bookmark_borderDestroying other people’s property is not OK (even if it’s a $30,000 purse)

While browsing around the internet recently, I came across this story about a woman who is suing a country club for negligence because a waiter spilled wine on her $30,000 purse. The country club responded by filing a cross-claim against the waiter, its own employee.

This incident happened when Maryana Beyder and her husband were dining at the Alpine Country Club in New Jersey last year. It is unclear whether the waiter spilled the wine intentionally or not. “Whoever the waiter was proceeded to pour red wine and didn’t stop,” said Beyder’s lawyer. “Poured it all over her. Poured it all over her husband. And poured it all over a very expensive Hermes bag.” The lawyer expressed disappointment with the country club’s suit against the waiter, saying “There was never any intention of my client to go after this person at all. The only intention was to have the employer take responsibility.”

In my opinion, the waiter is the person who should have to pay for the damage to the purse. After all, the waiter is the person who caused the damage.

Continue reading “Destroying other people’s property is not OK (even if it’s a $30,000 purse)”

bookmark_borderAl-Baghdadi obituary: the Washington Post did nothing wrong

The Washington Post received a lot of criticism recently for its coverage of the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The newspaper’s headline read:

“Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, austere religious scholar at helm of Islamic State, dies at 48.”

Many people, including Ivanka Trump, believed that this headline was too positive for the leader of a violent organization and that the term “terrorist” would have been more appropriate than “austere religious scholar.”

The headline was quickly changed, and an editor at the Post explained that the original headline never should have been published.

There wouldn’t be anything wrong with using the word “terrorist,” but there was nothing wrong with the Post’s choice of headline, either, and there was no need to change it. The headline captures the fact that al-Baghdadi died, the fact that he had fundamentalist religious beliefs, and the fact that he was the leader of ISIS. “Austere religious scholar” is a neutral, and factually accurate, description. It is not a compliment, nor it is an insult. It is neither positive or negative. And using neutral language is exactly what all newspapers should do.

Columnist Robert Roe at the Maysville Ledger Independent took issue with the fact that the Post published the story about al-Baghdadi’s death in the obituaries section, writing that the paper’s editors “mislead their readers with the false narrative that this animal was something akin to a diplomatic religious leader.” I’m not sure what is wrong with publishing al-Baghdadi’s death notice in the obituaries section. There’s no rule that only admirable people are allowed to have obituaries written about them. Just as newspapers should describe things using neutral language and allow readers to form their own opinions, they should also publish obituaries for a variety of public figures and allow readers to make their own judgments about which of these public figures they find admirable and which they do not.

Jesse White, a columnist at the Mesabi Daily News, went so far as to suggest that the headline should have read, “Noted scumbag, rapist, torture expert, all-around piece of [expletive] and now former ISIS leader is dead: Good riddance.” He added that a sub-heading should have told readers that al-Baghdadi “blew himself up (along with three of his kids) instead of taking a bullet to the head from a member of our special forces on Saturday because he was a psychopathic coward.”

This type of language is a perfect example of what a newspaper should not do. A newspaper should never, under any circumstances, describe a person as a “scumbag,” a “coward,” or a “piece of [expletive]’ in an article. Other than on the editorial page, the job of a newspaper is to provide facts, not opinions. Language like this is not merely opinion, it is inflammatory and personally insulting. It would be completely unprofessional and inappropriate for a newspaper article to describe a person in such insulting terms, no matter who the person is, and it is preposterous to suggest that a newspaper should do so.

No concerns about neutrality or professionalism stopped the Boston Herald from characterizing al-Baghdadi’s death as “taking out the trash” on its front page:

A newspaper should never describe anyone’s death as “taking out the trash,” no matter what horrible things the person did and no matter how widely hated the person is. Hatred for a person, whether justified or not, is an opinion, and newspapers should not express opinions (other than on the editorial page). It’s the Herald’s headline, not the Washington Post’s, that should be the target of outrage and criticism.

bookmark_borderMGM should not be punished for Las Vegas shooting

Recently, MGM Resorts agreed to pay $800,000 to victims of the Las Vegas shooting. Survivors and victims’ family members had sued the company, which owns the Mandalay Bay Resort, the hotel from which gunman Stephen Paddock fired on attendees at a country music festival from his suite on the 32nd floor. According to the Washington Post, various lawsuits in the aftermath of the 2017 shooting accused MGM of negligence for “failing to monitor the gunman as he delivered guns and ammunition to his room.”

The settlement “sends a strong message to the hospitality industry that all steps necessary to prevent mass shootings must be taken,” said Muhammad S. Aziz, a lawyer representing over 1,300 victims and survivors.

Although it is completely understandable to want to do everything possible to prevent such tragedies, and to compensate their victims, the lawsuits against MGM are morally wrong and the company should not have to pay anything.

It is simply not true that all steps necessary to prevent mass shootings must be taken. It is the moral duty of every person to respect the rights of others and to refrain from harming innocent people. But no person, company, or organization has a duty to actively prevent crime. To argue that MGM had a duty to monitor Paddock and the items he was bringing to his room is to argue that hotel guests have no privacy rights. This is morally wrong. What a hotel guest does in his/her room, and which items he/she brings there, are none of the hotel’s business. It is not clear how far hotels would have to go in violating guests’ privacy rights in order to avoid lawsuits. Would they need to search all bags brought into the hotel? Would they need to require guests to go through metal detectors, or though full-body scanners, or to be strip-searched? Would they need to install cameras in all rooms to monitor everything guests do? To take the logic behind the lawsuits further, one might argue that hotels have a duty to require psychological evaluations before anyone is allowed to make a reservation. And why stop at hotels? Mass shootings have taken place at schools, movie theaters, churches, and all different types of places. Would these places need to require strip searches and psychological evaluations for everyone who enters as well?

Clearly, a world in which “all steps necessary to prevent mass shootings must be taken” is a world that no one in their right mind would want to live in. It is a world with no privacy and no freedom. Businesses and organizations should not be allowed, let alone required, to adopt policies and procedures that take away people’s privacy and freedom of movement.

“This settlement will provide fair compensation for thousands of victims and their families,” said Robert Eglet, another attorney involved in the lawsuit, according to the Washington Post.

But there is nothing fair about punishing an innocent company that did nothing wrong. Stephen Paddock is to blame for the shooting, and no one else. Because Paddock died by suicide after the shooting, it is impossible for victims to obtain financial compensation from him. And as understandable as it is to seek compensation elsewhere, one cannot simply find another person or entity to sue without regard for whether that person or entity is actually to blame for the shooting.

The lawsuits against MGM, and the resulting settlement, send the message that privacy, fairness, and individual responsibility do not matter. This is just wrong. Fundamental moral principles should not be sacrificed in the name of preventing tragedies.

bookmark_borderAdditional thoughts on Straight Pride Parade, protests, and District Attorney

The Straight Pride Parade that took place two weeks ago inspired a wide variety of reactions from politicians, judges, law enforcement officials, and others. Here is a summary of these developments and my opinions on them:

Battle between Suffolk D.A. and judge

36 people who protested against the parade were arrested for crimes such as disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and assault and battery on police officers. For 20 arrestees charged only with the first two crimes, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office attempted to drop the charges, but Boston Municipal Court Judge Richard Sinnott ordered them to be arraigned anyways. This did not please Suffolk D.A. Rachael Rollins, who successfully petitioned the Supreme Judicial Court to overturn the judge’s decision. “By compelling arraignment in every case, the judge punished the exercise of individuals’ First Amendment right to protest,” Rollins said in a statement. “At my request, prosecutors used the discretion constitutionally allocated to the executive branch to triage cases and use our resources most effectively to protect public safety… For those people now tangled in the criminal justice system for exercising their right to free speech—many of whom had no prior criminal record—I will use the legal process to remedy the judge’s overstepping of his role.”

But from what I observed at the parade, the protesters were not merely exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech. They were attempting to prevent the parade marchers, whom they vastly outnumbered, from exercising theirs. Screaming at, swearing at, taunting, and insulting people for expressing a minority viewpoint is not free speech; it is bullying. Some protesters against the parade went so far as to openly advocate violence. According to the Boston Herald, an Antifa member named Jon Crowley said that violence was the only appropriate response to the parade. “We’re covered in black so when we attack these guys we can’t be prosecuted,” Crowley said. “They are fascists, 100%. How else are you going to get them to shut up?”

News flash: you do not have a right to get people to “shut up” when you disagree with their views. That’s the whole point of the First Amendment. People who attempt to silence and bully those with unpopular views should, when their actions rise to the level of breaking the law, be prosecuted as zealously and punished as severely as the law allows. Situations like what happened at the parade are the least appropriate situation for prosecutors to consider dropping charges. Also, contrary to what D.A. Rollins implied in her statement, public safety should not be the most important priority of the D.A.’s office; justice should be. And the most important part of justice is standing up for the rights of individuals (such as the parade marchers) against those who would trample on them (such as the jeering mobs of protesters).

John Ciccone, editor of South Boston Today, expressed his thoughts in an emailed statement with which I wholeheartedly agree: “It is the opinion of this newspaper and the overwhelming majority of readers heard from on this matter that the position and action Suffolk County DA Rollins has taken is absolutely wrong. In regard to the members of the so called ANTIFA organization, DA Rollins’ actions encourages the thug like violence of that group, who routinely have denied the rights of free speech and legal and peaceful protest of those they disagree with, not only in Boston during last weekend’s incidents, but in cities all across the nation. Those members of ANTIFA should be made an example of and be prosecuted to the full extend of what the law allows and if found guilty, given the maximum penalty. The message sent out should be loud and clear that they will not be allowed to come into Suffolk County and attack civilians and members of law enforcement without paying a heavy price for those actions.”

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bookmark_borderStraight Pride Parade protesters demonstrate intolerance and hypocrisy

On Saturday, August 31, a Straight Pride Parade and rally took place in Boston. This provided an opportunity for so-called liberals to take to the streets and demonstrate their intolerance and hypocrisy.

The protesters chanted things such as “Boston hates you,” “go away,” “f*** you,” and “Nazi scum, get off our streets.” They ridiculed the fact that fewer people attended the parade than the protests against it. And they ridiculed the classical music that played as rally organizers waited for more supporters to arrive, saying “Your music is 500 years old, just like your values.” (What does how old values are have to do with whether they are right or wrong?) They taunted police officers, asking “Who do you protect? Who do you serve?” (as if protecting an unpopular minority against a bullying majority is a bad thing). They pointed their middle fingers as the parade made its way down Boylston Street and as the rally began on City Hall Plaza. One protester screamed, “What do you have to be proud of? What have you done?” (Can you imagine what the reaction would be if someone asked this of gay pride demonstrators?)

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bookmark_borderA tribute to Suffolk Downs

Sunday, June 30th, 2019 was the last day of horse racing at Suffolk Downs. The track was built in 1935 in a span of just 62 days by 3,000 workers. Located on the border of East Boston and Revere, it consists of a one mile long dirt course with an inner turf course. 35,000 fans watched the first day of races on July 10, 1935. Over the years, some of the world’s best thoroughbreds raced there, including Seabiscuit, War Admiral, Whirlaway, John Henry, Funny Cide, Skip Away, and Cigar. The most famous annual race was the Massachusetts Handicap, or MassCap. Cigar won this race in 1995 and 1996 as part of his legendary 16-race win streak. Other stakes races over the years had names such as the Commonwealth Stakes, Constitution Handicap, Faneuil Hall Handicap, Paul Revere Stakes, and Yankee Gold Cup. In 1966, the Beatles played before 24,000 fans on the track’s infield.

If you have not been to Suffolk Downs, you have missed out on a truly unique and unforgettable experience. No, it is not glamorous. It does not have the pageantry or elegance of Churchill Downs or Belmont. But the dirty and dingy aesthetic is part of the charm. Suffolk Downs would not be Suffolk Downs without the uneven concrete floors, wafting cigarette smoke, grumbling and swearing old men, and ripped up tickets scattered across the ground. I will never forget the feeling of awe that I experienced each time I walked across the parking lot toward the track’s entrance. The sight of horses through the chain link fence and the sound of their galloping hooves so close to downtown Boston somehow never ceased to be miraculous. Once inside the grounds, one could get a close-up view of the horses warming up and being saddled in the paddock, line up to place a bet, try to snag a spot by the finish line, head upstairs to the grandstand, or stop for a snack at the hot dog counter or the Deli Grill. TVs scattered throughout the building showed races at tracks all over the country, as well as the occasional Red Sox game. Silks of past MassCap winners hung from the ceiling of the cavernous area under the grandstand, and dozens and dozens of betting windows receded into the distance.

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bookmark_borderDear lady on the Orange Line…

Dear lady on the Orange Line on Wednesday morning who called me a “terrible person,” “self-centered,” and “oblivious” for sitting instead of offering my seat to someone else:

Your behavior was so rude that I am still upset, appalled, and shaken two days later.

Many, perhaps most, people will think that you are in the right, and our unpleasant interaction my fault. To recap the facts of the situation, I boarded the train when there were many vacant seats. At a subsequent stop, when there were no more vacant seats, what appeared to be a family with two adults and two children between the ages of three and ten boarded the train. I did not offer them a seat, and neither did anyone else. A few stops later, you boarded the train and began to loudly castigate me to everyone within earshot.

You were so busy insulting me that you probably did not stop to wonder about what my thought process might have been. I will try to explain:

  1. First of all, I dislike standing. It is difficult to get reading done and it is physically draining.
  2. Second, I also strongly dislike when people offer me their seat. It makes me feel embarrassed, self-conscious, and uncomfortable. I believe in the golden rule and therefore am reluctant to do things to other people that I would dislike if done to me.
  3. Third, I am very shy. It is difficult for me to initiate interactions with strangers, even for something as simple as offering my seat.
  4. Fourth, no one else in my row of seats was making any move to offer up their seats, and I did not think one seat would be particularly useful to a group of four. Three of the people would still have to stand, and most likely none of the four would feel comfortable being the one to take the seat.
  5. Fifth, I believe that as a general rule, whoever gets to a seat first is entitled to the seat. This rule is fair, simple, easy, and does not cause anyone to feel patronized, insulted, guilty, resentful, or embarrassed. Because I got on the train when there were many vacant seats, I think it was reasonable for me to believe that I had a right to sit.
  6. Sixth, no one asked to sit, so I assumed that no one wanted to. If someone had politely asked for my seat, I would happily have obliged.
  7. And seventh, on another occasion a while back, there was a dad holding his daughter on a crowded train, struggling to keep his balance, and no one offered their seat (I was standing so did not have the option of offering a seat). This gave me the impression that little kids are not considered a situation that requires offering one’s seat.

I am on the autism spectrum and struggle with social situations. What comes naturally to most people, I need to use reasoning and logic to figure out. Because no one is perfect, I occasionally judge social situations incorrectly. I found this particular situation very awkward and was not sure of the best thing to do, but I decided to err on the side of doing nothing as opposed to taking an action that had the potential to make the situation even more uncomfortable. Each and every day, I try my very best to navigate interpersonal interactions in a polite and socially acceptable way. To be so harshly attacked for what was at worst a minor social mistake is disturbing and demoralizing.

You are a bully. Anyone on the train could have offered their seat to a member of the family but you inexplicably singled me out for verbal abuse.

You accused me of sitting in a “handicapped seat,” but I was not. As I pointed out to you, there was no blue sign on my seat indicating “priority seating” for people with disabilities.

You yelled that I “need to reflect.” I have been reflecting on this upsetting experience, as you so nastily ordered, and the more that I do so, the more convinced I am that you were in the wrong. Perhaps, ideally, I should have offered my seat. But you are the one who went out of your way to viciously insult a stranger. Your reaction would have been appropriate if you had seen someone being raped or assaulted, or someone attempting to carry out a terrorist attack. To react in such a way to a person sitting and quietly reading the newspaper is preposterous.

I cannot comprehend the self-righteous attitude that would cause someone to interfere so aggressively in a situation that is none of his or her business. It is impossible to tell by looking at someone what is going on in his or her life, how badly he or she needs a seat, or whether he or she has a disability. It probably didn’t occur to you that I might be on the autism spectrum when you called me “self-centered” and a “terrible person.” For all you could tell, I might have had a physical disability that requires sitting, such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, or multiple sclerosis. My mom has severe back problems that cause almost constant pain and make it impossible for her to sit or stand for any significant amount of time, but she appears perfectly healthy.

When I got off of the train (before the stop I was attempting to get to) I was so upset that I felt on the verge of either fainting or throwing up. I was so mortified and humiliated that I had trouble concentrating on my work. You went out of your way to cause this. If that doesn’t constitute being a terrible person, I’m not sure what does.

It is you who needs to reflect on what would cause someone to berate and insult an innocent person who is minding her own business.

bookmark_borderThoughts on the non-aggression principle and arrest for keeping TV

Nick Memmo of East Freetown, MA was recently arrested for keeping a TV that was delivered to his house. He had ordered a 75-inch TV valued at $1200 from Amazon and received that as well as a second, 86-inch TV valued at $2700 which he did not order. Because he did not attempt to return the extra TV, the police raided his house, arrested him, and charged him with felony larceny.

Opinions are divided on whether it was appropriate or excessive to arrest someone in these circumstances. In my opinion, the decision to arrest Memmo was outrageous.

According to the non-aggression principle, it is morally wrong to violate the rights of another person, whether by physically harming that person, interfering in their freedom, or taking away their property. In other words, the only thing that is morally wrong is to actively commit a wrong, not merely to fail to prevent or correct a wrong. Actively taking a TV that belongs to someone else is morally wrong, and constitutes larceny. But merely keeping a TV that someone else mistakenly gave you is not morally wrong, and should not be considered larceny according to any sane definition.

The delivery company (a third-party company that contracts with Amazon) messed up by bringing the extra TV to Memmo’s home. According to news reports, they attempted to contact him to get it back, and his failure to respond was a reason that factored into the decision to arrest him. But no one is obligated to correct someone else’s mistakes. It stinks for the delivery company that their driver made a mistake that cost them $2700, but that is what happens when one makes a mistake. The delivery company needs to live with the results of their mistake instead of having an innocent person arrested because he failed to help them fix their mess-up.

A letter was published in the Boston Globe about this issue which really irked me. In the letter, Beth Logan of Chelmsford wrote, “Packages delivered to my door are not necessarily mine. Last year, a package had my neighbor’s address on it. I walked four houses down, and delivered it there. I sometimes get other neighbors’ mail in my box, and I bring it to them… This is how people should behave. Any other behavior is inappropriate, unethical, and, hopefully, illegal.”

I strongly disagree with this statement and find the contemptuous, smug, and authoritarian tone of this letter to be very objectionable. To bring mis-delivered mail and packages to the correct address is nice, but not obligatory. If mail or a package is delivered to someone’s door, that person is within his or her rights to keep it. It is the responsibility of delivery companies to do their jobs accurately or absorb the results of their mistakes (e.g. paying for a second 86-inch TV); it is not the responsibility of the unintended recipient to fix the situation. If Logan wants to correct the mistakes of mail carriers and delivery people, that’s great, but she has no right to demand that other people act the same way as she does. Who on earth is she to dictate how other people ought to behave? To so harshly and contemptuously condemn people who are doing nothing wrong is what is truly inappropriate and unethical.

bookmark_borderStop & Shop strike: free speech or bullying?

Workers at Stop & Shop have been on strike for the past week as their union battles with the company over pay, health insurance, and pension benefits. Picketing outside the stores, workers have been trying to get customers to shop elsewhere until the dispute is resolved.

One such customer was NHL legend Ray Bourque, who had the misfortune of having to pick up a prescription at the grocery store’s pharmacy. “Shame on you,” a striking worker yelled. (The stores are being staffed by skeleton crews of temporary workers and employees from corporate headquarters.) Afterward, Bourque tweeted that he had crossed the picket line “mistakenly” and “apologized immediately” on his way out.

In my opinion, Bourque has nothing to apologize for. People have a right to shop where they want to. I’m not necessarily opposed to what the union is asking for, and in general I’m strongly in favor of higher pay for blue-collar workers such as the cashiers, baggers, deli associates, butchers, bakers, and all the employees who make grocery stores run. Supporting the union by boycotting Stop & Shop for the duration of the strike is a great thing to do. But it’s not mandatory. There is a wide array of reasons why someone would choose Stop & Shop over another grocery store – perhaps there is no other store with comparable prices or with the exact product someone needs, or perhaps there are no other grocery stores within a reasonable distance. Heck, maybe there are some people who believe the union’s demands are unreasonable and want to show their support for the company. Although showing support for the strike is great if one is so inclined, no one is obligated to pay more or sacrifice hours out of one’s day in order to do so.

The union has every right to make public statements discouraging people from patronizing Shop & Stop stores. And it’s okay for picketing workers to hold signs saying “don’t cross the line” or similar slogans. But to yell at, shame, or insult individual people for crossing the picket line crosses the line from free speech to bullying. Customers should be free to decide for themselves whether to support the union, or not. No one deserves to be yelled at, shamed, or insulted because of where they buy groceries.

bookmark_borderGetting rid of guns at the Olympics is a terrible idea

After the New Zealand shooting, I saw an article by sports journalist Alan Abrahamson titled, “At the Olympics: no more guns,” in which he argues exactly what the title would suggest. Abrahamson says that the International Olympic Committee should get rid of shooting, which has been part of the Summer Olympics since 1896, as well as possibly modern pentathlon and biathlon as well.

“The Olympics is about something bigger than each of us and all of us,” he writes. “A higher cause, if you will. Shooting is not that.” Shooting should be eliminated, he says, “as a matter of promoting the best of humankind.”

I could not disagree more.

Getting rid of shooting at the Olympics is just another example of prioritizing safety over freedom, another example of punishing all gun owners for the actions of an individual murderer. Punishing innocent people does not represent the best of humankind and is not a higher cause that anyone should aspire to.

As for Abrahamson’s claim that the inclusion of shooting and biathlon “normalizes and glamorizes the use of firearms,” well… there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s no reason why the use of firearms should be viewed as abnormal in any way, and there’s nothing wrong with positively portraying skilled marksmanship and responsible firearms use.

“A gun inherently is a violent instrument,” Abrahamson writes. Although acknowledging that swords and bows and arrows (which are also used in Olympic sports) can be violent instruments, he claims “a firearm is different.”

But it really isn’t. Guns, swords, and bows and arrows can all be used for evil purposes. In and of themselves, however, they do not hurt anyone. All types of weapons are simply tools that can be used for evil or good. Guns are more powerful and efficient tools than lower-tech weapons, but that does not make them morally bad or worthy of being singled out.

Abrahamson compares the potential elimination of guns to the change from shooting real pigeons at the 1900 Olympics in Paris to clay pigeons. “In the 21st century,” he writes, “we have to ask – why?” But the question that should be asked with respect to having guns in the Olympics is not “why” but “why not?” Guns do not hurt anyone by existing. Unlike in years past when real birds were killed, today’s competitive shooters do not hurt anyone by practicing their sport. The burden of proof should be on those seeking to get rid of guns, not those seeking to keep them.

Anyone who truly believes in the Olympic values of “excellence, friendship, respect and, by extension, tolerance,” would welcome the inclusion of a wide variety of sports, including shooting. Every sport is going to have detractors for one reason or another, and the beautiful thing is that no one is forced to watch or participate in a sport that he or she does not like. It is wrong for competitive shooters to be deprived of a chance to compete on a world stage, and Olympic fans such as myself to be deprived of the chance to watch amazing contests of marksmanship and skill, because of some people’s personal dislike of guns.

The right thing to do in response to a mass shooting or other tragedy is to punish and blame the person who did it, not to blame the weapon or punish innocent fans and athletes.

H/T: Firearms Policy Coalition Facebook page