Sunday, June 26, 2016

Happy as my dog

I want to be as happy as my dog.

Lucie is a simple creature.  People are always talking about how smart their dog is, how great an instinct for hunting it has, what great championship lines he claims, how obedient she is, what a great protector she is...

My dog has none of these things.

She is not gifted with great intelligence.  She looks blankly at me when I give her a command.  And it is not defiance.  She simply does not understand.  She cocks her head to the side, trying to figure it all out.  And then happily goes back to what she was doing.

She is no mighty hunter.  She is very excited about chasing dust motes and sunbeams.  She will spend hours jabbing her snout at a sunbeam in the house, and get very excited when her ID tags sparkle in the light.  She will chase a laser until she drops from exhaustion, and there is little that gives her more joy than going into the back yard and looking for worms.  But she has not a single idea of what tracking is, or even what to do when she sees a squirrel.

                                  Lucie, entertaining herself by hunting the mighty sunbeam.

But the moment you spray water from the garden hose, especially when the sun is shining, and the kaleidoscope of the crystal sparkles everywhere, that is the thing that just sends her into ecstasy.  Nothing gives her greater pleasure than the hose.  She hunts droplets, flashing in the sun, with all of the fire and passion that most of us reserve for football games.  At the end of any hose romp, she returns, exhausted and muddy and with the waggiest tail you can imagine, thumping tail so hard against the furniture that she risks injury.

Lucie, watching the hose from inside.

Lucie has no papers.  She was one dog of many that a friend had in a couple of litters that her dachshunds had.  There is no championship line there.  

There is also no urge to protect.  She will sound the alarm, and she is brave (even when the vacuum monster comes out).  But she does not seem to sound the alarm to any purpose.  It is just an alarm.  And when it is done, she goes back to doing what she was doing before she barked.  Which usually involves chasing sunlight, somewhere in the house.

Lucie is none of the things that you brag on your dog about.  

What she is, however, is happy.  Joyful.  Loving.  Sweet.  Gentle.  

I go through my life with complicated interactions.  I am pretty good about not taking it personally, and very rarely hold grudges.  But there is complicated math going on any time there is a favor requested or performed.  Shifting allegiances as work that needs to be done competes with personal relationships.  Temporary alliances where I hold my nose and work with someone who angered me last week.  

But my dog does none of that.  She loves you.  She loves me.  She loves Kathe. She loves visitors.  She loves the postman.  She takes joy in being fed.  She loves being petted, but only for a minute, because she has important work to do, chasing and killing those light sparkles, over and over again.  

Tail wagging like mad.

Paul Simon wrote a song called 'One Trick Pony' (the album was immortalized in Douglas Adams' Restaurant at the End of the Universe credits), and the lyrics from the song are the best part of the album:

He makes it look so easy
He looks so clean
He moves like God’s
Immaculate machine
He makes me think about
All of these extra moves I make
And all this herky-jerky motion
And the bag of tricks it takes
To get me through my working day
One-trick pony

Lucie is that one-trick pony.  Tail wagging like mad. Compulsively licking the hand of whoever is holding her.  Loving with everything she has.

And then jumping back down in search of the sparkle.

I think I'll find my sparkle tomorrow. ....Or maybe I'll decide to find it tonight.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


You know that feeling, when you are a passenger in a car being driven through the mountains, and you lean into the curves just a little too early, or a little too late?  As a driver, you never get the sensation -  you know exactly when the car will respond, because you are in control.

But as the passenger, you get all of the thrills of a roller coaster ride with none of the built-in security features that roller coasters are required to have.

I was surprised to find myself thinking of being a passenger in the mountains this weekend.  When we bought the house, it came with a lovely piece of lagniappe (see my blog entry on that term here).  In addition to owning a lovely house, we now also own a baby grand piano.

Yes.  The house comes partially furnished.  No, they did not leave the refrigerator.  No washer/dryer, either.

But we got ourselves a baby grand.

Our new piano.
It is an Ellington piano, which is was manufactured by Baldwin in the 1920s.  It has a lovely brown mahogany body, and was clearly in dire need of a little TLC.  One of the first things I did when I came into the house during our recon visit was to sit down and surreptitiously check out the tuning.

It was bad.  It was fingernails-on-chalkboard bad.  I grew up playing a piano that had been moved - twice - without being tuned.  So somewhat out-of-tune pianos are not such a big deal to me.  But this?  I have uploaded the video of the chromatic scale to youtube to show how awful it was.

Kathe ended up calling The Piano Man, a local piano tuner out of Jackson, MS.  I was there for some of the tuning (I had bought tools so that I could try and tune it myself, and Kathe wisely - and sneakily - called for a professional to do it before I could do any irreparable damage.)  And it was a pretty amazing process. (I still maintain I would have done a decent job, and I really, really, really wanted 'piano tuning' on my Renaissance Man Resume).

What I discovered after fifteen minutes of listening to him tune the piano

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

O. B. E.

My agency is civilian military, which means we civilians keep our hair long, we don't have daily PT, and our 'uniform' is 'don't wear offensive clothes'.  We do, however, have a certain amount of military in our organization: we answer to a hierarchy, culminating at the Commander in Chief (with several Generals in between), we get deployed, we get issued travel orders, and we work to 'execute our mission'.  It is an odd blend of a very few green suiters and a bunch of civilians.

But the acronyms define us as military more than any other element.

We have HSDRRS ('hisdoctors'), BUDMAT, PDT, MOA, MOU, IEPR, WBV, LPV, NOV/NFL, CAP, LGM, HNC, SELA, CG, ASA(CW).... we use acronyms more than we use verbs.  One of my goals as a federal burrocrat is to complete an entire sentence, un-self-consciously, without using real words.

One of the lesser used acronyms that I have gotten some mileage out of recently is OBE. Many know the phrase, but for those who don't, it stands for Overcome By Events.  It means that the task (or mission) that you were assigned to do has become unnecessary because of external events.

A friend of mine, a branch chief, had been instructed to move the offices of all of his people to a different space.  The move was in full swing, but he had not spent much time preparing for the move of his personal office.  That kind of inaction would not be unusual for me; I love waiting until the deadline and then jamming everything into boxes, and slamming them into the new space.  My friend, however, is usually more methodical in his approach.

It got to where people were starting to be concerned about whether he would be able to do it on the timeline.

Two days before the deadline, the office brass announced that my friend had been selected as the candidate for a major promotion.  He was going to be moving.  But to a different office.

His original move was O.B.E.

Shortly after moving to Vicksburg, I came across another example of OBE that pleased me, and is on the grandest scale possible.
View of Vicksburg from the water.

In the War between the States, the Mississippi River traveled a path that led right by Vicksburg.  Vicksburg is built on a 125-foot bluff overlooking the river - and its strategic value for the war cannot be overstated*.  At the top of the bluff is a great place to put a cannon or twenty, and the cannons made passage of Union boats through the riverbend challenging. Maj. General US Grant, after a certain amount of time, decided that enough was enough.

And he set about to change it.

In a move that mirrored the labors of Hercules, Grant decided that the best way to deal with the problem was to divert the river.  
Map of Vicksburg, modified to show Grant's Canal
in red. Image stolen from Civil War website.

The Mississippi River.

Unlike Hercules, he did not make the cut himself.  But he did instruct his troops to start the process, with the intention of cutting off the loop to the north that made the river cross in front of Vicksburg.  And allow his steamboats to pass through unmolested.

He also laid siege to the city from the other side.  There is a huge military park that lays out the 90-day siege, where the different companies from the different states were located for the full time.  Each state has its own monument, and it is a lovely place, if ever you are in town.

The siege (May 18 – July 4, 1863) was a success, eventually, and Vicksburg was surrendered to the Union army.  

Once the city fell, there was no need to redirect the river, and the effort to make the cut was abandoned.

Grant's cut was O.B.E.  It was overcome by events.

The cut is there, with a small bronze plaque describing the event, immediately across the river, visible from I-20.  


In memoirs, Grant suggested that much of his reason for undertaking the effort was to keep his men busy; he was not convinced that his engineers were right.  For what it is worth, a few years later, the Mississippi River did naturally what Grant had decided to engineer.  IN the flood of 1876, the flooding river forced a new passageway, carving a new channel just south of the city.  The oxbow lake that remained was called Centennial Lake, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the US.  

Fascinating article on Grant's cut here. Worth it for the images alone.
Grant's memoirs available online here.

*President Lincoln quotes, re: Vicksburg
"See what a lot of land these fellows hold, of which Vicksburg is the key. The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket." 
"We can take all the northern ports of the Confederacy, and they can defy us from Vicksburg. It means hog and hominy without limit, fresh troops from all the states of the far South, and a cotton country where they can raise the staple without interference." 
"I am acquainted with that region and know what I am talking about, and, as valuable as New Orleans will be to us, Vicksburg will be more so."