Readers had boycotts, slots, food allergies, tardy spouses, local theater, and snowy sidewalks on their minds.

September 26, 2010

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Praising Boycotts What a sloppy hash of things Mark Pothier made in “What’s Wrong with Boycotts” (Perspective, August 29). He writes of boycotts as if there is only one kind (ignoring the obvious difference between direct local action and a symbolic national effort) and rehearses insupportable claims about the “real” victims. Worst of all, Pothier deploys the indefensible “nowadays” as his only historical framework. “Nowadays, it seems” Pothier writes, “the preferred tactic activists use to fight corporate misconduct, whether genuine or perceived, is the boycott.” Nowadays? Does his nowadays include the successful kosher meat boycott of 1902 or the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955? Closer to home, we might turn to the Boston Tea Party (unmentioned by Pothier), which was – among other things – a consumer boycott. Boycotts helped start the American Revolution and helped end apartheid. I’m sorry if Pothier feels guilty about hanging on to his Upper Crust loyal customer card, but that’s his own failing, not a shortcoming of boycotts.

Jeff Melnick / Cambridge

It’s always amusing to watch the guardians of the free market change course in a panic at the mere mention of boycotts. Apparently, my freedom to choose what to buy does not include the right to base that decision on anything other than the advertising I’m fed. Boycotts never work, we’re told. Really? Were they not used effectively during the American Revolution, the civil rights movement, and the struggle to end apartheid? As for the tired argument that boycotts only hurt the people you’re trying to help, isn’t that same line used to oppose every progressive reform? (My personal favorite is the perverted argument that we can’t ever raise the minimum wage because it will only hurt low-wage workers.) If people choose, for ethical reasons, to boycott a pizza store, a coffee chain, or Walmart, that is their right in a so-called free market.

Ken Barnes / Boston

Pothier’s column calling boycotts ineffective offers several weak arguments to back its claim and ultimately oversimplifies the matter. History has shown boycotts to be an effective means of challenging injustice. The column failed to mention that a boycott led by Gandhi ended with a liberated India, or that the Montgomery bus boycott served as a catalyst for the American civil rights movement. However, the column does choose to describe a misguided boycott of Arizona Iced Tea, unfairly belittling the practice. The column goes on to say that one should continue to patronize Upper Crust because other businesses may be mistreating their workers as well. It’s true that one may be unaware of a competitor’s practices. But when a company gets caught violating wage laws and then allegedly tries to coerce its employees into returning the back wages, it has already shown it has little fear of the legal consequences of its actions.

At the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (where I work) and other organizations within the Immigrant Worker Center Collaborative, workers are taught many ways to address employment grievances. A boycott is chosen as a last resort by the very employees whose jobs are at stake, knowing it is public attention that often brings long-sought justice.

Jeffery Newton / Dorchester

I was disappointed by this column. I realize that Perspective is intended to be a short personal essay/opinion column, but I would have hoped that a discussion of boycotts would have noted what kinds are appropriate and effective. Organized ones with specific goals and demands can be effective, as the United Farm Workers-organized boycott of table grapes showed. I was also a bit surprised when Pothier wrote: “But I’m not naive, either – how would I know whether the competing family-owned pizza maker I decided to patronize instead treats its employees any better?” I suspect this was intended as a man-on-the-street response to the situation, but Pothier is the Globe’s senior assistant business editor. I don’t expect him to investigate, without cause or suspicion, the ethical practices of every establishment he patronizes, but I assume that he actually does know how to check publicly accessible legal documents about disputes of this kind.

Elena O’Malley / Boston

So Pothier cares more about his crust than ethics? When Upper Crust opened, I was sorry to read that Jack Welch was a supporter. I went in and saw Welch’s book Winning on their countertop. That was enough for me to never patronize them, and I never have. But I also noticed that their trucks were idling outside all the time. One day, I went in to ask them if they could turn off the engine of an idling truck. I was met with blank stares. Nobody went out to stop the truck from idling. Two strikes. Then a friend who has friends who have worked there told me about the way the company financially treats its workers. What does it take for a boycott to have legitimate grounds? To me, three strikes are plenty.

Susie Davidson / Brookline

Heeding Allergies The query from P.M. of Reading that led the August 29 Miss Conduct column described a child with a nut allergy as one of several types of “picky eaters.” For those with food allergies, exposure can be distressing at best and life threatening at worst. While Miss Conduct didn’t use the “picky eater” label herself, her response completely ignored the issue of

allergies. I agree that guests with special dietary needs should be ready to bring their own food to social events, but the column, taken as a whole, trivialized the seriousness of food allergies.

Richard Howe Jr. / Lowell

The question notes “and one child has nut allergies,” but that potentially life-threatening condition is completely missing from Miss Conduct’s answer. Members of my family often carry EpiPens and have, on occasion, had to use them to avoid a very serious complication. The host should ask dinner guests if they have any food allergies.

Morton Brown / Winchester

I was disappointed by Miss Conduct’s response regarding “picky eaters.” I can certainly understand a host’s frustration over having to manage multiple food requests. However, I was disappointed to see a child with nut allergies and someone who “can’t eat” tomatoes included among the “picky.” “Picky” suggests a choice. Someone with food allergies does not have a choice, and personally, as a host, I want to know if something I serve could be dangerous for a guest. My child has multiple food allergies, and I generally offer to bring food for him when we are invited to other places. I think most parents in my situation would be willing to do the same. But, please, don’t categorize those guests as being “picky,” any more than you would call a diabetic “picky” for not eating the pie you made.

Katrina Munichiello / Westford

Clock Watchers I got a chuckle out of “The Late Show” (Coupling, August 29). It reminded me of one of my college professor’s pronouncements many decades ago: “If you’re always late, you’re aggressive; if you’re always early, you’re insecure; and if you’re always on time, you were toilet trained too early.”

Randy Shipp / Boston

Good Slots, Bad Slots In his August 29 column “Slots for Everyone!” (Pierced), Charles P. Pierce makes a good point in his theory that seeking slot machines is probably an act of desperation for the struggling racing industry (“If your industry needs slot machines to survive, then your industry is already dead”). Although his theory may be sound, its application should not be limited to the racing industry, which provides jobs and much-needed tax revenues. After all, the racetracks are licensed for gambling, and it’s only natural that they would want to expand and diversify. However, it is quite enlightening to apply his theory to our struggling economy and how state spending and the budget will be financed. To paraphrase Pierce, “If your state needs gambling to survive, then your state is already dead.”

Robert Dello Russo / Boston

Pierce’s column was not well-thought through. Adding slots to racetracks is not an attempt to get more people to go and bet on the horses. Instead, it is product-line extension, in that people who are already in the gambling business (and are, therefore, set up to handle large amounts of cash daily and understand state regulations) are just adding another product that presumably appeals to a different group of customers. Slots may save the racing industry, but only by bringing in additional, non-racing revenue. The racing industry has seen the writing on the wall, and is adapting to survive. And there’s no shame in that.

Bruce Horwitz / Newton

Once again, Pierce has hit a home run. I have observed and have the same feelings about slot machine parlors. Other than looking at an open grave, there really is nothing more depressing than watching the lame, lonely, and frail crowds at these gaming parlors. State senators and representatives should be forced to sit in one for 12 hours and then dare tell us it is a really great idea.

Robert F. Walton / Chelmsford

Pierce using his dry wit to lambaste the “King of Slots” hits the spot. Gary Piontkowski and his ilk are using the plight of the poor workers to malign the Commonwealth and line their own pockets. Greed has no place in my world, and I love having it put in its place with humor.

Josh Rosenblatt / Easthampton

Pierce, right on. You’ve obviously been to the human cesspool known as Twin River.

David Bookbinder / Peabody

I completely disagree with Pierce’s opinion. Numerous horse-racing venues in many states have been saved by slots: Delaware Park, Presque Isle Downs, Philadelphia Park, Mountaineer, Oaklawn Park, Gulfstream Park, and Saratoga Gaming and Racing. I can’t say that slots are perfect, but just look at the purses at some of these tracks, and you can see that the horsemen and others have all benefited. Slots have saved a lot of jobs.

Steve Roche / Northbridge

I have lived here all my life (57 years) and heard all the arguments, pro and con, for casinos. One thing that no one mentions is that people are going to gamble, plain and simple. Massachusetts is letting all that money go to Connecticut and other states. Why don’t we get some of it and say that this money will be used to fix bridges or improve schools? Seems to me that we are all debating for years while the money continues to be sent out of state.

Kenneth Goldman / Westwood

This piece was on target. In Nevada, off of the Strip, you find slots in 7-Elevens, gas stations, and coffee shops. These are dang dirty places. I lived in upstate New York for a few years, and they had off-track betting in strip malls. I went in once, just to see what it was like. There was no excitement. It was pretty sad. These places service the underbelly of society, not high rollers.

Bill Tupper / Danvers

Raw Deal

Regarding Charles P. Pierce’s column “Love the Shovel” (Pierced, August 22), I must say there is a lot more to this new sidewalk-clearing rule. If I shovel, sand, and make sure all is safe and then a plow comes by and ruins what I have done, this rule states that it is my responsibility to redo the work, even if it is late at night. I might not be the sharpest tack in town, but this is not right.

Theresa Daly / Roslindale

Second Act Having only seen one of two productions, it is puzzling that Ed Siegel should have already come to conclusions on the direction of the newly reopened North Shore Music Theatre (Perspective, August 22). Regarding Gypsy, Vicki Lewis is a major American artist who gave a powerful, critically acclaimed performance and was awarded a sincere standing ovation every night. To his point about “graying patrons,” he cannot on the one hand criticize us for doing an American classic like Gypsy and then take us to task for doing a first-rate production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat with an audience primarily made up of young people and families. This is the very audience that every arts organization in the country is desperately trying to win back.

Producing in a 99-seat or 200-seat proscenium cabaret space and filling a 1,500-seat theater-in-the-round are two very different things. Every theater has its needs and realities. You cannot separate artistic vision from economic planning if you are to survive. One always wants to expand the audience in their taste and experience, but you have to first have the audience there to take that journey with you. We do not feel the need to apologize for having “popular” titles, nor do we feel that “popular” is a bad word. Each and every show this season has stood the test of time. Each is different in style and period. Most important, each show will bring in an audience looking forward to being entertained, and these people will hopefully come back with friends many times and will support live theater here and in other places.

We have endeavored to bring back this beloved theater with first-rate productions, maintaining their artistic integrity while being financially responsible. We will expand our programming as we are able, over time. However, if the theater is not first and foremost financially stable, then all other arguments are moot. If Siegel would like to get out his checkbook and underwrite a production, we would be delighted to have a conversation with him.

Evans Haile, Artistic Director

and Bill Hanney, Owner/Producer

North Shore Music Theatre / Beverly

Got a question or comment? Write to or The Boston Globe Magazine/Letters, PO Box 55819, Boston, MA 02205-5819. Letters are subject to editing.

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