Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Strategy of the Famous (Strategia Famoso di Scipione)

I've been thinking about strategy lately. Some people think of strategy as being the best and most foolproof way to pick lottery numbers, others think in terms of winning methods for sports teams, or how to get to the last level on some video game? Maybe some think about exactly how many apple-tinis bought for a lady at a bar will tip the scales in his favor.

What kind of strategy do you guys think about?

Um, me, well I've been pondering military history, and how lessons of the past could apply in modern times. This past week, I'd read a biography on one of the great military minds of all time. The book was 'Scipio Africanus' by Hart who drew heavily on the ancient biographers Polybius and Livy.

Written back in 1929, it covered the battles at a detailed level and known life of the one general who put Rome on the path to greatness, Scipio. He's even mentioned in the Italian national anthem because of the legendary battlefield antics, both tactical and strategic.

He was a master of keeping strategic intention hidden from the enemy, and also of adapting to the situation. For example in Carthage when facing off against Hannibal who had numerical superiority and war elephants charging forward to tear up the lines, Scipio had instructed soldiers to blast trumpets to panick the advancing elephants. This caused many to run back and kill the enemy.

As a conqueror of Spain and Africa, Scipio used near perfect economy of force to get the job done and win a lasting peace. He always had the 'grand strategy' big picture in mind. Unfortunately in Rome, the politicians were usually more of a problem-creating force than a help (they broke treaties that Scipio gained with all the great battles). Come to think of it, politicians tend to mess things up generally speaking anyway.

The recent US controversy about Gen. McChrystal resigning might have had a deeper root of pure successful strategy being hindered by politicians. There you have a general that is somewhat successful and getting things done, but something caused a lapse in respect of the chain of command. People in positions like that don't just shoot off thier mouth to mock leaders unless something else is going on. In my opinion, McChrystal should have respected the position if he didn't respect the man, but we'll never know now.

If we are actually in wars (not some stupid police action), we should be in to win them. Not just lip service to winning, but kill them all and let someone sort them out kind of war. The kind of war that Scipio would fight, having clear objectives in his grand strategy, not a war by committee.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Anthropomorphists and Clouds (Personificazione della Nube)

A few days ago, I looked up from my outdoor mosaic work into the evening sky and instead of the usual bright blue that usually accompanies extraordinarily hot Texas summers with a drought, I saw clouds. But not just any clouds! They were the kind of clouds that are worthy of a JMW Turner painting as in Hannibal Crossing the Alps* here.

*Not to be confused with Hannibal from 'The A-Team'

They were the kind of clouds whose tops rise for miles but patchy enough to interplay with the light of a setting sun. The kinds which beckon your hands to gingerly yet lovingly caress and squeeze them in a way that shows you respect them.

Uh right, I later thought about how ancient peoples viewed natural phenomenon like this. Not many programs were on their satellite television sets back then, so weather displays like this must have been one of the best entertainment values of the time.

So many cultures through time have personified (anthropomorphised) these natural forces of clouds and wind. Meso-American cultures had their Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl, Turks had an elaborate wind / weather personfication hierarchy that still kind of baffles me because of the complexity. The Greeks and Romans had different 'people' for each damned direction that the wind blows. The last available subdirection of 'South by Southwest' was named 'Avstin', I think.

In Mérida Spain (Lusitania for those of you with really old gps files) they have a nice imaginative mosaic showing the personification of the south wind (Notvs) pushing along clouds depicted as a woman (Nvbs). Check out José Luis Santos Fernández's blog who took these great photos of the archaeological site and describes the personifications of the Mithraeum house Natura mosaic.

I can only hope that some day an ancient mosaic or fresco will be found showing a tornado, tidal wave, or volcano, with accompanying text that trails off 'Arrggh!'. Or, maybe more acurately, it might read 'vae mihiiiii!!!' Until then, don't forget to stop and look up once in a while. You might miss something interesting.