Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Land of the free

When I visited Bruges a few years ago, I toured a brewery (it was Belgium, after all). One part of the tour included a few rooms of inactive fermentation tanks. Back in the day, according to the tour guide, children were employed to climb inside the fermentation tanks in order to clean them (the small openings meant that adults could not fit into the tanks). The primary job hazard was that the fumes from the dregs of the beer in the tanks would get the small children drunk and they would pass out. So, the children were required to sing while they worked, and if the foreman did not hear singing coming from a given tank, other children were sent into that tank to pull out their comrade.

Today's New York Times features an Op-Ed piece about a man whose job required him to climb inside a cyanide tank in order to clean it. We'd like to think that here in twenty-first-century America, if we are injured on the job our employer would be held responsible. That, apparently, is not the case here in the land of the free, as the aforementioned essay makes clear.

The United States would at least be a more realistic society if we did not have all these myths about being "a city on a hill." Our laws are the result of negotiations that almost always include major concessions to lobbyists for vested business interests. Schoolhouse Rock it isn't.

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