The Schumin Web w  w  w  .  s  c  h  u  m  i  n  w  e  b  .  c  o  m Thu, 11 Oct 2018 16:15:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Schumin Web 32 32 37838674 I don’t know why anyone expected a different result… Thu, 11 Oct 2018 16:11:05 +0000 So in case anyone has been living in a bubble lately, Brett Kavanaugh has been confirmed and sworn in as a Supreme Court justice, after several weeks of hearings, where Kavanaugh was accused of sexual assault by several different women.  And then in the end, the Senate voted to confirm him, mostly along party lines.

First of all, I have no reason to think that these women accusing Kavanaugh of some very vile deeds are not telling the truth.  Based on various posts from friends on social media who have spoken about their own experiences, not reporting these things at the time that they happen is fairly common, for any number of reasons.

What surprises me is how outraged some people are that this nomination went through.  My typical response has been, “What did you really expect would happen?”  Think about it.  Donald Trump is a Republican.  The Senate is controlled by Republicans, and they had enough votes to confirm him to the Supreme Court all by themselves, without any Democratic support.  And unlike the Democratic Party, the Republican Party won’t eat their own, so this whole abbreviated FBI investigation and senators’ publicly wavering on whether or not they would vote up or down was all a political stunt designed to appease the constituents at home during an election year.  And everyone fell for their song and dance, while they knew that they would confirm him all along no matter what.  Brett Kavanaugh could have walked up to Dr. Ford and shot her in the head at point-blank range in front of everyone in the hearing room, and the Republicans would have still confirmed him.  The Eleventh Commandment, i.e. “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican,” still holds true.  I wish that it had turned out differently, but I also kept my expectations realistic.  I thought it was a bit naive for anyone to really expect that it would have turned out any other way that it did.

At this point, the outrage from the left is directed at Kavanaugh, because he’s the immediate subject.  It’s also far easier to point to him than to admit the real truth, that elections have real consequences.  The Democrats blew it in a major way with their performance in 2016.  Would Hillary Clinton have made a better president than Donald Trump?  Yes, absolutely.  But she alienated enough of her constituency during the campaign to cause a lot of would-be Hillary voters in key states to stay home.  Thus how she may have won the popular vote, but her success was not widespread enough to win electorally.  We are now living with the consequences of the failure of the Democratic Party to win the presidency and more congressional seats in 2016.  So far, those consequences have been two Supreme Court seats and a lot of other policies that do not favor regular people.

Failures to secure majorities in the 2014 midterms before that allowed the Republican-controlled Senate to steal Barack Obama’s third Supreme Court nomination in 2016.  This is why Merrick Garland is not a Supreme Court justice today, and why Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch is instead.  The Republican-controlled Senate leadership opted to sit on their hands and not consider any nominee by then-president Barack Obama after Antonin Scalia died.  They gambled that the next president would be a Republican, and so they held it off until they could get a Republican in office to fill the seat.  Was it a scumbag move?  Yes.  But this is an excellent example of why every election matters.  We might have had a more liberal Supreme Court today had we gotten more Democrats in the Senate in 2014.

That said, it seems like the country is poised to have a major victory on the left in November, and if the Democrats actually pull it out, that might put the brakes on some of the worst of these destructive Republican policies.  Whether the Democrats actually govern like they mean it once they get in, or whether they waste time reaching across the aisle to people who won’t budge an inch and who will shut them completely out whenever they’re in power, is another matter.  But nothing good will happen if people don’t go out and vote.  History has shown us that when turnout is high, Democrats do well, and when turnout is low, Republicans tend to prevail.  Thus it behooves all of us to go out and vote on election day, to get the Congress that we want.

Meanwhile, one meme that I saw going around social media following the confirmation was about the amount of Americans that the senators voting yes represented vs. the number of people who were represented by the “no” voters.  The meme looked like this:

Senate meme in regards to number of senators who voted yes vs. no and how many people they represent

I believe that a little civics and history lesson is in order, and what the purpose of each house is.  Because despite that it posits that the system is broken, it sounds like this meme acknowledges that the Senate worked as designed.

The House of Representatives is intended to be the people’s house.  The representation numbers are determined by population, and representatives are kept on a relatively short leash by having to stand for reelection every two years.  The idea there is to have “one person, one vote” throughout the country, and so, in line with that, the more populous states get more representation than smaller states.  That has become less so in recent years due to a 1929 law that capped the house at 435 members, as it has been more about rearranging the chairs ever since.  Thus if one state has enough population to get another seat, another state has to lose one.  I wrote back in January about a way to fix that, and so I don’t see a need to reiterate it here.

The Senate, on the other hand, was intended to represent the states.  With only two senators per state regardless of population, it was intended to be the counterpoint to the House of Representatives, giving each state, large or small, an equal amount of influence.  In the original Constitution, Senators were selected by the state legislatures.  Thus who you voted for in your state assembly mattered, because they determined who went to Washington, and senators were accountable to them.  That was changed with the 17th Amendment, which provided for the direct election of senators.  I’m on the fence about whether this change was a good thing, but for better or for worse, it’s here to stay.  But in any case, each state has exactly as much influence in the Senate as the next state, whether you’re a big state like California, or a small state like Wyoming.

Of course, the thing that makes Supreme Court nominations so acrimonious is because the stakes are so high.  Supreme Court justices, as is the case with all federal judicial appointees, “shall hold their Offices during good Behavior”, which is generally interpreted to mean a lifetime tenure.  With that in mind, openings on the court occur on an irregular basis, and with people living longer lives, a justice can remain on the bench for decades, shaping US policy for generations.  And no one knows how many appointments a president will get during their term.  Nixon and Reagan had four each.  Gerald Ford had one.  Jimmy Carter had none.  Clinton and both Bushes each had two.  Barack Obama had three (though one was stolen from him).  Trump has so far had two.  It speaks to a need to make Supreme Court nominations more predictable.  I read an article somewhere that suggested putting members of the Supreme Court on staggered 18-year terms.  That seems like a reasonable idea.  Under that sort of arrangement, there would be a nomination to the court every two years, and every president would get two nominations to the court per term.  So a one-term president would get two nominations, and a two-term president would get four.  And the entire court would turn over every 18 years.  In the current court, we have three members who have served longer than twenty years, and there have been periods of eleven and seven years where there was no turnover in Supreme Court justices.  With regular turnover, it lowers the stakes, because we know when each nomination is coming, and we know that each president will get two under most circumstances.  No more retirements timed to ensure a successor from the “correct” side of the aisle.  18 years and you’re out, no matter who is in office.  I imagine that such an arrangement would also make it less desirable for a future senate to steal a seat, as happened with Barack Obama and Merrick Garland, because the next president would get two more picks.  And if a justice were to die or resign before their term was up, the replacement would only serve to complete the previous justice’s unexpired term.  Such a thing would likely require a constitutional amendment to implement, and that would be a high hurdle to clear, but it seems like a reasonable thing to do.

In the meantime, here’s hoping that Trump doesn’t get any more opportunities to fill Supreme Court seats…

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Please do not put me in a position where I have to defend Donald Trump… Thu, 04 Oct 2018 12:04:36 +0000 At 2:18 PM on October 3, a presidential alert went out to everyone’s mobile phones.  It was accompanied by the classic emergency tone, and looked like this:

"Presidential alert: THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed."

This was a live test of the capabilities and effectiveness of the national capabilities of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) for mobile phones.  And apparently, the test was successful.

After the alert went out, social media was buzzing about it, mostly criticizing Donald Trump.  I admit that I joined that bandwagon, posting the above screenshot with the caption, “Donald says hello.”  The reactions that I saw to the alert message were a bit disappointing.  Here are a few samples culled from Facebook:

“It’s a horrendous moment.”

“I would argue that action is exactly what is needed.”

“Did you get a presidential emergency alert?  Ugh.  The emergency IS the president!”

“I know this was a ‘test’.  Something tells me that some crazy ass [expletive] is about to happen.”

“I came to the conclusion, the Presidential alert BS is just to instill fear.”

The vibe that I got from these messages, and others on Facebook, is that people really don’t understand how EAS works, and thought that it was all about politics.  Some of those sorts of comments came from people who really ought to understand how this stuff works.  Seeing those people make those sorts of comments just kills their credibility in my eyes.  That lack of understanding about what EAS is about is breeding mistrust, and that could lead people to ignore any occasion when their phones go off with an emergency message, whether it’s for an attack by the Soviet Union or a severe weather event.  That is a dangerous thing to happen, because that could cost lives.  I was reading these reactions, and I immediately started thinking, please, people, don’t put me in a position where I’m having to defend Donald Trump.  We all know my opinion about Donald Trump, and he is the last person that I want to defend.  But this test needs to be defended, because it’s not a political thing at all, and shouldn’t be mistaken for one.

What we saw was really no different than something that we’ve seen for decades: tests by broadcasters of the Emergency Broadcast System, and tests of the later Emergency Alert System.  The idea is to periodically test these systems to make sure that they work properly if and when they are needed.  These systems typically get activated over a localized area for severe weather.  The feature that was tested, a national alert, is nothing new.  The capacity for presidential alerts has been in place ever since CONELRAD, which was the original emergency alert system, introduced in 1951.  That system was designed only for national-scale emergency broadcasting, and not intended for local emergencies.  It was never used for a real national emergency, though a few false alarms did occur.  It was replaced by the Emergency Broadcast System, which is what many of us grew up with.  It lasted from 1963 to 1997, and was most commonly activated for local emergencies, such as severe weather.  Like CONELRAD, its national alerting capacity was never used for a real emergency – only a false alarm in 1971 caused by the issuing authority’s mistakenly running a live alert instead of the intended test alert.  Likewise, the EAS, in place since 1997, has never run a real national alert other than tests.

I consider it to be somewhat telling that on 9/11, perhaps the closest thing that we’ve had to a national emergency in a very long time, EAS was never activated.  I imagine that the reason was simple: the news media did a pretty good job that day in communicating all of the pertinent information, and thus there was no need for the government to cut them off and make its own broadcast over them.

Meanwhile, most troubling of all about this is that too many people think that everything about the government is politics.  It’s really not.  Yes, politics plays into things when it comes to policymaking, but when it comes to many functions of government, you’re dealing with career government employees who are not appointed by a political figure, and stay in their roles regardless of what party is in power.  They don’t care one way or the other about politics in an official capacity, and as such, come off as the ultimate neutral figure.  The meat inspectors at USDA are doing their jobs the same way regardless of who is in office.  Same goes for EAS, which is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  They’re all staffed by career employees who are only concerned about what the Congress or the White House are doing inasmuch as it affects how they perform their jobs.  I wouldn’t trust a political figure from either party as far as I could throw them, but you have to respect the career civil service employees for being experts in their fields.

My take on this test after seeing the fallout from it is that the terminology probably needs to be changed.  “Presidential alert” has got to go.  The reason is that it introduces the title of a political figure into the alert, and that in turn colors the public’s perception of the alert by connecting it to politics.  That’s especially so when you have a lunatic in the Oval Office like we do now.  After all, most of us wouldn’t trust a political figure from either party as far as we could throw them, and I certainly wouldn’t take advice from them.  And if people don’t trust the message, they won’t act on it, and that could cost lives.  I suggest replacing the term with “national alert” in order to keep the focus on emergency communications, i.e. you need to take action in order to not die, and keep the politics out of it.  After all, we’re almost three decades removed from the Cold War at this point.  The Soviet Union is not going to bomb us.  Needs and contexts have changed, and so changing it from “presidential alert” to “national alert” seems prudent in order to keep the focus where it belongs: on safety.

And when you hear your phone go off with the classic Emergency Broadcast System tone, please pay attention to it.  It could mean the difference between life and death.

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Bill Cosby goes to jail… Sat, 29 Sep 2018 17:34:18 +0000 Like everyone else did, I read about Bill Cosby’s being sentenced to 3-10 years in state prison for sexual assault, and his eating a pudding cup as part of his first meal as an inmate.  I also finally figured out the word to describe my own feelings about the whole Bill Cosby situation: disappointment.  I am not angry over Cosby’s conduct.  I am not sad about Cosby’s conduct.  But I am very disappointed over Cosby’s conduct.

After all, I was part of a generation of kids that practically grew up with Bill Cosby, and his very wholesome brand of education and entertainment.  His stand-up comedy was mostly about his family and his children.  We watched Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, where, in the opening, Cosby indicated that, “If you’re not careful, you may learn something before it’s done.”  We watched Picture Pages, where Cosby taught us about math and other subjects with friend Mortimer Ichabod Marker.  Cosby also had a long relationship with the folks on Sesame Street, making many appearances there.  We then watched The Cosby Show, which was a wholesome comedy about a successful family, and ensuring that the children were positioned for their own success.  The final episode was about a college graduation, after all, driving home that heavy emphasis on education.  He also released a book, Fatherhood, during this period.  And then Cosby was all over the commercials during this period as well, pitching Jell-O gelatin, Jell-O pudding, Kodak film (“No seal?  Who knows!”), and EF Hutton, among others.  All of those wholesome and family-oriented roles caused him to develop a public reputation as a father figure.  We all looked up to Bill Cosby, because he had made himself as someone worthy of looking up to, as a successful father of five, a strong proponent of education, and from all appearances, an all-around nice guy.

That Cosby, in the end, turned out to be a grade-A scumbag, is just disappointing, and felt like a punch to the gut.  “America’s Dad” turned out to be a dangerous sexual predator.  There’s a certain feeling of disappointment and betrayal that comes with it, discovering that a role model is anything but.  We all looked up to him, and then soon discovered that he was not worthy of our respect.  Watching his fall from grace is a sad reminder that people are not always who we think that they are, and that Cosby’s wholesome public image was merely a facade over an absolutely despicable person.  Cosby will likely be remembered not for the work that made him famous, but as the scumbag who drugged and sexually assaulted many women over several decades.  And that’s how he should be remembered, because that sort of conduct is inexcusable.  No more love for Cosby, as the real Cosby is a person that is not worthy of admiration and who lost everyone’s respect.  Sigh…

I have reached a milestone… Tue, 11 Sep 2018 20:08:51 +0000 I recently reached a milestone when it comes to my overhaul of my Today’s Special site.  I last wrote about this project in 2013, at which time I had settled on a platform for the site (WordPress) and had written a few articles, mainly as proof of concept.  The build plan has always been to start with “Hats” and work my way through to “Memories“, adding content in the order that it appears in the show.  After I get through all 121 episodes and the content related to those, I will then write the articles for the content that doesn’t necessarily tie neatly into an episode or episodes, like the articles for the main characters, the various sets, and so on.  Then once all of the articles are written, I just need to write the “business” pages like the main page, privacy statement, etc., give everything a final check, and then launch.

Since I announced the project in 2013, the project has made good progress, though that progress has happened in fits and starts over the intervening years.  I completed the articles for “Hats“, “Snow“, “Noses“, and “Family” in late 2013, and then set the project aside for about two years.  I suppose that other matters took precedence during that time.  Then when I picked it up again in late 2015, I got a lot of prep work done for the episode pages, such as all of the writer, director, and sequence information, and then by March 2016, I had completed things through “Games“, i.e. the twelfth episode.  I then picked it up again in December 2016, and finished up the first season in February 2017.  I picked up on the second season in September 2017, starting with “Dance“, and finished it up exactly one year later, taking approximately six months off from it from December 2017 to June 2018.  That work on the second season also included writing seven brand new episode synopses, to replace some temporary short synopses written in the nineties.  You know what they say: there is nothing more permanent than a temporary solution.  That said, the new synopses are the same length as the standard ones.

In finishing the 1982 episodes, and a number of other articles related to that, I believe that I have reached a significant milestone as far as Today’s Special goes.  Going into the project, I was concerned that I would get bogged down in those early episodes and the project would stall indefinitely.  But now I’m done with them.  I have completed the early material, and am now moving into the middle of the series.  Starting in 1983, the series really “grew out its beard“, as the show definitely hit its stride during that period.  The 1981 episodes were fairly light on story, focusing mostly on teaching about the various concepts that the show covered, such as hats, snow, camping, fruit, and so on.  The 1982 episodes were built around an actual plot, but still had a lot of teaching and explaining in them.  Starting in 1983, the concepts are taught through the storyline, with less direct explanation of concepts.  There’s also more conflict, as 1983 has five episodes where characters get very upset with each other for very valid reasons.  In addition, the characters are far more developed in 1983, as all of their origin stories are shown.  The show also changes its appearance slightly, as this is when Jodie begins wearing her third uniform, which is the version with the long sleeved button-down shirt and pocket on the right side, rather than the short sleeved jumpsuit that she wore previously.

Now, for 1983, I will have my work cut out for me.  The way I complete the episode pages is typically in two waves.  The first wave involves work on the synopsis itself, as I clean up the writing and make sure that it’s up to modern quality standards, or write a new synopsis, whichever the case may be.  I can knock out a cleanup job fairly quickly, but writing a new synopsis from scratch typically takes several hours to complete and requires a lot of concentration.  I will be writing 17 new episode synopses, i.e. everything except “Christmas Part 1“, “Christmas Part 2“, and “Adventure“, for 1983.  Then after that, the second wave of work is an analysis of the episode, noting first appearances, last appearances, new concepts, credit formats, and a lot of things like that.  That’s also when I write the articles about things like filming locations.  As far as filming locations go, I am eternally grateful to the folks at /r/askTO, as they have been great in helping me with filming locations that I wasn’t able to identify myself.  1983 doesn’t have as much location footage as the earlier seasons did, but I still have a good bit of homework to do.  I’ve already identified a bunch of filming locations, but there are some more that I still need to turn up.

Then after 1983, I have to do 1984 almost entirely from scratch.  It was a 15-episode season, and all of the synopses are the short style, meaning that they will all have to be rewritten to full length.  That season also introduces a massive change in the sets, as well as Mrs. Pennypacker, a new puppet character.  Once I finish 1984, things will be pretty straightforward.  All of the full-length synopses for 1985 through 1987 are written, and they just need to be cleaned up and have all of the supporting material placed around them.

Unfortunately, however, I don’t have a date for when I will be finished with this project.  I work on things when I can, and try to do one episode function (a synopsis or an analysis) per week.  So just for 1983, I figure that it will take about 37 weeks, or about nine months, to complete.  I come to that figure by figuring that I’m going to write a new synopsis for 17 episodes, and do an analysis of all 20.  Plus figure another week or so on top of that for “Our Story” because of all of the location shooting that was done there.  Just know that I am being very thorough here, and I would rather take a long time and do it right than launch a poor or incomplete product.  I don’t care if the new page for “Hats” sits for a decade before anyone besides me gets to see it.  I will do it right.

And meanwhile, the old site looks a bit dated by now.  It’s a situation where I know that I’m replacing it, but it still has a niche to fill in the meantime.  So it’s not getting many updates because I know that it’s getting replaced, but the new site isn’t ready yet to replace it.  About the only thing that I’ve done with the old site is include the new episode synopses as they are written.  It probably could use a refresh in the interim, but we’ll see.

So all in all, much has been done, and still a lot more to do.  And I’m looking forward to doing it.

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“Roseanne” becomes “The Conners”… Sat, 01 Sep 2018 14:51:11 +0000 Funny how real life sometimes writes the plot.  I was planning to do a review of the tenth season of Roseanne in this space back in May, but while I was writing it, the show was cancelled by ABC after Roseanne Barr posted some pretty vile stuff on the Twitter.  That put the partially-written Journal entry on hold, because those events affected a lot of what I was working on.  However, the network’s reaction to the Twitter rant was completely understandable.  I can’t imagine that any company would want to be associated with such vile rhetoric coming from one of their key players.

Based on the fallout, where Barr blamed Ambien for her racist rant, I can tell you one thing: she’s not sorry.  Sure, she’s sorry that she ran her mouth and lost her job, but she’s not sorry for what she said.  If anything, her using the medication as a scapegoat cements that those were her true feelings.  The idea is that the medication “removed the filter”, and, with nothing to prevent vile things from being said, she let out what she had really been thinking all along.  And then she doubled down on it on a Fox News appearance later on.  I’m disappointed, because I expected better from Barr.  But I suppose that it doesn’t matter anymore, because Barr’s career is most definitely over, destroyed by an ill-considered Twitter post.

I suppose that this is also a lesson about how to handle your relationship between your personal social media and your employer, especially when you’re in a very public position.  People hear about stuff like this and complain about free speech, but the whole concept of “free speech” as laid out by the First Amendment only applies to the government.  A private entity is completely free to fire you for saying something vile on the Internet, and that’s what happened with Barr.  The government played no role in her firing.  She ran her mouth, and boom – she lost her job.

When the new season of Roseanne was announced, I was excited. I wrote a Journal entry about it at the time, discussing how they might pick up again.  Back then, I presented three scenarios: present the “real” family that the book was based on, dismiss the final scene but treat the rest of the ninth season as canon, or dismiss everything from the ninth season and go about like it never happened.  I was delighted to find out that they took the third scenario, and dismissed the ninth season completely.  In fact, they did even better, as they appear to have dropped everything after this point:

The end of Darlene's wedding episode

In other words, they decided to pick up exactly where the original show should have ended, right before it went completely off the rails.  That meant no heart attack, no lottery, no Prince Carlos, no terrorists, no infidelity, etc.  I was pleased about the method that they used to hand-wave the final season away as fantasy, having Dan hold up and briefly discuss Roseanne’s completed manuscript as something that might have had potential, but that never got published.  Good riddance to a bad season.

I was also pleased about how they did the sets on the revived show.  It was a recreation of the old Roseanne set, with additional touches to represent the passage of time, such as an aged look in the kitchen, mismatched chairs around the kitchen table as chairs were replaced as needed, a few new appliances, and so on.  All in all, it looked just like the Conners’ house should look in 2018.  No major renovations, but a lot of piecemeal changes over the years.  The bedroom sets in particular were absolutely spot on.  I also loved that they made new establishing shots of the “Roseanne house” in Evansville, Indiana.

The opening was classic Roseanne, with everyone in the kitchen, interacting with each other as dinner was being served, with the camera panning around a fully-built set, just like in earlier seasons.  No morphs showing the characters changing over the years, as was done in the last two seasons of the original run.  The music was reminiscent of the theme used during the first and second seasons.  I would have probably based the new theme off of the versions used in the third or seventh seasons, as I considered those to be the best themes from the original run, but I suppose that basing it off of the first season works, too.  Only question I have is, who is that laughing with Roseanne at the end?  In the original run, Roseanne laughs alone, but now there is a male voice laughing along with her.

I also liked the way that the characters were updated.  Roseanne and Dan were still living in the same house in Lanford, though Dan now used a CPAP machine for sleep apnea, and both of them were on various medications.  Roseanne’s sister Jackie was still single and living in an apartment, and it was made clear in the first episode that she and Roseanne had been estranged for some time before this.  Oldest child Becky, played by the original actress, is single again, as her husband Mark had died for unspecified reasons at some point in the past (Glenn Quinn, the actor who played Mark, had died from drugs in 2002), and was initially looking to bear a child as a surrogate mother for a new character played by Sarah Chalke, who replaced Goranson as Becky for a few seasons in the original run.  Middle child Darlene and her husband David were separated (Johnny Galecki, the actor who played David, is a regular on The Big Bang Theory on CBS, and thus was unavailable for Roseanne), and they had two kids: a daughter named Harris, whose name was the only thing carried over from the ninth season, and a son named Mark.  Third child DJ is a military veteran, and married a girl named Gina, with whom he has a child.  Jerry Garcia Conner, meanwhile, was more or less hand-waved out of existence, explained briefly as being away doing something or other.  Roseanne’s mother, Bev Harris, was kicked out of the retirement home for bad behavior, and moved in with Jackie.

Then various other characters reappeared, too.  Crystal, who married Dan’s father in the fourth season, appears in two episodes.  Nancy appears in one, as do Annemarie and her husband Chuck.  Surprisingly, we never heard a peep about Leon, Roseanne’s former boss at Rodbell’s and later her business partner at the diner.  I can only assume that Martin Mull, the actor who played Leon, was unavailable.

The new season did leave a few continuity questions.  First: what happened to Jackie’s son Andy?  You may recall that Andy came about because actress Laurie Metcalf became pregnant in real life, and quickly developed a very large baby bump.  So rather than write Jackie out of the show for a while, they made the character pregnant as well.  Considering that Andy never really got any character development, I imagine that they just retconned him out of existence, and figured that no one would notice.  Likewise, what happened to Jackie’s house?  In the fifth season, after Dan briefly got into house flipping and got ripped off by Tim Curry‘s character, Jackie bought the house that had them in dire financial straits.  In the new season, Jackie lives in an apartment.  Perhaps an apartment set was already available vs. recreating the set for Jackie’s house, but it’s never explained.

We also never find out what happened to The Lanford Lunch Box, which was the diner that Roseanne, Jackie, Nancy, and Bev started in the fifth season.  It’s very clear that Roseanne and Jackie don’t work there anymore, but we never found out if the diner went out of business, if they sold their interest in the diner, or what have you.  They were shown giving up their shares in the diner in the ninth season, but with the ninth season’s being hand-waved away, it leaves that issue unresolved.  All we know was that Roseanne and Jackie are no longer involved with it anymore, and they now have other jobs.

I also appreciated the nods to continuity here and there.  For instance, while they didn’t say it directly, it appears that DJ married the girl who, back in the seventh season, he didn’t want to kiss in a play because she was black.  That was a good way to tie up that bit of story, and showed that things worked out well in the end.

And then, ironically enough, the worst character in the whole show was Roseanne herself.  The new season had a lot of cringeworthy moments, and almost without exception, they all were in Roseanne-centric scenes.  Right out of the gate, in the very first episode, there was the reconciliation with Jackie over political issues.  Jackie had voted for Jill Stein in 2016, which fit her character well enough.  It was also made clear, without actually saying it explicitly, that Roseanne Conner was a Trump supporter (Barr is a Trump supporter in real life).  I remember seeing that scene and feeling like the Roseanne revival would be terrible on account of its being overly political in a format that wasn’t designed for it.  Thankfully, the second episode was closer to a standard episode of Roseanne.  If that awful first episode had been shown alone, without the second one’s airing immediately after, I might not have continued to watch the show.

Roseanne as portrayed in the new show also contradicted the way that Roseanne in the old show.  Remember that sixth-season episode where DJ stole the family car, Roseanne spanked him, and the rest of the episode was about how she had instant regret about hitting him because she had been abused as a child?  Fast forward to the new show, and she’s holding her granddaughter’s head under the sink in a malicious way in order to make some sort of point.  I was cringing at that scene as well, since it went against so much of what the old Roseanne had stood for.  Likewise, the Conners always used to lean leftward when it came to politics, and this was played upon quite a few times.  Seeing Roseanne as a right-winger in the new series didn’t make sense.

And then the most cringeworthy episode of the entire season was “Go Cubs”, where Roseanne needed to use her Yemeni neighbors’ wi-fi to make an online call to DJ’s wife, who was stationed in Afghanistan, after they had to let their own Internet service lapse due to financial issues.  First they made all of these remarks about the large amount of fertilizer that was being delivered to the neighbors’ house (because, as it turned out, the husband didn’t understand how online ordering worked, and the wife was unhappy about it, too), and then there was all of this trepidation about going over and asking permission to use their network.  And then Roseanne and Jackie acted all awkward around them, while the neighbors were quite friendly and accommodating.  Then there was a later scene where Roseanne and the neighbor were both in the grocery store checkout line, and the cashier made an insensitive remark to the neighbor about her ethnicity, and Roseanne got all holier-than-thou about it, telling the cashier how horrible they were for their remarks.  Give me a break.  We saw the earlier scenes.  “There is no one more virtuous than a reformed whore,” as the saying goes.  I was glad when that episode was over.  So much awkwardness crammed into thirty minutes’ time.

About the only decent Roseanne-centric episode from the new season was the final one, where it is revealed that Roseanne needed surgery for a medical condition, and also was addicted to prescription painkillers.  That was a classic Roseanne-and-Dan scene, but Dan was clearly not fooling around with his wife’s health.

In any case, that short season demonstrated one thing: Roseanne Barr was a drag on the show that bore her name, as all of the other characters were far better actors and had better stories than the alleged star, who was mostly reacting to everyone else in an ignorant way.  Sara Gilbert‘s character, Darlene, was the real star of the new show.  Admitting as much would have put the show in the same league as the Full House and Boy Meets World revivals (Fuller House and Girl Meets World, respectively), which both had generation shifts, where the kids from the old shows were the stars in the new shows, and the parents from the old shows were more distant supporting characters.  It would have made sense to do that for Roseanne, but I imagine that Barr’s massive ego couldn’t handle that.  I imagine that with Barr now out of the picture, that much-needed generational shift will happen.

I also found it a bit jarring about how much name-dropping there was for various Internet companies on the show.  How many times did they say “Facebook” or “Instagram” in a scene?  Roseanne also drove for Uber, which was named by name.  Then the Yemeni neighbors ordered things from Amazon, rather than some thing more generic-sounding, like “online”.  I understand where they were coming from, with the prevalence of the Internet, social media, and the gig economy, but using real names, and not doing so as the butt of a joke, seemed out of place, and felt like an old show trying to demonstrate that it’s hip and cool in the modern era (which, like adults trying to act cool for the kids, never works).  All of those references could have been genericized to no ill effect.

All that said. I’m looking forward to The Conners.  Based on the promotional and news material that I’ve seen, it’s going to focus on Darlene and Dan.  With Roseanne out of the picture, Darlene would be the matriarch of the family, with Dan as the grandfather, and it could focus on family and working class issues, and hopefully keep the politics out of it.  It sounds like Dan will be a widower in the new season, as Goodman indicated that Roseanne Conner will be dead.  This seems a good way to keep Barr out of it permanently, if her character is killed off – and good riddance to her.  I’m also looking forward to seeing the writers shine without having Roseanne Barr’s ego driving the creative process, as Barr will have no creative or financial interests in the show going forward – and good riddance to her.  So hopefully, The Conners will fix all of the rough edges from the tenth season of Roseanne (mostly due to Roseanne), and be a long-runner in its own right.  Other shows have continued to do just fine after abruptly losing a main character, and I imagine that The Conners will do similarly.  I look forward to finding out how this Roseanne-without-Roseanne will do.

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Please don’t stop for me when I’m waiting to cross the street… Sat, 25 Aug 2018 17:51:49 +0000 On Thursday, while I was waiting for a bus, I witnessed a near accident involving a pedestrian at a crosswalk on Layhill Road near Glenfield Local Park in the Glenmont area of Montgomery County.  In other words, this location, seen from approximately my vantage point:

Layhill Road and Saddlebrook Park
Image: Google Street View

This view is facing approximately south, putting the northbound lanes on the left and the southbound lanes on the right.  There is a median in the middle of the road.  Southbound traffic has a turnout for traffic making left turns into the park police station (entrance visible at left).  There are wide bike lanes on either side of the road.  There is also a Metro facility entrance at this location (out of frame to the right).  This intersection is not a big one by any means.  There are no signals.  Ride On has a bus stop on either side of the road at this location.

What happened was that a woman was crossing Layhill Road via the crosswalk after alighting a Ride On bus on the northbound side of Layhill Road.  She crossed the northbound lanes without incident, and reached the median.  She then waited in the median for traffic to clear on the southbound side.  A vehicle stopped for her in the left lane.  She responded to that and started crossing.  She couldn’t see that a person driving a Toyota FJ Cruiser was coming up at full speed in the right lane that didn’t look like it was about to stop.  Another person at the bus stop saw what was about to happen and shouted at the woman to stop.  She did, and the Toyota driver continued on at full speed.  The woman thanked the other person for saving her life after it was all over.

I feel like the whole incident could have been prevented if the driver in the left lane, who stopped, had been less “courteous” and just kept on moving.  Maryland law requires that traffic stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk.  However, the person crossing was in the median, in a pedestrian refuge area designed to split the crossing into two phases.  This is part of the median, and it is not the crosswalk.  The car’s stopping in the lane did two things to cause this near accident.  First, it placed social pressure on the pedestrian to hurry up and cross the street.  The idea is that now there’s a person that has stopped, and is waiting for you to cross the street.  Therefore, hurry up and cross the street so that they can go on with their day after doing you a favor by stopping.  Then the other thing that the stopping caused is physical: the car’s presence blocked the pedestrian’s ability to see the right lane, and more importantly, blocked the Toyota driver’s view of the pedestrian.  Here’s the area from a close approximation of the pedestrian’s point of view:

Layhill Road and Saddlebrook Park
Image: Google Street View
(Note that this image is from 2012, when the pedestrian refuge area had not yet been built, and before the crosswalk was slightly repositioned to be further back.)

When I posted about this on Facebook, a few folks were inclined to blame the Toyota driver for not stopping.  I find it hard to blame the Toyota driver in this scenario, because they couldn’t see the hazard.  I’m inclined to blame the pedestrian for beginning to cross the road when they could not verify that the road was completely safe to cross, and I’m inclined to blame the driver in the left lane for stopping for a pedestrian who was not in the crosswalk.  And ultimately, it is up to the pedestrian to ensure their own safety, because regardless of whether the law is in the pedestrian’s favor or not, if there’s an accident, the pedestrian is still dead.  The driver could have been completely wrong, but that doesn’t mean much if you’re not alive to find out about it.

I’ve crossed Layhill Road at this location many times, going in both directions.  The most frustrating thing is when I’m standing in the refuge area, looking for a wide opening in order to cross two lanes, and someone stops for me.  And it’s always a person in the left lane that stops.  Now you’ve just blocked my view of the rest of the road, and I can no longer guarantee my own safety crossing the road as long as you are there.  So I wave the people past.  They can get mad all that they want that their allegedly kind gesture was rebuffed, because they shouldn’t have stopped in the first place.  I need to be able to see.

In addition, the driver is putting themselves in danger by stopping like that.  There are no traffic control devices of any kind in this area, and the speed limit is 40 (which means that most drivers go 50).  No one is expecting a vehicle to stop in the middle of the road in that area – especially in an area where people are going at that speed.  Therefore, you are now a hazard to other drivers who were not expecting you to stop, and who may not be able to see a pedestrian ahead because you’re blocking them.

It’s funny – everyone talks about how we should be courteous and look out for everyone else on the road, but the roads actually work best when everyone is behaving a bit selfishly.  In other words, you worry about you, and let me worry about me.  I don’t need your “assistance”.  When I’m crossing the street at an unsignalized crosswalk, I assume that the drivers will not stop for me.  Therefore, I operate under that assumption and ensure that there is a wide clear space in front of me before I start across.  I know that I will make it across safely when I have that.  Likewise, drivers should not stop for a pedestrian on the side of the road that is intending to cross.  They’re in a place of safety, so don’t foul your lane to try to “help” that person across.  I can assure you that they do not need your assistance crossing the road.

I believe that in this case, the best solution to prevent this from being deadly is education about best practices when driving.  With this being a relatively low volume crossing, there’s no need to even consider any of the various traffic control devices for pedestrians that I wrote about a while back at this point.  Just don’t stop at unsignalized intersections if you are not absolutely obligated to.  After all, stopping where you’re not supposed to is not courteous or safe.  That’s dangerous.  So don’t do it.

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I finally found it after twenty years… Tue, 14 Aug 2018 17:38:46 +0000 When my family went to England back in 1998, we mainly watched Sky One, which ran American television shows, when we were at the hotel.  I suppose that we watched mostly American TV because it was familiar.  The commercials, however, were very British.  Three commercials stuck out in my mind while we were there.  One was for Ribena, which featured a pregnant woman explaining how beneficial it was during pregnancy.  One was for some mac and cheese product where two boys were playing a game, and the younger boy’s job was to stand there and hold the antenna, complaining, “My arm hurts!” at the end of the spot.  And then the third was for Lucozade, a sports drink.

That third one, for Lucozade, was by far the most memorable of the three, primarily because of some rather racy content.  It featured several men wearing nothing but mountie hats putting on a show, while a bunch of cartoon women watched.  At one point, they explain that because this variety of Lucozade is low in calories, it helps them “stay firm”, as the camera pans from the face down their body, stopping at their stomach, where the man says, “Where it counts!” as he pats his stomach.  Very memorable, and very British.  You would certainly never see a spot like that in the United States.

Back in the nineties, it was never a thought that we would be able to find this commercial.  Of course not.  The technology and the will wasn’t there.  Now, though, with sites like YouTube and the like, a lot of older advertisements have seen new life for nostalgic purposes, which is a welcome addition.  After all, full television programs tend to have good repeat value, but commercials, due to their more timely nature, rarely get airtime again after their planned run is completed.  There are exceptions, like that Arby’s “five roast beef sandwiches” spot and the Fruity Pebbles spot with Santa, which ran for quite a few years, but for the most part, they’re one-and-done.

Once the idea of posting old commercials online became a thing, I started searching for that Lucozade ad.  I didn’t even know at first that it was an advertisement for Lucozade.  I just remembered that it was the commercial with the naked mounties.  My first time searching, I found an article about the commercial, which I found out was called “Full Mountie”, but not the commercial itself.  Turns out that the spot was controversial at the time “for being crude and offensive to overweight women”, and contained “an unacceptable level of sexual innuendo for pre-watershed viewing, while some felt the ad should not have been allowed on air at all”.  Back when we saw it, we were most amused with the “It helps me stay firm where it counts!” part, for exactly the reasons that you think.

But other than finding articles about the advertisement, but not the advertisement itself, I let it go for a while.  Then when Elyse came back one day with a bottle of Lucozade (from Rodman’s on Wisconsin Avenue in DC), I tried it again.  This was the real deal:

Elyse holds a bottle of Lucozade

It even had the European nutrition panel, rather than the one that we’re accustomed to seeing in America.  We had it on the day that we went to BrickFair (more on that later), and since it sat in the car all day, we enjoyed it both cold and hot.  Interestingly enough, we both thought that Lucozade tasted better hot than cold.  We both thought the same thing about the limited-edition Pepsi flavors Pepsi Salted Caramel and Pepsi Fire when they were available, after they both also sat in the car on a warm day.  In the case of this variety of Lucozade, the orange fizzy flavor had some extra kick to it when it was warm.  The cold tends to dull it.

Having found Lucozade, it caused me to look for the commercial again.  And lo and behold, I found it:

That was undoubtedly the commercial that I was looking for.  Animated people watching the show, live actors as the performers, cleverly hidden body parts, and “…so it helps me stay firm… where it counts!”  Going to show that memories aren’t perfect, I remembered it with a closer shot and slower pan down the guy’s body, and for some reason, I also remembered the animated people as old ladies rather than any age where they would have dark hair.

Finding all of the controversy about the “Full Mountie” commercial, and then rediscovering the commercial itself, I was kind of surprised that it was so controversial back in its day.  We all thought it was funny back then.  I still think it’s funny today, though it would still never make it to US television.

I’m still looking for the other two commercials that I found memorable from that 1998 trip to England.  If I turn those up, I’ll let you know.

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Was I right to have been upset about this? Tue, 07 Aug 2018 22:18:52 +0000 While participating in a discussion on Reddit, it conjured up the memory of something that happened in my junior year of college that left me a bit unsettled at the time, and on which I never got any closure.  Before I begin, be advised – the events described here occurred more than 16 years ago, so at this point, this discussion is purely academic.

While I was a resident advisor in Potomac Hall in 2001-2002, there were two occasions where I was asked to swap office duty shifts near the end of the year.  On the first occasion, the person who wanted to switch with me told me that it was for a family emergency.  In that instance, I agreed to switch days without question, because I would expect the same thing for me should a similar situation arise for me.  I remember seeing that person in the building that night, and thought, I thought that you had a family emergency, but dismissed it, because that really wasn’t my place to judge.  Then on the second occasion, a different person asked me to switch duty days so that they could attend an awards ceremony.  I said no, because I didn’t want to trade days, and an awards ceremony wasn’t an emergency.  I held my ground on that, but later relented after my hall director, Mecca Marsh, whom I’ve written about previously in this space, turned the colleague’s request into an order from the boss.  So I was a bit annoyed about that, especially since I knew that Mecca would have never taken my side like that should I have been in the same situation.  But in the end, I did as I was told.

Then fast forward a month or so later.  The colleague who swapped shifts with me for the awards ceremony brought a video over to show me.  The video depicted a probate ceremony for an historically black sorority on campus.  I learned a lot from the video, which both of my colleagues were in, because prior to this, I didn’t know anything about how historically black Greek letter organizations worked.  My colleague did a great job in explaining to me what was going on, why it was going on, and the significance of it all.  Then they went on to explain that sorority events were the real reason for the “awards ceremony”, and the other person’s “family emergency”.  They couldn’t tell me what they were really doing because they were sworn to secrecy.

And right there is where they lost me.  I found that I couldn’t be happy for them because I felt a bit betrayed.  I had been lied to, and there was never an apology or anything for how they went about things.  I found using a family emergency as an excuse to go to a sorority event to be especially low, and the awards ceremony excuse to be dishonest at best.  They saw nothing wrong with the fact that they lied to me in order to trade shifts.  Apparently, to them, the ends justified the means, as they were more than happy to lie for their sorority.  I hope that it was worth it to them, because after that, I felt like I could no longer trust them, as they chose their sorority over their jobs.  That wasn’t a good thing when this was a live-in job that required close relationships with one’s colleagues.  Mistrust can be toxic in that sort of situation.

In any case, I found it to be more than a bit unprofessional.  If they were truly sworn to secrecy, then the professional thing to do would have been, when asking for the trade, to say that they needed to swap shifts for something important, but that they were presently not at liberty to reveal what was going on, but that it would all be explained at a later date.  In other words, don’t lie, but acknowledge that there were things going on that couldn’t be discussed yet.  I would have been fine with that.

The whole affair also damaged my working relationship with Mecca, because she blatantly took sides with it and enabled the lying.  I found out from the colleague that showed me the video that Mecca had figured out on her own that the two of them were in the onboarding process for a sorority, asked them about it, and thus was read into the whole thing – which bothered me even more because Mecca never explained to me when making the shift trade a reality that it was something of significance going on that the involved parties couldn’t discuss openly at the time.  I could have handled that, since explanations usually make everything better.  There were so many ways that she could have handled it to get the desired result, but she ultimately chose to just force it on me.

I also felt like I had no outlet to talk through my frustrations at the time, which led it to remain something of an unsettled matter all of these years.  The person who I would normally have discussed my concern about this with, i.e. my hall director, was part of the problem, and this wasn’t important enough to escalate, especially when I would be working under the same hall director again the following year, and didn’t want to burn a bridge just yet.  Notwithstanding Mecca’s direct involvement in this one, there was another reason I wouldn’t go to her on it: when dealing with Mecca Marsh, everything was somehow about race.  I remember an occasion where I used the word “overhaul“, as in a major repair/update/revision, in conversation.  She had not heard the term before, and as such didn’t know what the word meant.  I could handle that well enough, explaining the meaning of the word, and then continuing the discussion.  Instead, she went into a big spiel about how “we are from different cultures” to excuse why she had not heard the word “overhaul” before, derailing the conversation and making it into a racial issue, most likely in a poor effort to mask a lack of self-confidence, and thus a need to hide any possible weakness.  So discussing this matter with Mecca would have been a waste of effort, because I already knew what I would get from that, and it would be unproductive.

I later bounced the whole situation off of an uninvolved colleague to gauge whether I was wrong to be upset about it, and that person was dismissive, saying that the colleagues in question couldn’t disclose what they were doing, so they had no alternative but to lie.  It was not what I wanted to hear (I wanted to be told that I was right to feel slighted), so I left it at that.

So now, with the passage of 16 years, what does the Internet think?  Was I right to have been upset about this?  Was I overreacting?  I’m interested in hearing your thoughts.

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New rugs! Thu, 02 Aug 2018 14:28:05 +0000 So I have a little house update for you: carpet!  In the last month or so, I finally got the area rug question figured out, and procured and placed three area rugs in the house.  It makes for a much richer setting with some area rugs on the hardwood floors.  I put area rugs in my bedroom, the back bedroom, and the dining area part of the the living room.  So now, all three bedrooms and the living room have rugs in them.

For some reason, choosing home decor tends to stress me out.  I popped so many Advils in the process of picking these carpets.  I think it’s because it’s a significant cash outlay, because (A) furniture and carpet aren’t cheap, and (B) it’s something that you really don’t want to return, especially if if required special arrangements to get it home in the first place.  Choosing what loveseat to buy for the mezzanine was difficult, as I visited so many stores in search of the perfect loveseat.  I eventually settled on an Ektorp loveseat from IKEA, which turned out to be the perfect thing to put up in the mezzanine.

Deciding on the area rugs took the stress from the loveseat search and multiplied it by twelve.  I had three rooms to outfit, and each had to be perfect, but I didn’t know what “perfect” was.  I knew what my dimensions needed to be, and then worked from there.  I spent many nights on Amazon looking at area rugs.  More headaches.  I went to Walmart and Target’s websites.  Nothing good – need more Advil.  I went down to Big Lots and came out empty, save for a brand new headache.  I also went to Ollie’s up in Jessup, and came out with something for Elyse, but no rugs.  And rugs were my responsibility, since Elyse didn’t quite understand why I was so wound up about rugs, and often suggested that I “just pick something”.

In the end, I got something that I liked.  But not at first.  My bedroom was the first to be outfitted with an area rug, and it was a miss:

That is a Persian-style rug in navy blue, sized at 4′ x 6′.  It was a little too large for the space, and the color was not as I expected.  I expected a much brighter navy color, and instead got something closer to black.  Plus I wasn’t as enthused about how the pattern looked in real life vs. online.  So the rug went back to Amazon.  Lesson learned: I needed a solid color in the room, plus this was a tad too large.  I ended up getting this instead:

New rug in the master bedroom

This is a solid navy rug at 3′ x 5′ that I got for $15 at Walmart.  Not a bad deal, and it fits the area perfectly.

The back bedroom, meanwhile, ended up being a stroke of pure luck.  I had searched and searched online, just like for my bedroom, but then I was at Lowe’s up in Columbia, and stumbled upon the perfect area rug.  I was going through the rack, found a colorful one, and said to Elyse, “Back bedroom.  What do you think?”  She agreed, so we bought it, and into the Honda it went:

The new area rug in the back of the car, taking full advantage of the HR-V's fold-up seats

And then it was so:

The new area rug in the back bedroom

Not a bad look.  Now the question is whether or not I want to hang curtains in that room.  I’m torn between leaving it alone and not hanging any curtains, vs. hanging grommet-style blackout curtains at both windows like I did in my bedroom.  If I do go with curtains, it will probably be a cream color, in order to harmonize with the rug and the pale blue walls.

Then the living room could have gone one of several different directions.  As with the other ones, quite a few Advils gave their lives in the process of outfitting the space.  Lots of Amazon searching.  I hit up Big Lots and a few other places.  I ultimately found the perfect rug at IKEA, along with a bunch of other stuff:

Our haul from IKEA

(By the way, Elyse and I should not be allowed to go to IKEA unsupervised, because things like this happen.  So many picture frames.)

Since that part of the living room was already fitted out, I had to clear out the space:

The temporarily emptied dining area

The furniture from that area, over on the "living" side of the living room

And then the rug went down:

The new carpet in place.

And then the furniture went back:

The furniture back in place.

Seems to work.  Meanwhile, those are new chairs, replacing the somewhat dated original chairs, which I still have to stain and finish to match the rest of the furniture.  I have all of the materials, so now it’s just a matter of doing it.  I also have an end table for the living room side which will be stained to match.

And lastly, unrelated to the carpet, a minor milestone in Elyse’s room:

The mirrors, over the bed again

Rememnber those?  The five IKEA mirrors are back in place over my old bed, in the same arrangement as before.  I’m going do something similar in my bedroom with the newer version of the mirrors, but with the additional vertical space that I have, I’m going to do a 3 x 3 arrangement.

So all in all, this place is slowly coming together.  The only major projects remaining are to paint the living room and the hallways, stain and finish the chairs and the end table, and then decorate.

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You know, he totally looks like… Tue, 31 Jul 2018 14:50:21 +0000 So I was recently on Reddit and looking at /r/blunderyears, which is a board where people post old embarrassing photos of themselves, and came across this guy’s old photo from 2005:

This guy from /r/blunderyears

The moment that I saw this guy’s photo, I thought of this:

Tillie on the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, New Jersey

Yes, in that photo, I saw Tillie of Asbury Park, New Jersey, formerly of Palace Amusements, and now painted on the wall of the Wonder Bar.  You see the resemblance, I’m sure.  Same eyebrows, same eyes, same nose, same smile.  The guy posted some more recent photos of himself, and he looks pretty sharp these days, but back then, he was definitely Tillie in real life.  Elyse and I were up in Asbury Park on July 30 to visit the Silverball Museum, and we showed some of the employees the photo, and they immediately saw the resemblance, as did a lady working a nearby pretzel stand.

What do you think?  Do you agree with the resemblance?

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Five years since I left the nonprofit world… Fri, 20 Jul 2018 18:34:42 +0000 Yesterday marked five years since I left Food & Water Watch, where I worked for a little over six years.  I had not been happy there for a while, and the deterioration of things in my last three months or so was the final push that I needed in order to do what I knew that I needed to do, i.e. leave the organization.  Looking back, I suppose that what ultimately happened was the logical conclusion to my work there.  I was hired into a very generalist position back in 2007.  I was that guy who “did everything”.  One day I would be doing accounting work.  One day I was building furniture.  One day I was fixing computers.  One day I would be working in fundraising.  You name it, and I probably did it at some point.  Over the years, my job evolved and changed as the organization grew, and people with more specialized roles were added as various functions of the organization became too large for a more generalist position.  Eventually, there became less of a need for a position like mine, but so rather than promote me to a new role, they opted to unload me.  Suit yourself, I suppose.

In any case, the next fifteen months were an interesting time in my life.  I was reminded of exactly how much job hunting sucks, but I also remember not really feeling any of the positions that I was applying for.  More nonprofit work after just having been chewed up and spit out by one didn’t exactly ignite my passion.  Especially when there was that nagging thought that in a few years, I would probably be searching for a job again, since most people tended to only stay somewhere for two or three years before moving on.  By October, I had given up on nonprofits, and focused on transportation.  I got a CDL, and I was applying to driving jobs.  I was more excited about the work than sitting in an office all day, that’s for sure.  I knew I was in the right place, because I felt like the passion and the fire were back.

It’s funny, though, what makes you realize how much you’ve grown and changed in five years.  I redid my resume about a month ago for a few internal positions that I am pursuing with my current employer, and based the new resume on the one that I had used in 2013 and 2014.  That old resume was trying to be a lot of different things, and focused on how well-rounded I was as a candidate, focusing on technical abilities, writing, and work experience.  It was two pages (front and back), and probably had too much on it, as it had this big, flowery “skills” section, plus a section on volunteer work which covered all of my writing on Wikipedia, and also showcased the various skills developed through Schumin Web.  I thought it was great in 2013 and 2014, but in 2018, I saw a whole lot of fluff.  I condensed that puppy down to one page, as a lot of that was irrelevant to an internal move in a transit agency.  My Wikipedia writing experience went right out the window, as I hadn’t done that in quite a few years, and thus it was less relevant.  Schumin Web is now listed as a real job, as the business side of things (i.e. licensing photos for third party use) has actually become a real revenue stream in the last few years.  And then my Office on Youth internship, which I did in the summer of 2003, is gone.  It didn’t provide any new insights that other positions didn’t already provide, and was for such a short duration that it could disappear and no one would miss it.  Kind of weird to think about, though, since that internship defined my summer that year.  But then again, things change.  No one from when I interned there still works there.  I don’t recognize a single face on their staff bio page.

It’s also interesting to see how interactions with former Food & Water Watch coworkers have gone since I’ve left there.  When I was driving the bus, I picked up a few of them at various times on various routes.  Funny how the person who always acted the happiest to see me on the bus was the one who treated me the worst in the office.  Most other interactions were neutral, but this person’s reaction to seeing me was too over the top, complete with a fake smile.  I just thought, yeah, I know what you’re really about, as they sat down in their seat.  Then there was another time that I was walking through Petworth, heading back to the bus division after doing the first part of my run.  I ran into three of them on the street.  They were all happy to see me, and they invited me out to whatever bar they were headed to.  I found that lack of situational awareness to be a little off-putting.  I was wearing a bus operator’s uniform at the time, with a safety vest over top of it.  I had buses to drive.  I had more important things to do than hang out with them, and I certainly couldn’t enter a bar while wearing a bus operator’s uniform, on or off duty.  That interaction really made me realize that I had grown tremendously, both as a person and a professional in the two years (at that time) since leaving Food & Water Watch, and they had not changed at all.  I kind of felt badly for them, because they were still the same people that I got away from in 2013, and I was no longer the same person that I was in 2013.  Our shared histories had diverged, and I realized how much I had outgrown that sort of thing.

Another interesting byproduct of things: I used to think that my colleagues who posted only about work on social media seemed a bit one-dimensional, i.e. they were so wrapped up in their work that their only interests were related to their work.  Then I started working for a transit agency.  I realized that I was posting a lot about work, and issues pertaining to work.  Quite a few buses showed up in my Flickr feed, for one.  The “aha” moment was when I realized that they’re just really passionate about the issues that they work on.  But I still included posts on other interests besides transit, unlike some of them.

All in all, I’m glad that I left Food & Water Watch.  I certainly I grew a lot there and gained a lot of useful experience, but I eventually outgrew the position and the organization, and moved on to better things.  And I’m happier and a better person for it, and that’s all that counts in the end.

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Nothing like tackling some rewriting projects to make you realize a few things… Thu, 12 Jul 2018 20:00:09 +0000 You know, there’s nothing like undertaking a rewriting project to make you realize that you’re a much better writer than you used to be, and also that fluff for the purpose of filling space isn’t helping anyone.  For several years, I’ve had a list of pages that I want to redo, and recently, I finally started knocking a few of them out.  I’ve already completed the new About Me page, and the main page for Odds and Ends also got a rewrite.  Cars and Quote Archives were substantially reworked recently, though those pages were not full rewrites from scratch.  Then I’m also planning on doing full rewrites on the main pages for Archives, Life and Times, and Photography, as the writing on all of those pages is at least a decade old, likely dating back to the 2003 or 2004 redesign.  The photos on those introduction pages were last changed in 2012, when I converted the site to WordPress (six years ago!).

If the two completed rewrites are any indication, this will be a beneficial and much needed upgrade.  The new About Me page replaced a page that was written in 2007 during a site conversion that left the reader with the impression of a person that I no longer am.  The new page corrects that, reflecting new perspectives on things.  The new version also intermingles the history of the website with my own personal history, acknowledging that I’ve had the website for the majority of my life, and that as such, our histories are very much intertwined.  I’ve also linked to different Journal entries and pages throughout, with the idea of providing an overview while not trying to reinvent the wheel by duplicating material that I have already discussed in detail elsewhere on the site.

Then the Odds and Ends rewrite was extremely straightforward, replacing a longer three-paragraph page with a single paragraph.  There’s not much to say about what is essentially a “miscellaneous” section, and the new writing reflects that.  It’s not quite “here it is”, but it avoids droning on for paragraphs just to fill space in order to make the page appear full.  It’s not afraid to be succinct, and to be shorter than the section menu to its right.  I suppose that the new Odds and Ends page’s having blank space beneath while the sidebar continues downward is a flaw in the current site design, but I’m willing to tolerate that for now.  The current site design is nearly six years old at this point, and the site as a whole could probably benefit from a redesign, but one thing at a time.

That idea of making a page appear full is, ultimately, what I’m working to eradicate.  In the era before social media, more specifically defined by when I joined Facebook in the summer of 2007, I tended to use Schumin Web for something more like what we use social media for today.  Journal entries and such were relatively short, and, with my still being relatively fresh out of college, I was accustomed to writing things to meet an arbitrarily defined length requirement, and then fluffing it out if I had said everything that I needed to say but didn’t hit the length requirement, i.e. writing to fill space.  These pages fit that definition.  There wasn’t a whole lot to say, but I felt that I needed the pages to meet some idea of “fullness”.

The quote articles that ran on the main page from 1998-2005 evolved to become like that.  Originally, those articles were text-only, and around a paragraph in length.  They later got longer, and some sort of image, typically a photo, became standard.  With that came the idea of making the articles self-contained, i.e. the text should be long enough to cover the space around the image, so that it won’t dip down into and disrupt any content beneath it.  So if there wasn’t enough to say to cover the image, I wrote fluff to fill it.  Visual needs over strong content.  In hindsight, it’s not surprising that the quote article eventually withered with the introduction of the Journal, because the latter didn’t have that layout that required fluff, and thus was easier to write.

Meanwhile, some of the fluff that I’m about to obliterate is pretty fluffy.  From the Archives main page:

Many will tell you that history has a way of repeating itself.  And many will point this out as the reason that we need to understand history.  Here in the Archives, this is the vault containing the site’s history, laid out before you.  This is where we have been.  If this is your first time visiting The Schumin Web, the Archives section is almost like an orientation to that which is the world of Ben Schumin.  For regular visitors to this site, this is like a fond look back at what we’ve been through together.

From the Life and Times main page:

In Life and Times, come with me as I travel to places with family, with friends, and by myself.  Come with me as we see what’s going on in my life at home.  See what kind of random stuff I encounter in the process of going about things.  Hear my on-the-spot commentary through movie clips.  As you will see, I really do have fun in my life, and never know what’s around the corner.

Talk about useless fluff that no one needs to ever read.  You need to go through “orientation” to understand the site?  Seriously?  I also discuss formats and layouts, and in the Life and Times page, I discuss a categorization of three older photo sets that I eliminated during the WordPress conversion (the categorization, not the sets).  Then Archives does this graceless dip below the text container:


In a word: yuck.  I’m also pretty sure that defeats the purpose of having all of that fluffy text in the first place, as the intent of that nonsense was to fill space, and it doesn’t even fill it. I’m pretty sure that this page layout has survived several site redesigns (Internet Archive shows an early version of the text for that page back in 2005), and hasn’t aged very well.  I’m not entirely sure what I want to do in new introductory pages, but I imagine that it will be a lot less text than this, and more photography.

Then there was the “Welcome!” page.  That was a page that I could eliminate, and nothing of value would be lost.  So I did.  Especially so when you consider that I changed the site sections around about three years ago, and never bothered to revise this page to reflect said change.  I think that the site’s navigation is pretty self-explanatory, and requires no explicit explanation.  Back then, I felt it necessary to explain these things, and like so much old introductory text on here, its time has most certainly passed.

Reading this old text is when I understand why some people used to make fun of my site on the Internet.  The writing wasn’t as good as it is now, and while I’m certainly not perfect, the difference in writing quality is noticeable.  A lot more thought goes into things now, and while I produce a lower number of individual posts than I used to, the content is much better.

It’s also why I say that the best way to become proficient in writing is just to write.  It doesn’t matter what it’s about.  Just write.  School always had a way of sucking the fun out of writing.  There was no enjoyment in writing about something that I had no interest in whatsoever.  I especially resented the way my English classes in 11th and 12th grade required that all of our alleged “freewrites” be based on the literature that we were reading.  I had no interest in the literature that we were reading, especially since we were expected to read the stuff at such a rapid pace that nothing sank in.  In 12th grade especially, I didn’t give a rat’s patootie about the literature.  Writing uninspired poems and submitting them for grades was not a good way to build writing skills.  Same for college.  I didn’t grow much as a writer while churning out a bunch of boring papers on topics that I had no interest in.  Once I got out of school and started writing regularly for Schumin Web, things got better.  Slowly but surely, it improved.  Writing was fun.  Like anything, if you do it a lot and have some passion for it, you get a lot better at it.  Writing about fire alarms or transit is enjoyable.  Writing answers to inane questions to verify that you actually read something is not fun.

In any case, this sort of cleanup work is long overdue, and I’m excited to make good progress on it.

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So now what do I do? Wed, 27 Jun 2018 12:30:41 +0000 This exercise thing sucks.  I recently came to the realization that I’m never going back to Planet Fitness, and therefore I’m cancelling my membership.  No sense in spending $20 per month on something that I’m not going to use.

I can’t say that I didn’t try, though.  I signed up, and I went as I planned, i.e. after work, during the overnight hours.  I tried all of the equipment, and while the elliptical and the recumbent stair climber seemed like possible winners, the whole Planet Fitness environment intimidated me too much.  How ironic for a company that markets itself with a slogan of “No Gymtimidation”.  I got the specific feeling that they were more interested in their “No Gymtimidation” and “Judgement [sic] Free Zone” image than they were about fitness (and a few people seem to agree with me).  The presence of that stupid “lunk alarm” gimmick also sent off the wrong vibe, and I never even touched the free weights, nor did I have any intention to ever use them.  It’s allegedly the judgment free zone, but they’re constantly watching and judging everything that you do, and that made me feel less at ease with it than I preferred.  I just want to go in, do my thing, and leave.  Too much emphasis on individual conduct makes me uncomfortable because it makes me feel somewhat on edge, and that creates a sense of hostility, like I’m being micromanaged.  Perception is reality here, and that perception negatively affected my enjoyment of the club.

Additionally, I couldn’t find a location that I liked.  I found out that some locations were de facto closed on Sunday nights because they dismantled the entire facility to clean it on those nights.  However, because one of Planet Fitness’s big selling points was being open 24 hours, they couldn’t actually close the facility to clean it.  They had to remain open, even though none of the equipment was available.  So on more than one occasion, Elyse and I got dressed and went out, only to be turned away because all of the equipment was offline for cleaning.  That just speaks of poor planning on the facility’s part, since they could easily split the work and clean in sections over the course of a week in order to maintain full access at all times.  Other locations were better, but too far from my house.  I halfway liked the downtown Silver Spring location, but it was just too far away to be practical.

I also got the feeling that corporate was pretty clueless, after an exchange about finding out what equipment is available at each facility.  I asked them this:

Is there a way to find out what locations have certain equipment short of just calling around?  The downtown Silver Spring, Maryland location has some equipment that I have not seen at other locations (rowing machines, seated stair climbers, hand bikes, etc.), and would love to find other locations that also have this equipment.

Their response was completely underwhelming:

Hi there, Ben!  Due to most clubs being independently owned and operated, equipment will vary by location.  The best thing to do is just stop on by the front desk and ask to speak with management or see if your home club has a suggestion box.  We always love hearing suggestions from our valued members.

In other words, they have no idea what locations have what equipment, and so the only way to find out would be to call around.  Which is exactly what I was trying to avoid in the first place.  Thanks for nothing.

I also put myself on a pretty strict diet while I was going to Planet Fitness, and that just made me miserable.  I was always hungry, and what I was eating just made me gassy.  With the combination of exercise and the diet, I lost about five pounds in total.  Whoopee.

When I had my vacation in April, I took a week off from the gym since I was doing other things while on vacation, with the intention of resuming when I went back to work the following week.  I then took another week off from the gym, and then another, and then another, and I soon realized that I didn’t miss it at all.  For the last two months, I’ve been telling myself that I’m going to go back and get back into that routine, but I can’t make myself go back.  I just don’t feel comfortable there, and there’s no sense wasting good money on a membership for a place where I don’t feel comfortable.  Goodbye, Planet Fitness.  It’s been a learning experience, for sure.  What I’ve learned is that you’re far too interested in your own image as the judgment free zone, to the detriment of everything else.

So now what do I do?  I’ve put all of the weight that I lost in 2011-2012 back on.  Swimming, as I articulated back in March, is just too much trouble at the Montgomery County facilities when you consider the schedule and how lap swimmers are at the bottom of the barrel as far as access goes.  There are also no 24-hour indoor pools in Montgomery County, meaning that I would have to travel more than 30 miles to get to an indoor pool that is open all night, and that’s a bit of a non-starter in the middle of the night after work.  Then I also have a bicycle hanging up in my utility room that I have only used three times and stopped using because my knees are not strong enough, and out of those three times, I destroyed the chain twice and had to get it replaced.  It’s been sitting and collecting dust since November 11, 2014.  I should probably just sell the bike, but I also feel like a bicycle is one of those things that might come in handy for something eventually.

So we’re back at square one.

And sadly, I’m also lacking in motivation because of the results from the time when I did lose a bunch of weight back in 2011-2012.  I stopped losing weight when I got down to 275, and held at that weight for about a year and a half.  Nothing that I did could break that 275 mark.  The problem was that, even though I looked fabulous, 275 was still morbidly obese.  So I’m feeling a bit discouraged, because I feel like my best wasn’t good enough, and it’s made me hesitant to commit to another exercise program because of the inability to bust the 275 barrier.

Additionally, I remember the time when I was smaller as an unhappy time.  When I hit 30, my interests shifted, and that included less interest in the issues that my then-employer was interested in.  That was not a good time with work, because at that point, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to meet certain life goals while working there, and also knew that I would probably never get a promotion.  When I started pushing for a promotion, rather than more responsibility looking towards upward movement, I was offered additional work in another department where the person over that department and I didn’t see eye to eye.  I saw a disaster in the making with that, and so when I went to discuss my concerns, my boss just said, “That’s disappointing,” and dropped it entirely.  Then the following year, when I made the same pitch with more specific ideas on how I wanted to grow, I was told that there was no room for a promotion and that if I wanted to move up, it would have to be outside of the organization.  Then my scumbag boss took my suggestions and designed a new position around it, and rolled most of my responsibilities into that new position, which was created specifically to drive me out.  Thanks for nothing.

All that said, I was always much happier when I was heavier, even though I recognize that one didn’t necessarily have to do with the other.  Nonetheless, that nagging feeling is a hard nut to crack.

So if anyone has any suggestions about what I’m to do, feel free.  I know that my current situation is not sustainable, but I don’t know what else to do.

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It has been twenty years since my trip to England… Tue, 19 Jun 2018 16:50:35 +0000 This week marks twenty years since my family went to England.  That trip, from June 14-21, 1998, was our last real family vacation, where we spent about a week doing all of the various touristy things, mostly in the greater London area.

Interestingly, this was a trip that I had been dreading for quite some time.  TWA Flight 800, which went down a few years prior due to what was determined to be a malfunction, was still fresh in my mind, and I was convinced that I was going to die on this flight.  Thus I didn’t want to go.  But they made me.  And as things turned out, I got there and back in one piece, but nonetheless, I still am not a fan of flying.  Every little bump, I’m wondering what’s going on.  I guess that I’m a bit of a white-knuckle flyer, though I wasn’t as a child.  In hindsight, I consider my concern to be rational enough, but I was forgetting that for every incident that makes the news, there are thousands of flights that take off and land uneventfully every day.  It also didn’t help that my last flight prior to that, from Dallas-Fort Worth to Fayetteville on American Eagle in 1992, was one where they had aborted the takeoff due to a mechanical issue.  After aborting the takeoff, they parked the plane somewhere to run a test to determine what was wrong.  The test involved the entire plane’s shaking violently on the tarmac.  After the shaking stopped, they announced that the problem “had corrected itself”.  That was not exactly reassuring.  I would have preferred that they had swapped the plane after that for one where they hadn’t told us of any issues.  I wanted off of that plane, but there was nothing that I could do about it.  Every single bump in that flight, I thought, we’re going to crash.  Not a good feeling.  I was so glad when we finally were on the ground again at the end of that flight.

In any case, we flew from Charlottesville to Philadelphia aboard US Airways Express, and then flew US Airways flight 98 from Philadelphia to London Gatwick.  The Tube was on strike the week that we were visiting, so we did much of our travel via London black cab.

The first day was basically a rest day.  We were jetlagged and knew it, and so we did a lot of sleeping that day, ate dinner at our hotel the Novotel Waterloo), and then took a walk around the area.

The next day, we spent out and about, going to Piccadilly Circus, and then Trafalgar Square.  Here I am at Trafalgar Square:

Standing in front of a fountain at Trafalgar Square

(I still have that shirt, by the way)

While there, we visited the National Gallery, we had lunch at Planet Hollywood, and then we went to SegaWorld, which was housed in the London Trocadero, then an entertainment complex (now under redevelopment to become a hotel).  I remember going there and thinking that this was was one of the sorts of cool things that you can only do in big cities (they certainly didn’t have something like this in Stuarts Draft!).  One thing that captivated us was the “rocket” escalator entrance:

The rocket escalator

My sister and me on the rocket escalator

Then inside, we got a photo of Mom in front of Sonic the Hedgehog:

Mom and Sonic the Hedgehog

I wonder if our visit to SegaWorld wasn’t the most nineties thing that we could have ever done on this trip made in the nineties.  I also discovered pay toilets for the first time at SegaWorld, which was something that we would encounter a few more times on this trip.  I find the idea of pay toilets to be somewhat abhorrent, and I’m glad that they’re more or less nonexistent stateside.

We had dinner at an Italian place called La Dolce Vita, about three blocks away from our hotel.  Dad described them as “low-brow restaurant trying to act high-brow.  But it wasn’t bad, save for lack of a no-smoking section.  I found them on Google Maps while doing some research for this Journal entry, and was disappointed to find out that they have since closed.

The next day, we took an Evan Evans tour around London, led by Brian:

On that tour, we saw Royal Albert Hall, the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, we took a boat ride along the River Thames, and then we saw St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London.  A few highlights for you:

The toilet at the top of Royal Albert Hall.  We were told that this was where the Queen did her business when visiting there.
The toilet at the top of Royal Albert Hall.  We were told that this was where the Queen did her business when visiting there.

Buckingham Palace.
Buckingham Palace.

My sister and me in front of Buckingham Palace.
My sister and me in front of Buckingham Palace.

The changing of the guard.

The changing of the guard.

The changing of the guard.
The changing of the guard.

The underside of London Bridge.
The underside of London Bridge.

The Tower of London, viewed from our river boat.
The Tower of London, viewed from our river boat.

Tower Bridge, with the deck raised in order to allow a boat with a tall mast to pass through.
Tower Bridge, with the deck raised in order to allow a boat with a tall mast to pass through.

The tour was over after the Tower of London.  Brian’s parting words were, “If you liked the tour, my name is Brian.  If you didn’t like the tour, then my name is Tom.”

Then the next day, we saw Westminster Abbey:

Westminster Abbey  Westminster Abbey

We also saw part of a session of Parliament.  I remember being surprised about being required to get a pat-down in addition to other airport-style security measures.  The biggest take from our visit to Parliament, though, was running into an American couple from Texas.  They suggested that with one more day left on our trip, that we do something outside of London, in order to see what the rest of England looks like.  The idea is that just seeing London and thinking that you’ve seen the UK is like just seeing New York City and thinking that you’ve seen America.  In reality, you’ve only seen a small part of it that’s not necessarily representative of the whole.

On the way back to our hotel, at my request, we stopped for photos with Cleopatra’s Needle:

Sphinx next to Cleopatra's Needle.
Sphinx next to Cleopatra’s Needle.

Cleopatra's Needle.
Cleopatra’s Needle.

My sister and me, posing with the sphinx.  My sister and me, posing with the sphinx.
My sister and me, posing with the sphinx.

I was excited to see this, because I had learned about the history behind Cleopatra’s Needle in Latin class.  I would later visit the other obelisk when I visited New York City in 2015.

Later that day, we did a walking tour around London, which included, among other things, a visit to The Old Curiosity Shop, “immoralised by Charles Dickens”:

The Old Curiosity Shop

My understanding is that the shop was so named after the release of Dickens’ novel, but served as the inspiration for the shop in the book.

Then on our last day in England, we took the Texas couple up on their recommendation and booked another Evan Evans tour.  This one took us to Salisbury Cathedral, Stonehenge, and the Roman Baths.  This was probably my favorite day of the whole trip.  Our tour guide was a gentleman named Paddy.  First stop was Salisbury Cathedral:

Salisbury Cathedral  Salisbury Cathedral

Salisbury Cathedral  Salisbury Cathedral

We then had lunch at The King’s Arms Hotel:

The King's Arms Hotel

Then we headed to Stonehenge.  That place was busy, with our visiting on the day before the summer solstice.  And here are photos:





Me posing in front of Stonehenge.
Me posing in front of Stonehenge.

Dad posing in front of Stonehenge.
Dad posing in front of Stonehenge.

(I don’t know why that light patch is in the corner of all of the Stonehenge photos.  Probably something wrong with the camera that we weren’t aware of at the time.)

Then our tour took us to Bath, home of the Roman Baths.  I had previously learned about these in my high school Latin class, so I was excited to see them in person.

Entrance to the baths.
Entrance to the baths.

Statue of Julius Caesar, among others.
Statue of Julius Caesar, among others.

The baths, viewed from above.  As I understand it, the higher tan structures (made of "Bath stone") date from the 1800s, while the structures nearest the bottom are Roman in origin.
The baths, viewed from above.  As I understand it, the higher tan structures (made of “Bath stone“) date from the 1800s, while the structures nearest the bottom are Roman in origin.

The baths, viewed from above.
The baths, viewed from above.

The baths, viewed from the lower level.  I stuck my hand in, and was surprised to find how warm the water was.
The baths, viewed from the lower level.  I stuck my hand in, and was surprised to find how warm the water was.

Water channel leading to the baths.
Water channel leading to the baths.

Then we went to the gift shop, where they allowed visitors to sample the mineral water from the hot springs that feed the baths.  Paddy commented, in this beautiful British accent, “Oh, you know that gives you diarrhea.”  I gave this mortified look, before Paddy told me that he was joking.  We were flying home the next day, and the last thing that I needed was to spend the whole flight in an airplane bathroom.  I can laugh about it now, though.

Afterwards, we peeked inside Bath Abbey:

Bath Abbey

And that was the end of the tour.  From there, the bus took us back to London.

On the last day, we took a walk around the immediate area, walking around Parliament and such.  We found one statue of interest nearby:

South Bank Lion

This is the South Bank Lion, also known as the Red Lion.  We found it interesting because unlike most depictions of lions that we had seen, this one was wearing what appeared to be a sad or despairing expression.

Then, returning to the hotel, we got our stuff together, got our ride back to Gatwick, and started our journey home.  For some reason, we had an extra stop going home.  Our international flight was the same as before, going from Gatwick to Philadelphia on flight 99, but then, for some reason, we flew to Pittsburgh from Philadelphia, and got our flight to Charlottesville on US Airways Express from there.  Go figure, but we did get to see the AirMall.  The airline also lost our luggage.  After the flight from Gatwick, we had to claim our bags, go through US customs, and then recheck them, and the airline never sent our bags along.  They delivered them to us the next day.

And that was that.  Not a bad trip by any means.  I’d certainly love to go to England and see it all again now that I’m an adult, and can appreciate it a whole lot more than when I was 17.  When that might happen, though, is anybody’s guess.

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Finding my old fifth grade teacher on Facebook… Mon, 04 Jun 2018 18:30:48 +0000 Recently, a very familiar name came up in my friend suggestions: “Sharon Payne Bradley”.  In other words, this person:

Sharon Bradley in August 1991, posing with me on the first day of school

That was my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Bradley, who presided over what was, without question, the absolute worst year in my entire formal education, from kindergarten through my senior year of college.  I had not seen or spoken with Mrs. Bradley since May 29, 1992, when I completed fifth grade at Bonnie Grimes Elementary School.  And now, here I was, confronted by her photo on Facebook.  I declined to send a friend request to her, because in all honesty, I have no desire to have this toxic person, who was extremely abusive to me while I was her student, back in my life.

I suppose that our horrible year together was a perfect storm of sorts.  She had lost her husband to cancer in early 1991, which caused her to miss quite a bit of time late in the previous school year.  I believe that she was likely still coming to terms with such a major life change when the new school year started in late August.  I imagine that she probably should have taken a year off from teaching in order to sort through everything and make peace with her new situation, but I assume that financial considerations prevented that.  As it was, I’m pretty sure that she was just “phoning it in” that year, considering that the room had nothing on the walls aside from the evacuation maps and the bulletin board that didn’t change all year.  See for yourself:

Mrs. Bradley's classroom for 1991-1992. The walls are bare, and that bulletin board didn't change the entire year.

Meanwhile, I was coming into fifth grade following a fairly rough fourth grade year, where my parents and the school administration clashed pretty hard.  When the principal and the guidance counselor tried to blame my being the way that I was on a dysfunctional home life, my parents hired a psychologist who interviewed everyone involved and observed the school setting before coming to the conclusion, as a professional, that our family was fine, but the school had issues.  The school administration banned him from coming back to the school, which put an end to our work with him, because the doctor and my parents agreed that we had gone as far as we could.  I imagine that my being the way that I was came from some mild form of high-functioning autism, but this has never been formally diagnosed.

Then the school year itself was pretty rough.  For starters, we had creative writing on Friday mornings, and the first time that we did it, I had a major case of writer’s block.  I don’t know why, but I just couldn’t get the creative juices flowing that morning.  Perhaps it was a bad prompt.  I remember that the next week’s prompt was “the importance of rules”, so I imagine that the first one was probably similarly lame.  In any case, I remember getting pulled aside and being told exactly what sort of terrible person I was for not being able to come up with something coherent for whatever the prompt was.  And this was only the first week of school, and with the allegedly “nice” teacher.  Way to encourage people to write.  Nothing to help get me started. Just a berating.  A later instance of writer’s block within the first month of school during that creative writing session, where for whatever reason, I just couldn’t get the creative juices flowing, earned me a trip to the principal’s office where she berated me.  I was no stranger to getting yelled at by Mrs. Carmical, with five years of elementary school under my belt at that point, but nonetheless, this was not a good way to start the school year.

Seating arrangements were always a matter of contention.  Originally, all of our desks were arranged individually in a grid format.  Then shortly after the year started, our desks were rearranged into clusters of five or so each.  Mrs. Bradley called them “cooperative learning groups”, but in looking at various definitions of what cooperative learning actually is, this was not that.  This was just student desks arranged in clusters instead of rows, with no change in the teaching method.  One problem that we had in that arrangement was two girls who wouldn’t stop talking to each other.  I had eventually had enough of hearing Mrs. Bradley complain in class about these two girls who wouldn’t shut up, especially since that was a problem that was within her capacity to solve.  So I decided to try and help.  I designed my own seating chart and gave it to her as a suggestion for solving the problem.  This was viewed as the worst thing that I could possibly do to her, i.e. a direct challenge to her authority.  I suppose that it also said a lot about how strong of a hold she actually had on her authority if a mere ten-year-old could shake her to the core like that.  For this episode, Mrs. Bradley wrote “Openly challenges teacher” on my report card at the end of the first quarter:

"Openly challenges teacher" on my report card

I see no problem with challenging someone on a decision or a policy.  One of two things should happen when you challenge something like that.  Either you’re going to get a reasonable explanation as to why something is like that, or they’re going to say something along the lines of, “You know, he’s right.”  Then if you’re not going to even consider a suggestion, then the correct response is, “Thank you for your suggestion.  I’ll take it under advisement.”  In other words, give it a polite and cordial reception, and then ignore it if that’s what you want to do.

And things only got worse.  There was an occasion in October 1991 where, for whatever reason – I forget why – I was instructed to move my desk one foot away from the other desks in the cluster that I had been placed in.  I remember that Mrs. Bradley had then questioned whether I had actually moved it a full foot, and so I pulled out my ruler (you know, the one that we were required to have per our supply list) to verify the distance in order to settle it definitively.  The idea was that it’s fine that you want me to move my desk a foot away, because that’s your prerogative as the teacher.  But if you’re going to then question how well I followed your instructions, I’m going to settle it, and verify my compliance with said instructions.  That was, in her mind, the worst thing that I ever could have done.  Clearly, by her logic, I was doing this as a personal challenge to her and her authority, and as the teacher, she had to win.  So I got sent to the office.  Mrs. Carmical was out that day (otherwise, I probably would have just gotten another lecture from her), and the assistant principal, Mrs. Compton, would not be in until the afternoon.  So she called my mother, with the intention of bringing her in to sit with me, in the office, until the assistant principal arrived.  My mother and Mrs. Compton both arrived around the same time, and then Mrs. Bradley came back and told my mother, in my presence, exactly what sort of terrible person I was.  It was the only time that I ever cried in school, and I was thoroughly embarrassed because of it, because I was not the kind of kid who cried in school.  Then after that, I was sent back to class, tear-stained face and all.

At the halfway point in the year, our desks were rearranged in rows of four or five, which was a tremendous improvement over the clusters of desks that we had before.  Around Valentine’s Day, I was instructed to move my desk away from the rest of my row.  I don’t remember why, but it happened.  I was told that I would be able to sit in a group with the other kids again if I demonstrated something or other, but it was a nebulous enough “goal” as to be unattainable.  I sensed that Mrs. Bradley’s goal was to ostracize me, and apparently it worked, because I sat alone for the rest of the year.  She rearranged the desks one more time for the final quarter, putting the kids in pairs.  In that arrangement, my desk was the odd one out, in the center of the room, looking like a misfit.  How humiliating.

Meanwhile, public humiliation was one of Mrs. Bradley’s usual tactics.  I couldn’t tell you how many times I was singled out and humiliated in front of the entire class for some minor transgression.  I remember one instance that related to the computer.  The unwritten rule was that we could go over and use the computer if we had finished our work.  I had finished my work, so I headed over to play whatever game was there.  A short while later, another kid decided that he wanted to use the computer, and asked me to vacate.  I told him no, that I was not finished using the computer, and to wait until I was done.  The other kid went straight to Mrs. Bradley and ratted on me, and she then made a scene in the classroom about it.  I recall that I was very publicly asked from across the room about what I had said and why I had said that, and then I was told, still from across the room, that I had just lost my computer privileges for a week.  How unprofessional – especially when she could have so easily handled it quietly amongst the two students involved without making a scene and disturbing the entire class to handle a minor issue, and disciplining a student publicly.  Public shaming really has no place in school, but that was one of her go-to tactics.  It’s also not a big stretch of the imagination to think that had the situation been reversed, and I was the kid who wanted to use the computer, that the situation would have gone quite differently, and that I would have been told to go sit down, or maybe get some ridiculous lecture on why I shouldn’t ask people to use the computer, and how terrible I was for even considering it.

Another one of Mrs. Bradley’s favorite things to do was whenever there was a disciplinary issue, of any kind, she would have the student involved write down what happened on a white, unlined index card.  However, this was not simply a matter of taking statements and evaluating them to determine the full picture of what happened.  Rather, she wanted us to write the story of what happened the way that she wanted it to read, i.e. to fit whatever narrative that she was trying to craft about us, and there would be consequences for not doing it that way.  I remember on more than one occasion, after having given a statement about what happened in a situation, being told that what I wrote was wrong, and that I needed to write it again.  On a few occasions, when I stuck to my guns on what happened, she isolated me from the rest of the class, moving my desk into the corner of the room, away from everyone else, because of the index card issue.  If I wanted to rejoin the class, I had to write my statement her way.  She would then use these cards, with the statements of questionable accuracy, as ammunition during parent-teacher conferences.

Parent-teacher conferences were another source of contention (but then again, what wasn’t a source of contention when dealing with Sharon Bradley?).  My father is a very smart and organized person, and is and always has been on top of his game when it comes to matters of business.  My father would bring a notepad with him when my parents went for conferences.  That was seen as a direct challenge to the authority of the teacher, the principal, and the guidance counselor, and, if you haven’t figured it out by now, they just couldn’t have that.  I assume that they didn’t want to later be held accountable for what they said, and thus they didn’t want anyone to document anything that happened in those conferences.  Their “solution” was to ban my father from parent-teacher conferences, much like the way that they banned the psychologist the year before.  I don’t remember what the resolution was on that, but my parents, in hindsight, at one time indicated that they probably should have initiated legal action based on that.  These were the same people who also told my parents that I was “at risk”.  When my parents questioned them on what I was at risk for, since I was doing fine academically, they responded that I was at risk of going to prison.  Okay, then.  Thank you for your suggestion. I’ll take it under advisement.

Then there was the time when I was told how inadequate I was compared to the other kids as far as art skills went.  We were doing this drawing assignment, where we were supposed to draw something related to our social studies material (some period in American history).  I don’t remember what my drawing was about specifically, but it was clearly not up to fifth grade spec.  When Mrs. Bradley saw my drawing in progress, she took me out in the hall and chastized me for it, told me that I drew like a first grader, and then showed me allegedly how much better all of the other students’ drawings were, which were posted on the hallway bulletin board from a similar assignment, compared to mine.  Way to inspire someone to work towards greater heights.  I’m sorry that my artwork didn’t please you, but I was doing my best.  And my best had just gotten trashed by the teacher.  And this was at a school that provided no art education of any kind, so it’s not like they were teaching me to be a better artist or anything.  Ultimately, I never submitted anything for that assignment, and Mrs. Bradley never pressed the point.  Just as well, because clearly, I was incapable of completing that assignment to her preferences.

I also recall several occasions where Mrs. Bradley would tell the class one thing and then do something else when it came to dealing with me.  On one occasion, she told the class that embarrassing a student was the last step that she would take after a series of other methods failed to correct an unruly student before sending them off to be paddled by the principal (Rogers at that time was one of those backwards school districts that still practiced corporal punishment).  I couldn’t believe my ears, because I knew of several occasions where public humiliation was the first step that she took to address a situation, and not as a last resort.  It took great strength on my part not to call her a liar right then and there.  Then there was another time where she told the class that she never made students stand out in the hallway, and that she was more inclined to isolate a student in the room rather than send them out.  Fast forward to a social studies lesson.  I had spaced out, and then was called on for something.  I had no idea where we were because I had spaced out for a while.  When asked why, I told Mrs. Bradley that I didn’t find the lesson interesting.  That was it: go stand out in the hallway.  I was surprised, because based on her previous statement, she wouldn’t send a student to go stand in the hall.  But there I was, standing out there for what felt like an eternity.

As an aside, my mother, also a teacher, put it best about why you should never send a student to stand out in the hallway: the child is completely unsupervised out there.  You have no idea what the kid is doing while they’re out there, or even if they’re still there at all.  A child could conceivably leave the school building entirely while being disciplined in such a way.  I only lived a mile away from school, and so just walking home was not outside the realm of possibility.  And the teacher would likely be held responsible if anything happened, because they were the one who put the child in that situation in the first place, rather than keeping them in a supervised setting where they belong.  It kind of makes me wish that I had thought of doing that as a child.

My best times in fifth grade were when Mrs. Bradley was out of the picture.  We had science with another teacher, and I got along with that teacher really well.  No problems of any kind.  Then we had a student teacher for about eight weeks in the middle of the year, and the atmosphere was noticeably less hostile while the student teacher was running the show.  However, when the student teacher was away, Mrs. Bradley was back, and it was back to the old hostile environment again.  I was very sad when the student teacher’s time with us was over, not only because she was awesome in her own right, but also because it meant that Mrs. Bradley, and all of her abusive behaviors, would be back for good.

Towards the end of the year, we had a substitute for two days.  I was always excited to have a substitute teacher in fifth grade, because it meant that I would get a break from Mrs. Bradley and her abuse, and would have a normal person teaching us for a change.  In this particular case, our sub was someone that went to the same church as me, so we already knew each other really well, and got along really well.  Those two days were awesome, having a teacher who liked me.  The first day that Mrs. Bradley was back, I was out all day for a field trip with the gifted program.  While I was gone, Mrs. Bradley had all of the kids write statements about what went on in class while she was gone.  The day after that, I got called up to her desk.  There, she read me some of these statements, and told me how terrible I was because, according to her, almost all of the statements mentioned me.  I considered that whole episode to be extremely unfair because it was done behind my back while I was away, and thus I never was able to give my own statement.  Of course, considering what she did with the statements, I wasn’t supposed to be allowed to do one by design, since it was clearly intended as an attack on me.  I remember that Mrs. Bradley even went so far as to say that she might ask my parents to keep me home on future days when there would be a substitute.  She wasn’t out again for the rest of the year, but I could imagine that such a request wouldn’t have gone over well with my parents.  Something about denying a student their education, especially when the teacher in question was a mental case to begin with.  You know.  Of course, considering that this happened around early April, I had grown tired of her nonsense by that point.  Yeah, okay, you think that I’m an awful person.  Great.  I’m happy for you.  Now leave me alone.

Then I did have my shining moments: I won both the spelling bee and the geography bee that year.  For the spelling bee, that meant that I would go on to represent the school, along with the second-place winner, at the county spelling bee.  I did respectably in the county bee, and had quite a few people cheering me on.  Then for the geography bee, I scored well enough on the written test given after the school’s bee to advance to the state geography bee in Little Rock.  You know that Mrs. Bradley, Mrs. Carmical, and Mrs. Burns (the guidance counselor) were just dying over the fact that the student that they despised most of all had won both the spelling and geography bees, and was out representing their school in some pretty big competitions.  I absolutely loved it.

However, the encounter did make me wonder what I might say if life brought our paths together in such a way that interaction was inevitable.  Now that our business relationship has long since ended and neither can formally affect the other anymore, plus with the benefit of hindsight, as we’re both older and (hopefully) wiser, one can be more candid and more frank about what went on way back in 1992.  I suppose that I might have had a few questions about things:

Why did you single me out and treat me differently than everyone else in the class?

Why did you take any questions about how things were run as unacceptable challenges to your authority?  Can’t we all learn from everyone?  Or did you consider yourself so perfect that you knew everything that there was to be known, and therefore couldn’t learn anymore?

Considering that my fourth grade year was also rather rough, were you warned about me by other staff prior to the beginning of the year?

That last question makes me wonder.  It makes me wonder if she had been warned about me by Mrs. Carmical or one of my teachers from previous years.  I wonder if that colored her perception of me before we ever met, and if that poisoned the well when it came to our working relationship.  After all, a new school year is a new start.  Every year, it’s a new setting with a new teacher, and I can set aside any differences with the previous teacher, because this is a new person to get to know and form a working relationship with.  If a previous teacher is warning the next teacher about a student, that prevents that fresh start.  It’s why, when my mother would be offered warnings about some of her upcoming students by other teachers, she told them that she didn’t want to hear it.  She wanted to form her own relationships with the students without any remnants of past relationships to color her perception of them.  Besides, the reason that a past teacher had a problem with a student may have had more to do with the teacher than the student.  A warning to the next teacher implicitly says that the student is entirely the problem, and that the teacher was perfect.  And we know that no one is perfect, teachers included, and you’re only harming the student by warning another teacher about their students before they ever have a chance to meet them and form their own opinion about them.

All in all, I’m glad that I never have to see Sharon Bradley ever again.  I’m glad that she is now retired, because it means that she won’t be able to inflict her emotional abuse on or otherwise harm any more students like she did to me.  I do, however, hope that she has made peace with her personal life, but I do resent that her poor mental state at the time affected her ability to be a good teacher.  In the end, I definitely learned a lot of life lessons, and it’s that people with a little bit of power will abuse it, and that teachers can be far worse bullies than other students could ever be.

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