The Schumin Web C  e  l  e  b  r  a  t  i  n  g    2  5    Y  e  a  r  s Fri, 09 Apr 2021 22:17:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Schumin Web 32 32 37838674 No good deed goes unpunished, I suppose… Tue, 06 Apr 2021 17:30:33 +0000 You probably didn’t realize it, but for the first half of 2020, Elyse and I hosted a now-former friend of ours, her boyfriend, and her infant child in the house.  That was a situation that we would have never touched with a ten-foot pole if we had known how it would ultimately turn out.  What was supposed to have been a two-month stay for one adult and an infant ended up being a six-month stay for two adults and an infant, and ended up with a destroyed friendship, a lot of hurt feelings, and resentment all around.

The story starts out in the middle of 2019, when our friend started a long-distance relationship with a guy that she had gone to high school with.  He was now serving in the army, and stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.  In a very short time, that relationship turned into an engagement.  Elyse and I both agreed that relationship had progressed very rapidly – much faster than either one of us would have ever been comfortable with if it were happening to us.  Then in September, when we were planning an outing together, we learned that our friend was pregnant, and also, that she was no longer seeing the person with whom she had been engaged, who was also the father of her then-unborn child.  As I was told, the fiancé had cheated on her, and so she broke off the engagement.  By the time that we actually got together again, she had gotten a new boyfriend, and he would be joining us on this adventure.  I was fine with this, because I usually got along with this friend’s friends, and this seemed to be no exception, as the guy seemed nice enough.  In December, Elyse and I were invited to our friend’s baby shower.  We went, we brought gifts, and generally had a good time.  The one awkward moment at the whole baby shower was seeing the interaction between the boyfriend and her father.  My friend’s father made a big deal about refusing to shake the boyfriend’s hand, and the boyfriend was clearly not amused by that gesture.  I was a bit uncomfortable just witnessing it.  I didn’t understand why it was such a big deal, as the boyfriend had given me no reason for me to suspect anything in our previous meeting, plus the boyfriend was not the one who got her pregnant and subsequently cheated on her.  So I just chalked it up to a “no one is good enough for my little girl” attitude on her father’s part.

Now, fast forward to the middle of January 2020.  I got a text from my friend, who said this after starting the conversation with a “random question”:

My question is would you ever consider letting me stay in the spare room you have for about 2 months?

I’m planning on moving out soon but once my tax return comes and [boyfriend] gets paid from his job which is once a month.  The issue is that my dad is being way too overbearing and causing problems basically by saying no friends nor my boyfriend can come and help me with the baby, so I need just an in between place because obviously I will need help and he won’t allow that because he’s being selfish.  Basically my parents have been pretty shitty since I’ve been pregnant and I thought of your place because you have a spare room but no pressure, just thought I’d ask.

I told her that I didn’t foresee any issues, but that I would have to talk to Elyse about it, since she lives there, too, and such a thing would obviously affect her.  My friend responded:

I completely understand and of course I’ll be due very soon, so it would just be the baby and me, and [boyfriend] when he comes to help maybe more throughout the night to make things smoother.  I also wouldn’t want it to be a freeloading type thing of course, so we could contribute to groceries and a bill or two if needed.

I’m out of work right now so of course I won’t be made of money but would like to contribute something if Elyse also agrees it’s okay.

So we agreed to two months, i.e. she would be there until around the end of March.  We got the back bedroom ready, and she moved in on January 22.  The baby, a little girl, arrived within the first week, and so she was in the hospital for about three days for that.  I also learned at this time that the baby’s father, with whom my friend was at one time madly in love, was deliberately left off of the birth certificate.  Therefore, from a legal standpoint, he was nobody.  She had cut him out of her daughter’s life from the outset.  I never met the guy, so I can’t comment much on him directly, but that just felt a bit off to me.  Considering the timing of when things happened, I question whether the former fiancé even knows that he has a child with her in the first place.

Immediately after bringing the baby home, she was at the house more or less continuously, since she was still off of both of her jobs for the baby.  The boyfriend would occasionally come over, and everything seemed to go according to plan.  She went back to work relatively quickly, most likely because she needed the money, going back to her night job as a server at a restaurant, while remaining on maternity leave with her day job, in an office, for the full six weeks.

Life during this time was a challenge for me, mainly because I didn’t really want to have additional people living in the house, but agreed to it in order to help a longtime friend make a transition through a rough situation.  In other words, for two months, I would tolerate it, and then, only barely.  Especially since our new housemate had her own way of doing things that didn’t necessarily line up with the way that we did things.  I am very particular about the way that things are done, and so this grated on me, but I just kept reminding myself, it’s only for two months.

When she went back to work at the restaurant, she would take the baby with her, and arrange for someone to care for the baby while she was at work.  The sitter while she was at work was her mother, at the house that she had just moved out of.  And some nights, she and the baby stayed the night after work.  Already, I was thinking that something didn’t line up with that.  Her father was being difficult over a child, but she was still staying over there, with the kid, on a regular basis?  Later, when she returned to her day job, her mother was again the sitter, for the baby as well as for her brothers’ children.  Something again didn’t line up here.  She was living with us in order to escape a bad situation at her parents’ house, and yet, she’s still actively involved with them on a regular basis?  Makes you wonder.

Additionally, when they were here, the boyfriend came over quite a bit.  My friend did something that I didn’t like during this time regarding house access, giving the boyfriend one of the two keys for the house.  My house uses two keys: a standard key for the doorknob, and a proprietary key for the deadbolt that I inherited from the previous owner of the house.  She kept the deadbolt key, and gave the boyfriend the knob key.  I had no problems with the boyfriend, as he was ostensibly there to help take care of the baby.  However, splitting the keys like that led to an undesirable possibility: a lockout.  Elyse and I typically lock the deadbolt when we go out.  We both had a complete set of keys, so no worries there for us, but I was concerned about my friend’s getting locked out accidentally because someone had locked a lock that she didn’t have the key for.  I didn’t want anyone standing outside in the cold waiting, possibly for hours, for someone to come home and let them in.  Ultimately, I issued a second set of keys for the boyfriend’s use, in order to avoid lockouts, so that he could help take care of the kid.

Then in March, just as our time together was supposed to come to an end, everything got turned on its head by the COVID-19 pandemic.  With the banning of indoor dining, she lost her night job at the restaurant, because you don’t need servers if all of the business is to-go.  The boyfriend also lost his job at a veterinary clinic around the same time.  That threw a monkey wrench in their plans, and I remember that no one really gave much of a thought to anyone’s moving out or not moving out at that time.  Things just continued as they were, because clearly, my friend, having lost a major source of income, now couldn’t afford to get her own place.

By this time, the boyfriend’s status had changed from frequent visitor to “housemate”, as he more or less started staying over full time, sleeping in the back bedroom every night (and snoring – loudly).  I didn’t like that, because the boyfriend’s living in the house was never part of the deal.  I agreed to my friend and her baby’s living there temporarily, but not the boyfriend.  His coming over on a routine basis to help with the baby, sure, but not living here full-time.  I also wouldn’t have agreed to the entire arrangement in the first place if it had been presented to me that way, with the boyfriend’s living here as well.  One adult with a newborn in a bad home situation, sure.  Two grown adults in a relationship together?  No, go find your own place to live.  I started putting two and two together, and came to the realization that my friend didn’t tell me the whole story when she asked to move in.  Rather than her parents’ being unreasonable, I was starting to get the impression that her parents were being completely reasonable, as it started to sound more like she wanted her boyfriend to move in, and her parents were, understandably, not so keen on that idea.  So rather than live under their rules in their house, she took her ball and left, and gave me only part of the story when asking, and thinking that she could do whatever she wanted at my house.

Meanwhile, I felt stuck.  I wanted them gone, because the agreed-upon duration had lapsed, but they clearly couldn’t afford to get their own place and leave.  All the while, my dishwasher was being run every single day, they were generating far more trash than Elyse and I ever did, and they generally did not take much care with the place, messing it up faster than we could clean it.  I also saw my utility bills go up, as they caused a much higher usage of water and electricity.  In other words, they were costing me money well beyond the paltry amount that they were giving me, and also costing Elyse and me our sanity.

Additionally, the boyfriend really started to show his true colors.  How much did he actually help with the child?  Not one bit.  My friend was doing all of the work on that.  I get that the child was not his, but the only reason that I allowed him in the house in the first place was because he was supposed to help with the baby.  Without that, he had no reason to be there.  But instead, he tended to go out and booze it up on a relatively frequent basis, and come back loaded.  We have footage of him that the doorbell camera caught on one occasion that shows him so drunk that he couldn’t even get the key in the door, and had to call out for assistance to be let in.  Additionally, Elyse had bought a bottle of a nicer brand of vodka for herself at one point, and while she had a little bit of it, the majority of the contents somehow disappeared.  We suspected that we knew who took it, but we had no proof of it, so we asked our friend about it.  She claimed that the boyfriend was on some sort of medication that makes it where he can’t have any alcohol.  We didn’t believe a word of that, and it also caused us to lose a lot of repect for her, because it was quite clear that she was now lying to cover for him.  Not a good look.  Other adult beverages that Elyse had bought had also gone missing, and it wasn’t hard to figure out who was taking them, but again, we had no proof.

In any case, Elyse and I were both miserable, and we both felt that we were being taken advantage of.  I remarked to Elyse multiple times during this period that I was paying way too much money for the house to be miserable in it.  There were a lot of smaller things that bothered me, and it all added up to a big pain in the butt, especially when they had already overstayed their welcome.  One of those issues was how the front door was locked.  I mentioned earlier about the lock on the front door, and how there were two locks.  The way that Elyse and I locked the door was via the deadbolt.  When we left the house, we would lock the deadbolt, using the key, from outside.  The way that they locked the front door was via the thumb lock on the knob and then pulling the door closed on the way out, leaving the deadbolt unlocked.  I did not like that, because I know that those locks are not particularly secure, and the deadbolt is a high security lock (Mul-T-Lock).  When I asked her to please use the deadbolt, I was told that I was being unreasonable, because whenever she left the house, she would open the door, lock the knob lock, pick up the baby’s carrier, and pulled the door shut on the way out.  I didn’t think that it was unreasonable to use the deadbolt, especially when it was my property that she wasn’t securing properly.  Quite simply, put the baby’s carrier down on the front step, and lock the door properly before departing.

I also really didn’t like the way that they treated Elyse.  They viewed Elyse as an inconvenience to their lifestyle, when, unlike them, she actually lived there on a permanent basis.  As far as I was concerned, Elyse had more right to be in the house than they did, because she actually had established residency there, and that was the address listed on her ID.  I really didn’t take well to their acting like she was an inconvenience or a nuisance.  I take a very dim view of people who fall into that “mean to Elyse” category, because she tends to get a lot of people who are unkind to her for no discernable reason, and I especially wouldn’t want someone in the house who was going to be like that.

What finally put me over the top was when they left one day without saying anything other than that they were going to a picnic in Annapolis, and then didn’t come back for a week.  Their absence had me a bit concerned, making me wonder if they were all right.  A text message inquiring about their wherebouts confirmed that they were safe, but we had no idea when they would be back.  We also began to wonder if they had just ditched us without saying anything, and left us holding the bag.  It was a distinct possibility.  Elyse and I enjoyed having the house to ourselves again, though there was a certain uneasiness about it because we didn’t know when they were coming back, and so they could conceivably walk through the door at any time.  Then when they did come back, she told us that they had been staying at her parents’ house the whole time while her parents were away.  Let’s just say that I was not happy about that.  If she could stay at her parents’ house with the boyfriend and baby for an entire week, then she didn’t need to stay with us anymore, because clearly, she had other options, and I wanted my house back.  Additionally, I was really coming to resent the way that she handled the paternity issue, i.e. leaving the father off of the birth certificate completely.  She may have kept the engagement ring that he gave her, but by leaving the father off of the birth certificate, she gave up 18 years’ worth of child support payments, which could have helped in her ability to afford her own place, and would have had a valuation of far more than whatever that ring was worth.  Elyse and I were miserable in our own house, providing housing for three extra people for very little in return, and she was not doing everything that she could so that she could support herself.  Essentially, she was using me to subsidize her own poor life decisions.

So after discussing it with Elyse and looking up what I needed to do to make it official, I spoke with my friend, and told her that it was time to move out.  A formal written notice soon followed.  There would be a light at the end of the tunnel, and they would be gone soon.

Then things really got petty.  People who have seen my refrigerator know that I keep four steel water bottles in the left front of the refrigerator, so that I can have cold lemon water available at all times.  Other stuff goes to the right.  She put some drink container where I keep my water bottles.  When I noticed it, I moved it to the right side without comment. Then I noticed it was back in the spot that I moved it from, so I moved it back over. Then I got a text:

There’s no reason to move my stuff in the fridge, if you move mine I move yours.  Tired of that.  Everything isn’t about YOU, OTHER PEOPLE LIVE HERE.  Also, next time you text about the bugs, think about how you leave food out.  There’s brownies in the living room and kitchen uncovered.  Worry about your own bad habits before you tell me anything.

Shots fired.  I saw that, and this was my reaction:

What I suspected for a while was just proven to be true.  What we had was a fundamental disconnect about the roles of the various people in the house.  She believed that we were all equals sharing a house, when that couldn’t be further from the truth.  Rather, I was the top dog in the house, because I was the one who owned the place. I didn’t want to have to put someone in their place, but apparently, I had to.  It was like when President Truman fired General MacArthur, about which he said, “I could do nothing else and still be president of the United States.”

So I had to put everyone in their place:

Regarding this most recent message, I believe that you need to be reminded of a very important point: I own the place.  My house, my kitchen, my refrigerator, and therefore, arrangement of the refrigerator and the manner in which things are maintained in this house are my prerogative.  When it comes to this house, I am the benevolent dictator, and I determine how certain things in this house are run.  And as long as you live under my roof, you live by my rules.  Don’t be petty and rearrange the refrigerator just because.  I know that you are more mature than that.  If you don’t like the way that I run the place, find somewhere else to stay.

Her response also gave me the sense of her true colors, i.e. that she was a bit of a spoiled brat who had not been told “no” enough in her life:

And you just lost a friend because you think you have power.  You’re not my parent, if you want a child to govern go find one and I will find somewhere else to stay.  I have 2 months.

And truthfully, I was fine with losing her as a friend.  This adventure had been a real eye-opener in a number of ways, and I was content with never seeing her again after she moved out.  It had become quite apparent that Elyse and I had been far too accommodating of them in the past five months, and failed to set proper boundaries.  Lesson learned, I suppose.

Elyse chimed in at this point:

I really don’t like it when you’ve yelled at me out of the blue that hurts my feelings

She responded:

It hurts my feelings when y’all walk all over me.

Because you have “power”

Elyse responded:

I asked for help to clean the living room everyone uses and tracks shit in I don’t understand how that’s walking over you

And she responded again:

It has nothing to do with the living room.  I don’t touch other people’s food in the fridge, mine shouldn’t be rearranged.  But any words I’ve said are too hard to process clearly so what I said goes.  I’ve been nice for a long time but I’m not going to be walked on.

Okay, then.  “Power”, I assume, means owning the house and having the right to set rules for use of the space.  It’s the Golden Rule, after all, i.e. he who has the gold makes the rules.  And if anyone walked all over anyone, I would say that they walked all over Elyse and me after we were quite accommodating to them.  After all, I could have just said “no” and avoided all of this.

In any case, not long after this, she posted this on her Facebook, with a mood as “feeling human”:

Privilege is an abuse of power and using that perceived power to your advantage or as an excuse to excute [sic] that so called “power” against another person and/or animal.  If you’re not sure that you’re using privilege, key terms include “Me”, “My”, and “I”.  There are different types of privileges including, but not limited to: power privilege, white privilege, sexist privilege, and orientation privilege.  So I’m here to tell you, if you fit any of the categories you are equally fucked up and wrong.  Just because you may not be racist, sexist, or anti-gay does not mean you are any less shitty of a person when you use your perceived power against another.  Thank you for coming to my TED talk and if this applies to you “fuck you and have a blessed day”.

I was a bit amused to read this, because I knew that she was talking about me.  Not long after she posted this, she and her boyfriend both blocked both Elyse and me.  She did the same to all of our various mutual friends.

Meanwhile, the boyfriend’s responses, which came later, were quite unhelpful:

Wow just seeing this @ben ?  I’m usually quiet but we can also talk man to man, that’s the most I’ve seen you wrote since we last spoke about the fridge, don’t let any females get you out your character.. let the females speak amongst themselves and even when your girl told me to speak to I didn’t cause men will be men least ehat she said ..

It seems you want your Privacy which is fine in the same way but your girl comes to my mind wife asking pointers about you so please don’t beef with my lady thank you .. Psa– she didn’t tell me nothing I’m tagged in this childish post

I have never even been in a group text with people I see often so tell me

Clearly, he didn’t understand that I was putting all communication in writing on purpose.  But I wasn’t about to tell either of them that, because then they might be more guarded in their communications.  I wanted to give them enough rope to verbally hang themselves.  But for sake of completeness, I responded to him as well:

Basically, by August 15, the only people who will be staying at my house are Elyse and me, and I will have two sets of keys back in my possession.

In other words, I’ve given you a hard deadline to be out of my house. He clearly didn’t understand why I was communicating in writing, and responded accordingly:

It’s fine Ben like I said men talk ..women text .. you can have two sets of keys when your wife stands up for herself you will be the only one with keys .. nobody is talking to my lady like that .. so man up and get out your text or your own head

2:11 texting like a female

Your the man in this house and I’m the man on the streets treat yourself don’t beat yourself

I found that last line particularly laughable, because I’d much rather be the man in the house over the man on the streets, because the so-called “man on the streets” is on the streets because he doesn’t have his own house.  In any case, this situation was definitely not going to end pleasantly.

We had one pleasant surprise during this period, though: they left again for another week away.  I didn’t mind this, because Elyse and I could have the house to ourselves again, especially since now, the relationship between us and them had turned quite sour.  They wouldn’t even speak to us now.  So not seeing them while the clock was still ticking was fine by me.  I also took the opportunity while they were away to set some boundaries when it came to use of the kitchen.  Specifically, I rearranged the refrigerator in order to consolidate all of their stuff to a single section of the refrigerator, and sent them a memo explaining as such, including that any items of theirs found outside of their designated area would be returned to that section, or removed from the refrigerator if space in their section was not available.

When they saw that memo upon their return, you want to talk about fireworks going off, this was it.  The boyfriend started banging on my bedroom door early in the morning demanding to see me about it in a very threatening manner – enough to make me fear for my safety.  Meanwhile, she responded to me threatening legal action should I remove anything from the refrigerator.  I simply responded to that with a request:

Show me in your lease agreement where it states that the landlord is not permitted to set rules regarding lodgers’ use of the landlord’s property.

I knew that she couldn’t produce such a document because it didn’t exist.  That should have been the end of it.  But clearly, the idea of its being better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt never crossed her mind.  She also never thought to think twice before speaking, as she sent this:

You’re not a landlord lol, I stay here.  I don’t rent from you.  I help with bills you send me.  You don’t even have a renter’s license.  You have an issue, you need to feel power but you have ZERO power over me.  Stop emailing me, I told you already to stop.

Last I checked, making a room in the house that I own available in exchange for some form of payment, like it or not, does make me a landlord.  She was still trying to cling to a persecution complex here, playing the victim when she had no leg to stand on.  I didn’t even dignify that message with a response, because it didn’t really matter.  And besides, I wasn’t some psycho trying to exert power on someone else.  I just wanted to get through the remaining time that they were in the house with as little stress as possible for me.  In other words, I just wanted to be left alone, and if that meant setting boundaries that might inconvenience someone, then so be it.

What finally put me over the top was when she started stealing from me.  I had noticed that a jar of mayonnaise that I had bought on a recent grocery trip had been used up awfully quickly – more than I could account for.  Turned out that she had been using it.  She then came into Elyse’s room and confronted her about it while I was at work, claiming that we were stealing from her.  I knew better, but Elyse didn’t know anything about any of it, and as such was caught completely off guard by this confrontation.  Ultimately, Elyse told her where another jar was just to make the whole scene end.  Elyse then explained it all to me, with audio of the entire conversation, as she had been recording something unrelated when the confrontation began and had forgotten to stop the recording.

I was incensed by this when I found out about it, and when I got home from work, I found my mayonnaise jar in the cabinets that they had been using.  I took that right back, thank you very much.  I also sent another memo to them that essentially kicked them out, because the one-two punch of the threatening acts on his part and the stealing on her part made the situation untenable, and I felt that I could no longer ensure the safety and security of everyone in the house.

Around this same time, another friend of mine put me in contact with a landlord-tenant attorney, as it was looking like it was going to come to that.  But then, two days after my last memo, she, the boyfriend, and another friend of theirs showed up with a truck and moved their stuff out of the house.  That was such a wonderful thing to see, especially as they carried their mattress out of the door, because it meant that they were gone, and they weren’t coming back.  Once Elyse and I realized what was happening, we sat on the couch in the living room and watched it all happen with delight.  The rest of that evening was spent cleaning up the back bedroom and getting it back in order.  Ultimately, we got it looking like it should again:

Elyse poses for a photo in the back bedroom, after we got it cleaned up and back to normal

They had left most of their food in the house, and I hadn’t gotten keys back yet, so I had to follow up a bit on that, but eventually, she came back to retrieve the food and return my keys.  In the meantime, I changed the bottom lock on the door to ensure that they couldn’t enter the house without one of us present, i.e. to ensure our safety.  Turns out that I was right to do so, because this is what I got back for the bottom lock when she returned and gave me back my keys:

The keys that I got back. Note the difference between the two.

I gave them two keys that looked like the key to the right.  Those were keys from Lowe’s, made when I replaced all of the doorknobs as part of an improvement project in 2019.  The key on the left is an unauthorized copy made at a Minute Key kiosk.  I did not know anything about this until I was given the keys back, and I was given no explanation about this new key.  I can only assume that one of them lost the key that I gave them, and so they went out and made a new copy of the key without saying anything in order to replace the lost key.  The problem, of course, was that there was a key to my front door floating around in the world unaccounted for, for an unknown length of time, and I didn’t know anything about it.  I didn’t know if it was accidentally thrown away or something, or if someone was in possession of the key.  And in the case of the latter, I didn’t know if a potential unauthorized keyholder knew what it went to or not.  So the security of my house was compromised because they didn’t bother to tell me that they had lost a key.  If the deadbolt was also locked, that wouldn’t have been as big of a deal because the deadbolt is a high-security lock (and I got all of those keys back), but they never locked the deadbolt, relying on the thumb lock alone to provide security.  Of course, if they had told me about it when it happened, I would have been quite understanding about it.  Things happen, after all, so it would have just been a matter of changing that lock and distributing new keys.  The whole exercise would have cost me less than $20 to fix, which I could afford.  That they didn’t bother to tell me about it at all just burned me up.

Meanwhile, we also found out what a low-quality key comes out of a Minute Key kiosk. Look at what Elyse did to it:

The unauthorized key bent around the authorized key

In this photo, the blade of the unauthorized Minute Key is wrapped around the end of the authorized Lowe’s key.  Elyse bent that entirely by hand, using no tools.  Couldn’t do that with the higher quality keys that I got from Lowe’s.

All in all, I suppose that there are lessons to be learned all around from this experience.  For one thing, don’t let friends move in with you, even with the noblest of intentions, because it’s a surefire way to destroy the friendship, and it did exactly that.  If I never see any of them again, it will be too soon.  I wouldn’t be surprised if she ended up moving right back in with her parents.  The boyfriend’s Facebook listed his location as the town where her parents live, which makes me think that it was probably the case that they went to her parents’ house after leaving my house.  If that was what happened, then she trashed a friendship of eight years for absolutely nothing, just to end up right back at square one.  I also learned that I should have gotten everything in writing from the outset, because that would have better protected me when things started to turn sour.

Additionally, I learned that I need to vet anyone that comes into my house myself.  That boyfriend of hers was pure trash, and the only reason that I let him in was because I trusted her judgment of character.  I would learn that this trust was misplaced, and I learned much later that the “man of the street” had a very long rap sheet.  He was no choirboy, that’s for sure.  Looking on the Maryland court records site, I found all sorts of stuff on him.  That included instances of domestic violence, driving under the influence, driving on a revoked license, and various other things.  While staying with us, he managed to pick up an HOV violation, as well as another revoked-license citation while driving around in her car.  Classy.  I imagine that if I had more thoroughly vetted him, I might have come to a different conclusion about letting him in, because all of the various bad things that he did while with us could have been predicted through the court records.  And since they left, when I was doing research for this entry, I discovered that he managed to get another charge for domestic violence, as well as firearms charges.  I wonder if they’re even still together, considering the recent domestic violence case.  The court record listed it as having been dismissed because the petitioner asked to drop the charges, but I also don’t know if she was the victim.  In any case, even though I never want to see my former friend ever again, I don’t want anything bad to happen to her, either, and if she hasn’t done so already, I hope that she figures out that he’s no good and dumps him.

So there you have it, I suppose.  No good deed goes unpunished.

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Schumin Web turns 25… Tue, 16 Mar 2021 03:15:15 +0000 March 23, 2021 will mark the 25th anniversary of this website.  I’ve been doing this for a quarter of a century.  If it tells you anything about how long I’ve been doing this, Schumin Web has been around longer than Blogger, Etsy, Facebook, Flickr, Google, Reddit, Twitter, Wikipedia, YouTube, and a whole host of other online properties.  And in that time, things here have kind of gone on and on, as we’ve all grown older and matured together.

I suppose that nothing is a better indication of the leng th of time that Schumin Web has been around, and the amount of growth that has occurred during that time than the recent Journal entry about the new scooter.  I like to think of that as “Schumin criticizes Schumin,” as I discussed things that I had written in the site’s fifth year in light of more modern developments in the site’s 25th year. The whole thing felt a bit strange, because it felt as though I was criticizing what someone else had written.  I know that it was me, because I still remember the events and remember writing that page, but that look back really reminded me of how much I have changed in the past twenty years.  My writing style is completely different now compared to then.  My writing from back then looks and feels like the work of a much younger man.  My attitudes about things are different now, too, as back then, I clearly felt that I was invincible, throwing caution to the wind and riding my scooter on a wheel that I knew was faulty, just because I needed to get two more days out of it, and nothing bad had happened in the past.  Nowadays, I would never have done that, because I know that I’m not in invincible, and that getting hurt and not being able to go to work has real-life ramifications that affect more people than just me.  All of that said, I’m not the same person that I was back in the early days of this website.  That’s not a bad thing by any means, and I like the person that I’ve become.

Meanwhile, I feel like the 25th anniversary of Schumin Web should be a quiet celebration.  There is no big compilation photo set celebrating the anniversary waiting in the wings like I did in 2016 with the “Twenty Years” set in Life and Times.  Truth be told, the site’s 25th year was a relatively quiet one.  This was the first time in the site’s history where no new photo sets were released in the span of a year.  The last new photo set to be released was “Planespotting at BWI“, which came out on January 31, 2020 as a 2019 set.  I’ve mentioned before that it’s not that I’m not producing new material, but rather, it’s that other projects have hindered my getting things out of the door.  There will be 2020 photo sets, but don’t expect them for a while, because they will span longer time periods, and those require more work to assemble than ones that are shot in a single event.  Therefore, it makes sense to tackle them along with the backlog of photos from the past year.

There will, however, be two photo sets from 2021 that will come out before any 2020 sets.  I think that will be a first for me, putting out a photo set ahead of such a large backlog.  Normally, I try to publish things in the order in which they were shot, but clearly, that’s not happening in this case.  These will be two relatively small sets of 21 and 28 photos that were shot in the same week.  They were each done in a single session, and are fairly simple sets.  One of these will be my first drone photo set, which got me a lot more access than I might have gotten using more conventional methods, as well as some new angles.  I’m looking forward to seeing how that one in particular comes out.

All in all, happy 25th anniversary, I suppose.  I don’t have a lot more to say about it, except that good things will be coming in the months to come as I work through my backlog, and if I continue writing, I’ll just be blathering on to achieve some appearance of fullness.  So, everything willing, here’s to another 25 years.

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Dueling reviews? Sun, 14 Mar 2021 01:25:57 +0000 A few weeks ago, Elyse bought some ice cream from H Mart, which is a chain of international grocery stores.  One was cheese-flavored, and the other was corn and cheese-flavored.  Both of those are flavors that you don’t typically see in regular grocery stores.  Elyse had planned to review them on YouTube, and she did so in a live video on Friday night:

Note that at the 8:24 mark, she says, “We’ll have Ben try it later and then report back to you guys.”  I wasn’t planning to review it on camera, but since I was strongly encouraged to do it, I said why not.  So when I got home from work, I set myself up in the living room, and recorded one:

Unlike Elyse, who recorded fully live, I recorded live to tape.  I did it that way because it was late at night when I recorded this (around 2 AM), and so I wouldn’t expect people to tune in live for it (I’ve also never done a live video of my own, and have no plans of doing so).  Besides that, I just wanted to perform for the camera, and not deal with comments on the fly.

I think we were both in agreement.  Good enough ice cream, but at $10 per carton, not a good bang for the buck.  Meanwhile, if you skip to the ten-minute mark on my video, you will see the age difference between Elyse and me become painfully obvious: reading distance.  While her vision is generally not as good as mine, she can read really well up close.  Me, I’m just glad that I have longer arms, because I need that full length for reading small print sometimes.  Such is what happens when you’re getting close to the first anniversary of your 39th birthday, I suppose.  Then I also make no bones about it: Elyse did a much better review video than I did.  She does a lot more videography than I do, and is much more comfortable performing on camera than I am.  In other words, she knows what she’s doing.

So all in all, that’s cheese ice cream for you, I suppose.

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Return to the Days Inn… Sat, 06 Mar 2021 14:36:48 +0000 About a year ago, Elyse and I visited an abandoned former Days Inn in the Warfordsburg, Pennsylvania area, about twenty minutes south of Breezewood.  Since then, we had received reports of a fire at the site in September, which destroyed the motel building.  Six months after that fire, we didn’t quite know what the site would look like, i.e. whether the remains would still be there or if it would all be demolished by now, so we went by to check it out.

First thing I did was fly over the site with the drone:

Former Days Inn in Warfordsburg/Town Hill

Former Days Inn in Warfordsburg/Town Hill

Former Days Inn in Warfordsburg/Town Hill

Former Days Inn in Warfordsburg/Town Hill

Former Days Inn in Warfordsburg/Town Hill

Consistent with news reports, the restaurant was undamaged, but the motel building was toast.  I’d say about a quarter of the motel building was still standing, while the rest had burned to the ground.  There were also piles of bricks blocking vehicle access to the property, presumably done after the fire.

Following my drone photography, I went up and photographed it with my phone.

The Days Inn sign facing the road is unchanged.
The Days Inn sign facing the road is unchanged.

What remains of the canopy now stands alone, as the structure behind it is completely gone.
What remains of the canopy now stands alone, as the structure behind it is completely gone.

View down the front of the building, facing approximately west.
View down the front of the building, facing approximately west.  Compare to a similar view from a year ago.

First floor corridor, shot through the door (we didn't risk going inside).
First floor corridor, shot through the door (we didn’t risk going inside).  Compare to how this corridor looked a year prior.

The laundry facility, now out in the open.
The laundry facility, now out in the open.  Compare to how it looked last year.

The west stairs survived, though nothing else around it did.  This stair was blocked by a vending machine turned on its side during our visit last year, and from the looks of it, that vending machine is still there.

View of the remains, facing approximately northwest.
View of the remains, facing approximately northwest.

Edwards fire alarm horn/strobe, badly melted.
Edwards fire alarm horn/strobe, badly melted.  Compare to how it looked on our last visit.

View from the back side of the building.
View from the back side of the building.

Considering that the building had been abandoned for six years and some change at the time of our visit, and that the remains had not been removed in the six months following the fire, my guess is that the remains aren’t going anywhere any time soon.  Meanwhile, the cause of the fire has not been determined, at least as much as I can find.  The local newspaper’s coverage of the fire on Facebook has generated a lot of speculation in the comments, though.  I suppose that there is one plus side to this fire: all of those employee files that I found sitting in there last year were completely incinerated, so I guess that Jamie Strait and others who worked there can breathe a sigh of relief that their personal information is not hanging out there anymore.

So there you have it, I suppose.

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Elyse and I got a scooter… Tue, 02 Mar 2021 15:00:41 +0000 This past Monday, Elyse and I got a Bird Air scooter.  The Bird Air is more or less a consumer version of the Bird scooters that you can rent in various cities.  The main difference is that there is no unlocking mechanism, since it’s designed to have one owner, and it also folds up for easy transport.  Here it is:

The new Bird Air scooter

We got this thing primarily for Elyse’s use, since she doesn’t have a driver’s license, to give her some extra mobility.  It has a range of about 16 miles, and so it will be enough to get her to the Metro and back, as well as run errands in the Montgomery Village, Gaithersburg, and Germantown areas.  To that end, Elyse took the scooter on its maiden voyage, to the 7-Eleven store around the corner from the house and back.  It will also provide some additional flexibility when we’re out on adventures, as she can go off and explore places on her own more readily.  I plan to use it as well as the need arises, though I expect that those occasions to be relatively few and far between.

I took it for a spin today around the neighborhood, in order to get a feel for it all.  To preface this, prior to taking this thing for a spin, I had never been on a Bird or similar rideshare-style scooter.  Additionally, the last time I rode a scooter of any kind was my old Razor-style scooter from college.  That said, after a quick how-to from Elyse, I did pretty well, getting used to the controls fairly quickly and getting up to speed and doing some simple navigation without wiping out.  I had trouble consistently maintaining a straight course and also felt wobbly on turns, but I assume that comes with practice.  I described the ride as “terrifying”, but I’m guessing that I was just too cautious.  However, considering my previous experience with a scooter twenty years ago, I feel like I am justified in being overly cautious.

Some of you may recall that for my sophomore year of college, I bought a Razor-like scooter to bring with me to college.  In other words, this:

My old "Just Go" Razor-like scooter

With my living in Potomac Hall, a building fairly distant from almost all of the academic buildings on JMU’s campus at that time, the idea was to ride the scooter down to the main part of campus where I had my classes.  Starting from the main entrance of Potomac Hall, I would ride past the ISAT/CS Building and across the bridge.  Then, if I was going to the Quad, I would go down the main path through the Village area dorms to the bottom of the hill.  From there, the scooter’s job was done, as it was uphill the rest of the way to class, and it was easier to walk.  If I was going to Zane Showker Hall, I would ride down Carrier Drive to the bottom of the hill, and then it was level the rest of the way, so I’d ride the scooter all the way to the building.  My “A Trip Around JMU – With a Mission” photo set from 2000 covers the route that went to the Quad fairly adequately.

In preparing to write this Journal entry, I went into the Internet Archive and dug up an old page called The Scooter as Transportation.  On this page, I introduced my old scooter, and explained all of the accidents that I got into.  According to 19-year-old me, in the first two weeks of the fall semester, I wiped out six times and ultimately destroyed one of my original wheels on the sixth one.  After replacing my original wheels, I had a fairly uneventful semester as far as the scooter went, save for an additional wheel change due to wear.  The scooter finished out the fall semester with two accidents during finals week.  I had one wipeout where I handed fairly hard, and then the second accident was a spectacular failure of the equipment.  There, the rear wheel broke apart while I was riding down the Village hill.  With no rear wheel anymore, the system failed, and I fell forward, and went down hard.  I ended up destroying the knee of my jeans, scraping up my knee pretty badly, getting cuts on both hands, and getting some abrasions on my upper lip.  Reading my account of the incident from the time, I realize that it could have been much worse, and that I was really lucky that I got away with only minor scrapes.  I’m also amazed in hindsight that I even took the scooter out at all.  I wrote at the time, “The rear wheel’s center had cracked that day anyway, and with only two days of my finals to go (I finished on Wednesday), I determined that the scooter would make it for two more trips – one to Burruss Hall, and one to Zane Showker.”  Translated, I knew that the wheel had damage on it, and I took it out anyway.  What an idiot I was.  In the page from 2001, I was on there trying to justify why I took the scooter out when it was an unsafe condition.  Reading it now in 2021, I realize that there was no excuse for it, that I should have discontinued its use immediately, and not ride again until I could replace the wheels.

In any case, the scooter returned the following semester with new wheels, and went through two more wheel changes in quick succession, both from unexpected failures that fortunately did not lead to injury.  Here they are:

Failure of the orange wheels

Failure of the green wheels

I got better quality wheels after these, but all of the issues that I had eventually killed the enjoyment of it for me.  I eventually viewed the next accident as an inevitability rather than something that could be avoided, and that caused me to fear the scooter.  I gradually reduced my use of the scooter that second semester, and the scooter did not return the following year.

In hindsight, I suppose that my use of the scooter was doomed from the outset, for a few reasons.  First, I was likely taking it beyond what it was designed to handle.  I was far heavier than what it was designed to carry, and that extra weight was ultimately transmitted to the wheels, which were also the weakest things on the frame.  No wonder the wheels kept failing.  Additionally, the way I used the scooter, i.e. going relatively long distances downhill and riding the brake a bit to maintain a safe speed, was likely not something that the scooter was designed for, either, subjecting the rear wheel to a lot of rapid temperature changes from friction.

I also wonder if the design of the brake was a contributing factor to the poor performance.  Here’s the brake:

The rear wheel of the scooter, showing the brake

The brake is that piece of metal over the rear wheel.  What you did is you pressed down on that, which pressed on the wheel, and slowed the scooter that way.  So essentially, the way that you braked was to stomp on the rear wheel.  With that sort of pressure, especially on the steeper Village hill, where I rode the brake to an extent to maintain a certain speed, it wasn’t surprising that I had two sets of wheels fail in the centers.  Add to that my weight at that time, and it was not a pretty picture.

I also eventually came to the conclusion that for what I was trying to do with the scooter, the wheels were probably too small.  The wheels on Razor-like scooters were essentially big rollerblade wheels, and they tended to get caught on small things that a larger wheel would roll over without anyone’s even batting an eye.  If it told you anything, I looked at sidewalk expansion joints and other cracks with suspicion when I was riding that thing, and knew that certain sidewalks were in too poor of condition to even try to run over them with the scooter, because I knew that the wheels couldn’t handle it.

All of that said, I don’t think that anyone could blame me for being a bit fearful while taking this new scooter out for a spin.  Not only was this a new vehicle for me, but it was also my first time using a powered scooter.  And my last scooter experience caused me much trauma that I had never really gotten over.  Rather than making it right and overcoming that fear that had developed at the time, I just discontinued the use of the scooter and set the unresolved fears aside.  And truth be told, when I was riding the Bird Air, I was looking at every single imperfection in the road and trying to avoid it, fearing that I would wipe out if I went over them.  I suppose that the programming that the old scooter did in my head when I was 19 still existed.  But the Bird Air has much bigger wheels, and unlike the Razor-like scooter that I had before, this new scooter is actually designed for what I was asking my old scooter to do way back in 2000-2001 because it was derived from a design intended for bikeshare services, i.e. point-to-point transportation, and it was intended to be a workhorse.  Therefore, it will serve us well in that capacity.

With that in mind, I’m not so concerned about Elyse’s using a scooter.  She is generally a bit more proficient with scooters in general than I am, and she has lots of experience with the bikeshare scooters in particular.  Plus at the age of 24, she’s older and wiser than I was when I was 19 and riding a scooter.  So she’ll be fine, and I have no doubt that she’ll put a lot of miles on that scooter, and we will get our money’s worth out of it.  I’m more worried about me, because I still have unresolved issues that I need to work through when it comes to scooters.  I see a lot of potential in it for me as well, mostly in accessing things with camera equipment in tow that are difficult to reach with the HR-V, just as long as I can get over that trepidation built up from the Razor-like scooter.  We’ll see, I suppose.

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Storytelling and the value of context… Wed, 24 Feb 2021 23:40:17 +0000 Lately, I’ve been thinking a bit about how my photography tends to present itself in the various places that I post my work.  This is on the occasion of a nearly yearlong backlog of photography that is sitting in my queue just waiting to be published.  In other words, this is why there haven’t been any Photography or Life and Times sets published from 2020 as of yet (they’re coming, I promise).  2020 was a banner year for me as far as photography went, as I was more productive in that year than I have been for the last several years.  I’ve just not gotten much of it out the door, with only a relatively small amount’s being published as the photo feature on the front of the website, as well as in the Journal.  The rest of it is still waiting to be published.

The reason for the delay in publication is because of a giant Flickr project that I’ve been working on since around April or so.  What I want to do is to use my Flickr as my main photo library, i.e. most stuff that I publish goes on Flickr.  The ultimate goal with this project was to take everything that I had previously published on Wikimedia Commons and ensure that it was duplicated on my Flickr.  I called it “putting Wikimedia Commons behind me”, because I’m essentially moving on from the platform, and making it where I never have to refer back to it again.  But I didn’t just do a straight sweep of Flickr and copy it all over.  That would be too easy, and if I’m publishing something on a new venue, I want it to look good by my current standards.  Thus I go in and locate the original photos in my archive and process them according to my current techniques as if they’re new material.  Sometimes the cut is a little different, and sometimes the lighting comes out a little differently than before, but I think that it’s a much better end result.  Recall that I did the same thing when I converted Schumin Web to WordPress back in 2011-2012.  I went back and reprocessed all of the photos from the originals, and they looked awesome.

This situation was made a tad more complicated by the way I did things back in 2013 when I first started getting serious about my Flickr.  In that case, I went through things from the beginning, but I was very conservative about what older material I published to Flickr.  I didn’t publish a lot of older material when I did that initial upload.  Who knows why.  So for this project, I did two waves.  The first was a second dive through the archives up to 2013, looking for stuff that was worth publishing as a standalone work.  That took several months to do, and resulted in about 17 pages’ worth of new uploads to Flickr.  Some of that was stuff that had previously been published other places, and a lot of it was new.  I figured that I would catch most of the stuff that was on Wikimedia Commons that way.  While I did catch quite a bit of it, I knew that I wouldn’t catch all of it.  Thus my second wave was to sweep through my contributions to Commons directly, and catch everything that I’d missed.  I figured that I would probably catch about 100 photos and put them up on Flickr.  Oh, how wrong I was.  When I finished my sweep, I ended up having 528 all together.  Made me think of Strong Bad when his computer got a virus, and he said, “That is not a small number!  That is a big number!”  I located all of them, edited all of them based on my current standards, and now I’m in the process of uploading them all.  Thankfully, the process has gone fairly smoothly.

Interestingly, this whole project has made me appreciate Schumin Web more, as well as give me a better understanding of the role that it plays in my ecosystem.  Schumin Web will turn 25 next month, and I’ve come to realize what Schumin Web is really about: storytelling.  From the outset, I have always been going to Schumin Web to tell stories.  Some stories are about momentous occasions.  Some stories are about more mundane things.  Some stories are told through words, and some are told through more visual means.  But regardless of the format that a story takes, there is always a story to be told.  Over the years, I’ve refined my approach to how I tell stories.  Modern Journal entries are much longer and more detailed than they used to be, and photo sets have changed form over the years, but that basic element of storytelling is still there.  You don’t get that same element of storytelling on Flickr, Google Maps, Wikimedia Commons, and so on.  Schumin Web is where I tend to go long form on stories.  I’ve said before that social media sites have probably shaped Schumin Web more than anything in the last decade or so, because those shorter stories went there, leaving the longer, more detailed stories for Schumin Web.  And really, that’s suited this site well, since there’s really no place for that sort of longer sort of storytelling on social media.  Social media is for “soundbites”, for the most part.  And as an added bonus, the longer form stuff possibly makes me sound a little smarter, because I can go into more detail and explain things better than in a quick soundbite that doesn’t always capture the whole idea.

Now, that’s not to say that those other services don’t have value to them.  The reduced amount of context that these sites provide allow me to present different things than I might have done on Schumin Web.  With Flickr, I look at the photos first based on various qualities, and then describe each photo individually via a brief text passage and keywords.  With Google Maps, there is no context other than “this is what the place looks like”.  I no longer contribute to Wikimedia Commons directly, but it is similar to Flickr in the level of context that it provides.  But for what services those sites provide, that amount of context makes enough sense.  Commons is about educational usage of photos, Google is to provide context for mapped locations, and Flickr is a photo gallery.

Compare to Schumin Web, where I choose material based on the story that I am telling.  The story determines which photos I use and don’t use.  There are some photos that I absolutely love that don’t get run on Schumin Web because they don’t fit the story that I’m trying to tell.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does make me grateful for other venues in order to display stuff that is good but just doesn’t fit.  Likewise, I tend to not post more personal stuff on Flickr, while I definitely post more stuff of a personal nature on Schumin Web.  Different things for different places and all.  For instance, I took tons and tons of photos while Elyse and I were on our Hampton Roads trip last April, but not a whole lot has come out from that adventure, because Schumin Web is not the venue for a lot of it just because it doesn’t really tell a story, and is great as freestanding material.  I admit, though, that the discussion of that trip, with its 79 photos, probably should have been a Life and Times set instead of a Journal entry, but such is life.  Hampton Roads, however, is probably going to be the first thing to go out on Flickr once I finish this project to publish older material.

All in all, though, I suppose that this whole exercise is good for learning the value of various venues, and how they all have different things to do.  Now I just have to get through this monumental backlog of almost a year, and I’ll be good to go.

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I could have told you that was going to happen… Sun, 14 Feb 2021 21:48:10 +0000 So the story of former president Donald Trump’s second impeachment has come to an end.  And it ended exactly as I predicted, with Trump’s being acquitted by a comfortable margin.  While a majority of senators did vote to convict, it did not reach the two-thirds majority (i.e. 67 votes) required to remove.  I am always a little bit amused to see people watch the whole process, including the chatter from the various senators involved telling the media how they are going to vote, and then act all surprised when a conviction does not happen.  Truth is that a conviction was never going to happen.  The Democrats didn’t have enough votes to convict without substantial Republican support, and they knew that going into this.

And to this I say, sometimes, I hate being right.  I admit that I was rooting for a conviction on this, even though I knew it didn’t have a snowball’s chance of ever happening (hey, one can hope).  But I also stand by what I said in my earlier post that an impeachment was unnecessary.  With Trump’s having fewer than two weeks left in his term when the triggering event occurred, it would have made enough sense to just wait it out and let the prosecutors have at him as soon as he left office.  As it happened, the entire impeachment charade was a moot point, because Trump was already out of office.  The whole thing also showed me that the Democrats under Pelosi seem to be extremely petty, and it has lent some credence to the idea that they were simply out to get Trump, throwing everything at the wall to see what would stick.  This was their second attempt at removing Trump from office within the span of a year, after all.  Practically speaking, you really only get one shot at impeachment, because after that, you start to sound like the proverbial boy who cried wolf, and shoot your own credibility with every subsequent attempt.

In addition, this whole impeachment charade has cost us much in terms of legislative time wasted in both chambers for political games.  There are people who are hurting pretty badly right now due to the economic effects of the pandemic, and the time spent impeaching and then trying Trump could have been spent working on economic stimulus packages and other measures to help people survive until things turn around.  After all, let’s be honest: politically, Trump is old news.  He’s no longer the president, and as such, he is no longer relevant as far as current politics goes, and as such, Congress has more important matters to attend to than to worry about getting revenge on him.

This impeachment also seems to run against the precedent set in 1974 during the Nixon administration.  At that time, then-president Richard Nixon was in the very early stages of the impeachment process relating to the Watergate scandal.  Nixon saw the writing on the wall, and knew that he was toast.  As such, he resigned the presidency, essentially doing an end run around the impeachment process, rendering it moot.  It was the political equivalent of, “You can’t fire me!  I quit!”  With Nixon out of office, the next step might have been a criminal prosecution, had Nixon’s successor, Gerald Ford, not issued a blanket pardon for Nixon, preventing the former president from standing trial for potential crimes related to Watergate.  One could argue both sides about whether that pardon was the right thing to do, but the pardon put a definitive end to Watergate, and allowed the country to move on.  In the case of Trump, the end of Trump’s term should have given the House of Representatives pause over whether to impeach, because it would have taken care of itself if it had simply been left alone.  They should have started working to gather all of the evidence and hand it over to prosecutors in order to charge Trump criminally for incitement, or anything else that might have been prudent to prosecute him over.

With Trump out of office, about the only thing that a removal would have accomplished would have been disqualification for future office.  All of the various post-presidency perks are secure, since he made it out of office without being removed.  And as far as disqualification is concerned, I am not that concerned about it.  Trump would be 78 by the time of the next presidential election, and he no longer has the support of his own party.  If he ran as a third-party candidate, he would split the Republican vote and guarantee a Democratic win, much like what happened in 1912.  In that case, former president Teddy Roosevelt ran for office on the Progressive (Bull Moose) Party ticket after losing the Republican nomination to his successor, incumbent president William Howard Taft.  While Roosevelt outperformed Taft, he split the vote enough to allow Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson to win the election.  All that said, I consider disqualification from future office to be a non-starter, because I consider the odds of that happening again to be very low.  I also feel like it shows a deep-seated mistrust of the electorate, that the voters can’t be trusted to do the right thing in the future, and thus the grown-ups have to make the decision for them.

Meanwhile, people still need to remember that impeachment is not a legal process.  Despite the similar terminology to criminal proceedings, like “trial” and “conviction”, it is an entirely political process.  You’re not seeking justice through the impeachment process.  That’s not its purpose.  All that impeachment and removal does is to stop the bleeding caused by an officeholder who has gone rogue by removing their access to the levers of power.  If their official misconduct rises to the level of criminality, you also try them in a real court.  The last time that I discussed this, I brought up former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich.  He is still the gold standard as far as prosecution of official misconduct goes, because the process was followed completely to its conclusion.  Officeholder commits crime in office.  Officeholder gets impeached and then removed by the legislature for their official misconduct.  Now-former officeholder then gets indicted, tried, convicted, and sentenced in criminal court for said offenses.  And finally, the former officeholder goes to jail.  Boom.  Done.  That is the entire process.  You get your justice further down the line, after the impeachment process is done.

Additionally, the two-thirds majority required to convict a sitting officeholder is a high standard on purpose.  That ensures bipartisan support for removal of a candidate, and ensures that the Congress is absolutely certain that they want the guy out before they do so.  Thus if an impeachment does not have bipartisan support, it is guaranteed to fail.  Anyone who thinks that an impeachment that does not have bipartisan support will succeed needs to take a second look at their history.  About the only presidential impeachment that had enough bipartisan support to actually lead to removal was Nixon’s, and he saw what was coming and resigned.  Any other president that thought that they would actually be removed would likely do the same, if for nothing else than to protect their post-presidency benefits.

All of that said, this whole exercise has the potential to extract a political toll on the Democrats come 2022.  Generally speaking, the party that has the White House tends to lose seats in the midterm elections.  With a Democratic president in the White House, that means that the Democratic Party is poised to lose seats in the next election cycle.  How many seats remains to be seen.  The Democrats should be reminded that they have a few things working against them when it comes to maintaining control of the chambers.  First, they have a relatively small majority in the House, and the Senate is split 50/50, with the Democrats’ only holding the majority because the vice president, who casts a tiebreaking vote when necessary, is a Democrat.  That Senate majority in particular is very tenuous.  It would behoove the Democrats to recall what happened the last time that there was a 50/50 split in the Senate, twenty years ago.  In that instance, in the spring of 2001, Republican Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont decided to leave his party and become an independent, and began to caucus with the Democrats.  That flipped the chamber in the middle of the term, and gave the Democrats the majority for the next year and a half.  It would only take one Democratic senator to decide to go rogue to immediately flip the chamber, and put Mitch McConnell back in charge.  That is how tenuous their grip on the Senate is.  Additionally, the Democrats don’t have reliable voter participation.  You have to give Democrats a reason to vote, or else they just won’t vote at all.  And that’s exactly how Republicans get elected.  They may not have the same numbers as the Democrats have, but unlike the Democrats, they vote regularly and reliably.  Therefore, the Democrats can’t afford to waste time with political charades.  They need to come out in spades with their own agenda rather than dwell on the past.  Similarly, the left in general needs to move on from Trump, and let go of the Trump derangement syndrome that has gripped them for the last four years.  It’s not healthy, and it will not win them any elections.  There are more pressing matters to worry about than a former president, even if he is a wacko, and I don’t want to see the Democrats squander their time in power by seeking revenge that they will never get.  They say that success is the best revenge, so they need to just do their best and enact the best agenda that they can possibly do, and relegate Trump to history for good.

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Some people just don’t learn… Mon, 08 Feb 2021 03:20:16 +0000 Do you remember Marilyn Armstrong, whom I wrote about a few weeks ago regarding a case of copyright infringement?  She came back for a second round.  Apparently, she found my Journal entry, and just couldn’t leave well enough alone, going on another rant in the comments:

First of all, NO ONE intentionally took anything.  This appeared in a pile of pictures listed by Google as “free for public use.”  No name or other information was attached.  I didn’t write the piece, I didn’t post the picture and if I want a picture, I use my own since I am also a photographer.  One of the people who writes on this blog was just looking for a picture of a building with an orange roof and it came up in that Google collection.  I don’t know how ANYONE can figure out whose picture it is when there’s no attached information AND it did not come from your site.  I already said I was sorry, that it was accidental, unintentional, non-commercial.  Beyond that, you really might consider embedding copyright information in your pictures so people have some way of knowing that the picture is NOT — as Google said — free for public use.

Since I didn’t select OR use the picture personally, and since GOOGLE was the organization that pulled it off your blog and stuck it in a pile of “free for public use” pictures, maybe you should consider going after them.  Someone ought to, but they have a lot of money and a lot of lawyers and if the U.S. government can’t get them, I’m pretty sure you can’t and I can’t, so they’ll just keep doing what they do and people like me will get blamed for assuming that they aren’t lying.

I repeat: NO ONE FROM THIS SITE WENT ANYWHERE NEAR YOUR SITE OR TOOK ANYTHING FROM YOUR SITE.  I’m sorry it happened.  If you want to protect your pictures, spend a few dollars and get a copyright application — and you also might ponder that publishing everything on Facebook is probably not the best way to protect anything.

Once again: NEITHER I NOR RICH (WHOSE ARTICLE IT WAS) went anywhere near your site.  I have an archive of more than 100,000 photographs and I let other people use them non-commercially as long as they don’t cut off the signature of the photographer (usually me or my husband).  Even if they do, I pretty much shrug and move on.  I make the photographs small so they don’t reproduce well and I sign everything I publish.  If it’s a friend’s photo, inscribe THEIR name.  That seems to me to be the absolutely minimum protection.

If Rich knew it was copyrighted, he wouldn’t have used it.  If you want to protect your pictures, do something about it. GOOGLE collected it and dumped it in a pile of “free for public use” photographs.  Given that Google steals EVERYONE’S pictures, I’m not sure it would make a difference, but if the information is embedded in the picture, at least it’s possible to discover who “owns” it.  As it stands now, if it didn’t come from your site, no one can find out anything.  Copyright apps aren’t terribly expensive and many of them make you pictures unusable by anyone except you or those to whom you have given permission.

I didn’t take the picture.  GOOGLE took it.  And you know, if you don’t do something to protect your work, it’s going to keep happening because Google steals ev erything — photos, text, comments — you name it, they steal it — from absolutely EVERYONE. It’s their thing.

Clearly, Armstrong learned nothing from my earlier remarks, and has taken the stance that the person who shouts the loudest wins.  In any case, I was happy to participate in this verbal sparring match via a response to her comment – especially since I already knew all of her stances:

I find it interesting that you continue to (A) blame Google for your theft, and (B) throw your contributing author under the bus for it rather than take responsibility for it like an adult.  Google didn’t place the image on your website.  Either you, or people affiliated with your website, did.  And it really doesn’t matter whether it was you directly or a guest contributor, because ultimately, it’s your website, and thus the buck stops with you.  It is therefore your responsibility to determine authorship of third-party content that you want to use on your website, as well as secure permission to use it.  As I demonstrated above, it was not difficult to determine authorship of the Howard Johnson’s image.  If you had wanted to ensure that your usage was legal, you could have done that in seconds.

I am also not surprised that you brought no new arguments to the discussion, but instead have simply rehashed your original arguments that have already been refuted above.  It has become quite clear that you have learned nothing from this incident.  In any case, just remember that if you do your research up front and make sure that you have permission to use any content that you don’t directly own, you won’t have any problems in the future.

Her response was largely a retread of her earlier arguments:

I DIDN’T take the photograph. I never heard of you OR your site.  Google didn’t place it on my site, but they DID steal it from yours and put it in a pile of photographs labeled as “free for public use.”  Was I “in the wrong?”  Technically, absolutely.  But doing a Google search for a random picture is common practice and sometimes, people need an illustration.  You seem to be convinced we could have detected it was yours.  HOW?  I DIDN’T STEAL ANYTHING NOR DID RICH.  I’m sorry it happened.  That’s the truth.  That’s what happened.  Google picked it up, dumped it into their image file and a guy looking for a building with an orange roof used it.  I’m sorry.  It was unintentional.  How about fixing the problem?  Buy a copyright application.  No more accidental problems ever again.

So with this response, I feel as though she is taking one step forward, and then two steps back.  She admits that she is wrong (technical correctness is the best kind of correctness, after all), but then proceeds to deny it in all-caps, because clearly, the loudest person wins.  She then responded again without my prompting it:

I have deleted the post.  This is the second time I’ve deleted it.  Presumably it won’t pop up again.  I can’t bring any new argument.  What happened is really what happened.  Would you prefer I make up another story?  I do not check every picture everyone who writes for me posts.  I can’t.  I don’t have enough hours in the day to do it.  I have to assume that everyone is a mature adult and knows the rules.  Most of my day is taken up taking pictures, processing them, writing, editing, and trying to find time to read what other people have written.  I’m sorry I write so much.  I’m a writer.  I write.  Photography is my hobby; writing is my profession, or was until I retired.

I still think if you are that concerned with copyrights, you should make sure that people don’t need to track you down.  Why make it so difficult?  You don’t have to splash your information all over the photograph.  You can — at this point (they’ve come a long way in making these programs less intrusive) — embed your website information so it “pops out” of the photo.  That makes it easy to use and non-intrusive.  I intentionally DON’T identify the contents of pictures because I use them in a lot of different ways.  When I need ID, I use the caption or it is part of the text.  All that I have ever bothered to embed, back when I thought it might make a difference, was my name and website.  I also don’t include details of the camera or lens or f-stop or date.  I consider that private.  I think you really should check out the newer programs.  You might like them AND you can use them on big batches of photographs at the same time.  Whole folders at a time.

By the way, let the record show that the reason that she had to make multiple attempts to remove her initial comment was because it was flagged as spam.  I reapproved it, since it wasn’t spam.  I had suspected that the flagging as spam was her doing, and apparently, I was right.

It’s also funny the way that Armstrong goes on about the validity of the facts of the case.  No one disputes the facts.  The guest contributor used a photo and failed to provide proper attribution as per the terms of the license, and they got nailed for it.  That Armstrong claims not to have enough time to vet the information that her contributors post speaks more to her capability to properly manage her website.  I suppose that with this lack of oversight, she should consider herself lucky that copyright infringement is the only issue that she has had (at least that I know of) with her contributors.  Someone could totally go rogue and post some really disgusting and/or offensive stuff on her site, and she would never know about it unless someone told her about it because she doesn’t exercise proper oversight over her contributors.  The same thing happened with Barbiturate back in 2017.  In that case, the band hired someone to design their graphics for them, but didn’t bother to verify the copyrights on the image that their designer chose in order to ensure that it was being used properly.  It wasn’t being used properly due to lack of attribution, and so they lost their graphic.  At this point, their graphic has spent more time on my website as a testament to their lack of oversight than it ever did on theirs as way to promote their work.

I also got the sense that Armstrong was desperately trying to project a bit here, likely to prevent bruised egos on her part.  In her mind, it wasn’t her problem for committing copyright infringement.  Rather, it was my problem for not doing enough to stop her people from committing copyright infringement.  Clearly, “don’t use photos that you didn’t take yourself without verifiable permission” is too much.  So it’s my problem for not plastering ugly watermarks all over my work in order to stop bad actors like her from taking my work.  Sure, that makes sense.  It’s like when people say, “Look what you made me do,” after something goes wrong.  The person saying it is not taking any responsibility for their own actions, but rather, blaming the other person for the stuff that they did.  Classy.

She also sent me an email continuing this stance that it’s my problem:

Check these out.

There’s also a copyright function that’s part of Photoshop, or at least it was when I was using a more recent version of it.  There’s no logic to fight about copyright while failing to do anything to protect them.  Why not make it easy for everyone to know there IS a copyright rather than having an ongoing battle over it?  All the professionals I know use a copyright embedder.

Protect your work.  I didn’t go to your site.  I didn’t take something, nor did Rich.  Google took it, dumped it in a pile of pictures they declared were free for public use.  I’m not sure what lesson to take away from this except to never ever use any photograph I didn’t personally shoot and never trust Google or any other form of social media.

I’m not a press photographer.  If I’m writing about anything outside my realm of experience, I have to use publicly available photos.  Publicity shots of old movie stars, photos of museum pictures, or government pictures OR news shots where information tells you how to include copyright information.  When there’s no information and supposedly it’s free for public use, it’s impossible to untangle it.  Usually copyrighted pictures have SOME indication of copyright somewhere.  A signature, an embedded code, a link to the original site.  SOMETHING.

What lesson should I learn?  Never trust Google?  That’s a good lesson.  ONLY use PR shots or other shots intended for general distribution?  Sure.  But he just wanted a picture of a building with an orange roof.  I would probably have found a picture I took and manipulated it so it appeared to have an orange roof, but he’s not a photographer and doesn’t have the tools to do that.

Do you have a better idea?

Since this is an ongoing problem, why not fix it?  Get a copyright app and use it.  Your photos will BE protected and EVERYONE wins.

Funny how her tone changes a bit when she’s not writing in public.  She’s screaming at me in her public comments, but this email through my comment form takes on a calmer tone, even though she still has no clue.  In this, she said exactly one thing that indicates to me that she knows exactly what she did, even if she doesn’t want to admit it openly.  She said, “I’m not sure what lesson to take away from this except to never ever use any photograph I didn’t personally shoot and never trust Google or any other form of social media.”  Thank you!  That’s what I’ve been saying this whole time.  If you want to use a third party’s image, great, but first make sure that you have permission to use it before you publish it.  That means doing your own research and trusting no one else to do the proper research for you, because in her case, it’s clear that her people aren’t doing it.

Otherwise, she assumes a lot about how I handle my “problem”, as well as what exactly constitutes my “problem”.  After all, I’ve done my due diligence in making sure that people know who shot an image.  Making sure that people know exactly who owns my images is part of promoting my work, and so I’m going to make sure that my name is on my work everywhere that I publish it.  But I suppose that this sort of projection fits the character for someone who is trying very hard to deflect all responsibility for their own actions after they’ve gotten caught doing something wrong.   They don’t seem to realize that I’m not going to think less of someone when they admit a mistake.  I can respect an admission of an error.  I might think more about someone if they’re willing to admit an error because it shows that they’re not so prideful that they always have to be right.  What I can’t stand are people who make excuse after excuse after excuse for what happened, and never take any responsibility for it, even after they’ve been caught red-handed.  Continuing to deny it at that point just makes you look foolish.

And finally, after deleting all of her previous comments, she took one final parting shot that demonstrates that despite everything, no lessons were ever actually learned:

I’m done with this. You can keep plugging away at it if you like, but I’m finished.

And, if all goes well, may our paths never cross again.  In any case, I suspect that if Armstrong does not do her research in the future, she will have to be taught this lesson many times again in the future.

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So what’s the point of impeaching at this juncture? Tue, 26 Jan 2021 02:37:20 +0000 First of all, I am happy to breathe a sigh of relief that Donald Trump is no longer the president.  A four-year mistake is over, and the grown-ups are back in charge.  I look forward to hearing what happens in the White House now that people who are actually halfway competent at governing are running the show again.  I hope that the next four years see the country do exceptionally well, and I hope that the Biden administration succeeds beyond everyone’s wildest dreams.

However, there is one lingering matter remaining from the Trump administration: an impeachment trial.  After the whole storming of the Capitol on January 6, the House of Representatives impeached Trump for inciting an insurrection, and that was the status quo when he left office on the 20th.  Then-Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell declined to expedite a trial, and so it became the case that Trump’s second impeachment trial would occur after he had already left office.  Considering that Trump is now out of office, the only thing that could be accomplished through the impeachment process would be to disqualify him from holding office again in the future, and I really question the necessity of going through an entire impeachment process to accomplish that.

I freely admit that I opposed this impeachment, because impeachment is a process that has only a single sanction, just like the University of Virginia’s honor system: if convicted, you’re removed from office.  Therefore, going through the impeachment process feels like a waste of time, since, as we saw, Trump’s term expired before the impeachment process was completed, and therefore, it’s now a moot point.  With Trump out of office, nothing changes, regardless of the outcome of the impeachment trial.  For what it’s worth, I would have been perfectly content in just ignoring Trump for the final two weeks of his term, and then letting his term expire on January 20.  I also am convinced that Trump has trashed whatever credibility that he might have still had with the storming of the Capitol, and I suspect that because of that, most people wouldn’t vote for him for dogcatcher, let alone the President of the United States.  Therefore, an impeachment trial of the former president seems like it would prevent us from moving forward and putting the Trump era behind us, at least as far as our politics go.

The thing is, impeachment is a political process, and not a legal process.  An impeachable offense is whatever a given Congress decides that it is at any given point in time.  Nothing more, nothing less.  There are no absolutes when it comes to what is considered impeachable.  It is entirely up to Congress.  And with Trump’s no longer holding elected office, the need for a political process to remove him goes away.  There is no need to remove him from office anymore, because he’s already out.  All it does is make the Democratic Party look petty and vindictive, like they’re just trying to “get” him, especially after they had already impeached him once within the past year.  This also now gums up the Senate, preventing them from dealing with other, more important matters such as confirming new appointees, economic stimulus measures, and so on.

As impeachment was taught to me back in school, the idea of impeachment is that removal is not the end-all.    Rather, as it is considered improper to prosecute a sitting officeholder, the idea is that you remove them from office via the impeachment process, and then let the legal system take over from there and prosecute the now-former officeholder.  That’s what happened with former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich.  In his case, he was impeached for by the state legislature for various official misconduct, convicted by the state senate and removed from office, disqualified from holding any further office in Illinois, and then prosecuted criminally for his actions once out of office.  Ultimately, Blagojevich went to prison for about eight years for his offenses.  And for Illinois governors, that sounds about right, because as I understand it, the typical career progression for an Illinois governor is the governor’s mansion, and then jail.

In Trump’s case, he is no longer the president.  Therefore, they can’t remove someone who is already out of office.  Doing all of this just to get the disqualification for future office is kind of a non-starter to me.  By pursuing it, it shows that deep down, the Congress doesn’t trust the electorate, i.e. they think that people would vote for Trump again in the future unless they bar him ever running again.  And that’s a message that I don’t like.  But I really don’t think that he will run again.  And if he does, I imagine that he won’t get very far, because now he would have that washed-up former president cred with the voters, and I don’t think that would play as well compared to a fresh face in 2024.

If they’re trying to hold him responsible for the storming of the Capitol and various other misdeeds, he’s out of office now.  Let’s prosecute him.  I’m sure that there are plenty of state and/or federal prosecutors who would love to have an opportunity to get a piece of him.  I strongly recommend not taking the approach that Gerald Ford took with Nixon, i.e. Trump should not get a blanket pardon.  I believe that, like happened with Ford, it would be political suicide.  Additionally, there is no better way to show that the various things that Trump did are not acceptable than to make an example out of him, and hold him responsible in court.  You want to know what accountability looks like?  That is what accountability looks like.  I hope that they’re not using the impeachment process as a half-assed substitute for actually holding him accountable in court, i.e. this is his comeuppance, and he will never be prosecuted like they mean it.

So all in all, I wish that they hadn’t impeached Trump, but what’s done is done.  I suppose that we’ll all see together what happens in this post-presidency impeachment trial.  I suspect that Trump gets acquitted at the end of it, making the whole thing a waste of everyone’s time, but we’ll see.  All I know is that the Democrats had better come out in spades these next two years, though, or else they stand to get slaughtered in the midterms.

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And they thought a little graffiti was bad back then… Sun, 10 Jan 2021 16:42:44 +0000 I was recently participating in a comment thread on the Staunton News Leader‘s Facebook page about the arrest and charging of Jake Angeli, one of the more prominent figures to participate in the storming of the Capitol on January 6.  Most the comments praised the arrest, while some other comments amused me thoroughly.  One comment claimed that it was not Trump supporters who came to DC, but rather, it was “antifa”.  That comment reminded me of how little many right-wingers understand about what antifa is, and it made me laugh.  Recall that I used to do a lot of antifa back in my day (though the common use of the term “antifa” postdates my participation), so I know a little something about it.  The thing that amuses me most is when people think that it’s an actual organization, because trust me, it is most definitely not.  For those not familiar, the term “antifa” is short for “anti-fascist”, and if a bunch of people assemble and decide that they want to call themselves “antifa”, then they are antifa, and it’s over at the end of the event.  It’s really not that complicated.  There is no real organization to it, and people don’t answer to anyone at some headquarters.

But that commenter’s attempt to pin the whole thing on “antifa” reminded me of an event that happened back in January 2007, nearly 14 years ago.  Back then, at an anti-war protest (which I documented here under the title “J27 Anti-War Demonstration“), an affinity group of sorts, comprised mostly of people wearing black clothing and masks, i.e. a black bloc (which many might call “antifa” today), broke away from the mainstream march and headed up to the United States Capitol.  The group made it as far as the bottom of the steps, where Capitol Police was standing to prevent further movement.  No effort was made to go past them, and as far as I know, the bloc was content with that.  While we were there, a few people pulled out some spray paint cans and left some tags on the sidewalk in front of the steps of the Capitol.

Here’s what was left during that event:

Graffiti on the sidewalk in front of the Capitol

Graffiti on the sidewalk in front of the Capitol

Graffiti on the sidewalk in front of the Capitol

I remember this quite well.  At the time, I wrote, “Then I smelled something: spray paint?  Turning to someone next to me, I asked, ‘Do you smell spray paint?’  They agreed with me.  And what do you know… someone had actually tagged the sidewalk in front of the Capitol – twice, in fact.”  I also personally took some of the heat for this in the media, after a guest poster on Michelle Malkin’s blog singled me out about the incident about a month and some change later.  I even received threats of physical harm in reference to the next big anti-war event in DC, which would occur the following Saturday.  I wasn’t worried about the people that I was with causing any harm, because a lot of these folks were regulars, i.e. this was not their first rodeo.  I was somewhat concerned about these right-wingers who came in from out of town, though, because they might have had fantasies about roughing up some peaceniks.  Ultimately, nothing happened at that event when it came to the right-wingers, since the cops did a pretty good job at keeping the two sides separate.

In any case, a little spray paint on the sidewalk was “OmG tHe WoRsT tHiNg EvEr!!!!” according to the fanatical right wing in 2007.  Admittedly, the tagging of the sidewalk should never have happened, but that’s well in the past at this point.  But now, we have had right-wingers who busted into the Capitol and ransacked the place on the occasion of the counting of the electoral votes, and certain people on the right were cheering it on as it happened.  I expected a large crowd outside of the Capitol protesting while the vote tally occurred inside, because right-wing events are typically pretty sedate.  They come in, they march around a bit, they make some noise, and then they go home.  In other words, not that exciting.  That big teabagger march that I photographed in 2009 was a big snooze.  Left-wing events are far more interesting in general than right-wing events, because you never know what is going to happen.  So I was as shocked as anyone to see demonstrators breaching the Capitol’s security and finding their way to the top level of the Senate dais, where the presiding officer usually sits.

I wonder if this will also be the end of the disparate treatment by police that I’ve noticed between right-wing protests and left-wing protests.  For the aforementioned teabagger march, there were about ten MPDC officers assigned for the whole thing according to Captain Jeff Herold, and the entire complement was standing on the steps of the Wilson Building, watching the group like playground monitors.  So for all intents and purposes, they were doing their thing unsupervised.  Compare that to the March on Crystal City six months prior, when we had about that many officers just paying attention to our little black bloc, let alone the big march.  Do I expect that to actually change, with right-wing events’ getting the same amount of coverage as left-wing events?  I’m not holding my breath on that.  But I suppose that at the very least, I suppose that the right wing can’t claim any moral high ground anymore about how they comport themselves during protests.  I’ve never seen a black bloc ransacking the Capitol, after all.  They condemn “antifa”, and then go out and top them at their own game.

Meanwhile, from everything that I can tell, Trump knew that he had lost, knew that there was no way that he could actually get a second term, and admitted as much.  He also indicated that he was more or less getting everyone all wound up just for the lulz.  That then had some major real-life consequences for a lot of people, and that made me really angry with Trump for essentially sending these people off for something that he didn’t even believe in himself.  It also made me feel a little bit badly for the people who participated, because I imagine that a lot of those people didn’t realize that Trump was doing it all for the attention.  I said in a Facebook post at the time, “Does the word ‘suckers’ seem like an adequate term to describe these Trump supporters now?”  I haven’t yet found anything to convince me otherwise.  I suppose that this should be a lesson to a lot of people: use that noodle of yours.  Do your own research, and come to your own conclusions.  Think critically.  Don’t just blindly follow.  Have some conviction, even if it’s unpopular.

And then hopefully, the inauguration is uneventful.  We know that Trump doesn’t plan to attend his successor’s inauguration, but who knows what his rabid supporters might try to pull.  All I know is that I’ll be at work that day, just like I was during the storming of the Capitol, and just like I was at Trump’s inauguration four years ago.  And I’m hoping that I have a nice, boring day on the 20th.  We’ll see, I suppose…

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No more cutesy safety messages? Thu, 07 Jan 2021 22:18:46 +0000 On January 4, 2021, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) issued a ruling providing “an official interpretation of the provisions of the 2009 edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways (MUTCD) related to changeable message sign messaging”.  In a nutshell, this ruling bans all of those cutesy safety messages that highway departments love putting on those overhead message signs, such as this one:

"Wear shamrocks, not handcuffs. Drive sober."

This particular one is from March 17, 2016 on US 29 in Maryland, and promotes responsible use of adult beverages, i.e. don’t drive drunk.  I’m sure that you can think of other messages that you’ve seen that are similar, related to drunk driving and seat belt usage.  I never minded these messages, because ultimately, they were PSAs about safety while driving.  As long as it was travel-related and not preempting a more urgent message, fine.  Especially because, for whatever reason, despite decades of anti-drunk driving campaigns and mandatory seat belt laws, people still do these things.  The seat belt part especially surprises me, because I still read far too often about someone’s being ejected from their car during an accident because they weren’t wearing a seat belt, which would have prevented that.  I lack sympathy for those people, because the first thing that comes to my mind when I read about such things is that the idiot wasn’t wearing their seat belt, which would have kept them in their seat, where they belonged.  After all, we want to keep such driver’s ed films as Alice’s Adventures Through the Windshield Glass and The Decapitation of Larry Leadfoot in the realm of fiction, and not play them out in real life.

However, in the last year, I’ve seen these message signs used for a different purpose: pandemic-related propaganda.  Maryland in particular, it seems, has loved to run messages about masks and social distancing and such.  Here are some examples that I’ve spotted:

"If out and about/Do your part/Keep social distance"

"Do your part/Wear a mask/Stay 6 ft apart"

"Stay home for the holidays/Masks on"

This is not limited to Maryland, of course.  On a recent trip up north to see family, Delaware had a message on the overhead on I-95 that said, “A simple ask.  Wear a mask”.  I was quick to respond with, “Get a clue.  Fuck you.”

Virginia jumped on the bandwagon as well, but in that case, they tried to keep it at least somewhat road-related, mixing pandemic and road safety:

"New normal, same rule: buckle up"

In any case, this propagandizing has become so prevalent that the return of the usual cutesy safety messages’ for Christmas was noteworthy enough to warrant a photo:

"He knows when you are speeding/Slow down"

What does it say when normal becomes noteworthy?  But in any case, all of the above-named examples are now banned.  And in their ruling, the FHWA makes the perfect case for these.  It all boils down to this fundamental principle:

Traffic control devices or their supports shall not bear any advertising message or any other message that is not related to traffic control.

Last I checked, messages about seat belt usage, drunk driving, and especially pandemic-related propaganda, are not related to traffic control.  They also fail some other principles of an effective traffic control device:

Convey a clear, simple meaning.  Clear and simple messages are easy to read and comprehend with only short glances away from the roadway, resulting in minimal visual and cognitive distraction from the driving task.  The use of witticisms, colloquialisms, and popular culture references that target or are comprehended only by a limited segment of the population is not consistent with a clear, simple meaning for all.  Instead, these messages rely on hidden meanings or targeted cultural knowledge to understand the message.  Similarly, the use of newly coined terms (neologisms), words combining the meanings of two words or blending of sounds (portmanteaus), metadata tags (“hashtags”), electronic shorthand (“Internet slang”), and other forms that do not use conventional syntax do not convey a clear, simple meaning to many road users.

Command respect from road users.  Respect for CMS is gained through the posting of information that is relevant to all road users at the location and time it is displayed.  Just as important, CMS messages also command respect through the consistent use of simple, official language and design.  The use of colloquialisms, popular culture references, and other types of indirect or potentially esoteric messaging tends to diminish respect of a CMS as a traffic control device because of its unauthoritative tone and its similarity to promotional advertising that employs a similar approach.

The cutesy road safety messages tend to fail the principle of “convey a clear, simple meaning” by assuming that people understand certain cultural elements.  In the case of the St. Patrick’s Day one, it assumes that someone is familiar with St. Patrick’s Day and knows what a shamrock is.  Imagine that someone had never heard of it, such as a recent immigrant from an area where St. Patrick’s Day was not celebrated.  Now you’ve got someone going down the road thinking, “What is a shamrock, and why do I need to wear one?”  That thought is now taking at least some of their attention away from safely moving their vehicle down the road.  In the case of the Christmas-related one, if someone has never heard of the “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” song, the message doesn’t make sense anymore, and the meaning is lost, and you again have a confused driver who is thinking about the message, taking a little bit of brain power away from the task of driving.  We don’t want that, because a distracted driver is a dangerous driver.  Don’t forget that distracted driving comes in many forms, and doesn’t just mean a driver with a phone in their hand.

The pandemic-related propaganda, meanwhile, has zero to do with traffic control.  It also fails to command respect from road users.  I know it fails this, because I look at it and it causes me to lose respect for a whole host of entities because these signs that are supposed to be for road-related messaging are now being used for blatant propaganda about social distancing, lockdowns, and mask-wearing.  My response to the Delaware message is a perfect example of this, as I was clearly not having it.  Don’t waste my time with a non-road-related message when I’m trying to drive.  I have my own opinions about the official response to the pandemic, and it’s generally not complimentary, but this is not the time for that discussion.

Additionally, keeping these signs lit all the time causes their messages to blend into the background.  The FHWA even said as much:

It is important that any safety campaign related messages be limited in duration.  Displaying safety campaign messages on a near‑continuous basis can be counterproductive to the intended purpose, as motorists might habituate to and ignore messages that are displayed for long periods of time or with such frequency or predictability that motorists perceive them as being displayed continually.

With their continual use for propaganda, seeing a message on there is nothing new.  It’s just like any other sign that you see every day while out on the road.  You know it’s there, you’re used to it, and therefore you don’t even really see it anymore.  So when a message that is actually pertinent comes through, you might miss it because you’re used to seeing it lit up with all of the garbage messages.  If the sign is normally dark, and only lit up for pressing matters, then it’s going to get your attention.  You’re going to notice it because it’s something different, you’re going to read it, and then respond accordingly.

All in all, when properly used, these devices are wonderful things, as they are able to convey pertinent information regarding traffic conditions for drivers in order to help keep traffic moving smoothly, such as one time when a sign alerted me to an accident on I-95 while I was traveling to Richmond.  In that case, I was able to get off the freeway in plenty of time, take Route 1 around the accident, and then get back on 95 after I was past the accident.  It saved me time when I was trying to get somewhere by alerting me to a problem on my route.  But when it’s used for other things that are not directly related to my ability to get where I’m going, it cheapens the system, causes more clutter on the roads, and makes it less likely that actual pertinent messages will have the impact that they need to have.  And for that, I’m glad that all of the cutesy safety messages and unrelated propaganda are now banned.

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Out of everything, 2020 was an exceptionally good year for my photography… Thu, 31 Dec 2020 19:33:22 +0000 Out of all of the things that occurred in 2020, I think that I could define my year most by my photography work.  I had a very productive year, on a few different fronts.

First of all, I got a new phone in early March, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, which is a pretty powerful camera in and of itself, with four different lenses built into its design and all sorts of other fun features.  For that, I tend to get the most out of the standard lens and the wide angle lens.  Here’s a comparison of two shots taken from the same spot:

Potomac Avenue station, photographed with the regular lens.
Potomac Avenue station, photographed with the regular lens.

Potomac Avenue station, photographed with the wide-angle lens.
Potomac Avenue station, photographed with the wide-angle lens.

As you can see, it’s a much larger shot with the wide-angle lens, though it does come with a little bit of distortion around the edges.  Note the way that the station arch is up on one side in the second shot, as well as the way that the tiles are a little stretched near the bottom.  I view it as “there are worse things”, and work with it.  And I’ve produced plenty of winners with the wide-angle lens.

I also got some new lenses for my real camera, i.e. my Nikon D5300.  One is a portrait lens, and the other is a wide angle lens.  I haven’t gotten as much use out of the portrait lens as I’ve hoped, but I’ve definitely gotten some use out of the wide angle lens.

The portrait lens has only come out twice, but here are examples from those shoots:

The first use was right after unboxing.  I photographed Woomy, who was a willing subject, even if he was complaining the whole time.
The first use was right after unboxing.  I photographed Woomy, who was a willing subject, even if he was complaining the whole time.

In the other instance, I took it out while Elyse and I photographed a cemetery in Frederick County.
In the other instance, I took it out while Elyse and I photographed a cemetery in Frederick County.  The portrait lens was not ideal for this particular application, mainly for lack of a zoom function in an instance where I was mostly down on my knees, but I wanted to get a handle on how the lens performed in a real situation.  But I was able to put it through its paces enough to see the potential in it.

As far as the wide angle lens goes, I got that in November, but I’ve already gotten some decent use out of it.  Here are some examples with that:

A fire truck sprays some water during a training exercise at Point of Rocks.
A fire truck sprays some water during a training exercise at Point of Rocks.

The former JCPenney store at Staunton Mall.
The former JCPenney store at Staunton Mall.

I like this lens a lot.  Unlike the phone’s wide angle lens, it has a little bit of optical zoom on it, which makes it easier to line up shots, and there is a lot less distortion around the edges compared to the phone.

Then I also have the Mavic Mini, i.e. a drone, which opens up a lot more possibilities for me, since I now have easy access to aerial photography.  I’ve found my drone useful for two things: big aerial shots, and also close-ups of things that I couldn’t otherwise get up to, mostly infrastructure.  Here are some examples from a recent visit to Waynesboro, Virginia.  First, the big aerial shots:

A former ice house in downtown Waynesboro, painted up with a mural.
A former ice house in downtown Waynesboro, painted up with a mural.

Downtown Waynesboro, photographed from near Kroger.
Downtown Waynesboro, photographed from near Kroger.

And here are some examples of detail shots with the drone:

Satellite dish on the former News Virginian building.
Satellite dish on the former News Virginian building.

Siren structure on top of the Waynesboro fire department.
Siren structure on top of the Waynesboro fire department.

Detail of a cell phone tower.
Detail of a cell phone tower.

I don’t know which I enjoy more, i.e. the overview stuff or the detailed stuff.  The detailed stuff is more challenging to shoot, since I want to get nice, close, detailed shots, but also have to be careful not to make contact with the subject, because a collision with the subject would likely mean loss of vehicle and contents (i.e. I destroy the drone and also lose the photos) if it lands in a place where I am unable to retrieve it.  But it’s still a lot of fun to do.

Otherwise, with a lot of stuff right now either closed or so bogged down with so-called “safety measures” (i.e. security theater) to be more trouble than it’s worth, the camera has become what I do for recreation, and I’ve been doing a lot of shooting lately.  If Elyse and I are out and I have a moment while I’m waiting for her to do something, I will pull out my phone and start lining up shots, typically close ones.  This photo feature is a good example of that, where I was photographing sandwiches at a little convenience store while Elyse was shopping there.  One of the employees asked what I was up to, and I explained that I was waiting for Elyse to finish shopping, and that the sandwiches gave me a bit of artistic inspiration.  They told me to have fun with it.  I’ve also gone out more with my real camera, making good use of my time off. We’ve gone out quite a bit, and I’ve done a good bit of photography throughout the mid-Atlantic region. I’ve photographed all sorts of things in all kinds of settings.  I’ve brought my tripod out quite a bit, doing a lot of nighttime photography, and lots of other different things.  I’ve also been documenting the signs of the current COVID-19 pandemic quite a bit, though admittedly, I haven’t photographed people in masks, because that is one aspect that I would rather not remember.  I’ve been more about changes that I’ve observed in the physical environment around us rather than the humans themselves.  My Flickr album about the pandemic, which goes through the end of March as of this writing, gives a better idea as to what I mean.  And I admit: I love this photo of Elyse holding a roll of toilet paper in a grocery store, making sport of the panic-induced shortages of toilet paper that we saw this year.

Now, as far as actually getting photos out the door, though, I’ve not been so good.  The newest stuff on my Flickr feed is from the end of March, and there have been no new photo sets on here for 2020.  There has been very little new material posted up, other than in photo features and Journal entries.  That’s for a few reasons.  First of all, considering that I’ve been photographing more this year (99 events that generated their own folder in my archive this year, vs. 41 in 2018 and 43 in 2019), being out in the field more is time that I might have otherwise spent at my desk doing publications.  So there’s that.  As far as photo sets on here go, out of the four things that I’ve got planned as 2020 sets, three of them span multiple months, and for two of those, I’m deliberately running out the year in order to capture everything at once.  The fourth is about Staunton Mall, and I’ve already teased you with a Journal entry about that subject.  But that one is going to take a while to do.

However, the largest reason for a backlog is because I’ve been working on a large project regarding older material.  As of this writing, in order to see the aforementioned photos from this past March, you have to go back to page 17.  That’s because I’ve been going through my archives, preparing and uploading older photos as if they’re new material.  I have a lot of good stuff that I’ve taken over the years that’s never been published before, and there’s a lot of stuff that’s been published in various places over the years, and so I’m trying to get as much of it as possible on my Flickr account so that it’s all in one place.  It’s been fun revisiting these old photos, and especially so in seeing some of what I never published, mostly because it didn’t fit the story that I was trying to tell for whatever reason.  This works to my benefit with Flickr, because photos are published as standalone pieces, and the albums exist to provide that larger context for those photos.  I started back in 1999 with scans from my first trip to Canada, and am done through 2011, and I’m working on the photo prep for 2012 as of this writing.  I’m planning to do through the end of 2013, i.e. the Creative Commons period, plus a little bit from after that.  So I’m well past the halfway point.  Once that’s done, I plan on switching to new material, working on the photo sets and then more Flickr.  Once I get to new material on Flickr, the Hampton Roads trip from April will be the first to go out.

So all in all, I’d say that I’ve had a good year for photography, even if it’s not all up yet.  Hopefully 2021 continues to build on this success.

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A lot of “teachable moments” in one email… Fri, 18 Dec 2020 23:20:20 +0000 Recently, I submitted a takedown notice for content in a post called “Preaching to the Choir” which, among other things, discusses the seventh and ninth commandments in the Bible (conveniently skipping over #8, i.e. “thou shalt not steal”), on a blog called Serendipity Seeking Intelligent Life on Earth.  The post contained a photo that I took of the former Howard Johnson’s on Afton Mountain.  Specifically, they used this shot:

The Howard Johnson's restaurant on Afton Mountain

This photo comes from the original Afton Mountain photo set that I published in 2003.  As it is one of my older (pre-2014) photos, per my policy at the time, it is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.  That means that as long as you (A) provide attribution to the copyright holder, i.e. me, and (B) license the resulting work under the original license, you’re golden, and you can use the material for whatever you want, and for as long as you want.  And really, I don’t mind that my work is used in other contexts.  I love seeing my stuff appear in the wild, and people who have witnessed my finding one of my photos’ being used in the field will tell you that my face just lights up upon discovering it.  But the license still must be followed in all circumstances, unless you ask to make alternate arrangements ahead of time.

When people choose not to follow this license, and I find out about it, I take care of it using the various remedies that are available to me.  For business or organizational usages, I typically handle it through Pixsy, to get a licensing fee for the usage.  For infringing usages that don’t qualify for resolution through Pixsy, I typically use remedies available to me through the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA.  In those cases, I contact the host of the content, they verify the infringement, and they remove it and notify their customer about the removal.  In that case, the host has done what they are legally obligated to do, my claim is satisfied, and we all go on with our day.  Sometimes, though, the original user writes me after it’s all over, not necessarily to challenge it (since there is a legal process for that, too), but rather to tell me what a horrible person I am for defending my copyrights from infringement, or to try to get me to retract my claim for a promise that they will remove it immediately afterward.

In this case, after the takedown notice was submitted, processed, and executed, I received an email from Marilyn Armstrong, the woman who runs the blog, about it.  I suppose that the old saying is true.  If you give someone enough rope, they’ll find a way to hang themselves.  Armstrong went ballistic on me with a very long email complaining about the situation that she now found herself in.  I got the sense that she definitely knew that she was in the wrong, but was desperately trying to justify or otherwise excuse her actions despite knowing full well that she was wrong.  Perhaps she was trying to soften the blow for herself, to make her feel a little bit better about it.

In any case, Armstrong’s email provides a number of “teachable moments”, so I’m going to quote it in its entirety, and discuss the various points that she makes.

Why in the world would you report me without at least getting in touch with me first?  Did you believe a single photograph of an abandoned Howard Johnson’s used as an illustration in a non-profit post as a humorous commentary on sermons during the COVID pandemic, would cause you harm?  Was it used commercially?  Was the site commercial?  Did you lose money?  Were you in any danger of losing anything?

I always find it curious when people immediately question why I go straight to a takedown notice rather than contacting the perpetrator first. Recall that Barbiturate also complained about the same thing when I nailed them for the photo of the cemetery in West Virginia.  The question that I usually have about that is, why should I, especially when I don’t know the person?  I see no benefit to doing this vs. going straight to the various legal remedies available to me, and Armstrong just demonstrated exactly why I don’t do that through her response.  Why would I subject myself to someone’s hemming and hawing and trying to justify why they shouldn’t have to do what is asked of them after they are caught, when I can avoid having to read all of that and get a disinterested third party (the host) to do it for me without all of the fuss?  Especially so when, if the person doesn’t remove it themselves, I then would have to use the legal remedies regardless.  I also don’t like to threaten people with escalation as a tactic to get compliance, i.e. if you don’t do what I tell you, it can get much worse.  That’s not how I operate, and I have always found it a bit tacky when someone threatens escalation.  That goes for teachers, bosses, and anyone else.  If escalation is warranted, just do it, and if it’s not, then don’t.  Or, in this case, start at the level that you’re supposed to and let those people handle it from there.

Additionally, as far as copyright is concerned, nonprofit or not, commercial or not, whether I lose money or are otherwise at risk of being harmed in any way does not matter in the least.  It’s still copyright infringement.  If someone plays the “poor nonprofit” card with me, they’re still going to get spanked for copyright infringement just like they would if they had taken responsibility for it like an adult.

The picture (and by the way, I didn’t use it nor did I write the piece, but it did appear on my site) came via a Google search and not from your website.  Personally, I would not have used the picture because it had obviously been copied and moved multiple times before Rich found it.  It had no name on it.  No signature.  No indication of it having any protection.  I am also a photographer and I post hundreds (maybe thousands) of pictures a year.  Google steals all of them.  I have found my pictures many places — and writing, too.  I decided I was not going to spend the rest of my life mad at “the Internet.”  Google steals everything, and anything Google doesn’t steal first ends up on Facebook or even Wikipedia.  I’ve given up worrying about it since I don’t sell my work.  I do miniaturize them so while someone might use one as a small illustration, they aren’t going to enlarge it as a wall hanging.  I ask people to give a photo credit if they want to use my pictures, but usually, I don’t even get that because some clever person slices the signature off the bottom.

I see a few things here.  First of all, she is passing the buck to a guest contributor, a man named Rich Paschall.  I have no reason to doubt that Armstrong did not write the post in question, as the blog contains a lot of material written by other contributors besides Armstrong.  However, it’s still Armstrong’s blog.  Ultimately, it’s her site that is publishing the material, and therefore, it is up to her to ensure that everything that is being posted is up to spec.  Whenever I watch Bar Rescue, I have noticed that Jon Taffer never lets the owners get away with passing the buck.  There’s a reason for that.  They own the business, and therefore, the buck stops with them, because they’re the owner, i.e. the ultimate authority over that business.  The same thing applies here.  Armstrong’s name is on the copyright notice, therefore, it’s pretty clear that the buck stops with her.  That comes with a lot of responsibility, and if she’s going to put her name on it, then she should take responsibility for it.

Also, notice how Armstrong tries to justify the image use.  She, or her contributor, got the image from somewhere that wasn’t Schumin Web, and therefore, it’s okay to use it.  Even if we pretend to take some of her claims at face value, i.e. that Google and other sites steal and distribute images en masse in violation of copyright, that still does not excuse any party from the responsibility of determining (A) who the copyright holder is, and (B) whether the image is okay to use in a specific situation.  What Armstrong is essentially claiming is that two wrongs make a right.  Basically, because Google “stole” my photo first, and therefore, a wrong has already been committed, it’s okay to commit further wrongs because someone else did it.  It’s like when kids try to justify their actions when they get caught by saying that little Johnny did the same thing and didn’t get in trouble, and therefore, they shouldn’t be punished for it.  Just because little Johnny didn’t get caught didn’t make the thing any less wrong.

Generally speaking, though, if you can’t determine the source of an image, you shouldn’t use it, no matter how great of a photo it may be.  In the case of my photos, if you look a little bit, you will usually find my name somewhere nearby.  This particular photo was published on Schumin Web, Flickr, and Wikimedia Commons, and based on those places, there is a good chance that there will be downstream usage.  However, finding it in a downstream usage doesn’t negate the need to do your own vetting, and to follow the license.

Additionally, one thing that Armstrong fails to recognize is that copyright is automatic.  The moment that you put an idea into a fixed form, it is copyrighted, and if you are the one who created it, you are the one who holds that copyright.  For stuff created since 1989, a copyright notice is unnecessary.  It exists, therefore it is copyrighted, unless the copyright holder explicitly gives it away.

There are battles I will fight. This isn’t one of them. This blog is a hobby, NOT a business.

I admit that I laughed a little bit when I saw this.  For someone who is claiming to pick their battles, and who has also said that this is not a battle that they are willing to fight, it sure sounds like they have chosen to fight it, don’t you think?

I can’t write you on Facebook or Instagram since I do not use either of these social media outlets.  I have already been hacked after Facebook stole all my personal information and sold it Cambridge Analytica.  Ironically, all I got from that was a bland “oops, sorry.”

Congratulations, I suppose?  I have little to no sympathy for people who complain about what Facebook does with their information, since ultimately, it’s stuff that they provided to Facebook themselves, and used pursuant to terms that they probably didn’t read but agreed to nonetheless in order to use the service.  I’m less than concerned about these sites’ using information about me.  I figure, maybe they’ll find me more interesting than I do.

I remember the time when some friends of Elyse and I came over the house, and I showed them the Google Home device in the room where they would be staying.  One of them asked if we were concerned about having a microphone connected to Google right in the house.  Then I showed them how it worked, and they watched the way that Google Assistant responded.  All concerns about the device went out the window, and they were having a blast talking to Google for quite some time.  Clearly, it wasn’t that big of a deal once they got to know it.  I also say that if someone really wanted to do a deep dive into my information, they’re the ones who are going to be scarred for life because of it, and not me.

Let me repeat: the photograph was NOT stolen from your web site.  It had already been stolen by any number of people before Rich found it.  As far as I can tell, the photo does not contain any embedded copyright information — not even a signature.  If you feel obliged to copyright every photo you post, you might want to embed copyright information in the picture (which can also make them impossible to copy) so people know the photo has an owner.  There are any number of programs that do this, including one from Adobe.

When you search Google for a picture, they do not provide any information unless copyright info was embedded.  When you get photos that way, you do the best you can to provide information when it is available, but when there isn’t any?

Armstrong is correct – I do not embed any copyright or authorship information into my photos, either as a watermark or as metadata.  As far as watermarks go, I used to watermark my large-size images until around 2005 or so, when I started using Creative Commons licensing.  A watermarked image would have looked like this:

Schumin Web image with watermark
(For those wondering, this is from the “Cookout at Canterbury” photo set in College Life)

I have never liked watermarks.  I think that they’re ugly, and that they detract from the photos that they’re used on.  I started watermarking images back then when I started an early foray into image licensing, with the idea of marking the images so that people can’t steal them, and routing them to the rather rudimentary licensing site that I had at the time if they wanted to use my work.  But I found that watermarking was (A) a considerable amount of extra work to apply, and (B) it made my images look ugly.  I gradually eliminated watermarks on Schumin Web, first by not using them on new material, and later eliminating them as far back as April 2005 (a change in my work process at that time, starting with the A16 set, meant that I had better photo set masters from that point forward).  I eventually eliminated watermarks entirely in July 2012, when the site was converted to WordPress, and all photo sets were reprocessed from the originals.  Watermarks now only exist on College Life, since I want to preserve that site as something of a time capsule, and thus I am unlikely to edit much of that site, so as to preserve its character as the work of a much younger man.

As far as embedding copyright and licensing information into the metadata goes, I have never explored this.  I don’t know if it’s necessarily worth pursuing, either, considering that material that originates from me is typically well-documented as such, regardless of whether it appears on Schumin Web, Flickr, Google Maps, or Wikimedia Commons.  All of it says “Ben Schumin” pretty explicitly on it.  I also find the idea of retrofitting thousands of photos for this to be more trouble than it’s worth, especially since it doesn’t take much effort by a downstream user to strip out the metadata, thus negating my efforts.

But in any case, the fact that I don’t watermark or embed copyright information in the metadata has no bearing on the end user’s responsibility to do their own research when it comes to determining whether or not a photo is okay to use in their own work.

I’ve got more than 100,000 photos in archives, but I haven’t photographed everything in the world.  Occasionally someone who works with me needs an illustration and can’t find a copy of it in my files.  On a Google search, there is NO way to figure out where a picture came from.  Surely you do know that Google automatically steals every picture you publish, right?  If someone stole anything, Google (or Facebook) is who done it.  But you can’t get through to them.  They don’t even offer you an email address.

Regarding the photo count, I have 183,904 photos in my own archive as of this writing.  So… what’s your point?

Otherwise, notwithstanding Armstrong’s “two wrongs make a right” excuse, I decided to test her argument that it was not possible to determine where an image came from.  So I ran a Google image search on the subject image, and here’s what I came up with:

Google image search results for the Howard Johnson's photo

Out of the twelve results that Google presented me, six of them, including the first five results, are first-party usages, i.e. ones that I uploaded and placed myself.  Five of those are for Wikimedia Commons, where I am attributed by name on the file description page, and the sixth is to the photo in its original context on Schumin Web.  Of the other six results, two are third-party usages, three are scraper sites for Flickr and/or Wikipedia, and the last one is Pinterest (which you shouldn’t use in the first place if you’re looking for photos to republish).

So that blows a hole into that argument so large that you could drive a truck through it.  It took me under a minute to come up with proper sourcing for the photo in question.  The only thing that I can conclude from that is that if Armstrong or her guest contributor tried to find the source information, they didn’t try very hard at it.

Meanwhile though, you are more than welcome to use any of my pictures unless you are a business in which case, this becomes a different story.  Otherwise, I’m old enough and have taken enough photographs that I will never actually have enough years left to publish them.  If the world can benefit from my photos, may it be a better, brighter place because I sent the world some photographs of places I’ve been in the course of life.

I wonder what Armstrong would have said if the shoe had been on the other foot.  I wonder what she might say had I used one of her photos in violation of the terms that she offered it under.  I wonder what her response would have been.

I would appreciate your removing the mark against me.  To call me a copyright thief for accidental use of a photograph of an abandoned Howard Johnson’s restaurant is a bit unjust, don’t you think?  No one did anything intended to harm you.  Moreover, I suspect this falls under the realm of fair usage anyway since it was previously published and used non-commercially for zero financial gain.  No one STOLE ANYTHING.  Rich simply used an untitled, unsigned photograph from a Google search in a non-commercial blog as an illustration.  I was not intended to cause anyone distress or financial injury.  If you had gotten in touch with any of us first — there’s a contact link clearly on the cover of the blog — I would have removed it except, of course, I had no idea there was a problem.  Given the state of the world, did you really need to send more angst to a senior just trying to get through this and come out alive?

I can’t help but laugh a little about this one.  Simply put, Armstrong or her guest contributor (and it really doesn’t matter which one of them did it) used a photo in violation of the license terms, and got caught.  Does that make them copyright thieves?  Yes, it absolutely does.  Do they deserve any of the consequences, such as copyright strikes, that stemmed from their actions?  Most definitely.  Especially when, right after claiming that no one stole anything, she admits exactly that.  She earned her copyright strike, and I see no reason to make any effort to have it removed.  That copyright strike is her warning not to infringe on other people’s copyrights again.

The rest of that paragraph is Armstrong’s attempt to verbally lick her wounds, since it is clear that she knew full well that she was in the wrong, but didn’t want to admit it.  Everything that she cites, such as the commercial nature of the site that she found it on, whether or not she is using it commercially herself, whether or not I “signed” the photo, or her own age, is all irrelevant.  None of that matters when it comes to its being a copyright infringement.  Playing the age card in particular makes me laugh a little, because it opens the door for me to fire back with, “You’re old enough, then, that you ought to know better.”

As far as a fair use justification for the photo goes, I say no.  The passage that makes the HoJo’s photo relevant is towards the middle of the article.  It states, “Now before we begin, we would like to extend our thoughts and prayers to our neighbors just across the state line at the Congregation of the Perpetual Noise.  Many of you know the building right there off the highway.  It’s the one with the large orange roof.  I think you can spot that orange top from a long way off.  I understand it used to be a Howard Johnson’s Motor Inn.  In fact, one of our moms, Mrs. Knaves, used to work the place, but I digress.”  My photo ran with that, captioned, “Congregation of the Perpetual Noise”.  The photo is now gone from the blog, and was not replaced.  Does the lack of the photo decrease the understanding of the remainder of the content?  Not in the least.  The usage is entirely decorative.  In this instance, it’s a pretty picture, and nothing more.

I have trouble understanding people these days.  In a world full of illness, fear, poverty, and pure mean craziness, why in the world would you want to hassle someone with something this minor?  I don’t understand it — and I AM a photographer, and a good one at that.  I guess I just don’t take myself seriously enough.  Sorry to have inadvertently stepped on your territory, but it was unintentional and in no way intended to cause distress or harm to anyone.

Yes, from what I can tell, Armstrong does do a lot of photography, though her style is a bit different from mine.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  We all add a little something to the world through our photography.  But as a fellow photographer and blogger, she really needs to get a better handle on copyright, because if she still has infringing material out there on her blog, the odds are good that she will eventually get caught again.

Another thing that Armstrong fails to realize is that when it comes to policing my copyrights, it’s nothing personal.  It’s just business.  I am not distressed by this.  I just take care of things.  By comparison, she appears to have viewed it as a personal attack against her and her guest contributor.  Clearly, it shook her to the core, affecting her enough to write 890 words about it across ten emotionally-charged paragraphs.  But she grossly overestimates how much I thought about her as an individual.  It’s just a business matter to me.

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. — Robert Hanlon
Marilyn Armstrong
Uxbridge, Massachusetts

“Serendipity – Searching for Intelligent Life On Earth”

I admit: I saw her signature, and my first reaction was, “Please don’t make me insult you.”  And let the record show that she said it, not me.  But I can’t disagree with it.  I have no doubt that the infringement that appeared on her blog was an innocent mistake, and not malicious.  And I corrected that mistake.  You’re welcome.

So, all in all, I wonder if Armstrong and/or her guest contributor will learn from her mistakes, or whether they will just view it as someone’s picking on them and not letting them have their fun.  Time will tell, I suppose, but I suspect that it will probably be the latter, since that email definitely has a strong “here is why you are wrong” slant to it.  But the bottom line in all of this is the same as it is in all of the other copyright cases that I’ve written about, i.e. don’t steal.  Just because it’s on the Internet, regardless of where you found it, does not mean that it’s free to use.

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Paying my last respects to Staunton Mall… Mon, 14 Dec 2020 14:00:01 +0000 On a recent trip to Augusta County, Elyse and I stopped over at Staunton Mall to pay our last respects to the place.  For those not familiar, Staunton Mall recently changed owners, and in late November, the new owners gave all of the remaining tenants a 30-day notice to vacate, except for Belk.  The last day of operation for Staunton Mall will be December 24.  So we stopped in and documented the place fairly extensively.  Before I get started, please note that this Journal entry will be a very high-level look at the mall.  I took over 1,200 photos of the interior and exterior of the mall, including at least one photo of every single storefront, and I’m going to give the place a more complete treatment as a photo set for Life and Times.  But this ought to hold everyone for now, because the more complete treatment is going to take a while to put together.

The thing about photographing retail settings is that stores typically don’t like it when you photograph in their facilities.  The usual reason cited is to protect trade secrets, which is usually bunk, because, as I understand it, a company has to put actual effort into keeping trade secrets a secret.  If it is in plain view of the public, then it is not a trade secret.  But that doesn’t stop stores from chasing off photographers.  After all, it is private property, and they can choose to exclude whatever activities that they want.  For my purposes, it just means that I have to be a bit more stealthy when I photograph, and shoot with my phone rather than with the big camera.  The way that I typically operate when I do this is to go from lower risk to higher risk as far as getting caught goes.  After all, once a place gets wise to me, the photo shoot is over, because they’ll never leave me alone again as long as I remain there.  In this case, since I had the drone, I considered the aerial photography to be the least risky as far as getting caught goes, since I could accomplish that mostly from off of the property.  Then after I finished flying around the mall, I photographed the exterior from the car with my real camera.  Then I went inside the mall and did my documentation of the interior with my phone.  I suspected that I wouldn’t have any issues with security personnel based on reports from others that there were no security people to begin with, and I was pleased that this ended up remaining the case.  I’ve seen so many cases where stores and/or entire shopping centers are closing, and employees still get on people about photography.  I can’t help in those cases but to think, why do you still care?  After all, the people in question are losing their jobs soon, and so they’re continuing to defend their employer because… why?  No matter what you do, at the end of the day, you’re still losing your job.  So why are you still loyal to and defending a company that clearly has no loyalty to you?  It doesn’t make sense to me.

In any case, here are some of my aerials of the property:

The mall, viewed from the southwest (near the Hampton Inn).
The mall, viewed from the southwest (near the Hampton Inn).

Another view from the southwest, this one from a little closer in.
Another view from the southwest, this one from a little closer in.

JCPenney store, which closed in October.  This store was an original mall tenant.
JCPenney store, which closed in October.  This store was an original mall tenant.

Center of the mall, with "HOT WOK" signage over the entrance.
Center of the mall, with “HOT WOK” signage over the entrance.

Entrance to the former Safeway/Goody's/Gold's Gym space, which now houses a church.
Entrance to the former Safeway/Goody’s/Gold’s Gym space, which now houses a church.

Belk wing entrance, and former Wills/Books-A-Million store.  The latter now houses a secondhand store.
Belk wing entrance, and former Wills/Books-A-Million store.  The latter now houses a secondhand store.

Belk.  This was built (as Leggett) when the shopping center was enclosed.  I find it funny that they're finally redoing the parking lot now that the mall is closing.  That lot should have been resurfaced decades ago.
Belk.  This was built (as Leggett) when the shopping center was enclosed.  I find it funny that they’re finally redoing the parking lot now that the mall is closing.  That lot should have been resurfaced decades ago.

The full mall, viewed from the northwest.
The full mall, viewed from the northwest.

The back side of Staunton Mall, viewed from the southeast.
The back side of Staunton Mall, viewed from the southeast.

Peebles building, on the back side of the mall.  This building originally housed a Woolworth's, and then briefly housed Stone & Thomas before becoming Peebles.
Peebles building, on the back side of the mall.  This building originally housed a Woolworth’s, and then briefly housed Stone & Thomas before becoming Peebles.

Movie theater entrance.
Movie theater entrance.

Montgomery Ward building, on the back side of the mall.
Montgomery Ward building, on the back side of the mall.

Former Wards Auto Center, now a Dollar Tree.
Former Wards Auto Center, now a Dollar Tree.

Then here are some of my photos from the ground:

Former Penney's.
Former Penney’s.

Military store in the former People's Drug/CVS space.
Military store in the former Peoples Drug/CVS space.

Former Boston Beanery storefront.  This was the only tenant space not accessible from the interior of the mall.
Former Boston Beanery storefront.  This was the only tenant space not accessible from the interior of the mall.

Center entrance, with “HOT WOK” signage.  This refers to a Chinese restaurant that had recently moved from a food court stall to a larger space within the mall.  Previously, this sign had the 1980s-era mall logo, then the Stone & Thomas logo, then Peebles.

Entrance to the former Peebles space.
Entrance to the former Peebles space.

Former Montgomery Ward Auto Center, since converted to a Dollar Tree.
Former Montgomery Ward Auto Center, since converted to a Dollar Tree.

And then I went inside.  The mall was more or less wide open, with a lot of gates open for vacant tenant spaces.  I guess that with the mall’s closure in two weeks, it really didn’t matter anymore.  And there was no security to speak of.  Here are some of the highlights.

The south end of the mall, facing the former JCPenney store.  This entire section of the mall was occupied by a bookstore that also occupied three store spaces in this immediate area.
The south end of the mall, facing the former JCPenney store.  This entire section of the mall was occupied by a bookstore that also occupied three store spaces in this immediate area.  When we visited Staunton Mall in October, this was not the case, and the mall was still a mall in this area at that time.

The center court.  The area covered by the cheap wood-look flooring used to be occupied by a massive fountain, which was removed around 1997.  Good riddance to the fountain as far as I was concerned (it was a massive roadblock in the mall), but I was disappointed that they never put new tile in this area, instead going for the cheap linoleum.
The center court.  The area covered by the cheap wood-look flooring used to be occupied by a massive fountain, which was removed around 1997.  Good riddance to the fountain as far as I was concerned (it was a massive roadblock in the mall), but I was disappointed that they never put new tile in this area, instead going for the cheap linoleum.

Section of the mall north of the center court, looking towards the food court area.
Section of the mall north of the center court, looking towards the food court area.

Corridor leading to the arcade and the movie theater.
Corridor leading to the arcade and the movie theater.

North end of the main corridor, at the former Wards building.  The Belk wing starts to the left.
North end of the main corridor, at the former Wards building.  The Belk wing starts to the left.

Belk wing.
Belk wing.

Mall entrance in the Belk wing.
Mall entrance in the Belk wing.

Entrance to Belk.  Clearly, Belk was no longer using its mall entrance, now only welcoming customers through its exterior entrances.
Entrance to Belk.  Clearly, Belk was no longer using its mall entrance, now only welcoming customers through its exterior entrances.

So that’s Staunton Mall for you in a nutshell.  The place certainly had a long decline.  It gained several new tenants and got a refresh in the 1990s, but then it was all downhill from there towards dead mall status.  Recall that I was calling Staunton Mall a dead mall back in 2009.  Now, however, the mall has less than two weeks to live.  There’s a lot more that I could say about the mall, but I’m saving it for the Life and Times set, since that format will allow me to go into much more detail.

The next stage of the property’s life is expected to be a redevelopment that turns it back into an outdoor shopping center, though not like it was in its original form as Staunton Plaza, before it was enclosed to become Staunton Mall.  This is what the mall property is supposed to look like following redevelopment, according to Loopnet:

Staunton Mall redevelopment plan

One thing that I was surprised about was how similar it was to my amateur redevelopment proposal from 2014:

My amateur proposal for redevelopment of Staunton Mall from 2014

Same basic amount of large tenants.  Still keeps all of the outparcels.  The only real differences between my plan and the real plan are that this retains the Dollar Tree store in its current building, Belk and the former Penney’s are totally freestanding, everything between Belk and Penney’s is demolished, and a few more new outparcel buildings than I proposed.  But by and large, I had the right idea.  Not gonna lie – I’m a bit proud of myself.

So all in all, I had a good last visit at Staunton Mall.  I got a nice sense of closure on this final visit to the mall, and I documented it pretty thoroughly for posterity.  Now, I look forward to seeing how the future redevelopment project pans out.  I hope that it turns out to be successful, and that this breathes new life into what was previously a dead mall.

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I find it very hard to feel any sympathy for Kevin in the second film… Wed, 09 Dec 2020 03:07:30 +0000 Since I’ve been a Disney+ subscriber, I’ve been able to watch the classic Home Alone movies, i.e. Home Alone and Home Alone 2, all over again.  And I figure that this seems as good of a time as ever to explore my thoughts about the movies based on this rewatch as a 39-year-old who is now closer in age to the parents than to Kevin.  In other words, I’m waaaaaaaaay more mature than I was when I first watched them when they were new.

For those not familiar with the Home Alone movies, in the first movie, the McCallister family, a well-off family in the Chicago area, is planning to go on a Christmas trip to Paris to visit relatives.  The night before they are to leave on this trip, two things happen.  First, at dinner, youngest son Kevin gets involved in a fight with his older brother Buzz, who is being unkind to him over pizza.  That leads to his being banished to the attic bedroom (“the third floor” as it’s called in the movie), for the night.  Second, while the family is asleep, high winds cause a tree branch to fall on some nearby power lines, creating a power outage, which takes out the alarm clocks, among other things, causing everyone to oversleep.  When the parents wake up, there is a mad dash to make it to the airport in time.  In the course of taking a headcount prior to leaving, a neighbor child, who stopped by to see what was going on and chat, was accidentally counted.  So, with a good headcount, they were off to the airport.  Unbeknownst to them at the time, they had forgotten Kevin.  Kevin, meanwhile, wakes up to discover that the family has left for the airport, and he is all by himself.  He eventually learns that two burglars are working the neighborhood, and that they are looking to target his house, among others.  So he comes up with a plan to defend his house against said burglars, and leads the burglars through a series of traps that should have killed them many times over (but didn’t because this is the movies).  Kevin also befriends a neighbor along the way, who ultimately finishes off the burglars with two well-placed blows with a snow shovel, which leads to the burglars’ arrest.  While this is going on, Kevin’s mother, after realizing that they had forgotten their youngest, is trying her best to get back home to Kevin, and flies to a number of different cities to that end, and ultimately hitches a ride in a van with a polka group to get home, arriving on Christmas morning.  The rest of the family arrives home shortly thereafter, and there is a happy reunion, with no one except Kevin’s knowing what had happened the night before.

In the second movie, the McCallister family is once again going on vacation for Christmas, but this time, they’re going to Florida.  The night before they are to leave, they are attending a school performance that Buzz and Kevin are both in.  While Kevin is performing a solo, Buzz humiliates Kevin by making various gestures using electric candles that all of the kids on stage were holding.  After Kevin completes his solo, he turns around and punches Buzz, which leads to a chain reaction which causes all of the performers on stage to fall down, and also causes a set piece to hit a teacher, on stage playing the piano, on the head, causing her to fall off of the stage.  This leads to a discussion afterward, with the end result’s being that Kevin is put in a similar situation as the year before.  The family sleeps in again, this time due to an inadvertent unplugging of an alarm clock, but this time, everyone, including Kevin, makes it to the airport.  At the airport, Kevin gets separated from his family while changing the batteries on an electronic device, and ends up following another man who has a similar hairstyle and is wearing the same style coat as his father (the man never has any idea that Kevin is following him).  The airline allows him to board, and he finds himself not in Florida as he expected, instead finding himself in New York City.  While the family learns at the airport in Florida that Kevin is missing, and works to reunite with him, Kevin reserves a room at a hotel and checks in, and lives it up.  In the meantime, he runs into the burglars from the first movie, freshly escaped from prison, and witnesses them in their attempt to rob a toy store, photographing them in the process.  This leads the burglars to pursue Kevin in order to destroy the evidence of their crime.  In the meantime, the hotel discovers that the credit card that Kevin used to book the hotel was flagged as stolen, and they confront Kevin.  Kevin escapes the hotel, and is captured by the burglars.  Kevin eventually gets free from them, and sets up another set of booby traps in a brownstone house owned by a relative that is under renovation, in anticipation of the burglars’ following him.  The burglars again go through all of the traps that Kevin set, and should have each been killed many times over, but they survived, because fiction.  Kevin also befriends a homeless woman in Central Park, who helps finish off the burglars by throwing seed on them and therefore attracting a bunch of pigeons to them, when the burglars eventually catch up with Kevin and attempt revenge on him.  The burglars are arrested, and Kevin’s mother, after the police locate him in New York and the family travels up there, eventually is reunited with her son.  The family then celebrates Christmas together in their complimentary hotel suite in New York.  The end.

The two movies tend to follow the usual pattern for popular flicks that get sequels because they’re so popular.  The first movie flows naturally, and the story flows, and it all comes to a resolution in the end, sewing up all of the various plot points nicely.  The story is complete, and there is nothing left to tell.  But then the movie ends up being a smash hit, and so they decide to make a second installment in order to cash in on the success of the first.  The sequel is usually a bit of a trainwreck, with the story’s coming off as contrived, with lots of callbacks to the original movie.  Mara Wilson put it best about a possible sequel to Mrs. Doubtfire when she said, “Sequels generally suck unless they were planned as part of a trilogy or series.  I think Doubtfire ended where it needed to end.”  Home Alone 2 was no exception to this, as it is, for the most part, a rehashing of the original story, with all of the same elements, but in New York rather than Chicago.  Home Alone 2 is not unique in this regard, though.  Sister Act 2 also tends to do this, with a very contrived way of getting Whoopi Goldberg‘s character back with the nuns.  However, Sister Act 2 likely could have been a standalone story if they had not tried to shoehorn it into the Sister Act franchise by including the nuns and throwing in a few forced callbacks to the first film.  This is not to say that there aren’t sequels that can stand completely on their own, though.  Evan Almighty immediately comes to mind as a sequel that can stand completely on its own without its parent film.  I’ve seen Evan Almighty plenty of times, but I’ve still never seen Bruce Almighty, and my having never seen it has not had a detrimental effect on my enjoyment of its sequel.  Home Alone 2, however, is not one of those sequels that can stand on its own.  You really have to know what happened in the first movie for many elements of the second movie to make sense.

Regardless, in the first movie, it is very easy to feel sorry for Kevin, because he was on the receiving end of just about everything.  He was subject to very poor treatment by almost all of his relatives.  His relatives left him at home, albeit accidentally, and he was probably too young to be responsible for an alarm clock of his own.  The burglars came to him, and were going to rob his house.  The movie really was about Kevin’s making the best of the situation that he found himself in and working through it.  The people committing the wrongs were his relatives for leaving him, and the burglars for attempting to burglarize his house.  Kevin was, for the most part, innocent, and can be easily characterized as a victim.  For the most part, his own actions did not put him in the situation that he found himself in.  Only his attacking Buzz in the kitchen could be attributed to him, which led to his being placed on the third floor in the first place.  Everything else was outside of his control.

The second movie flips that entire concept on its head.  Kevin is very much in control in the second movie, and he’s driving the story rather than reacting to the circumstances that he finds himself in.  But first, ignore all of the scenes about the school program where Buzz humiliates Kevin and the subsequent argument at the house, because all of that has no bearing on the plot.  Kevin still makes it to the airport, after all.  Those scenes could have been deleted from the final film and your understanding of the story would be unchanged.  But starting with the airport scenes, Kevin makes several moves that put responsibility for what happens on his shoulders, and only his shoulders.  In other words, he’s not a victim in the second movie.  Rather, in the second movie, he owns it.  The victims in the second movie are almost everyone that Kevin encounters – particularly his own family and Mr. Duncan.  About the only person who wasn’t a victim of Kevin’s activities was the pigeon lady.  It all makes me wonder if the true villain in the second film was actually Kevin.

It all starts when Kevin and the rest of his family are running through the airport to make their flight.  Kevin is at the tail end of the group, and makes a conscious decision to stop and change the batteries on his Talkboy device.  That’s when he loses his family in the airport.  He owns that.  However, I’m willing to forgive his following the wrong person after that, because he was trying to do right and make it onto the plane with his family, even though he ultimately failed at doing that.  But when he got on the plane, he almost immediately put his headphones on, which prevented him from learning that he was on a flight to New York rather than Florida.  And then the biggest mistake of all was when he got to New York, he realized that he’d screwed up, and he still left the airport.  Any sympathy that I might have still had for Kevin goes out the window right there, because now, he is no longer attempting to follow the original plan and do right by his parents, even if he’s been unsuccessful at doing so thus far.  Rather, at this point, he has gone rogue, and left everyone else holding the bag.  He completely owns it from that point on, since now he’s made his own decision to deviate from the plan, and do his own thing in a city where no one knows that he’s there.

Now, at this juncture, it’s worth noting that Kevin doesn’t necessarily deserve all of the blame.  He deserves most of it, but American Airlines screwed up here as well, because they didn’t check his boarding pass at the gate to ensure that he was on the right flight.  They were in too much of a hurry to depart that they just assumed that he was on the right flight and boarded him without verifying.  Additionally, when his reaction in front of an airline employee after learning that he was in New York piqued the employee’s interest and caused them to question the reaction, they did not go any further than that and took his word that he was okay and let him leave the airport.  Considering that Kevin was essentially an unaccompanied minor at that point, major red flags should have been going off all over the place, but they let him go.  Airlines tend to take unaccompanied minors pretty seriously.  Look at American Airlines’ current policy for unaccompanied minors for an idea about how seriously they take it in real life.  It should have ended right there, with the airline’s correcting their error and getting Kevin on a flight to Florida.  I imagine that American Airlines would have been on the hook for a major amount of money had something happened to Kevin, since they put him on the wrong flight and then let him leave the airport.

Then, of course, he went and lived it up on his parents’ dime once he left the airport, checking into the Plaza Hotel and getting limo rides and such.  That’s all on him.  However, the hotel also deserves a good bit of blame for the situation by allowing him to check into a room by himself in the first place, and transporting him around the city in that limo (complete with cheese pizza).  So if something happened to Kevin, the hotel would likely be on the hook as well.  The hotel also handled the confrontation with Kevin over the credit card extremely poorly.  Holding everything else constant, if I were Kevin, I think that I might have fled, too, if I were confronted in that same way.

Also, Kevin really brought Harry and Marv to him by inserting himself into a situation that he didn’t need to be in.  Of course, without Harry and Marv, it would have just been a story about a bratty kid who ended up in New York by himself and spent a bunch of his parents’ money.  But remember that in the first movie, the burglars came to him.  It was his house, where he lived, that Harry and Marv were planning on robbing.  This time, the burglars were robbing a business.  It wasn’t Kevin’s battle at all.  He had no dog in that fight.  Thus he put his own life in danger over someone else’s money.  Money that was probably insured, too.  And money belonging to someone that he just met earlier that same day, no less, and had only spoken to for about five minutes total.  However, for purposes of the story, this does add a “fighting for what’s right” angle to it all rather than just being about a bratty kid who found himself in New York and spent a bunch of his parents’ money.  But it still wasn’t his fight.  It also wasn’t his house that he booby trapped.  Rather, he led them to his relatives’ house that was under renovation, and set up a bunch of traps for the burglars there.  I suppose that, considering that he trashed his relatives’ house in the name of getting the burglars and then never cleaned it all up afterward, those relatives were another one of Kevin’s victims.

Meanwhile, as far as I can tell, the rest of the family did almost everything right.  Sure, Uncle Frank was still a jerk, and the family didn’t show much patience for Kevin, but the family didn’t really contribute to Kevin’s situation in the second movie.  Kevin did it all himself, and took them for a ride.  The parents were, for the most part, on their game in the second movie.  The only things that I can find that they did wrong were to unplug an alarm clock, which caused them to oversleep again, and not taking another headcount once they all got on the airplane to ensure that everyone was accounted for.  That second measure could have nipped the entire problem in the bud, but, of course, then we wouldn’t have a movie, since Kevin wouldn’t have been able to terrorize New York City like he did.  But other than those two mistakes, they did pretty well, going to the police as soon as they realized that Kevin was missing, and then heading straight to New York once Kevin was located based on the credit card usage.  And then Kevin’s mother did exactly what one would expect a mother to do when her child was missing: she went out and looked for him, and there was a happy reunion when she found him.

Oh, and Tim Curry’s character absolutely deserved to get slapped by Kevin’s mother in the scene where she confronts the hotel staff.

All in all, I suppose that all parties involved should be extremely grateful that Kevin came through the experience no worse for wear, since neither the airline nor the hotel would have come out clean if Kevin had been hurt or killed.  I suppose that I may have ruined your enjoyment of the second Home Alone movie by overanalyzing it, but I couldn’t help but realize that Kevin is no hero in the second movie.  All of the predicaments that he finds himself in are of his own making, and he makes victims out of almost everyone that he sees due to his own acts, regardless of whether or not that was his intent.  So he gets no sympathy from me for this one.

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