Courting Failure

I can trace our falling out
To the day she failed to hear me
When I said, “I am afraid of failure
But the prize is worth the risk,”
And, said she, wholeheartedly,
“I agree, that nothing’s worse
than failure.”

I failed to hear her first, of course,
As she had not heard me,
And so I blundered on and said
I needed her beside me
To push me on, despite the chance
That I might stumble and collapse
Into the mire of failure.

She took my hand and smiled at me
And said, “Of course, I’ll do anything
To keep you from the airy paths,
To pull you back when you come, free,
To the precipice of failure.”

And so our road divided when
We faced a choice of cliff or fen:
I said, “Well, push me on,” and she
Cried out, “no, wait, come back to me!”
We curse each other still, and wince
At failures that have followed since
From follies that could not be seen
For fear of courting failure.

Lemon Tree

Very pretty

Since my daughter was born, my favorite nickname for her was baby doll. All my boys were huge, but Sadie as a baby was tiny, and she seemed like a little doll in my arms.

Now that she’s 4 ½, her nickname is a little less appropriate. She complains, “I’m not a baby!” And I tell her, “You’ll always be my baby.” But she’s less like a Kewpie now, and more like Kid Sister.

Also, she has a personality now. Like

The girl with a the curl
In the middle of her forehead,
When she’s good, she’s very good,
But when she’s bad, she’s horrid!

Today, she came trouncing down in a bright white Easter dress. Very pretty. And I was reminded of a song.

Lemon tree! Very pretty!
And the lemon flower is sweet.
But the fruit of the poor lemon
Is a thing one cannot eat.

So now she has a new nickname: Lemon Tree.

Not for tasting. She’s “my perfect little peach.” But I don’t need to coach her to stay out of reach.

Company Change of Command Outgoing Commander Remarks

LTC Camarano, thank you for your remarks, and COL Van Zandt, thank you for your presence at this event.  I’m really grateful that both of you chose to oversee this company change of command instead of taking the opportunity to celebrate Christmas on an island in the Bahamas.  To the Soldiers of Dark Horse Company, you are standing tall and looking good.  1SG Mendoza, you done ‘em proud.  For twenty-two months you all have stood behind me, and I am proud to see you standing in front of me one last time.

Twenty-two months is a long time to command a logistics company.  When I took on this position, I thought I knew some things about the Army. I knew some things about leadership and productivity and group dynamics.  But in twenty-two months, I have seen some things…!  I have learned a lot, and I have grown a lot, but the thing I want to impress on you in the few minutes that I have is what a privilege it is to stand in front of a guidon blazoned black and white.

I’ve talked about this before, but “Dark Horse” is probably the best possible name for an Army Logistics Company.  A dark horse is the horse in the race that nobody even expects to show.  He holds off in the back; and then suddenly he surprises everyone by breaking out and taking the lead. Logistics is a draft horse, made for heavy lifting, not for speed.  We conduct operations in a tactical environment, constantly divided between two different levels of planning.

So for twenty-two months, I have watched this company.  We start out behind – in everything – trying to do a hundred things at once, and we build capacity.  Get that dark horse running; he doesn’t know to stop. A million gallons of fuel; 700,000 rounds of ammunition, 10,000 rockets… what’s a few hundred annual services ahead of schedule?  Need us to cook a meal that can stop a general in the middle of an inspection? How many vehicles can one wrecker recover?

Now, you can’t do everything, and it’s unfortunate that even the best forward support company in the world can’t execute every mission perfectly.  We may not have been a first time go at every training event.  And more importantly, yesterday’s accomplishments do not make tomorrow’s results.  You write down your achievements, and they all go away.

That’s pretty disappointing to me, because I like to build things and make them better than they were. And when you get a new mission that looks an awful lot like the old mission, there’s only one thing that can be developed and remain, and that’s people.  So when you’re stuck with a situation where you think you can’t do everything, and you have to decide where to invest your time, invest in people.

I’m looking at this formation, and I see a lot of sergeants who used to be specialists, and at least one sergeant that I distinctly remember as a PFC.  I see a lot of specialists that are just about ready to get that promotable P.  You’ve seen us do it right, and remembered to do it right the next time.  And you’ve seen us do it wrong, and remembered to never do it that way again.

It’s been a great privilege working with you all, working to develop you and watching you grow.  It would be a mistake to try to start dropping names of all the people who have come to the unit, achieved great things, and then moved on to achieve great things in some other unit. I’ve seen eight platoon leaders, seven platoon sergeants, and four first sergeants, and each one has taught me something about the Army and about leadership.  Sometimes, it was things I didn’t want to learn.

But there are four people I need to mention by name, because they taught me some very specific things:

• COL Baker, who taught me that you can accomplish more than you ever thought you would, if you just look your unit in the eye and demand impossible things.  You might not achieve everything, but you will achieve so much more than if you accept that it can’t be done.

• LTC Cook, who taught me that, if you look far enough ahead, you can achieve incredible things, and also manage to dot every “i” and cross every. single. “t.”

• First Sergeant Lopez, who taught me that you can do nothing in the Army, without the support of a solid, capable, and trusted NCO Corps to manage every step of the process. Top, I saw you bring together people who might not have wanted to be brought together, hand them a problem, and walk them through to a method for success.  You showed me how good the NCO Corps can be.  Thank you.

• And finally, LT Taylor who had the… privilege… of showing me what it looks like when you get handed every job to do yourself.

Dark Horse Company, it has been a privilege to know each one of you; it has been a privilege to suffer with you; and it has been a privilege to stand in front of you and receive the praise that you have earned. I am proud of your achievements, and I am proud of your endurance and drive.  You’ve worked hard, and you came out ahead. CPT Fraser, you’ll be leading the best.

This is Dark Horse 6, signing off the net. Do all of the things.  Dark Horse.  Attack!

Click

I am extremely envious of my wife, who is able to achieve a moderately high level of productiveness, constantly, all day long.  She gets up at seven and works steadily all day, and then crashes precipitously exactly twelve hours later, leaving me at my own recognizances for putting children quietly to bed. The next day, same results.  My own productivity runs more like those Halloween costume stores you see in October.  No one knows where they came from, but they do a bang up job for an extremely short period of time before disappearing into the night.

I have to wait for the click.

Tennessee Williams’ play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a surprisingly useful piece of literature for reflection.  In it, Brick Pollitt spends the majority of the play drinking, in pursuit of “the click,” a certain peaceful state of mind.  Fortunately, alcohol has nothing like that effect on me, but I find I am only really productive after a similar click, where I enter in to a flow where I become insanely productive for several hours.

What gets me there is quiet meditation, so it’s something like a Zen state.  Only thinking about nothing is not a valid kind of meditation.  Prayer works, and singing.  But mostly for me it’s reading.  Especially when I’m stressed, I wake up and it hurts.  Nothing physical, but my mind is out of joint.  Mentally, I’m thirsty.  I need to read.

Reading scripture is best; it leads to praise and prayer, but I usually start with popcorn text: Facebook, Twitter. Thoughtful articles on various blogs.  Long-form investigative reporting. Then scripture.  Then Bible commentary.  Slowly inching up, widening my aperture for thought.  Then: click.  I can think.  Widely, broadly, productively.  Occasionally, practically.

Under stress, from a hard start, it’s a process that can take 3-4 hours.  I don’t usually get 3-4 hours. But I get what I can with the time that I have, hiding in a makeshift study somewhere, building up reserves until I’m interrupted by some event, called upon to react.

I don’t like being reactive; much better to wait for the click; ten times the productivity.  But so hard to get together the necessary blocks of time.

Caffeine helps, of course.  It kind of jump starts the entire process.  With a sufficiently large dose of caffeine, I can skip straight past meditation into 2-3 hours of reactive productivity.  Very useful in my line of work.  But there are diminishing returns.  Too much caffeine and the mind is dizzy the next morning.  Always better to wait for the click.

Sometimes I think that I might get similar results from a few hours of intimate conversation, but it’s been a very long while since I could test it.  So many conversations are… reactive instead of meditative.

So there it is.  Is this introversion?  I’m not really hiding from people.  The need to be kind draws me out.  But I’m thirsty for the flow state, always waiting for the click.

Driving Through the Irish Mountains

I do not care to travel much.
It’s not so much that I don’t like
To see the sights and feel the shock
Of fresh experience. I do
Enjoy that rare experience,
But in my mind these things take time,
And time is rare on trips like this.

We rush so fast from place to place
That all we really see is our
Reflections on each other. We
Can survey our environment;
The study is what we perceive
The clearest in our chartered screens.
And in this rush, the mountain view,
Its waterfalls and craggy peaks,
Is vanished in a vasty green
That blurs the glints of treasure far beneath.

My inclination then is just to run
As quickly as I can — to hide
In some secluded, quiet place,
Far from the madding crowd, and hold me still —
To mine for what is hidden, what is real.

I often fail to find it, whizzing down
The mountain roads, but always there’s
A hint of something beautiful:
The way the pubs all close at ten,
Or how the Irishman says, “now,”
To mean a process is complete;
The sight of all the hills denuded of
Their trees and filled instead with sheep.
The sight of barebacked mountains has
A holy feel to someone raised
On tufts of grass and clouds of dust
That stretch beyond the skyline.
Plains! they call them.
Furling out another world away,
And furling always in my heart and mind.

And so it always shocks me, when
I see variety. It feels
Just like my first time driving through
A city filled with trees. The things
Amazed me, how in just a little time
Abandoned plots could be transformed
Into a checkered wood, and grow
So thick and lush with pines and firs
And vines of every species. Trees
Were everywhere, and everywhere I looked,
It seemed so deep and rich, enfolding you
The way a mother holds her child.
But once a little time had passed,
The trees grew old on me. Eventually
I longed to see the sky again.
I have no way to tell the sense I have
for going home: again to feel the wind
And gaze into a great big sky.

And this is how I come again
Upon these mountains jutting up against the bus,
My window sometimes flecked by giant ferns.
The road seems almost out of place
So smooth and even is its keel.
The clouds are flowing rapidly,
A breath above the mountain peaks.
I like to think that from those points,
My eyes could grace a hundred vales
And see a thousand stone-walled fields,
Littered full of grazing sheep.

I lift my eyes, and looking up,
I feel myself surrounded by the heavens:
Bits of home inside me, reaching out to every place.

Guaranteed income

 

Swiss proposed bill for guaranteed income

I’m actually in favor of this. It’s a pretty big improvement on a network of programs you have to qualify for and which have to be administered by bureaucrats. It’s also a lot more fair, because it goes out to everybody, whether they need it or not. The big mistake here is that they’re shooting too high for an initial program. A monthly income of $2600 is just a couple of kilocreds more than the Swiss median income, which means the proposal will shock people into opposing it who might be interested in supporting it at a lower dollar amount. Why not start with a guaranteed income of $50?

In the US, of course there are other complications. No not socialism. We’ve already got that, with the earned income tax credit, and the standard income deduction. I mean, federalism, what little there is left of it. It’s bad enough having a personal relationship with our savior the IRS, in which they giveth and taketh away, and nobody can say to them, “what have you done”. At least most everybody knows the tax man is scary: He can garnish your wages, put liens on your property, and freeze your bank account (abolish the 16th amendment!). What happens to poor federalism when Uncle Sam starts moving in from his avuncular role and starts applying for custody? Do the kids want him? Well, yes. He gives them candy. But where does he get the candy? Well, he steals it from the states.

I’d like to see a rudimentary guaranteed income. It’s an interesting idea. But let’s have a city try it, a county; maybe a state. The fed doesn’t have to adopt us for everything, does it?