life, the universe, and everything
"It's not my fault!", redux
Posted: 2007-01-07 22:24
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Author: Phil Gengler
Section: Rants

I've written about the complete lack of personal responsibility evident in today's society before. It's a subject I feel very strongly about; I think it's crucial to the continued survival of a society that it is able to properly put responsibility and blame where it belongs. As a result, I get worked up when things like this happen:

The family of a New York teen hit by a train while spraying graffiti plans to sue the Metropolitan Transit Authority, claiming the accident was preventable.

"Boy killed on New York train tracks", United Press International (2007-01-07), accessed 2007-01-07

The story is this: the kid was trespassing along the busy LIRR mainline during the height of rush hour, apparently after vandalizing some other nearby tracks, and was killed when he was hit by a passing train. Yet, somehow the kid's parents are trying to blame the railroad for his death, since there was a hole in a fence along the tracks.

That's bullshit, to put it simply. The fence didn't get the kid killed. His choice to ignore the warning of the fence, regardless of whether or not it had a hole in it, is what got him killed. He chose to go through the fence; neither fence nor railroad made him do that. You could certainly argue that the hole in the fence made it possible for him to get through, but that doesn't make the railroad culpable for his death. You could just as easily blame the manufacturer of the spray paint for giving the kid a reason to be out, or the friends he was with for encouraging the behavior (and you'd still be wrong to blame them). The hole in the fence may have provided easy access, but it's hardly a guarantee that it would have prevented him from getting to the tracks; it's not that much harder to go over the fence.

In this case, the blame falls squarely on the kid, not on anyone else. The parents have apparently decided that this isn't the case, and that it must somehow be the fault of someone else (conveniently with deep pockets), and ultimately, they'll probably end up with a nice settlement from the MTA, which is only going to encourage more people to do the same thing in the future. While I don't mean to imply that the next step is the total collapse of civilization, it certainly isn't conducive to a well-organized society that a person can levy baseless accusations against another and be rewarded for it.

There's another thing in many of the news reports that's also been irrating: the kid is referring to as a "graffiti artist", and not the vandal that he was. The very term "graffiti artist" lends legitimacy to the illegal activity of vandalism, as though it's somehow completely forgivable that the kid was vandalizing in this case because he was creating "art". While you can certainly call graffiti "art" (the term is vague enough), doing it without permission on private property is vandalism, pure and simple.

It's not my fault! It's the (lack of a) law!
Posted: 2005-10-03 10:53
1 comment(s)
Author: Phil Gengler
Section: Rants

Over the weekend, the New York Times ran a story about a new Connecticut law that, in part, makes it illegal for drivers to talk on cell phones while driving. (Technically, the law makes it illegal to have a cellular phone "in the immediate proximity" of one's ear, as though holding a closed phone in your hand, which may then be near your ear since your elbow is resting next to the window, is the same as having a conversation into it.)

I fail to see what makes cell phones so big a distraction, especially compared to having a conversation with a passenger in the car. With a cell phone, at least, it's easier to resist the human tendency to look at the person we're talking to, and so you should be better able to keep your eyes and attention on the road. Now, there may be some actual basis for saying that talking on a cell phone is riskier than talking to a passenger; I haven't read the studies claiming this, so I don't know if they look at the risk with cell phones against the risk of normal, non-distracted driving, or against driving while carrying on other forms of communication. The play this information gets in the media, which is at least equally important, if not more so, to the general public's perception of the issue, is that talking on a phone while driving is more likely to get you involved in an accident than undistracted driving (which is pretty much a foregone conclusion).

While I think this law is unnecessary, it isn't what has so angry this morning. The last two paragraphs of the article are particularly infuriating:

And for some drivers, the law's extension beyond just talking was a welcome reminder that sharing the road requires concentration. Efrain Rosario, 22, an account manager for a Verizon Wireless store in Trumbull, said that on Aug. 10 he drove his 2005 Scion tC into the back of a Honda while reading a text message from a friend. If the law had been in place, he said, maybe he would have thought twice about looking down to read "What's up?"

"That 25-cent text message cost me a thousand dollars in damage," Rosario said, "and it ruined my night."

So, let me get this straight: this idiot thought he would be okay to check a text message while driving, got into an accident, and then claims that it's not his fault, because there wasn't a law prohibiting it? At some point, people have to take responsibility for their own actions; this guy chose defy common sense and got what was coming to him. He should not be able to shirk responsibility for what he did, and he certainly should have no basis for claiming there should be a law prohibiting that behavior. His defense that "had [a law] been in place ... maybe he would have thought twice" is the biggest load of bullshit I've seen lately outside of politics.

When there's an accident, and the cause was carelessness or recklessness, that's already illegal. If you drove around staring at the floor of your car the whole time, and got into an accident, that would be illegal. The fact that you weren't paying attention is not a defense, it's an indication that you ought to take responsibility for the fact that you screwed up. The same holds if you were looking into a mirror to change lanes, for example, and rear-end the car in front of you. You weren't paying attention to the road in front of you, and you're at fault. The fact that you weren't paying attention is, again, not a defense. So clearly, there's ample precedent, not to mention common sense, supporting the idea that this guy is the one to blame, and that a new law is not required. I'm certainly not aware of any movements to prohibit drivers from checking their mirrors, because it diverts their attention from the road in front of them.

I sincerely hope that people like Efrain Rosario are few and far between; given the stories I've heard about people doing stupid things, and then claiming the need for a law against them, however, isn't very encouraging. The purpose of government should not be to try and "protect" its citizens against anything and everything; to accept that should be the point of government would be to give it the power to control every move we make, from when and where we can drive to what we can have for dinner, and how we can make it. To keep this from happening, however, we, the people, need to do our part not to put ourselves and others into situations where harm is likely to emerge, whether the behavior is illegal or not. We also need to ensure that we do not allow others to cede our rights to the government in exchange for misguided protections against the actions of a few.

Why I hate the world today, part two
Posted: 2005-08-16 12:37
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Author: Phil Gengler
Section: Rants

Some days, you take a look around the world and wonder how the hell humanity made it this far. In addition to everything else, now the US government has asked ICANN to put a hold on approving a new .xxx domain suffix. The process of creating the suffix, which was originally going to be completed later this week, has been underway for five years. The suffix itself has actually been approved by ICANN; the pending matter is a contract for a company to run the TLD.

But this isn't what bothers me the most. What really gets me is the response to this by the Family Research Council. Now, I disagree with most every point that site makes on just about every issue, and this is no different. My problem here is that I simply can't understand how people can possibly be so ignorant as to completely miss the point.

According to FRC's statement, "Pornographers will be given even more opportunities to flood our homes, libraries and society with pornography through the .XXX domain." I suppose the fact that any sites that move to a .xxx domain can be blocked with ease, while not affecting non-pornographic sites (a problem with many current filtering systems), means that somehow more pornography will get through.

"To some this [creating a .xxx suffix] may initially seem like a good idea but it is one that has been considered and rejected as ineffectual for years. This will NOT require pornographers who are on the .com domain to relocate to the .XXX domain." But for those that do relocate, it is much easier to block them by blocking all .xxx domains.

"The .XXX domain will increase not decrease porn on the Internet." Neither will not having it; at least when it exists, it's easier to filter out porn sites that are going to exist with or without a new domain suffix.

Just when I thought that people (especially unhinged religious nuts) couldn't possibly get any stupider in my eyes, they do something like this. Thanks for making me realize that, as a species, we're completely and totally doomed.