Pike’s Peak and Valley of the Gods

It was a two day three night Colorado getaway for my girlfriend Laura and me. We managed to

view from rear cabin of passenger jet while at the gate.
The sun sets as we arrive in Denver after a bumpy flight.

do all the “must-see” attractions and visit with some of Laura’s extended family in the Denver area.

 

The must-see attractions were all in the Colorado Springs area.

 

 

  • Pike’s Peak (We made it to the summit in our rented Sentra)
  • Garden of the Gods (We saw mountain goats in the wild.)
  • Manitou Cliff Dwellings (The gift shop was more significant than the cliff dwellings.)
  • The National Museum of World War II Aviation.

I don’t know where we will go on our next vacation, but I’m sure there will be a Wal-Mart nearby. Thankfully, the branch near the Air Force Academy was a place to get stuff that was difficult to pack.

The summit of Pike’s Peak was windy and a bit chilly. I more than Laura was feeling the effects of the thin air. I had a slight headache, my legs were weak, and all I wanted to do was sit down. Even so, Pikes National Forest was the highlight of our trip.

I liked the Garden of the Gods, but we didn’t have enough time to enjoy it. All we did was a quick drive through it.

At the Museum of World War II Aviation, we arrived just in time to get a guided tour.  Both Laura and I forgot to bring our camera’s on tour, so we didn’t get any pictures to remember it by.

Our flight out to Denver was Laura’s first time on a plane. On the way out to Denver, we had a stop in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We only saw it from the terminal windows, but the mountains and desert were impressive sights.

Yesterday, I got another souvenir of our trip from Dollar Rental Car. They sent me a bill for the fun little excursion I made into the toll lanes in Denver. The sign said it would only cost a dollar, but it cost two dollars and an additional

fifteen dollars service fee from Dollar for having to pay it on my behalf.

 

My Guitar Training Journal: Learn to improvise a melody

Hands playing a guitar with tires in the background
Photo by Holger Wirth. Licensed as (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Improvising a melody builds towards my long-range goal of being able to play with other musicians. I’m trying to keep my guitar instructor focused on helping me to improvise songs.

He’s a great instructor. Students swarm to him because he is excellent. Each week, I have to remind him of where we left off in last weeks lesson. It doesn’t bother me that he has no real lesson plan, because I like being in charge of that.

By the end of the lesson, he has heard my playing and prescribed techniques for me to use in my practice.

I’m trying to learn to improvise a melody. The latest song that we worked on was “The House of the Rising Sun.” He threw me in the water to teach me to swim. He played the rhythm section and told me to play the melody to “The House of the Rising Sun” by just using one of the scale patterns that I memorized. The trick was to get the melody from my head to the strings. It didn’t work very well. So he played a different rhythmic chord progression and asked me to make up a melody based on the same scale pattern. That worked a little better.

All my life I’ve been listening to music as a consumer. Now I want to listen to music as a musician. In my last lesson, Pete taught me to hear the eighth notes of a scale and assigned me a play at 50 beats per minute. That sounds pretty slow, but he wanted me to include the eighth notes. Eighth notes are like the backbeat of a scale. So if I were to play the diatonic scale of C major on my guitar, I would stress the bolded notes. C D E F G A B C.

If I play the scale at 50 BPM with just whole notes, they would all be bold, but to improve the timing when playing only the eighth notes, I stress or play loudly every other note.

Amazon is Valued at One Trillion Dollars

Shipping containers piled 5 high.
Photo by Michael Highland. Licensed as CC BY-SA 2.0.

Amazon is the second largest retailer in the world. It recently became the second company in history to reach a market capitalization of one trillion dollars. Apple was the first. Apple and Amazon have faced charges of achieving their success by overworking and mistreating their employees.

The New York times expose detailed employee abuse of both white collar and warehouse workers alike. Because of these media reports I never applied to work at Amazon.

In the spring of 2018 Amazon built an 860,000 square foot fulfillment center in Kansas City, Kansas. I just learned last night that my friend’s wife took a job there. She’s working three 12 hour shifts a week. She works nights. He says that she is an order taker. Glassdoor says that Amazon warehouse associates make $10 to $12 an hour. However, my friend says his wife makes $15 an hour. He may be exaggerating what she makes.  He also said that at the end of her first year she gets a share of stock.

He went on to boast,”That’s worth about $3000.”  Amazon stock (AMZN) closed at $1,952 today. Glassdoor says that Amazon offers employees stock options, not stocks.

Factory and warehouse jobs will always have an air of productivity hysteria. Unproductive seconds of hundreds of workers can add up quickly. Unfortunately, the majority of these types of companies are still using the old, “do it or else” motivation techniques.

Instead of a finger point to the door as motivation, companies should provide bonuses and time-off incentives. Wouldn’t it be great if an employee meets specific goals they could go home early with full pay for the shift? That way the boss can point you to the exit door with a smile instead of a frown.

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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.

Balloons

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.