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_borderBack pay for federal workers is an issue of fairness

Since the government shutdown (temporarily, at least) came to an end, Representative Ayanna Pressley introduced a bill – known as the Fair Compensation for Low-Wage Contractor Employees Act – which would provide back pay to  contract employees just like those who work directly for the federal government.

“This is about dignity, this is about fairness, this is about justice,” Pressley said.

I agree with this statement, but not in the way Pressley meant it. True fairness would be for none of the employees furloughed during the shutdown to receive back pay.

After all, during the five weeks the federal government was shut down, neither contract employees nor federal employees were working. For them to get paid as if they were working this entire time is not fair to all of the other workers across the country – in the private sector and for state and local governments – who were not affected by the shutdown. It is even less fair to the government employees, such as TSA agents and air traffic controllers, who were forced to work without pay during the shutdown. Nor is it fair to taxpayers for the government to take their hard-earned money and use it to pay people for work they did not perform.

Yes, it is inconvenient to suddenly be furloughed from work. For people who do not have savings in the bank, it can be difficult or impossible to pay bills. But there is no right to receive continuous employment and pay from the federal government. The government has every right to discontinue, either temporarily or permanently, any federal job(s). This is disappointing for the affected employees, but it is a risk that people assume when they work for the federal government. There is nothing unfair about  it.

Additionally, for people to temporarily or permanently lose their jobs is something that happens in the private sector all the time and is not treated as a tragedy but simply part of the economy. Every day, companies go out of business, lay off workers, cut their hours, or furlough them based on changing market conditions. The vast majority of time, newspapers do not run front page articles about the suffering faced by these workers and their families. Restaurants did not offer free meals to racetrack employees when it was announced that Suffolk Downs lost out on the casino license and was going to be closing. No one has suggested paying workers at the now-closed Necco plant for all the weeks they would be working had the factory remained open. But that’s exactly what is happening for federal employees. Being out of work is a hardship for anyone. Why should government workers be exempt?

Supporters of back pay say that government employees should be compensated for the wages that they missed out on. But giving people full pay for not working goes way beyond compensating them. It is the equivalent of giving them five extra weeks of paid vacation. It is a windfall, a boon, a reward, a huge extra benefit, delivered at taxpayers’ expense and denied to the federal employees forced to work without pay as well as to all other workers across the country. Furloughed government employees got to have five weeks of free time, which they could spend pursuing their hobbies, resting, exercising, or doing anything they wanted. True, they did not choose this free time and most would likely have preferred to continue working than to miss out on their paychecks. But this does not change the fact that to pay them for this time is completely unfair to everyone else who spent the time working.

bookmark_borderDismissal of inauguration protest charges is a defeat for justice

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia recently dismissed charges against all remaining people arrested for the destructive protests against President Trump on his inauguration day. Originally, 234 people were arrested for allegedly participating in acts of vandalism that included setting fires and smashing storefronts with bricks and crowbars, resulting in injuries to 6 police officers. Some of those defendants pleaded guilty, some went to trial and were either acquitted or had hung juries, and the rest had their charges dismissed.

The reason why so many of these people were allowed to go free makes sense: the government was unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the people arrested were actually the people who committed the acts of vandalism. Videos from body cameras, cell phones, and security cameras were not clear enough for jurors to definitively identify the vandals, and the defendants successfully argued that they were just protesting peacefully and shouldn’t be blamed for other people’s actions.

However, it still remains true that someone set the fires and smashed the storefronts in Washington, D.C. on inauguration day. And it’s a defeat for justice and fairness that the people who did that – aside from one defendant who was sentenced to 4 months in prison – will escape punishment.

The wrongfulness of the vandals’ conduct has been largely ignored by anti-Trump folks in their celebration of the dismissal of the charges. For example, Natasha Lennard at The Intercept praises the protesters’ “united front” which “meant the government could not weaponize co-defendants to bolster their weak case.” She mentions that the innocent defendants must have been tempted to “assert that they were in fact the law-abiding ‘good protesters,’ while actively condemning and drawing attention to the actions of a few window-breakers” and praises their decision not to do this.

But condemning the actions of the window-breakers is exactly what the other protesters should be doing. To destroy the property of innocent people is morally wrong. By failing to condemn the property damage, the anti-Trump movement is essentially saying that the property damage is okay. No one should be okay with, or want to be associated with, people who decided that their hatred of Trump and his policies was more important than the rights of innocent people.

The arrested protesters complain about the “trauma” that they have “suffered,” but did any of them think for a second about the suffering of the innocent people whose property was destroyed?

Countless people have been arrested and imprisoned for “victimless crimes” that should not be crimes at all, such as drug use, driving without a license, gun possession without a license, and failure to pay taxes. Destroying innocent people’s property, on the other hand, is precisely the type of action that the legal system was created to punish. It’s unfortunate that in this case, there wasn’t enough evidence to determine with certainty who perpetrated the barbaric actions of inauguration day. But that doesn’t make those actions any less wrong. As D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said, “In the American criminal justice system, sometimes the bad guys win. That’s what happened in this case.”

bookmark_borderRacism in action

Renee Graham’s latest Boston Globe column, entitled “You can read the white rage in their MAGA hats,” might just be the most ridiculous thing I have ever read.

In it, she criticizes as racist a group of “white teenage boys” for wearing “Make America Great Again” hats to the National Museum of African American History & Culture. “Clearly, this was meant as a provocation,” she huffs, immediately prior to admitting that the group “did nothing disruptive” other than simply existing and moving through the museum. Graham characterizes this horribly inappropriate behavior as “trolling” and “denigrat[ing] African-American history.” She describes how African-American museum visitors shook their heads at the group, rolled their eyes, and gave them “side-eye.”

“African-Americans survived the Middle Passage, centuries of enslavement, families torn apart, systemic sexual abuse, lynchings, racist Supreme Court decisions, police violence, and Jim Crow,” she pontificates. “Every effort to dim our light has only made it burn hotter and brighter. We’re still here, unbowed…. We won’t be intimidated by people in MAGA hats – or the noxious president they represent.”

I, for one, am in awe of Graham’s courage. A grown woman was brave enough not to be intimidated by teens – gasp! – holding political views that are different from hers! What incredible grit and strength it must have taken to survive something so horrific.

In all seriousness, Graham’s opinion about the Trump-supporting teens is inaccurate, bigoted, and hypocritical:

Inaccurate because she characterizes the teens’ wearing of MAGA hats as racist when there is absolutely no evidence that this is true. There are plenty of reasons to support Trump, most of which have nothing to do with race.

Bigoted because she assumes the teens must be racist because of their race and political orientation and criticizes them merely for existing in a public place. Graham treats it as an act of aggression for people to wear a particular hat while minding their own business, while in reality Graham and the museum-goers who gave dirty looks were aggressing against an innocent group of people.

And hypocritical because Graham purports to advocate against racism and discrimination while herself being more racist than most of the people she criticizes. It’s past time for Graham to stop using blatantly racist terms such as “white rage” and to start thinking about being tolerant, for once, of people who are different than her.

bookmark_borderStarbucks protests are much ado about nothing

In today’s society, there are so many things to be outraged about, from the medical system to taxes to technology’s erosion of privacy rights. It’s puzzling to me that out of all the outrageous things happening in the world, so many people are outraged about the fact that two people, who happen to be black, were arrested for trespassing after refusing to leave a Starbucks.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, the two men were at Starbucks, where they were planning to meet someone. They asked to use the restroom and were told no, as store policy is not to allow people to use the restroom unless they buy something. A little later, an employee went to their table and asked if they would like to order something. They said no. Because they didn’t buy anything, they were asked to leave. They refused. They were asked to leave two more times and continued to refuse, and eventually a manager called the cops.

Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson has called this incident “reprehensible” and people have been boycotting and protesting the coffee chain, saying things like “Shame on you Starbucks.”

In my opinion, this reaction is completely excessive. Perhaps calling the cops was a bit of an overreaction, but it’s entirely reasonable to kick someone out of a café or restaurant if they aren’t buying anything. Perhaps the cops wouldn’t have been called if the two men were white; perhaps they would have been. There’s no way to know. The Starbucks protests are an example of the tendency to assume, that if anything bad happens to someone black, it must have happened because they are black.

An opinion piece by the Boston Globe’s Renee Graham exemplifies this attitude. “To be black is to always be in the wrong place at the wrong time because, in America, there is never a right place for black people,” she wrote. “Everything black people do is weighted by irrational white fear. It’s mentally exhausting to always be on guard, even during mundane moments.” About an incident where a person, who happened to be black, was tragically shot by a suspicious homeowner after knocking on the door to ask for directions, she wrote, “Even with my lousy sense of direction, I wouldn’t run the risk of ending up in jail or dead because somebody criminalized my blackness.”

This is completely nonsensical and has no basis in reality. All of America is the right place for black people, as well as people of any race. No one “criminalizes blackness.” There is no reason for people of any race to feel that they need to be constantly on guard to avoid ending up dead or in jail. Police brutality can happen to people of any race. So can tragic misunderstandings. It’s no fun to be mentally exhausted, but Graham is mentally exhausting herself for no reason.

“Nothing will ever change until a majority of white people in this nation stop perceiving black existence as sinister and suspicious,” Graham continues. “Talking about racism may hurt white people’s feelings, but their unchecked racism continues to endanger our black lives.”

But a majority of white people has never perceived black existence as sinister or suspicious. Graham is seeing racism where it does not exist, and she is insultingly dismissing differing opinions as “hurt feelings.” Not to mention the fact that by writing of “irrational white fear” and white people’s “unchecked racism,” Graham is actually being racist. Something is wrong with our society when anything that even remotely resembles racism against blacks – such as being kicked out of Starbucks – is considered “reprehensible,” while blatant racism against whites is considered perfectly fine.

bookmark_borderNo, Roy Halladay did not “get what he deserved”

Talk radio host Michael Felger recently made some pretty insulting comments about the tragic death of retired pitcher Roy Halladay.

“It just sort of angers me. You care that little about your life? About the life of your family? Your little joyride is that important to you that you’re going to risk just dying? You’re a multimillionaire with a loving family, and to you, you have to go get that thing where you can dive-bomb from 100 feet to 5 above the water with your single-engine plane with your hand out the window… He got what he deserved.”

Halladay, an amateur pilot, died when he accidentally crashed his plane. I’m going to add my voice to the chorus of those criticizing Felger’s comments. I don’t understand why someone would be angered by another person’s choice of hobby. Flying a plane is a risky activity, and Halladay certainly knew that choosing such a hobby entailed some chance of injury or death… and he had every right to make that choice. The fact that he willingly took a risk doesn’t make his death deserved. It means that he had bad luck and was the victim of a tragic accident.

Felger seems to think that Halladay did something wrong by choosing a risky hobby, especially given the fact that he had a wife and children. I strongly disagree with this. Having a family does not negate a person’s right to choose how to spent his or her time or which hobbies to pursue. Halladay was not risking the life of his family; he was only risking his own. Of course, all of his family members must be grief-stricken at his death, but that does not give family members the right to dictate which activities someone can pursue, nor does it mean that he wronged his family members in any way. It was his body and his life, and he had every right to take the risk that he took.

bookmark_borderThe Las Vegas shooting was terrible, but that does not make it terrorism

Countless people on Twitter, Tumblr, and all over the internet have been calling Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock a terrorist. They have been criticizing the news media for not labeling Paddock a terrorist, claiming that the only reason he’s not called a terrorist is because he is white.

Continue reading “The Las Vegas shooting was terrible, but that does not make it terrorism”

bookmark_borderMy thoughts on Charlottesville & Boston, and why Trump is 100% right

When you have a crowd of 40,000 people protesting against a rally of a few dozen people, you cannot claim that the few dozen people are the oppressors.

The pictures above show the Free Speech Rally that took place on Boston Common on Saturday (right) and the crowd of people who decided to protest against it (left).

Pretty much everyone agrees that slavery and Jim Crow laws were bad, but our society has reached a point where things have gone too far in the opposite direction. The people who claim to be against hate, discrimination, and prejudice are actually more hateful, discriminatory, and prejudiced than the people they are protesting against. Continue reading “My thoughts on Charlottesville & Boston, and why Trump is 100% right”