Saturday, June 04, 2011

Springtime in Nuremburg

Nineteen years ago, I was reprimanded by my superiors in the Federal government workplace. The offense? Refusing to break a rule.

There was a job to be done. It required someone to come in over the weekend. Now, working fifty and sixty hour weeks was something I was never above in my younger days. But in the Federal government, it is simply a violation of Federal law, either to compel the employee to work past the forty-hour workweek without compensation, or for the employee to do the same of his own volition. I asked for provision for compensation. When it was refused, I declined to report on the weekend, and for that reason only. The assignment was given to an associate, and a reprimand with no legal standing, but which damaged my career nonetheless, was placed in my personnel file.

I had no legal recourse at the time, and as a member of an employees' union, I was not provided with any assistance. (As it was a white employee against a black supervisor, their hands were tied.) It was only years later, during a prolonged interview with a third-party attorney's office representing the same bargaining agent, that I learned of the prospect of recourse. Unfortunately, the statute of limitation on that incident had run out, or so they said. This was one of many offenses at my expense during that period.

These days, I enjoy a certain latitude in my job. Some of the people to whom I report lack a certain sense of mission, and suffer from a moral weakness in character. To some of them, authority is vested in the ability to delegate blame. I keep very careful records of assignment activity. Their attempts at finding a "whipping boy" stop at my desk. I have been very effective at this to date. And when called upon, they know I'm prepared to go above and beyond. As a result, they are loathe to find any quarrel with me. Respect is not given by a title or a position. It is taken and earned.

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Yesterday, the San Franciso Gate reported of how ...

On Memorial Day at Alameda's Robert W. Crown Memorial State Beach, police officers and firefighters stood by as Raymond Zack, 53, stood in the water, apparently intent on suicide, until he drowned. They would not go into the water after him, they explained, because a 2009 department policy prohibited water rescues in this island community ... [the] policy - revoked this week - prohibited firefighters from participating in water rescues. The policy was implemented after budget cuts ended water-rescue training ... surely some first responders had been trained before 2009 ... but they lacked the right equipment.

Many years ago, we learned in Scouting, the protocol for saving a potential drowning victim: "Reach, throw, row, go." I'm not sure how much "equipment" anyone thought they required, but having fortitude on the list never hurts. As Steven Greenhut at observes:

Simple decency required some effort ... The bystander who fished out his body didn’t have cold-water gear (let alone a big pension from the fire department), but she jumped into the water any way and acted like an actual human being. The water was a bit chilly (54 degrees) but it's not Alaska.

The 1992 incident was not a matter of life and death. Of the three people involved in the decision to punish me, two are deceased (one found in her apartment after two or three days, of a diabetic coma, after drinking herself to death; the other of complications due to hemophilia; may God have mercy on both of them), and the third left the government under less than honorable circumstances. I would be lying if I admitted to shedding a tear over any of them.

I wonder whether some would compare my decision to decline service above and beyond, to those who refused to assist a drowning man. Not everyone is paid to save a life (as I was not for the two occasions that I did it), and in the end, only a fool would punish them for it. What appears to most as two unrelated incidents are, from the vantage point of this writer, closely tied together.

What kind of fools lead us in this day and age? Where are they leading us? Will we follow?

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