It’s Labor Day and Correctional Institutions aren’t Celebrating

Shane Bauer detailed his experiences as an underpaid security guard for Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). The investigative piece ran in the July/August 2016 Issue of Mother Jones News.  The article had enormous impact. It caused CCA to change it’s name to GEO Group. It may have influenced President Obama’s decision to end the use of private correctional facilities. Later, President Trump reversed the ruling.

On April 15, 2018 violence broke out at the Lee Correctional Institute in South Carolina. The guards just watched as prisoners killed and injured other prisoners.  In the end, seven prisoners were dead and dozens more were injured. Shane Bauer detailed similar practices at the prison he worked as an undercover reporter. I am not certain if the Lee Correctional Institute is a privately run facility., but I suggest that the main contributor to the riot is prisoner overpopulation.

In response to the riot, Jailhouse Lawyers Speak (JLS) and other advocacy groups organized a strike to begin on August 21 and continue to September 9th 2018. The dates are significant. On August 21, 1971 George Jackson, who had ties with the Black Panthers, was killed during a skirmish that led to the deaths of prisoners and guards at San Quentin State Prison. On September 9, 1971 prisoners took over Attica Correctional Facility.

Amani Sawari has become a spokesperson for JLS and  she has a website that list the demands of the prisoners in federal state and immigration detention centers around the US.

One of the 10 demands call for an end to prison slavery as allowed by a clause in the 13th amendment of the constitution. Another calls for an end to prisoners being sentenced to die in prison. 

Wenting LI. analysis of the strike in the blog, The Marshal Project, concludes that the demands may be effective at changing America’s perception of what  prison conditions are like.

My Niece: Charlotte Rose Benjamin — Singer/Songwriter

Click on the picture and you will be taken to the Bandcamp Player to hear Charlotte Rose performing live.

Comments about Guitar Instructors

I would like to learn to play lead guitar. Twelve or thirteen years ago, my neighbor, Jim, bought a Mexican  Stratocaster. And now I’m the owner of it. He likes to play rhythm guitar. Maybe, someday we will have jam sessions.  I mentioned him in the last post, He’s the one against unions.

Up until last January I was trying to learn to play on an old 1980s era Yamaha acoustic guitar.  My instructor said the neck to it looked as thick as a baseball bat. He also said that it might be impeding my learning process, So, Jim sold me his electric guitar: the Fender Stratocaster, made in Mexico.

I’m playing it in the video above. For about a year now I’ve been taking guitar lessons with Pete Marten. Pete is an accomplished musician. He’s also a patient and excellent instructor.

My previous instructor wasn’t a good fit for me. I stopped taking lessons, and even stopped practicing for a long time.  Then for some reason I picked up the old Yamaha acoustic in the corner and started plunking on it again.

Of course the best instructor can’t make you into a good guitar player if you don’t practice. It’s in the practice sessions where the learning takes place. My weekly lessons seem to be the motivational fuel that revs-up my practice sessions.

The electric hard body is a Fender and the acoustic is an Alvarez

Pete notices the little parts of a song that I’m struggling with and tells me how to work on them in my practice sessions. Another thing I like about Pete is that he’s not afraid to just play along with me when teaching me a new rhythm strum pattern.

Surely, all instructors do these things. It’s the way that Pete does it that make my lessons something to look forward to, instead of something to dread.

Department of Corrections Work Release Program and Unions

Me: a Claire McCaskill volunteer. Go figure.

Every day, I strive to do something that scares me just a little bit. So, yesterday I did some volunteer door to door canvassing for the Democratic Party and the drive to vote “No” on Proposition A. Just as I was finishing my assignment, a next-door neighbor texted and asked what I was doing. I replied that I’m out supporting the drive to vote  “No” on Proposition A.

To my dismay, he said that he’s against unions. He knew someone who had a business in Kansas. He didn’t tell me the name of the businessman or even the company he owned. So, I’ll call him Mr. Businessman, and his business Widgets Galore.

My neighbor said that Mr. Businessman told him that he would either close down Widgets Galore or move it if his workers voted to be represented by the union. He went on to glorify Mr. Businessman because of his deal with the Department of Corrections and their work release program. Trustees with drug charges would work at Widgets Galore with an apparent mutual benefit to both Mr. Businessman and the trusty.

Neither my neighbor nor the Shawnee County Kansas Department of Corrections gave any information on what wages the trusty would earn. But my neighbor stressed that it didn’t matter.

“It’s better than sitting in a three by five cell all day,” my neighbor said.

When he asked,”Why shouldn’t Mr, Businessman take advantage of the prisoners who are willing to work?”

“Take advantage?” I asked. Don’t you mean exploit a vulnerable person?

We both agreed that when the person finished their sentence, Widgets Galore was probably the only place the ex-con could find work. It sounds a little bit like Jim Crow era slavery dressed up in different clothes.



Martin Luther King Jr. Words Ring True Today: Right to Work is a “False Slogan”

My Experiences

“It is a dishonest twisting of words with the aim of making a vicious law sound like a good law” — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Construction Worker

.     When I was flying the line as a commuter pilot, I didn’t know anything about a Right to Work law. It was a union airline, but I choose not to be a member. More on that sometime later. Federal law requires unions contracts to cover all the workers in a similar job category. I was not only receiving representation without taxation, but the union was needed to represent me if I faced disciplinary action.

So, you can imagine how perplexed I was when the Proposition A got on the ballot. Isn’t Missouri already a pro-business state because there aren’t any businesses that require workers to join a union. Since the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, no state can require a worker to join a union. In response, Unions made agreements with their employers to charge “Representation Fees” to their workers.

Missouri’s Proposition A would make it illegal for such Representation Fees to exist. It would weaken the ability of unions to convince new-hires and current non-union workers to become union workers. So, the reason I wasn’t paying any dues stemmed from the fact that there was no agreement with the company to collect dues from non-union members.

Couldn’t it be said that this proposition has no business tilting the scales of regular negotiations between unions and their employers? For decades Missouri lawmakers saw no reason to interfere in the formation of union contracts in the private sector. Some say that “Right to Work” produces more jobs.

Those who say that unemployment is lower in “Right to Work” states. One could also point to tax cuts, subsidized payrolls, and other acts that business-friendly states provide. Aa 3 percent “representation fee” isn’t enough to tip the employment scales.


Laura and I went to Briarfest. It was two days of exhibits and music.  Bringing your own lawn chair to this event is a must.  We saw Samantha Fish and her band play.  She put un a good show.  Before she was on, we wandered over to where crews were filling hot air balloons. It was a colorful spectacle; four giant balloons all in one place.

I asked the pilot if it was true that every landing in a balloon is a crash landing.

His stern reply, “Not at all. We pride ourselves in making most of our landings with the basket remaining upright.

The only balloon landing I witnessed was at White Sulphur Springs Airport in West Virginia. The airport is now a golf course, But, I digress. While working in a hanger, on a summer day with the big doors wide open, we heard the whoosh of the burner and then some terse commands from the pilot to his passengers. We rushed to the opening just in time to whiteness the basket land with a thud. As it landed in the middle of the runway, it fell over, and all the people in it spilled out

Balloon rides are like parasailing; there are rarely second dates. Some people have them on their bucket list (as the decal on the balloon chase vehicle depicted.) Some take their partners on a balloon ride and make a marriage proposal during the journey. For the most part, the excitement ends after the ride is over.

Maybe they are as much fun to look at as they are to ride. I’ve read

Balloons and Briarfests

descriptions of rides. Many people are impressed by the silence (in between burner activations.) In this “look at me” society I’m surprised that balloons aren’t more popular. Who can’t stop and gaze at a balloon?

My thoughts on Houston Lake

Houston Lake is a small lake that is owned by the Venetian Gardens Homes Association. Over the past couple of years, vegetation has made large portions of it look like a swamp. Things have gotten so bad that residents filled the town hall where they overwhelmingly decided to impeach the President. And, that was after one board member resigned because of the President’s behavior.

The Problem

Duckweed and coontail are growing excessively over most of the lake. Duckweed is a moss that floats on top. The amount of duckweed coverage on Houston lake is significant. The amount of surface coverage varies depending on variances in temperature, heavy currents caused by rain, and wind. Missouri has seven different species of duckweed.

A single plant consists of a floating leaf about the size of a pinhead and sometimes a root that resembles a string tail on a kite. When conditions are right, a single square inch of duckweed can reproduce and cover a whole acre in about 55 days.

Coontail grows from the bottom and is less affected by natural events that affect duckweed. The casual observer may not notice coontail until it the long spiny stems appear at the surface in shallow areas. Houston Lake has more of a problem with coontail than it does with duckweed. Unfortunately, much of it is unseen and out of mind to all except the boaters and fishers that get entangled in it. Coontail can grow up to six feet tall.

The Solution

The best solution is to control the cause of it. Keep nutrients out: like Phosphorous and Nitrogen. The coontail will have to be destroyed by either stocking grass carp or adding chemicals. It is possible to cut and physically remove coontail, but it may grow back even thicker than before.

The Missouri Department of Conservation says that a lake or pond that has more than 20 percent coverage of nuisance aquatic plants will require measures to control their growth.




The First Weekend of Summer

I parked a 16-foot, fiberglass, recreational boat in my yard earlier this year. It was a favor to Eric. The runabout belongs to him and his friend Ronnie.  I mentioned Eric in an earlier post: Prospecting for Gold on the Platte River.  I wanted to launch the boat. I was tired of moving it every time I had to mow, and it’s an eyesore.  I could fill a whole post about the launching, but I’m just glad that it was successful and I enjoyed standing precariously on the bow while Eric steered a victory lap around the lake.

So what if all we if it’s only got an electric trolling motor. So what if the floor is soft in spots and non-existent in other places. So what if the lake has so much duckweed floating clogging our inlet that we probably will never get a chance to use it again this year. Oh, yea it doesn’t have any seats either.

Early Saturday morning our dogs went crazy because a strange car pulled into the driveway.

close-up of a fiberglass speed boat
The Family Boat

Distant friends, Kathy and Eddie, have a son that moved into the Kansas City, Kansas area and they arranged to meet him at our house. Joey had his little boy with him, and I brought out our big beach ball to keep him entertained while we waited for Kathy and Eddie.  About 10 minutes later Kathy and Eddie pulled into the driveway while we were all standing in the front yard. Without much more conversation the two cars were caravaning out of our onto the street to Joey’s new house.

That was the same weekend we helped Laura’s son, Mike, move out of his house. Hey, it was okay. (I got a spiderman shirt out of the deal.

Mother’s Day Weekend Wrap-Up

I think Mother’s Day should be renamed to “Dig the Air Conditioner out of the Basement Day.” For me, it was digging three air conditioners out of the basement. The Day also included IHOP with family and friends, a spontaneous purchase of a utility trailer for the riding mower, and its assembly.

Mother’s Day 2018

I’m at the bottom/right of this photo from IHOP. Laura (my main squeeze) is seated next to me. We ate at the same IHOP last Mother’s Day. We even had the same table. I’m pretty sure that it was the same family sitting at the table furthest away last year.

Eric (seated across the table from me) and I discussed our personal methods of treating a portion of skin that may have contacted poison ivy. He applies peanut butter to the suspected area immediately after returning home. I take a cold shower and rub the area with damp paper towels. We also discussed a trip to Alaska to pan for gold.

Man panning for gold
Photo by Matt Seymour on Unsplash


The day before, Eric and I hiked through some woods to get to a good spot to pan for gold. That’s the reason that poison ivy came up in conversation. I was doing pretty good at panning for a while, but as the hours wore-on, I had little patience for it. It’s a lot of bending over a pan watching sand and water swirl around. Which could be relaxing, if Eric wasn’t constantly telling me that I’m doing it wrong.

Even with my crappy technique, I found some gold specs in a bunch of iron deposits that Eric calls black sand. My little starter kit includes a magnet, It was fun watching the black sand follow the magnet around the inside of the plastic container. Eric suggests that I practice with buckshot thrown in with a bunch of sand.


Spinward Fringe: The Trilogy

Cover of book
Spinward Fringe: Origins

“Spinward Fringe  Broadcast 0″ is the first novella to chronicles of the Spinward Fringe series. It is an ebook that is a box set of three novellas.  It was formally known as “The First Light Chronicles Omnibus.” The trilogy started back in 2009 and is continuing. Randolph Lalonde is the author. I read it for the same reason I read some romance novels. It’s brain candy.

I feel guilty about reading some of the books reviews before writing my own. On, Lee mentions that there are some parts of the book that are unrealistic. In my reading of just the first of three novellas in this book, I find that it is best suited for the young adult reader.

There are made-up worlds in fantasy novels that are unrealistic in a creative way. Then there is the science fiction genre where the silly is acceptable because it could be true. Finally, there is the unacceptable unrealistic of this first novella.

The protagonist, Jonas Valent, is in a job he hates and lives out his passion after work by playing battle simulations on an actual military digital platform that he hacked into with some other amateur players. Their skill is noticed by the military at the highest level. So, all the players are given battlefield commissions and immediately sent on what could only be called a spy mission.

It’s unrealistic that opportunity comes knocking at your door without any effort put forth by the recipient. I think this sends a misleading message to anyone, but especially the young adult audience. The false message is that merely being talented at something, like a video game, will lead to success without any effort. No matter how good you are at anything, nobody is going to notice unless you market yourself.