Monday, September 06, 2004

Labor Day in the U.S.A.

The Chicago Tribune has a couple of interesting Labor Day pieces:

'American Dream' Goes Up in Coal Dust:

" CHRISTOPHER, Ill. -- Twenty-eight years breathing coal dust and diesel fumes wasn't enough to kill Gary Bartolotti. Neither was a falling 1,500-pound slab of shale that pinned him to the jagged floor of a mine shaft, shattered his right ankle and pelvis and ruptured his bladder. He never lost consciousness, never even went into shock. [...] The company that ran the mines he worked went bankrupt, and a federal judge recently granted Horizon Natural Resources' request to cancel the health-care benefits of active and retired employees. By early October, Bartolotti and at least 1,200 other retired southern Illinois miners and their dependents will lose the lifetime health-care coverage they'd been counting on."

Executive Privilege:

"The simple answer is that some CEOs lose their sense of reality and feel entitled to whatever they can get away with, psychiatrists and corporate governance experts say. Instead of thinking about what is fair or right, some chief executives look around to see what their peers at the top of the heap are getting in cash, stock options and perks, such as corporate jets and club dues. They want that--and more.
[...]Of course, no dysfunctional individual exists in a vacuum. In the corporate world, chiefs who are losing their bearings have boards of directors that are supposed to help them maintain perspective. But boards often are stacked with friends of the top guy, which makes it hard--indeed, almost impossible--for them to say no, said Nell Minow, a corporate governance specialist."

(Reading that story reminds me of reading history -- over centuries under the feudal system, monarchs grew more powerful and the aristocracy which was supposed to be a sort of check on that power grew weaker. Monarchs measured their rights by comparison with other monarchs. What we need is a sort of corporate Magna Carta, I think.)

NPR has a good Labor Day story as well, a piece on Studs Terkel, with some clips from his original interview tapes, for the book Working.

The book Ken gave me for my birthday (Chi Town by Norbert Blei) has a cool piece about Studs Terkel too. It's a collection of essays about Chicago, and Studs is so much a part of Chicago history and culture that a story on him is almost inevitable. Blei had the good fortune of sitting in on one of his interviews once -- with Dave Brubeck, another Chicago legend.

One of Blei's other heroes is a new discovery for me: Sydney J. Harris. After reading Blei's ode to him, I did some searching, and found treasures. I've only just started working my way through this remarkable collection, but already I'm coming to worship this guy too.

Here is a sample:

"The fact is that nothing is harder in life than knowing what should be done, for there are dozens of ways to do something wrong, and usually only one way to do it right.

"'It is easier to be critical than to be correct,' said Disraeli, in rebuking his parliamentary opponents - neglecting to add that this was as true for his own party.

"The process of learning consists in collecting 'non-answers' rather than in finding answers. We find out the things that don't work through trial and error, usually repeated many times in different ways, before we hit upon the answer, if we ever do."

And on that note -- I've really got to study some electromagnetism today.


Anonymous said...

Good luck studying!


Anonymous said...

Very good piece-- don't you think you should run for the Senate?


Anonymous said...

Did you see the musical "The Good War" based on Studs' book? I kind of wanted to but never did. I'm pretty sure it's gone again now though maybe it'll come back eventually. As per the Senate... yes, run;) I plan to go for at least state legislature myself;) But we'll see if I can ever fit that in. I'm already fairly ambitious in my own field...


-K said...

Just curious, does Gary Bartolotti's bosses's boss have health insurance?

Mary said...

Gary's boss's boss probably lost his job, if the company went bankrupt. And yet he's still better off than Gary, I'll bet.