the set of the Sixties TV sitcom “Bewitched” included this note:

The episode “Sisters at Heart” was written by 22 African-American students at Jefferson High School in South Central Los Angeles. While the plot had a strong anti-racism element, one aspect of it didn’t age too well. The episode featured a spell that made one of Darrin’s racist clients see everyone with black skin. Unfortunately, that effect was achieved using blackface. Interesting concept. Terrible execution.

Why? How else would that “spell” be demonstrated? Dark make-up isn’t blackface, when it is used for a valid dramatic purpose. This is just brainless taboo-mongering. (I’ve never seen this episode, by the way. I bet it’s been permanently pulled.)

4. A quitter and an Ethics Hero! Ash Barty, just 25 and ranked No. 1 in women’s tennis, announced her retirement less than two months after winning the Australian Open for her third Grand Slam singles title. “I’m so happy, and I’m so ready. I just know at the moment, in my heart, for me as a person, this is right,” Barty said in six-minute video posted on her Instagram account. 

Barty has been playing pro tennis since she was 15, and ten years was enough, as she said it was time to “chase other dreams.” So many other child protegees in sports and entertainment can’t muster the courage to quit while on top, before they become permanent cases of suspended immaturity, never able to emerge from the limited world of celebrity and the narcissism it engenders, and constantly under the metaphorical thumb of hangers-on, sycophants, agents, sponsors and fans.

I’m betting she doesn’t un-retire, either, like Tom Brady.

5. Another web slide show  purported to list the “45 Most Annoying Songs of All Time” according to “music lovers.” Not that it matters, but this is a dishonest feature, never describing who or what the “music lovers” are and how the list was complied. More substantive is the objection that “all time” obviously implies before 1985, when the oldest song on the list, “We Are The World” was first inflicted on the culture. And that entry is an anomaly: most of the others arrived within the last 20 years. I have heard and heard of exactly seven of these songs, and I can’t decide if that’s bad or good for someone who works as hard as I do to stay culturally literate. I can confidently say, however, that the list, in addition to not even trying to be what it claims to be, is crap. To begin with, the most annoying song of all, John Lennon’s “Imagine,” is missing completely. So are all of the most horrible songs of the Sixties, notably Barry McGwire’s hsyterical “Eve of Destruction” and the fatuous “In the Year 2525” I doubt that more than a handful of the 45 could stand up to the pure over-blown idiocy of “MacArthur Park,” or the deadly sacchrine “Feelings,” or the moronic “Pina Colada Song.”

If you are going to compile a “Best” or “Worst” list, have the integrity to do your homework. That’s all I ask.

33 thoughts on “Midnight Ethics Curtain Call, 3/25/22: (OK, OK, It Went Up Late, But I Started It Before Midnight!)

  1. 4 black like me came out in 61. I wondered if one inspired the other. Either way I have a feeling both would be problematic.

    • I wonder why Watermelon Man starring Godfrey Cambridge in white face is not subject to the same scrutiny. Melvin Van Peebles 1970 classic was a good example of how to use makeup to create a story. Not everything is a Minstrel show.

  2. 5) I must not be a music lover because there were several songs on that list that I liked. There must have been about 50% I didn’t even know but of the rest I enjoyed many of them.

    I thought, “(You’re) Having My Baby”, would have been on the list. Or, how about, “Fly Robin Fly” – that song annoyed me back when I was in High School. The lyrics consisted of 8 different words.
    Fly, robin fly
    Fly, robin fly
    Fly, robin fly
    Up, up to the sky
    Repeat ad nauseam

    How did that become a #1 hit?

    Anyway, I could probably think of more but time for covfefe.

    • You and I are on the same track: I like most of the songs I know on the list. Getting sick of a song from over-playing (as with the “Titanic” theme isn’t the same as an annoying song, for example.)

      I thought of that terrible Paul Anka song right after posting. Thanks for flagging it!

  3. Prologue: I am actually surprised that this isn’t taught more. I don’t recall the fire being covered in my classes either, though my readings in history have certainly gone over it. You would think that indoctrinating students on the evils of capitalism would necessitate the savagery of the Industrial Revolution of the late 19th/early 20th centuries.

    1. Basically this is the same argument about “disproportionate” discipline that they make about incarceration rates. If black students are disciplined more than white students, then it’s because of racism and not because black students are not expected by their parents or culture to behave in class (i.e. behave “white”). The solution isn’t to expect good behavior from all students regardless of skin color, but to make sure you discipline the same number of black students as white students. In other words, let some of the inmates rule the asylum for the sake of looking good.

    2. It’s the narrative, man. I don’t know what else I can contribute here. Republicans, bad; Democrats, good. Facts don’t matter when you’re dealing with Eeeeeeevil.

    3. And, if the episode has been pulled (I will try to check my television options later when people aren’t still asleep here), what a blow it will be to those 22 African-American students. They got their script turned into an episode only for Presentists in the 21st Century to get it blackballed (pun not intended) because of the limits of 1970’s technology. Would the solution have been to cast a bunch of black actors to play the white characters affected by the spell, maybe?

    4. Good for her. She spent her childhood working instead of playing. Give her time to live her life and do what she wants now.

    5. In the case of annoying songs, some cultural illiteracy is acceptable, I think.

    • AM
      I have to wonder what happens if Black students hit their punishment quota and another Black kid does the same thing but escapes punishment because too few whites are not behaving in the same way and thus not needing punishment do the punished Black kids get to argue for equal protection?

    • Would the solution have been to cast a bunch of black actors to play the white characters affected by the spell, maybe?

      I don’t think so. That would be a different spell entirely. The point of the first spell was de facto race-blindness. If everyone’s black, no one is white or black.

  4. I’d vote for “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” as one of the worst. It’s McCartney’s and the other three Beatles hated it. When I listen to that album, I almost always skip it.

      • There are Beatles songs that make my list, though:

        1. “Thank-you Girl”: a pernicious earworm that keeps me up at night for a week if I hear even part of it.

        2. “Don’t Pass Me By”…Ringo’s worst.

        3. Revolution #9…absolutely unforgivable portentious crap by John.

    #1 How Much is That Doggie in the Window
    #2 Abba Dabba Dabba
    #3 Purple People Eater
    #4 Da Doo Ron Ron
    #5 Na Na Na
    #6 Tutti Frutti
    #7 anything “sung” by Chipmunks, dogs,Teresa Brewer or Johnnie Ray
    #8 Che Sera Sera (whatever will be will be)
    #9 Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini
    #10 Y.M.C.A.
    #11 Bee Bop A Lu La
    #12 Gillie Gillie Osenpfeffer
    #13 If You’re Going to San Francisco
    #14 It’s Not Unusual
    #15 Puff the Magic Dragon
    #16 Woody Woodpecker

    • I would vigorously dissent on #4, #5 and #14 (All Tom Jones performances are worth listening to because…just because…) Also strongly on #6 and #11, as they are core Little Richard and respect is due (unless you mean the horrible Pat Boone covers). I’m torn on #8—it sure is annoying as used in “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” with Doris bellowing the song at Mach 8 decibels to alert her kidnapped son, but in the extended Marshall family, which was all Greek, that song was a big fave.”Puff,” despite all the drug theories, is still a children’s song, and they are ALL annoying. #10 was meant to be annoying: I don’t know how to judge that.

      “Itsy bitsie” almost was mentioned in the post. No disagreement there. Everything about Woody was annoying.

      More mildly on #2, which is the same category as “Three Little Fishies” and a couple of other 40s novelty songs,

      • Sugar Shack in the sixties always made my skin crawl. Kung Fu Fighting in the seventies signaled the death of pop music for me.

    • Nooooooooooooooo….

      Well, some of those are annoying, but some are just silly.

      And why do you hate dogs? And dragons?

      Different tastes, for sure. I was watching the opening scene to some now forgotten TV show a decade or two ago and it featured someone in a night club signing Da Doo Ron Ron. I had that on video tape (remember that?) and it eventually inspired me to track down the original song on the iTunes store and download it. I still have it on my computer. A companion perhaps to “Then he Kissed Me”.

  6. I hate slideshows, but got through a dozen of them and was familiar with most of them.

    We covered the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in high school, which probably meant that there was one or two paragraphs about it in a 400 page book.

    But, it was something I remembered.


    • You obviously had better history teachers than I did. We learned just about nothing about US history from 1877 to 1900, and then it was Teddy Roosevelt, World War I (a bit) and right into the Great Depression.

    • I had this in high school, as well. Graduated in 1993, and I went to a public school in a very conservative part of Washington state. I don’t recall if there was any moral baggage; it was simply a tragedy during a period of decadence, exploitation of fresh-off-the-boat penniless immigrants, and (of course) corruption.

  7. #5 I looked through the whole list, and I would say I have heard a good portion of the songs. Some of them I just didn’t know the name. I think “Mickey” by Toni Basil is actually the oldest song from the list, dating back to 1981-1982. I agree that the list is lame, definitely aimed at a certain generation, like current 30-40 year olds.

  8. This is just brainless taboo-mongering. (I’ve never seen this episode, by the way. I bet it’s been permanently pulled.)

    Nope! I saw it just last year during a holiday marathon. I was impressed the network kept it in rotation.

  9. I’m almost certain I learned about the Triangle Shirt Factory fire in high school or late middle school. Pretty certain it only mentioned that the doors were locked to prevent unauthorized smoke breaks, none of the other factors that made the tragedy worse.

    I want to say that songs today seem more annoying than songs written last century, but I think that would be due to survivor bias more than anything else. Generally, people aren’t going to keep around terrible albums for their grandchildren to find and talk about.

  10. “CNN has a legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, who could have lent a hand…”

    Jack teed up this incredibly crass joke and I’m surprised no one has gone for it. I’m not going to, though

  11. I first heard about the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in a Business Law class in 1973, in a lecture about the history of worker safety regulations. I had largely forgotten about the event until I saw a PBS “American Experience” episode about the fire in 2011. It was a travesty that the owners escaped accountability, even in that day and time. Thanks for the “pointer” credit!

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