Monday, December 31, 2007

Christmas 2007 Road Trip, Transitions and Bernice Norgard

We headed up north to Babbitt for the weekend to be together with some of Tammy's family. We got an early start leaving home at 6:15am Thursday. Rachel and I drove together following Tammy. We stopped along the way in Virginia to pick up her father, Morey, at the retirement home where he's been living for the past 8 months. It was an icy drive and the further north we got the more cars we saw in the ditch.

I enjoy my road trips with Rachel as it gives us time to really catch up with each other. You would think that we'd run out of things to talk about but we don't. We kick around all sorts of things from silly thoughts to the more complex social issues of our world. And there's always plenty to laugh at. We were just south of Hinkley when I spotted a billboard up in the distance with what looked to be a bird on top of it. I knew it was fake but I said "hey, look at the size of the bird on that sign" Her response was something like, "wow, is that real?" It wasn't until we got beyond the sign where she could see that it was fake before she had her answer. We managed to laugh about that throughout the day as I took a few opportunities to talk about the big bird we'd seen. Maybe you had to be there.

Here's a video from the drive up. Stay with it till the end as there's some funny footage of Allie.

It's sad to see how much Morey's health has deteriorated in the past year. What led us to have him placed in a nursing home were two falls he'd had at home. The last of those two falls required an ambulance ride to the hospital. Our other concern was that up until life in the nursing home he was still driving and he shouldn't have been. It hasn't been an easy transition for Tammy's family as there are some who feel that he should be allowed to remain at home. There are many issues associated with Morey staying home and it would be ideal if he could but it comes at great worry and stress to his wife, Elaine. The weekend before, he was home for the night and fell twice. It took two adults to get him to his feet each time. Everyone wants what's best but we don't all see it from the same perspective.

Part of Morey's routine when he lived at home was to walk across the street every morning to the senior center located in the old elementary school. He'd get together with the guys and occasional gal for coffee and conversation. I'd guess it was what he looked forward to most when he was home. We brought him there Friday morning and the guys were happy to see him. Somebody found his coffee mug and he pulled up a chair. These guys have known each other for I'd imagine 50 years, in some cases going back to their early days in the mines as that is what brought them to Babbitt. Their numbers are slowly dwindling and they know that all to well.

While we were there I was sitting across from a woman who I'd assumed was the wife of one of the men. She was very knowledgeable about life in the mines and the politics associated with environmental concerns as well as labor/management issues and unions.

As I sat talking with her I was thinking about the movie North Country. North Country was the story of a woman, Lois Jensen, who filed a sexual harassment suit against Eveleth Mines in what would be the first-ever class-action lawsuit of its kind in America. Lois resides in Babbitt today.

After a few minutes of intently listening to her, I introduced myself. Her name is Bernice Norgard. I mentioned the movie and asked her if it was an accurate depiction of what happened in the mines not realizing who I was speaking with. It turns out that Bernice is the woman responsible for women being allowed to work in the mines. She filed suit in 1974 to open up the mines to women as they hadn't been up to that point. Her case took six months to come to trial but she prevailed. She went on to say that the movie from her perspective didn't go far enough in conveying the extent of the sexual harassment the women endured.

Bernice had just finished working the all-night shift when I met her. I asked her if it would be okay to take her photo and write a bit about her in my blog. She smiled and said that would be fine. We talked some more about her work in particular. She drives a huge, I think 300-ton truck which can carry a similar amount of weight. She said that she'd be happy to give us a tour of the mine next time we're in town. She mentioned that management isn't too keen on cameras in the mine as they not too long ago had somebody take some photos in the mine and used them in such a way as to skew opinion about environmental concerns associated with the mine.

She's a very cool lady and I'm glad to have had some time to talk with her. I look forward to taking her up on the offer of a tour next time we're in town.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Unwrapping the Truth (and Gifts) and Our Annual Office Party

In one of our Christmas cards, we received there was a small pamphlet titled, Unwrapping the Truth about Christmas. The pamphlet details some interesting facts about the bible and the life of Christ. One item which stood out for me was this...

Jesus: The Focus and Fulfillment of Prophecy

There are at least 456 Old Testament prophetic references that pertain to a future person that all were fulfilled in the life of Jesus.

The most common objection is that the fulfillment of these prophecies was by chance. Science and mathematics professor Peter Stoner estimated a reasonable probability that one man might have fulfilled just 8 of these 456 prophecies at one chance in 10 to the 17th power.

1 chance in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000

Take that amount of silver dollars and cover the state of Texas two feet deep. Mark one and stir the whole mass thoroughly. Blindfold a man and have him pick up only one silver dollar and have it be the right one. what chance would he have of getting the right one? Just the same chance the prophets would have had of writing these eight prophecies and having them all come true in any one man... (Peter W. Stoner, Science Speaks, Moody Press, p. 107).

And these don't even account for the other 448 prophecies also fulfilled in the person of Jesus!

That's a lot of coins. As our senior pastor at church is fond of saying, "just let that thought rest against your mind for a moment".

This Christmas I think Rachel was secretly hoping for a car with a bow around it in the driveway but that wasn't in the budget. She knows that this spring she'll likely have something of her own once she gets her license. She actually had just a very small list of things for us to consider; nothing at all spendy. She was happy with a knockoff pair of Uggs from Maurice's for $25 rather than the real thing for at least $100 more. She had a few CD requests, one of which was Frank Sinatra. She's got a thing for his music which I don't understand but then I wouldn't expect her to understand my fondness for Supertramp.

Probably the biggest request she had was her new cellphone.

I very much respect that she isn't a needy person and is more than happy with all we do for her. If anything, it makes me want to do all that much more for her as I know she's appreciative. I never dreamed that being a stepdad could or would be so rewarding.

Tammy's main gift this year was a Cricut. It's funny—we went to buy it for her the other night and there was another guy mulling them over. He didn't think the person he was buying it for would actually use it but it's what they wanted. Rachel and I were thinking the same thing about Tammy/Mom. We bought it anyway as that's what she wanted and there will no doubt be times when she'll use it. It's not like I'm going to be flying my RC plane on a regular basis either so who am I to criticize?

Speaking of my RC plane...

Last summer I went through a phase where I sort of wanted a remote control airplane. I didn't want it bad enough to go out and buy one but I did my share of window shopping online for one. It wasn't intended to be a hint to Tammy but she took it as one and I'm now the proud owner of a Wingo. It's the perfect plane for a beginner as it's more forgiving than most others.

I'll know soon enough how forgiving it is once the weather warms a bit.

I went online looking at YouTube videos of the Wingo in action and came across an idea for my next project...attaching a video camera to the plane and getting some video of our neighborhood from a few hundred feet up. Check this out. There's a bit of a geek lurking within me and this sort of thing definitely appeals to that part of me.

We had our annual Christmas office party this past Sunday at work. We were a little disappointed with the turnout but for those of us who took the time to put the event together, we all agreed it was all worthwhile. Actually, we pride ourselves on the tackiness of the event so don't go feeling sorry for us. Roll the video.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

mr Mark

I was talking with Ron S and mr Mark at the front desk yesterday. The three of us were joking about playing hockey a dozen years earlier. I reminded Ron how I'd kicked his ass in a race on the ice back in the day but he said I had it all wrong. We were both a couple of hacks but In closing our conversation I replied that there was a labor/management war going on around here and that I couldn't be seen talking with them. A totally tongue-in-cheek remark. I didn't think anything else of it.

I was sitting in the area a couple hours later waiting to go home when mr M came up to me, leaned in and said softly, "I have never disrespected you as a controller." I didn't know what to think as I wasn't sure where he was coming from. A couple minutes later he came up to me once again and repeated what he'd just said. I asked him what he was referring to. He said that I was disrespectful when I was talking with Ron and him. He said that if I had a problem with the way things were going around here that I should write my letters and do whatever but that he wasn't to blame. Oh, I see where this is coming from. I totally disagreed with his approach and although he wasn't making sense I was able to understand how his angry mind was working.

A couple months earlier I'd had a conversation with mr Mark about the imposed work rules; management calls it a contract. What I did without realizing it at the time was committing a fundamental sin against mr Mark. You don't disagree with him. I'd heard several others say this in the past but I'd not seen it or experienced it directly. Mr. Mark had been waiting for his opportunity to try and put me back in my place. My conversation with him and Ron was apparently the moment he'd been waiting for.

It was (my) Friday afternoon and I was on my way out the door when mr Mark laid that on me. I wasn't sure what to make of it. I contemplated his comments on my way home trying to make sense of it. Was I really disrespectful? Maybe I wasn't getting it. I picked up the phone when I got home and called Ron at work to ask him if he felt I was being disrespectful. He laughed and thought I was joking. I told him I was joking earlier when the three of us were talking but that I wasn't now. Ron said, "absolutely not, Kevin". He said there was nothing disrespectful about anything I'd said. That's what I thought. I told him not to mention the situation as I didn't want to make an issue of it.

This morning I was riding my rollers and still thinking about the comments mr Mark had made to me. I interrupted my workout and decided to call him at work and see if he could elaborate more as to how I'd disrespected him. I called the desk and he answered. I politely told him that I was troubled by what he'd said yesterday and that I disagreed with his interpretation of our discussion with Ron. His response was that he felt disrespected and that's all that mattered. I told him that there was no disrespect intended and he said it didn't matter; just that he felt disrespected. I said that it was his choice; he could believe what he wanted but that he was wrong.  I was bewildered because my comments were directed at Ron in the first place and not at mr Mark. If Ron wasn't feeling disrespected by my poking fun at him then how was it that mr Mark took it the way he did? 

I climbed back on my bike and tried my best to work off my frustration but to be honest, I wasn't very successful.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Dan Fogelberg and Phone Env

I was saddened to hear of the death of Dan Fogelberg on Sunday. It's been many years since I've purchased any of his music but one CD of his is in my top ten: Netherlands. I have one memory in particular of being in Hong Kong while in port during my Navy days and having his song, Netherlands, run through my head. It's odd how some memories remain with us all these years later.

Our family plan with Sprint expired this week and we took the opportunity to move over to Verizon. No particular reason other than Rachel said that most of her friends were using it and that they like it. The 3 of us also upgraded our phones to the LG Env. It's larger than I'm used to but I like it. The 2mp camera will actually get some use, unlike other phone cameras I've had.

We weren't sure which text plan to have for Rachel so I looked at our history with Sprint to get an idea what she would need. This past month she had over 1400 text messages...and that's without a boyfriend. We got her a plan with unlimited text messages between Verizon customers and 1500 texts between other providers. I told her that if she does get a boyfriend he'll need to be a Verizon customer. I got the look.

There's been a bit of a thaw in the frozen relationship I've had with my older sister for the past too many months and I'm thankful for that. Life is too short.

Happy holidays and thanks for stopping by.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

House-Hop and the Holidazzle

We had our neighborhood house-hop last weekend with about 12 couples joining in. It's always a fun time and usually a late night. The hit of the party was without question, Guitar Hero, at Tom and Mary Wignall's home. Neither Tammy nor I had ever played it before but that didn't stop Tammy from trying the classic over the head and behind the back position with the guitar once she got it strapped on. We both really sucked but had a great time trying.

Little does Tammy know that I went out and purchased a Play Station 2 the other night with intentions of buying Rock Band when it arrives in stores on Wednesday. A family Christmas gift. I can see Tammy and I entertaining ourselves for hours while Rachel looks on and wonders what's becoming of us. I think the three of us could put together a tight little band with just a bit of work. I'll be on the skins.

Rachel came home from school on Thursday and wondered if we could head into Minneapolis that night for the Holidazzle parade. It was a great idea and one I'd been kicking around the past couple weeks as well. The Lakeville Now and Then Singers were going to be performing in the parade and she wanted to see them. I think it's been five years since we've taken in the Holidazzle.

We bundled up and headed out with plenty of time to spare so we could hit a coffee shop once we got on the parade route. The temp was in the single digits and a hot cup in your hands helps keep the chill at bay. We brought hand warmers too.

The parade was what it always is, a bit on the lame side but still worth the effort to go see it. Anything for an excuse to get out and do something in the dead of winter in our part of the world is good enough for me.

After the parade, we headed up to the 8th floor of Macy's to see their animated Christmas display, their 45th annual. This year's feature was the Nutcracker.

It was a fun time and I, of course, had our video camera along...

I've been getting on my rollers several days a week trying not to lose the gains I've made. Indoor training can be a bit monotonous at times so I've got to have a diversion from the pain. I find that tapes and DVDs of bicycle races work well to distract me. I was watching some footage from the 2000 Tour de France and had it on the big screen. It was almost as though I was actually riding in the peloton...very cool...until the pack veered left to avoid a fallen rider and I veered left as well...right off my rollers. Quite funny actually but I've got to be more careful. We took some time yesterday to snap our family photo for our 2007 Christmas cards. If you're on our list you'll be seeing this photo again real soon. Notice what we put our poor pups through.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Google Maps, Street View

Have you looked on Google Maps Street View, to see if you were out and about when the Google van taking street-view photos came by? It looks as though I was just finishing mowing our yard. Either that or I'm just getting started.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Bringing it Indoors, 28 Years Ago Today and The Golden Compass

Fall riding weather is nothing more than a distant memory since we got dumped on with nearly ten inches of snow in the last week. The roads out of our neighborhood are still quite snow-packed but the main roads are fine. The last few winters I've shunned my indoor trainer for whatever clear roads I could find, sometimes riding in temps as cold as zero. Winter riding in Minnesota is doable but there are two big obstacles: frozen toes and the lack of daylight.

Up until a little over a week ago, I was searching for some warmer shoes for winter riding with plans of once again riding outdoors through the winter months. That approach changed when I came across a thread on the Serotta forum and some input from a respected poster who couldn't say enough good things about TruTrainer rollers. I very much respect what this poster (who goes by the name of 11.4) has to say. I'd been kicking around the idea of bringing my training back indoors and 11.4's recommendation of these rollers was just the shove I needed.

I bought my first set of rollers in 1980 just after getting out of the Navy. They served me well until I replaced them with a Cateye Cyclosimulator 1000 which I've had for a dozen years. It too gives a good workout but rollers are different. You can actually fall off them if you're not paying attention. Not that there are all that difficult to ride because they're not but they do require some bike handling skill.

TruTrainer rollers are different than others in that the middle roller is weighted and acts as a flywheel. Unlike other rollers where you can go from zero to thirty mph in under ten seconds, you can't do that with TruTrainer rollers. The effect of having one of the rollers weighted is that it much more accurately simulates the resistance of the road. When you're pedaling along at 20mph on TruTrainer rollers you're actually using a similar amount of energy that would be required of you out on the road.

Riding indoors is never the same as being outdoors but I'll get a better workout on my rollers than if I were to be out on the road in the dead of winter with legs muscles too cold for higher reps. I still plan to do my share of winter riding but it'll take a back seat to my indoor training. The photo of me to the left was taken nearly 28 years ago. Here's me today. How does the saying go...the more things change the more they stay the same? It appears my headphones have gotten considerably smaller but I can tell you that some of the music going through them is the same.

Speaking of 28 years ago: it was 28 years ago today that I finished my enlistment and returned home to Minnesota. If I were to do it all over again I don't think I'd change a thing. Those were the most carefree days of my life and I knew it while I was living them.

Rachel is going with her youth group from Prince of Peace to see the Golden Compass tomorrow night. The movie is based on a book written by Philip Pullman, a self-described atheist and agnostic. There's been a fair amount of talk about the movie and for the most part, it's been quite critical in that the trilogy of books the movie is based on is apparently a slam at people of faith. Rachel doesn't really want to pay for a ticket to see it but she wants to attend with her group. I suggested that she pay for a ticket to see some other movie with a similar start time but use the ticket to see the Golden Compass instead. That way she wouldn't be supporting someone who is dissing our God.

I know—that's not was Jesus would do.

I think it's quite possible that the critics are making more of this than there really is. What sort of message does it send to somebody who goes to see it with a preconceived idea that it's some sort of sinister attempt to mislead them but they walk away feeling it was nothing of the sort?

Rachel mentioned her intentions to her youth leader and he expressed his dislike for the idea because it was being dishonest. She countered with, "but what about the underground railroad?" Her youth leader wasn't buying it. "But what about Schindler's list? He was being dishonest." He still wasn't agreeing with her. He said that the writer was likely only getting a few cents of every ticket sold. She said it didn't matter how much he was getting. It was the idea that he was getting any of her money at all that mattered. I love the way she thinks.

Edit: Rachel went to see the show and had a very hard time following it. It's one of those shows where you really need to read the book as there isn't enough time for the movie to develop the characters. I suppose some will say that that's part of the plan.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Happy Birthday, Tammy, and Taking Shots

It is truly better to give than to receive. Tammy turned 50 today. I was ahead of the game with her birthday this year having ordered her a Dell laptop a couple weeks ago and getting all the accessories during the past week. Rachel and I gave it to her today and she was so happy that she cried. I honestly wasn't expecting that reaction but her tears brought tears to my eyes as well. She is so thankful and I'm very happy for her.

The laptop she's been using is our 7-year-old Sony Viao and while it still works fine and has plenty of hard drive space it was beginning to hang up much more often as the processor wasn't keeping up with some of her programs. Reformatting wasn't the answer.

I just spent the last couple hours getting it set up for her. It's a nice little machine. I hooked up some Creative speakers to it and they have a very nice sound. She's upstairs getting familiar with it as I blog.

Whereas I had a difficult time accepting 50, Tammy is perfectly fine with it and looking forward to her senior discount menu in another 5 years. I suppose I too should embrace it gracefully.

In my previous entry I posted a letter from the former president of the union I belong to. It was a heartfelt letter and one which I believed in and did what the writer requested by posting it in other forums for wide dissemination. I wasn't prepared for the ridicule his letter would receive from one of the forums I'd posted it to. Rather than continue to engage the people who had nothing better to do than tear John down for his approach and his beliefs I decided to back out and leave the group to their own.

Matthew 7:6

Here's the forum and the thread I'm referring to. It's from one of the stained glass message boards I frequent. To be honest, it's not much of a group anymore for that matter as the owner of the forum, Angel (the long-winded one), has done well to cause them all to leave. The thread I started is likely the most activity the board has seen in some time. I'm sorry I ever began the thread after seeing how it devolved.

Bashing Christians is one of the latest sports and takes very little talent; just a good amount of ignorance. You really can't engage these people. In some respects what they say has some truth to it in regard to how people within the church have done all sorts of damage to unsuspecting people, often children. There can be no defense or explanation for that. We've had our own disappointment with a local church a couple years ago. However, I'd love for these people to accompany Tammy, Rachel and I to Hosanna on Tuesday night and see the sort of outreach which is occurring. I'd love for them to attend any of our worship services and hear the words being spoken by our ministers. Hosanna is such a positive force and influence not only in our little corner of the world but across the globe. I look forward to when we retire and can more fully involve ourselves even more than we're doing now.

Face Lift

Please excuse me while I give my blog a facelift over the next couple days.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

John Carr...a Tip of My Hat

I began working on a post for today but then I was reading a blog I check in on daily and came across something written by my union's former president, John Carr. It's not often you see someone put themselves out there as John does with this post but when they do it's impossible not to take notice. I've never met John but I've admired his ability to convey his passion through his pen for some time.

Whatever it was I had to say today can wait.

Very Important, PLEASE Read And Forward

I cannot get the thought of her out of my mind. I cannot sleep when I think of her. Which is why I am up now, typing this.

What? What must have happened to cause two parents to beat their adorable, blond haired, blue eyed TWO YEAR OLD daughter with leather belts, hold her head under water, fling her across the room in a rage that fractured her skull in three places, place her in plastic bags and a Sterlite box, leave it in the garage for two months, then toss it into Galveston Bay? Their reasoning---that the beating was designed to get the two year old to start saying "please" and "thank you" and "yes sir"---makes me unbelievably angry. A two year old should be wearing tiaras and looking for Santa and learning to use the potty and mimicking the Wiggles and giggling at Tigger and Pooh.

This story reveals that little "Baby Grace" was actually Riley Ann Sawyers, the young child of a Mentor, Ohio woman. This other story is noteworthy because I want to salute the dedication and professionalism of the Galveston Sheriffs Department in pursuing this case with speed and vigor. The picture of Major Ray Tuttoilmondo holding up the dead child's sneaker is another image I could have done without and will never lose.

Jill and I have talked about this before. Most recently when one of these hit the news here. In Cleveland just a few weeks ago a woman drowned her two beautiful daughters in the bathtub in the middle of the afternoon, then called the husband---no saint, but at least he was at work---to tell him the girls were at peace. When he got home they were dead. Jill and I both had the same reaction: we would have taken them.

We have the same reaction every time. Susan Smith, convicted of the drowning of her two sons. Andrea Yates, convicted of the drowning of three of her five children. Deanna Laney, called the "rock mom," killed her young sons by beating them with a rock. Dena Schlosser chopped up her baby girl. Melissa Drexler went out on the dance floor after killing her little newborn son and asked for Metallica`s "Unforgiven." Amy Grossberg's newborn son was found bludgeoned to death in a motel trash bin.

Jill and I have wondered if there is a place parents can go when they are out of control, or out of options, or out of their mind, or if they just don't want to be parents any more. If they go to Social Services they get tagged a problem parent. If they go to the police they may or may not get help, but again, with a judgment and a price. And if they reveal their true feelings, they may need a lawyer more than they need a respite.

We actually discussed opening a storefront for just this purpose, a safe house for babies, until more rational people reminded us of how quickly we would become a drop-off babysitting service. "Yeah, I'm thinking about beating my kids between seven and nine thirty on Friday night. Fandango two tickets to "Saw IV" for me and we'll pick the little brats up at ten."

But we are haunted by the hopelessness of so many, and we feel powerless to help unless we do something.

So here's the deal: If you, or someone you know, is at the end of their rope with their kids, or can't do it anymore, or for whatever reason is contemplating drastic measures or terrible thoughts---don't. We'll take your kid, or kids. For a day, a month, or the rest of their lives. They will be raised with love and Christian values in a house full of fun and laughter and tears and chores and hurt feelings and broken toys and "he's looking at me" and "she stole my singing turn" and 'Wow, Wow Wubbzy' and a ton of laundry.


We are not in the market for a child. We are not trying to be martyrs or heroes. We simply cannot let another day go by without shouting from the rooftop---my little Internet rooftop in this case---please. Don't hurt that child. Please. We are not perfect, but we do our best and God helps us out a lot, and we want people to know there is a credible, safe alternative to putting a child in a plastic box and throwing them into the ocean.

We won't tell anyone you don't want to know. We will not stand in judgment of you. We will not ask for anything from you. We will not place you or your family in danger or scrutiny. We will not blog about you, or gossip, or brag, or complain. We will do everything in our power to respect your wishes. The child will know you if you want them to. They will not if you do not. We will love your baby. Black, white, Hispanic, Asian, mixed, you name it. We will adopt them if you want us to, or not. Just don't hurt them. Please.

We're talking little kids here, really, sort of six and under, the ones that you always hear about getting hit or hurt or hurled. I know there are other ages in danger but honestly we aren't yet equipped to handle them...simply because we have not "been there and done that," and also because we don't have four closets full of pre-teen and up clothes!

What we DO have are Cereal Killers. Put a box of Lucky Charms in between them and it is dead. They are fun, hard, puzzling, cute, maddening, and more work than I would wish on anybody. And yes, they can be frustrating and difficult and incredibly complex and migraine-inducing. I go through the largest Band-Aid box Costco sells every month or two because of this owie or that boo-boo. They like to say "booty" because they know they are supposed to say "heinie." So what. I also taught them to say "succulent" when they taste something delicious, and that freaks out the pre-K teacher. But they are kids, and their happiness and anger and moods pass as quickly as their breaths sometimes, and they are the complete and utter joy of our lives.

And we wouldn't have it any other way.

This offer is completely serious, open indefinitely and you would be doing me a favor if you would cross-post it to other web sites, blog places and anywhere someone in need or desperation might see it. You can email me at or call me on my cell phone anytime at 440-986-0242. We are trustworthy, honest, sincere, and profoundly serious.

I'm going to leave this posting up until Monday morning, because the weekend traffic is lighter than normal and I would like it to get the widest possible dissemination. Please forward this message to people you know who have massive email mailing lists, and ask them to send it around.

And pray for all the little kids.

They're just little kids.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Amazing Grace, the Power of Prayer and Where's George?

Good movie alert: Amazing Grace.

I haven't been much for watching movies lately. The Prednisone left me feeling all sorts of fidgety and unable to sit still for very long. I'm better now; more about that later. About the film...Amazing Grace is a very good movie about an antislavery pioneer from the 18th century named William Wilberforce. Wilberforce spent over 20 years trying to change the hearts and minds of the ruling class in Britain who believed it was their right to trade and own slaves. The movie gets its name from the 18th-century hymn, Amazing Grace, which was written by John Newton, the captain of a ship used for transporting slaves from Africa to Europe. Newton nearly lost his life in a storm at sea and prayed to God that if he survived the storm he would change the direction of his life. He would later become a confidant of Wilberforce.

While watching the movie I couldn't help but see similarities between the people of a more ignorant time who supported slavery and the pro-abortion people living among us today. Do you suppose it's possible that in a couple hundred years from now textbooks will write about a time when abortion used to be the law of the land much as slavery is written about in history books today? A new generation will wonder how it was that civilized people ever embraced and vigorously fought for such a thing.

Al Gore stated a few months back that the debate about global warming is over and that science has proved that global warming is real. Can't the same be said of the debate about a developing human life?

Speaking of Al; I think he's a fraud and a hypocrite and I'm disappointed that so many in the media have accepted his theories as fact. It's nice to know that not all the media has been duped. John Stossel gets it. That's not to say that global warming isn't happening; just not the way Al would have us all believe.

I got my medical back to perform my air traffic duties. It was nice to be back in front of the scope again doing a job I love to do. I was a bit concerned with having been away for the past 4 weeks then getting right back into the thick of it during what is historically the busiest travel week of the year. It was nice to have a week of working traffic before I begin working with my trainee again next week.

Coming off Prednisone is always a difficult ordeal as it leaves me feeling tired and in a funk, maybe a bit depressed. That feeling usually stays with me for a month or two. This past Sunday Tammy suggested that we step inside Hosanna's prayer room on our way out of church. I don't know why it is but this difficult part of my life has always been something I feel I need to just deal with on my own. I take my meds and then endure. I pray about all sorts of other things which concern me but not this. That makes no sense. Anyway, we stepped inside the prayer room and were met by a couple guys who offered to pray with us. They asked us what we were seeking prayer for and then we were joined by another man who opened his bible to some scripture in James where it talked about gathering together and calling on God to bring healing while anointing with oil. We did that. They laid hands on me and invited Christ to restore my health in ways that I wasn't even expecting.

I had walked into the prayer room with a heaviness which was weighing me down. 15 minutes later after some serious prayer, I was no longer feeling the heaviness which had been with me for weeks. There was no question that I'd received the healing we prayed for. No doubt people reading this will discount it as the power of suggestion. That's fine. I know better.

I had some spare time on my hands while I was off work this past month and spent some time at a site I used to visit a few years ago: Where's George? It's interesting to see where your bills end up months and years down the road. I sent off $20 worth of $5 bills with the Davannis pizza delivery guy last night. With all the traveling people do during the holidays those bills could find themselves spread out across the country in no time. Tag a few and see for yourself.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Break-up, the Project and the Miles

I've got a couple of the sweetest pups you could imagine in my lap as I type. I think dogs should be one of the 7 wonders of the world for the unconditional love they have for us.

I was talking with Rachel last week about her noticeable lack of texting and I said I didn't mean to pry but I was wondering if everything was okay between her and Grant? I mentioned that it seemed things had cooled a bit since Homecoming. She said their relationship was a bit rocky and she wasn't sure what to make of it. She planned to see a movie with him last Friday night and get a better feel for which way the wind was blowing. I was curious to see how the night would go.

She phoned when the show was over and I drove to go pick her up. I waited in the truck out front and when she got in the tears began to flow. I felt so bad for her. She said the entire night was awkward. She tried to make small talk but he had nothing to say. She wanted to tell him that maybe they should break it off but knew that if she said those words she'd begin to cry and she didn't want that to happen. I asked her if she could text him and tell him what she felt but she didn't think it should be done that way. I told her that since they go to different high schools it's not quite the same and maybe it would be alright, at least I thought it would be okay. It's not like she's going to see him again and his lack of input during their date wasn't helping matters.

I stopped to put gas in the truck on the way home and while I was outside she sent him a text breaking it off. She was crying pretty hard. When we got home she gave Tammy and I each a big hug then went to bed.

Her dad picked her up the next day and while she was away a couple of her friends came by and dropped off some things they'd put together to cheer her up. They obviously spent a bit of time baking the cookies and making the signs. She's got some thoughtful friends.

It's been several days since the break-up and she's already back to her usual self. I never want to discount her relationships as just so much puppy love. I'm not sure how quickly she'll want to get involved with somebody else but I'm pretty sure there are a few guys waiting in the wings for when she's ready. Her life is pretty full as it is without any added distractions.

I finished working on the stained glass project I'd mentioned in my previous entry. Ron was happy with it and that's what matters. Me, I wasn't so thrilled with the design but I'm not paid to like it—just build it. It measures 24 x 30" and Ron is going to mount it on a lightbox and hang it on the wall above their kitchen sink. I'd like to see it when he gets it hung. It's going to be a few months yet as they're in the beginning stages of a full kitchen remodel with Keith doing the cabinets for them.

One thing this project has taught me is to help me get a better idea of what to charge per square foot. For all the effort and expense which went into this on my part, I probably should have figured just a bit more for the final cost. I easily had $120 of my own into the project and I estimated the price to Ron at anywhere from $100 to $125 per square foot. It was easily every bit of $125 sf but I only charged $115 sf. The project presented some problems I didn't anticipate but I didn't feel right passing that on to Ron.

I phoned work today to let them know that I'm ready to return. I've been off Prednisone since Sunday and I'm headache free. In years past that's all they've needed from me to reinstate my medical for working traffic. I've yet to get the green light—hopefully, tomorrow. It's been nice being away for the past month and I can't say that I'm ready to go back but I do need to, just in time for the busiest travel week of the year.

I've been able to do a bunch of miles the past several weeks and I'm thankful for that. Being on Prednisone allowed me to ride as I did 30 years ago with no aches to remind me of my age. Many times over the past few weeks I've contemplated what my riding means to me and how grateful I am for that outlet in my life. The weather has been cool but that can make for some ideal conditions if you know how to dress for it and by that I mean not overdress. You want to be cool, verging on cold when you begin your ride knowing that within a few miles if you're working it you'll begin to warm. With too many layers on you'll sweat too much and the clamminess which follows will chill you to the bone.

I began Monday's ride planning on 30-35 miles but once I got out there I scrapped those plans and headed on a route I hadn't taken in a while but one I enjoy a lot. I considered doing one last century ride for the year but I didn't feel that would be so smart my first day off my meds so I brought it home after 70 miles. It was a nice ride and possibly my last longish ride of the year.

I got a start on our outside Christmas lights this afternoon. I'll finish the rest tomorrow. It's always a bigger job than I think it should be but in the end, I'm glad I took the time to do it. If I'm going to do the lights I figure this week is the week to do it before the cold weather arrives to stay and makes the job a miserable one. I don't mind doing it with a temp in the 30s and 40s, just not the 20s or less.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Missed Opportunity, Time Off, Celebrating 79 and Where's the Respect?

There's an old farmhouse I pass on the way to work on the southeast corner of Cedar Ave and Hwy 50. It's tucked back in off the road but it occasionally catches my eye. It's tattered and has loads character and could make for some interesting photos. It probably hasn't seen an occupant in over 30 years. Rachel mentioned a few weeks ago that she'd like to get some b&w film and shoot some pictures of it. Great idea. We talked about it again yesterday and I told her we should try and get out there this week. Tammy said she was worried that maybe it would be bulldozed if we waited too long. Not to worry, it's been there this long, it'll be there for a while longer.

I couldn't shake the feeling that Tammy was right and that we should make some definite plans to get out there more sooner than later.

I tossed my Panasonic Lumix in my truck today and set out to see what I could get of the old house. Rachel and I would come back later in the week. I had a strong urging that I needed to do it now. As I approached the house I could see in the distance a large truck with a crane. I couldn't see the house. As I got closer my heart sank when I eyed the leveled remains of what had quietly stood begging me over the years to pause for just 5 minutes and photograph it. And now it was gone. The countless opportunities I'd had left me feeling disappointed for not acting sooner—just a few hours sooner. There's a lesson to be learned.

I've been off work for nearly 3 weeks. I lost my medical when my latest phase of Cluster headaches returned. With the FAA's new work rules for Controllers, they require us to use our sick time rather than come into work and perform other duties if we're medically disqualified from working traffic. It's possible that they may have an occasional job for me to come in for but I'd rather they give that to somebody who doesn't have a bank of hours to work with as I do. I certainly don't mind being away and I'd rather not be at work when I've got as much Prednisone in me as I have as it leaves me a bit edgy and irritable. If all goes well I'll be back on the 17th.

It's been nice to be away from work. I've been getting in a good amount of riding and I was able to finish updating all the photo pages on our website. What a job that turned out to be but it's done for the most part and that's a monkey off my back.

My mother turned 79 this past weekend. Tammy and I took her out to one of our favorite places...Timber Lodge Steakhouse. We've never been disappointed with either the service or the food there. After dinner we came back to our place and spent some time at the computer showing her our website and looking through the photo pages. It was good for her to reminisce. I showed her some video from Christmas 1988 with Dad.

I don't know that she's heard his voice since he died 12 years ago. I was trying to be careful in taking the trip down memory lane with her as I didn't want to sadden her but I don't think that was the case. I felt she really enjoyed looking back on those earlier times. She kept commenting on how cute Dad was and I thought that was sweet.

Rachel had never tasted Vernors Ginger Ale before. I bought a 6 pack of the diet and she liked it. I went out and got her some of the regular stuff. We used to drink that when we'd vacation in the U.P. of Michigan when we were growing up. At the time I think that was the only place we could get it until years later when the local grocery stores began stocking it. It's got a nice little kick to it—give it a try.

I've got a stained glass project to do for one of Keith's clients. I suppose he'd be our client now as well. He wants a 24 x 30" panel done which will be mounted on a lightbox in his kitchen above the sink. He stopped by a few days ago to discuss the project and give me an idea of how he'd like it to be. I've been hesitant to get into any commission work as there typically isn't time in my week for it but since I'm off work for the next couple weeks I thought I could work it in.

This is news from a few weeks ago but I just came across this. It's an article from Urban Legends with video of Barack Obama disrespecting the American flag by refusing to place his hand over his heart during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner in addition to his refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance. I'd watched him in an interview a while back where he was talking about not needing to wear an American flag on his lapel to show his patriotism and I agreed with him. He felt that patriotism was something more than wearing a lapel pin and better shown in other more meaningful ways. He's right. Anyway, here's the link. Judge for yourself if you think his approach is disrespectful to our flag and the men and women who have given their lives in honor and defense of it.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Remembering 1965 and Mike Lynch

I was flipping through stations on the radio while driving to work a couple weeks ago. I paused on WCCO and listened as they filled some time chatting while leading up to the weather. Mike Lynch, the weather guy, was talking about his old neighborhood where he grew up in Richfield and about one of his neighbors there -- a beautiful girl several years older with the last name of Falen. The neighborhood he was talking about was my neighborhood, too, for one year in 1965. We lived next-door to Falens', and Mike lived on the other side of them and yes, the neighbor girl he was referring to was very pretty and I suppose in high school at the time.

We rented a home there as my dad's job had our family moving back and forth between Minneapolis and Detroit several times in the span of as many years. We never seemed to stay anywhere very long and when we'd move back it would always be to a different neighborhood and school district. It was never fun being the new kid in class but after a couple weeks, it really didn't matter I suppose.

I always thought the house on Lakeshore Drive in Richfield was haunted. I'm not sure if I ever shared that with the rest of my family; I most likely didn't for fear they wouldn't believe me but I can vividly recall laying in bed at night and just before I'd fall asleep I'd hear the sound of creaking metal. I heard the sound many nights. I used to think it was the garage door opening but it wasn't. It was very unnerving and I would try to assure myself that I was imagining it but I really was hearing something.

I learned a few lessons in our home across from Woodlake Nature Center but the one that I had to relearn and relive over and over again was that because I was older, I should know better. My younger brother Keith and I were doing what brothers do and at some point in our screwing around, he picked up a D size battery and threw it at me. It flew over my right shoulder and crashed through the window behind me. Keith, being only 5 and me being 8 made this a no-brainer for my folks. I should have known better. But how was I to know he'd throw a battery at me and how could I have stopped it? It didn't matter. I was older and I should know better. It would be the first of many times I'd hear that admonishment.

I remember once riding my bike down Lakeshore Dr on the wrong side of the street. It was a gradual descent where you could build up speed, especially on the tank which was my bike. I was looking across the street at whoever was with me and I wasn't paying attention to what was coming my way. I looked up just in time to see a car, head-on, and probably 100 feet in front of me. I was able to move to the side to avoid it but the experience rattled me. I think the car was actually stopped and the driver really couldn't do much else but pray that I'd look up in time.

There were four of us guys who used to hang out together: Mike Lynch; Steve Casperson, and Don Falen. Don's older brother Bob played in a band, the Delcounts, and they'd practice out of his garage. The band stayed together for years and achieved local success with some of their music getting airplay. Between the wildlife refuge across the street, the alley behind our homes and all of the shops along Lyndale Ave and 66th street we had plenty to keep us busy.

Don's dad was a pilot, and I think he flew for Northwest Orient (as it was known at the time). One of us four had the idea to build an airplane of our own. I'm not talking about a model airplane but rather, one that we could sit in and fly around the neighborhood. We spent probably the better part of two days cobbling together our plane with whatever wood and spare parts we could dig out of our garages. Don's driveway would serve as our hangar. How I wish somebody had taken a photo of our work but none exists that I'm aware of.

With the project completed, we rolled our plane across Lakeshore Dr and positioned it atop a hill overlooking the nature center (the hill has since been overgrown with brush and trees). Don was our pilot and he climbed in while the rest of us looked on in excited anticipation that our two days of effort were about to pay off in a very big way. I never once doubted our engineering abilities. Don was about to soar off out over the marsh and I suppose I imagined him circling back overhead while rocking his wings at us. His pretty sister was there to help us send him off. Don began his takeoff roll down the hill and to be honest, what happened next is all a blank to me. I'm not sure our plane even made it to the bottom of the hill. Our dreams of flying met with unforgiving failure as Don climbed out of the cockpit. And that was that. Within the hour we were no doubt off to other adventures, just maybe not so grandiose. Mike emailed me that Don is, in fact, a real pilot today flying for Southwest Airlines.

Our family moved again a few months later and although I came back a couple times to visit the guys, we eventually lost touch. I believe Steve became a police officer and Mike went on to become a local celebrity on WCCO radio (830) as their lead meteorologist. He's very good at what he does and has a great radio voice and personality. He's also very involved in astronomy, teaching several classes a month at various places around the area. Check out his website, and also this video (produced several years after this initial blog entry).

I emailed Mike this past week to say hello and to take a trip down memory lane with him. I showed him this photo of us from 1965 (Mike is the one on the right) and I reminded him of the airplane story. He wrote back, thankful for the memories and to say that "You're one of the only people who remembers the airplane fiasco." He also sent along the photo of himself published in the Minneapolis Star in 1971.

The old neighborhood is gone now, replaced by high rise apartments. All that remains from our time there are some trees. I rode by on my bike a couple months ago and got off and sat under one of the trees, reminiscing about my time growing up there. I tried to imagine where our home was situated and if the tree I was sitting under was the same, much smaller tree I remembered from 42 years earlier. It was only one year that we spent there but I came away with some very good memories which have faded little over the years.

There was a time a few years ago when Rachel was interested in astronomy. I bought her a telescope and she was so excited to see what she could see with it but it was so poor that we ended up returning it to the store. I'll have to make a point of going to one of Mike's astronomy classes and maybe Rachel and Tammy will come along and we can see what it's like to look through a real telescope. Plus it would be nice to say hello to Mike again after all those years.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Tammy's Project, Various Stuff and FAA Frivolity

Tammy spent a good part of the last month reupholstering our sofa, love seat, and ottoman. I didn't realize how badly they needed to be redone but the sun had definitely taken its toll on them. She'd mentioned a while back that she'd like to do it and I know she's done that sort of thing before but to be honest, I wasn't sure she could pull it off. Was I wrong!

We've got a microfiber material on our sofa in the basement and we're really impressed with its resilience. Tammy was able to find the same fabric in a different shade for this job.

She did the ottoman first to practice her skills and make sure she wasn't getting in over her head. She had it done in a day. She began work on the love seat next and was careful to note how the fabric was spread across it. She took photos in case she got lost during the reupholstering phase. She never had to refer to them. She's a natural at this sort of thing. I joked with her that when we retire and open our stained glass business we'll have to advertise ourselves as not just Grapevine Art Glass but rather, Grapevine Art Glass and Upholstery. I like the way it flows; try it again, Grapevine Art Glass and Upholstery. See what I mean? Yes, I'm joking.

Anyway, I'm so impressed that Tammy would take the job on and how quickly she got it done considering she worked on it sporadically fitting it into her schedule where she could. We couldn't have sent it out to have it professionally done and expect it would be done any better.

I've spent the last couple of weeks working on the photo pages for our website. I'm still in the process of replacing all the photos with larger, heavier weight files to give the photos much better resolution. I used to worry that there were too many dial-up users who wouldn't be able to download the larger files so I kept them small—too small. They're actually worth looking at now if you're family and want to revisit some long-ago times in addition to some current stuff. Most of the photos are 700px wide and around 100k. Here's a few quick links to what I've been working on: Rachel's photos, Tammy's family and my family.

Keith's lady friend, Tracee, is the manager for a few stores which go by the name The Afternoon. Her store has always been a place I make a point of stopping by whenever I'm at the Mall of America. I don't often buy much there—I just mostly browse. Tracee has been trying to sell her home for the better part of a year but not much is moving around here, so much so that she's dropped the price by around $140k and also dropped her Realtor. I stopped by last Sunday on my way to work to see her home and the deck Keith built. It's a beautiful home and if I were in the market I'd be all over it. Keith's handiwork on the deck is typical for him. Here are a couple of opposing views of the deck. View 1 and View 2. I told them that I can't imagine them going much lower on the price but the forecast for home prices in this area is to continue to drop so they may not have a lot of choices. It's a tough market to be selling in.

I don't suppose I could post this blog entry without saying something about my employer, the FAA, as I've been prone to do in many of my previous entries of late. I came into work on Sunday afternoon and noticed a large 60" plasma screen mounted for all to see as you enter the control room. For you to understand where I'm going with this you have to first know that FAA management has slashed salaries for newer Controllers and instituted a 5-year pay cap for the rest of us while continuing to allow raises for all of management. They call it a contract but there's no such contract/agreement at all. If there is such a thing as an imposed contract then that's what we have.

This shiny new 60" plasma screen for the purpose it serves is so over-the-top and unnecessary. Frivolous. It's got about a dozen messages which cycle through it and we'll maybe get a glance at a couple as we walk past it. Messages congratulating so and so for whatever it is they've done, birthday wishes and some motivational messages to make us all feel good about our employer.

I asked my former supe if he'd thanked my trainee and the other new hires for the new plasma screen. He didn't get it. "Where do you suppose we got the extra money for such a frivolous expense?" I asked. He said, "the agency is flush with cash". "Really? And why is that? Do you suppose it has anything to do with the pay caps they instituted and the low pay they're forcing on new hires?" He commented that "nobody is forcing them to work here." He went on to tell me that there's no lack of people waiting in the wings to be hired as Controllers. I asked him if that was why they're no longer requiring a college degree to be hired. I also mentioned that it's a bit of a kick in the teeth to people such as my trainee who have $70,000 or more in college debt which apparently wasn't needed after all. He told me that my trainee could find a different job if he didn't like it here. Great. I'll be sure and not tell him that. I don't want to diminish his hopes any more than they already are.

I went on to tell him that there's a lot of resentment toward management with just about all of us. We'll smile at you and be cordial but just below the surface, we're not so warm and fuzzy. We resent what is happening to the agency. He told me that he didn't get wrapped up in the politics of it all. I told him he didn't need to but that he should at least open his eyes to what's happening and not claim ignorance.

I told him that I enjoy my job but I'm troubled that because I didn't do the 'traffic dodge' years ago and get into management I'm going to be punished for that. I'm the one in the sector day in and day out who is only one clearance away from losing it all but that those in management who watch from a safe distance are the ones who continue to see increasing rewards.

He went on to tell me that I'm paid a lot to do what I do. I agreed but I told him I'm a big believer in leading by example and asked if they ever taught that approach in any of the management classes he's been to. He said they did but reiterated that I'm paid a lot. I understand that but I'd just like to know that we're in this together and that you'll lead and show me the way to go. Funny how management could hitch their wagon to Pay Re-class in '98 which Natca negotiated and from which they as well benefited substantially. No way are they going anywhere near this new pay idea. They protect their own.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

A Phone Call from DC

I cut my ride short today as my legs were feeling tired. I was in the shower when I heard the phone ring. I figured it was Tammy on her way home from work but she'd have to wait as I was all soaped up. A few seconds later Tammy is in the bathroom telling me that John Kline (our Congressman and neighbor) is on the phone. The soap will have to wait. I'd written John a few nights ago to express my frustration with FAA management and apparently he'd read my email. I routinely see him when I'm out walking Toby and Allie as he lives just down the street. I suppose I could have approached him and introduced myself then gone into the laundry list of complaints I have but that's not me. I outlined a brief description of my concerns then gave him a link to a recent post in my blog hoping he'd follow the link to learn more. He did.

He said he supported Natca's (Air Traffic Controllers' union) attempts to require the FAA to enter into binding arbitration but that he couldn't support HR2881 as it was too overreaching in its attempt to restore lost wages due to the imposed contract. He would like to see us given a chance at binding arbitration rather than have the FAA impose a contract upon us. I told him that at this point I'd be happy with binding arbitration and that I wasn't looking to be made whole through back pay if that's what it would take to have his support. We spoke for 5 minutes and there was so much more I'd love to have bent his ear about but I wasn't prepared for his call.

I intend to stop and introduce myself next time I see him. Until then I'll let this email I just wrote him fill in the blanks of what I wished I'd said in our talk today.

Mr. Kline,

We spoke on the phone early this afternoon. I'm Kevin Gilmore, the Air Traffic Controller who lives up the street from you. I must admit that your phone call caught me by surprise. I want to thank you for taking the time to listen to my concerns for the FAA. I'm not a polished union representative and I don't have a full understanding of all that's occurring within management or Natca. I'm just an average guy with some thoughts about the government agency I work for.

I'd like to give you a few observations from one who works the traffic and my understanding of the dynamics at play between labor and management. The FAA has never been known as an agency with strong leadership or I should say, leadership which is respected. Being a controller isn't an occupation for everyone; in fact, a large percentage of new hires aren't successful. There are also those who make it through training and become certified controllers but they're not comfortable in the job. These people typically spend a minimum amount of time actually doing the job, oftentimes less than one year before moving out of controlling and into desk work which eventually leads to management. You can see where respect would be hard to come by for a person who puts themselves in that sort of position. Sadly, it's this person who makes up the majority of our supervisor ranks.

Ideally, we'd have our management ranks staffed with controllers who have been in the trenches actually doing the work and earning the respect of their fellow controllers over the years before becoming supervisors but that's seldom the case. Our management ranks have very few veteran controllers. I want to respect those in authority but I have a difficult time knowing that the person sitting in judgment of my performance was unable or unwilling to do what I do.

So, rather than cutting a person loose who is unable to continue in the position they were hired to do the FAA promotes them into supervisory positions and pays them even more. Not exactly a good recipe for creating a management team respected by the troops. And so the resentment is built into the system. It's been this way my entire career...going on 26 years. No doubt management would discount what I've just stated but believe me that it is true. Management isn't respected and they're resentful of that. It's a large part of what fuels much of the smackdown Natca is experiencing today. The resentment works both ways and has never been higher.

For nearly all controllers their pay has been capped for the 5-year life of the contract (for lack of a better word). Management has made no mention this time of following in our footsteps, say nothing of leading by example. I've spoken with my facility manager about this hypocrisy and he says there's a lot of red tape involved with reaching an agreement as to who within management should be included. I've written to acting FAA administrator Bobby Sturgell and expressed my frustration and concerns to him but I received no reply. I didn't want to bother you with this for fear that I would come off as sounding childish but what is happening in the FAA is wrong in so many ways.

Natca negotiated Pay Re-class back in '98 for which both controllers and management benefited. Actually, management simply hitched their wagon to what Natca negotiated. Part of this negotiation was Controller Incentive Pay (CIP). It was designed to attract controllers to higher cost of living areas. With the new contract CIP for controllers is being phased out while management continues to keep it for themselves. I personally never received CIP but this is but one example of the disingenuousness being displayed by management.

Another example happened two weeks ago when Rick Day, head of Enroute Operations flew to Los Angeles Center to congratulate them on their upgrade from ATC11 to ATC12. Los Angeles Center actually qualified for the upgrade 3 years ago but Rick Day personally halted the upgrade saying that he didn't trust the data. It turns out that the data was correct and Rick Day allowed the upgrade, however, the controllers who did the heavy lifting to make the upgrade possible won't be receiving the 6.7% pay raise but management will, in addition to the Presidential raise they received back in January which again, the controllers did not receive. Do you get a feel for what's happening out here? Can you understand my frustration?

John, this email to you is more than just me venting. I feel it's necessary for you to have an understanding of what is occurring aside from just what the FAA administrator will tell you—that we're a bunch of overpaid malcontents or words to that effect.

John, one last thing. New hires at the academy are being paid less than I was when I started in early 1982. Back then I was making a little over $16,000 per year plus per diem of around $35 daily while at the academy in Oklahoma City. The kids being hired today are making just a bit less than the 16K I was making and they're receiving no per diem. In addition to that, they're saddled with 70-100K in college debt for a degree the FAA required of them. The real kicker though is that because the FAA is struggling to find new people to take the job they've waived the college degree requirement for most.

It's not good what's happening to the FAA. I could go on about the conflict of interest surrounding Marion Blakey and her new position but I'll save that for later.

Again, thank you for the phone call today and your taking the time to read this. I look forward to introducing myself the next time I see you when I'm out walking my pups.


Kevin Gilmore

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Politics and More Thoughts/Rants About the FAA

Politically speaking, for better or worse as long as I can remember I've had a conservative tilt. I can recall voting for Nixon in my 6th-grade classroom's pretend election. I don't have any idea what it was about the man which had me pulling for him. Maybe I considered him an underdog as he was running against Hubert Humphrey from my home state and most everyone was rooting for the local guy. Humphrey lost the popular vote by only a few hundred thousand but the Electoral College results gave a clear victory to Nixon. Nixon would eventually leave the office in disgrace while my eyes were opened to the world of politics and corruption.

Politics is seldom win-win. There's always a price to be paid as you trade away one thing for another. Should I vote for the guy who will place conservative judges to the Supreme Court or do I vote for who I know will be the better choice for my job? In the last election, it came down to that. I got my conservative judges appointed with the election of Bush but I also got a union-busting president and I didn't want that. Kerry would have been the polar opposite in that he would have given us a much more liberal court while being a friend to unions.

I'm looking forward to seeing Bush gone. I've seen a side to him I didn't want to believe was there...maybe it's the dry drunk side which people occasionally make reference to. His appointments to run the FAA (my employer) rule through fear and intimidation and at some point you have to accept that they act at the direction of Bush and those with whom he surrounds himself. I'd like to think that Bush is out of the loop when it comes to much of what we're going through as Air Traffic Controllers but the more I learn the more I realize that he sets the tone and direction.

FAA Management operates with impunity while trampling over workers rights. It's a total smack-down of our union, Natca, and there isn't any end in sight. I have so little respect for anybody within management. We have controllers who were here 26 years ago during the days of Patco (the former Controllers' union which went on strike in August 1981) who say that these are much darker times than then.

There is a strong argument to be made that management is trying to force out higher seniority controllers, the ones who draw the most pay and replace them with new, cheaper controllers. I hate to use my blog to rant about work but that's sort of why I have a express my feelings...both good and bad.

In my frustration this past week I wrote a letter to Bobby Sturgell, the FAA Administrator. I have no illusions that my words will have any impact on the man but it was something I had to do. Here's my letter...

Mr. Sturgell, 9-17-2007

When Mr. Chew took the helm of the ATO he said he wanted to flatten the agency and open communications from top to bottom. I can only hope that he was successful.

I’ve been an Air Traffic Controller with the FAA since 1982. Nearly 26 years with the agency and I’ve got an exemplary record to stand on. Please don’t assume that I’m just another shrill Natca voice and discount my words. I take pride in the job I do and the effort I put into training new controllers who will someday replace me. I’ve never in my career been more disappointed in the direction the FAA is headed. What’s become of the agency I used to be proud and happy to serve? There was a time not long ago when management and controllers worked together to solve problems. Those days are sadly gone.

The FAA desperately needs leadership which is focused on creating a cohesive workplace. That should be our number one goal before we consider any of the other Flight Plan goals for without cohesiveness meeting our other goals becomes much more difficult.

It’s frustrating for me to watch as divisive tactics take their toll on the workforce. This week will see Rick Day and Joe Miniace visit Los Angeles ARTCC to congratulate them on their facility upgrade to ATC12. What monetary benefit will the workforce see from the upgrade? Zero. What will management see from the upgrade? I believe an additional 6.7% pay raise. Is it really necessary for Rick Day and Joe Mniace to waste taxpayer dollars to fly across the country to flaunt the new pay raise for management? No doubt the upgrade was put off until such a time when the people doing the real work of handling the traffic could not partake in the fruits of their labor. Sad. Their trip to the Palmdale facility is nothing more than a poke in the eye to the real workers who did the heavy lifting to make this happen. Is this what you call leadership?

I have concerns about the double standard, the injustice between management and controllers with respect to pay. We were told that costs needed to be brought under control. I was fine with that. Please explain for me how it is that the people in the trenches who put their careers on the line day in and day out are the ones carrying the load for cost savings while people in management watching from a safe distance continue to enjoy financial gains and are contributing zero monetarily in the FAA’s effort to contain costs.

I spoke with my facility manager today and he told me that bureaucracy and red tape had gotten in the way of instituting a pay cap for management. I’d like to believe that Garry wouldn’t lie to me but I have to wonder if Garry actually believed what he told me. How difficult can it be to do for management what was done to controllers? After all, management had no trouble hitching their wagon to Pay Re-class. Why the delay when there’s a change in direction?

As an aside I’d like to say that being a controller is not an easy job despite what you’re being told by former controllers who are now in management. Truth be told, the vast majority of our management ranks are filled with men and women who were marginal controllers and sought the shelter of a supervisor desk. Working traffic wasn’t for them. I’m fine with that but I’m not fine with having the work I do denigrated by those who couldn’t do it and now look down their nose at those of us who remain. I could go on with much more in regard to this topic but I’ll leave it at this—I’m in search of fairness, Mr. Sturgell.

I’ve read your bio and I must say that it’s quite impressive. We’re both former military men. I recall the movie, We Were Soldiers Once. Did you see it? There was a riveting point in the movie where Mel Gibson (playing the part of Colonel Harold Moore about to lead his troops into battle) says, "But I swear this, before you and before Almighty God. When we go into battle, I will be the first to step onto the field and I will be the last to step off. And I will leave no one behind. Dead or alive we will all come home, together." That, Mr. Sturgell, is leadership. What we have parading as leadership in the FAA is nothing more than juvenile vindictiveness, fear, and intimidation. Not a desirable combination for bringing out the best in people.

I implore you to do what is right. Begin by treating us with respect. Show us that you really believe what it is you want us to believe, that we have to get costs under control. Leading by example is a powerful tool. Please use it. If a pay cap is good enough for the men and women in the trenches actually doing the job then it ought to be good enough for management. Lead by example. That’s all I’m asking.


Kevin Gilmore

Friday, September 7, 2007

Pondering Infinity and Failed FAA Management

Random thought time.

When I was a kid I used to lay awake in bed at night and try to get my head around the idea of infinity. I used to imagine an ever-extending universe where there was absolutely no end to it. Or I'd ponder the idea of forever, where there is never an end to time. How can it be that time will go on forever? The thoughts these ideas evoke can easily overwhelm my limited capacity.

One of the ways to visualize infinity is to imagine a center point within a circle with lines extending out every degree for 360 degrees to the edge of the circle. Fill the space in between each line with more lines extending from the center until you can't draw anymore. Now, extend the lines beyond the edge of the circle and you'll see that more space develops between the lines as they get further from the center. Continue imagining this process over and over again and you get the idea. Infinity blows my mind.

Random thoughts end here.

When I began working for the FAA in the spring of '82 my starting wage was something over $16,000 per year. The first few months of my employment had me at the academy for Air Traffic Control in Oklahoma City. While there I was also paid in addition to my base pay a per diem of around $35 per day. This money was to be used for living expenses while I was away from home. It was a generous amount which easily covered my expenses.

Fast forward 25 years to today and quite a lot has changed, for the worse. Academy students are unbelievably being paid less than I was when I was there, at a rate just under $16,000 plus they're not receiving any per diem. It would be difficult enough to find a place to stay on a salary so small but being as they're away from home temporarily they still have their primary residence to pay for.

Imagine trying to support a family as a newly hired air traffic controller.

As of less than a year ago, the FAA was requiring controller candidates to have a college degree. Most students spent between $70,000-100,000 for their education—an education which is very limited in scope and would be difficult to do anything with but air traffic control. So, not only are they not paying new controllers a livable wage but these new hires are also saddled with enormous debt because FAA management believed a college education should be a requirement. Well, they used to anyway. As of a few months ago FAA management has decided that a college degree really isn't all that necessary as the available pool of college grads with an ATC degree has all but dried up with so many declining the job and moving on because of the imposed contract.

It sucks to be one of those who invested several years and tens of thousands of dollars only to be told that what they'd done wasn't actually necessary and then to add salt to their wounds tell them that the job for which they were told they'd be paid $100k and more per year will only top out at $40-80k. So many potential controllers have turned down controllers' jobs due to poor pay that the FAA has had to resort to hiring whoever they can get.

If you haven't read very deep into my blog you wouldn't know that I'm an air traffic controller and have been since 1982. Up until recently, it's been a very rewarding career. I can't imagine doing anything else. Our union went into contract negotiations with FAA management two years ago. Through negotiations, our union moved 1.9 billion dollars in the FAA's direction over the course of a 5-year contract. The FAA moved zero dollars toward our direction. There was no negotiating on their part. An impasse was declared and new work rules (FAA calls it a contract) were forced on us. It froze controller pay and created a B scale for new hires in addition to many other work rule changes. The FAA said it was all done in an effort to bring costs under control and that controller salaries were breaking the bank. That's fine, I'm listening, but what about management pay? Why has there been no mention of capping management pay when we are an organization top-heavy with management? Imagine what FAA management could do to cut costs had they included themselves in all of this? What happened to leading by example?

I have a trainee at work whose name is Reid. Reid is one of those who paid his dues, literally, by getting the required college degree and is now trying to pay off his $70,000 college loans on his meager pay. He drives a 10-year-old car and rents a room in a house with 2 other guys to try and make ends meet. He doesn't have money for a lot of extras. He was telling me of a talk given to his class in Oklahoma City by one of the heads of enroute air traffic operations. One of the students spoke up and asked this management person (I can't name him for fear of reprisal) if he had taken a pay cut as well. This person said that he didn't do this job for the money. Excuse me, sir, but what sort of an answer to the question was that? This person must be independently wealthy. I do it for the money as does he and everyone else. That's the only reason we show up every day. We do it for the money. Anyway, he went on to tell the class that if they didn't like it they could leave. Imagine if the entire class had gotten up and headed for the exits at a time when we're desperate to get new controllers into the system? But they are walking out of the auditorium so to speak. They're turning this job down in droves and the FAA is scrambling to try and fill their seats. I don't wish them any luck at all. They need to live with what their vindictiveness and shortsightedness have produced. Academy students are no longer allowed to pose questions about pay to management when they come to speak. I suppose they thought it unfair to allow questions they can't answer.