Boiling it down to three words.

We have gotten a lot of stories of people being killed without any real consequence lately. But let me tell you of one case that really hasn’t gotten a lot of attention.
In this case, we have 4 people killed – two initially, two more trying to save the first victims. There was a third person who was only injured and not killed, but that was largely by luck. The investigation showed exactly who was responsible. Not only that, they had killed someone a few years before in nearly the exact same way.
What is the punishment for such a crime?
How about a quarter. Not a quarter century behind bars, I mean the little coin we used to use to power video games that had George Washington’s face on it (he must be proud).
How the hell are we not hearing about this? Where are the protests. Because, this is a case of DuPont Chemical, not a human being. DuPont is a company that is valuated at around $60 billion, with $35 billion in revenue. A worker was hit with a component in a pesitcide in a dosage enough to kill her almost immediately. Two coworkers, not knowing what happened to her, tried to save her and died themselves. One of the rescuers brothers, who also worked there, tried to use a gas mask to get to his brother, but died in the effort. An investigation found that DuPont had not taken the steps to protect or train its workers enough around such a deadly chemical.
And, after the investigation, what was the penalty? $99,000. Less than 25k per life lost. And when you are a company that makes $67k a minute, 24/7, that is just a minute and a half of your income.
Maybe it seems unfair to try to analogize a huge company to a person, to try to equate things they do to acts of people. But, lest you forget, corporations are people.
That what we’re told, that’s how they should be treated. I’ve considered that for a few years, I’ve had my rebuttals, but in light of this case, I think I have a much more succinct way to rebut that argument.
Fuck… that… shit!
Perhaps the choice of language seems a tad harsh, not the sort of thing for a proper debate on that argument. But really, what reaction can we really have other than, “fuck that shit!”
If corporations are people, they are sociopaths, creatures who are built not to act out of any empathy or concern for anyone but themselves.
In the DuPont case, they did exactly what they are supposed to do. Not only that, but really what they are legally required to do, at least legally required on the people making decisions for a publicly traded company. They went the way that was going to save them cost, allowing a maximization of profit. If it would cost $10 million to make sure all their plants have the proper safety equipment in place, and another $10 million in training of their staff… well, that’s 0.4% of their profits in a year. Paying off OSHA and if they can settle with the families for $4 million each, well, they are still bringing a few million more to the bottom line. It makes perfect sense. They can afford 4 deaths a year, easily.
And is the mentality of a sociopath. Not only that, but they demand – and we are giving to them – the rights of an individual. Give money to the politicians willy-nilly, as if they didn’t already have enough of a voice with them. But with that voice, they are securing the rights of a person, but none of the responsibility of one. Which allows them to act without concern for the consequences of their action. It’s the same thinking Ford used back in the 70s, but I suppose it was the 70s man, who’s going to remember back that far.
That points to the “S” word, once again.
Now, here is the thing. Wanting the right to do stuff, without any responsibility to anyone… that’s getting pretty commonplace nowadays. I hear it regularly, particularly from friends who have a job where they manage a lot of people. There are some, and it seems a growing group, who’d prefer to get paid, while not doing any work. Or at least, as little work as possible. From an economists POV, this is actually a rational position. As a manager, though, my job is to ensure they are doing their work. They need to be held accountable to do their responsibilities, and play nice with the people around them, or they won’t continue to get a paycheck.
So, it may not be surprising that corporations would want to have all the freedoms they can with a minimum of responsibilities. It is, as with an individual, an economically rational position to take and push for. But they do need to be responsible, they do need to be accountable for their actions.
What should the penalty be? I don’t know. What is the equivalent of jail time for a company? Of a death sentence? Corporations are corporations for one reason – the government says they are. Perhaps a penalty of rescinding their Articles of Incorporation? Small companies go away, bigger companies are forced to break up into smaller ones? A fine of 1 years’ profit, or even more, grosses? Something that would really hit the stock price, making the shareholders who vote for the board have an interest in having smart businessmen who can manage real risk, rather than just maximizing profit for the next quarter, no matter the cost to anything not categorized as “money”.
Maybe none of those are workable. But who knows? No one, because we’re not having that conversation. Rather, we’re taking an entity which is predisposed towards sociopathic behavior, and allowing them to run without boundaries, without any real danger that their actions will be more harmful than not. Sure, that’s what they’re asking for, but so does a four-year old, and we wouldn’t let them run without some sense of consequences. And at least a four-year old can feel sad about what they did. No, we’re letting this behavior go on because corporations make campaigns run and give politicians places on the board when they retire or get beat. So they’re not holding the corporations feet to the fire to just act a little bit human. And we’re doing the same with politicians, who have no fear of consequences pushing for an environment that openly allows such behavior.
Four people die, and the “person” responsible is fined just enough to get each family member a Honda… not the fanciest one, just a middle of the road Honda, no add-ons. Though, one family can get 2 Hondas, since they lost two brothers. And that’s just considered normal. The “cost of doing business”. Not enough to make a headline on a news site.
So, I have to ask myself, is this how it should be? And the only answer I can think of is, “fuck that shit.”

Trying not to kill with food.

There are tragedies that hit families around the world every day, though some seem more tragic than others. One such case is the recent passing of Scott Johnson in Minnesota from an allergic reaction after eating out. I imagine only a pop-culture definition of a psychopath wouldn’t be horrified for such a loss, but it especially caught my attention. Such a thing is my absolute nightmare, but not because I fear for my kids – I don’t have any – but because I am a chef, and actually harming people can be a constant threat.
This is a case that is going to court, so we can’t say for certainty what exactly happened at this point; the summary is rather brief. In the end, this could be a case of gross misconduct by the restaurant – they were wrong about the batter, either because they didn’t double-check the recipe; the server didn’t properly notify the kitchen which table it was, a cook grabbed the wrong batter… there are plenty of reasons the restaurant would be at fault and those responsible need to face consequences.
However. However, I do want to say this as a general lesson to be taken away from this loss. Having severe allergies, especially to a common ingredient, dining out carries risks, and one should really consider the risk before eating out in those cases.
Take a look at boxes of food or just ingredients at your local grocery store. They’ll almost always note which major allergens are in the packaging. ALLERGENS: SOY, MILK. That sort of thing. But on many, you’ll also find something along the lines of “This product was processed at a facility that also processes tree nuts.”
We are used to lawyer speak and over-warning of dangers. But this is one to be sure to take note of, because it is telling us something. No matter what precautions we are taking, food contamination can happen, and it is very difficult to swear to 100% certainty that none occurred when items are in somewhat close proximity.
Take Gluten-Free items. I’ve worked places where the pastry department made their own gluten-free items. They scrub down the area well and work with freshly cleaned equipment before baking. But I’ve always been slightly nervous about it, because there is flour used in the kitchen. Pre-packaged gluten-free items? I’ve felt much more secure about that, and it has nothing to do with extra precautions or the like. It is because those companies that produce that do not ever use flour – there is no reason for it to be anywhere in the facilities, and thus, so, so much harder to cause any contamination.
With a dairy allergy, in any of my kitchens, there are a lot of the products – milk, cream, butter, cheese, sour cream, pastries and so on. Tell me there is a dairy allergy, and I will double check the recipes. Even if I created the recipe myself, I’ll look it up to be sure. And I’ll check with the cook who made that batch to be sure they didn’t use any. And I’ll ensure only clean, non-contaminated equipment is used. And then I’ll say one more thing – “I cannot absolutely guarantee it.”
I suppose saying so is, in a way, covering my ass legally. But at the moment, I really am not thinking that. I’m simply stating that I can take a lot of precautions, but there is no way I can state that there is no way anything bad can happen. I’ll be open and honest about it. Peanut allergy and ordering a pasta? “Peanuts are not an ingredient on that station; in fact, the only peanuts in the kitchen is peanut butter, and that’s always kept about 70 feet from where the pasta is cooked.”
I am dubious of cases where such trace amounts can cause such problems – if I had to put money on it, something happened where dairy contaminated the young man’s dish. But that is a real risk one is taking. Cooks are human. We have not been replaced by robots, much less robots with some sort of spectrometer that can check for any allergen contamination. Doing a task enough times, a mistake will be made. The key is to limit those risks.
If one is dealing with such a severe dairy allergy, consider when eating out bringing one’s own product that you know is safe from experience at home – not just because the product is known to be safe, but handling it in the kitchen will get even more attention and have much less chance of being contaminated. Or consider vegan establishments. As with the mass-produced gluten-free items, dairy is something that wouldn’t even make it in the back door of such a place, again reducing risk of contamination.
In the end, those in white will do whatever we can to ensure when told of an allergy that we provide a dish that is safe and tasty. But none can really say it is 100% guaranteed, unless the allergen never comes into the kitchen. We are human, and mistakes go get made. The key is to do everything you can to limit both the chance of getting exposed, and the fallout when you do.

Ping Ponging as I Age

“… but I’ve very immature for my age.”
It’s the line I use when asked my age. As I get old, in many ways I haven’t felt it. Waking up on my 30th birthday, it wasn’t like the whole world was different, I was exactly the same. Well, in a few weeks, I would find my metabolism had hit the brakes hard, something I still try to overcome to this day. And the same when I was 40, though such milestones seemed so monumentally… old.
Aging is a bit like looking into a mirror every morning. You don’t notice changes day-to-day, but they happen. Those who don’t see you for a while notice the changes better than you can yourself. Both physically, and mentally and emotionally. Were I locked away from the rest of the work, a proposition that the introvert in me finds tempting, I’m sure I’d still consider myself 18.
But we live among other people, and other people are what are making me feel old. At least as frequently as my “immature” line, I find myself saying “F-ing kids.” (If you watch “Clerks”, there is an old guy who says it in the inflection that I say it in). And I never use it to refer to tots or toddlers or pre-teens or teens… I love kids, and while those groups can be trying at times, it is understandable, so they get a wide pass.
No, the kids I refer to are adults, occasionally older than I am. I work with them, I manage them, I’m occasionally their customer. And I just don’t get them.
“In my day…” I can’t believe how often I at least think that term, thought in a cracking old-man voice. In my day, you went to work, were told what to do, did it, and got paid for it. If I didn’t do it in a satisfactory way, I didn’t need to be employed by them. If I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t have to keep working for them. It is the magic of capitalism.
Now, it seems people want to be congratulated just for showing up. Do their duties as they were supposed to? That’s a future Employee of the Month right there, at least in their mind. Paychecks are deserved before anything is actually done, and doing more than you need to is a fool’s game (and then you are asked why they aren’t getting the promotion or shifts they want).
It leaves me nostalgic for a time I never experienced, a time like the ’40s, when people did their job because that’s what you do. You work in order to get paid. You want to make more, you work harder or do extra. Same if you want to move ahead in a career. Of course, I may be falling prey to the old trap of idealizing a time that didn’t exist exactly like than, such as when Republicans talk about the ’50s as Glory Days for the US, while ignoring what the tax rates were.
So, I find myself bouncing back and forth throughout the day. Talking about Batman; sighing that I found work I was told was done wasn’t. Hoping to get home to play a few minutes of Xbox; cleaning up after adults whose propensity for messes make me fear visiting their homes; cracking up uncontrollably over a well-timed “That’s what she said!”; wanting to clear out the whole staff in the hopes that I can get the right people by rebuilding. Feeling like the dorky kid I was; complaining like a crotchety old man. Frankly, it gets tiring.
There is not a lot to be done about it. I’ve watched people in my business slowly lose any sense of personal responsibility or drive, so it isn’t a particular individual. I can try to cling to the good ones, the ones who are old school in the sense that they want to do their job, but their drive gets sucked out by the slackers just as mine does. Nope, there is no sign the whole of the talent pool, as it were, is going to change, and I’m just going to have to accept that.
The one thing I can do, though, it to hold onto the kid-like nature. Have those moments of goofy fun when I can, and when I can’t, try to get back there as soon as I can. The game of Ping-Pong back and forth can be tiring, I’ll just need to try to make it fun.