Saturday, April 30, 2011

the wedding was nice, but what's with all those hats?

it's nice to know that wedding came off without a hitch (i'm talking about Kate Middleton and Prince William, of course -- as if you didn't know). i only caught glimpses of it, but two things stuck on my mind: Kate's beautiful wedding gown and yes, those hats!

i don't know if it's part of some unwritten rule (or etiquette?) somewhere that female wedding guests must show up with the most outlandish, eye-catching headgear they can find and strap to their heads-- but my goodness, there's just no way you could ignore those goofy, colorful and baffling contraptions.

for one thing, it takes a while for you to actually make sense of the various shapes, colors, and sizes of hats perched on these women's heads. and when you do, you sort of have to pull yourself back a little to appreciate the whole effect.

okay, some actually look good (see two examples below, which reminds me of pricey gift wrappings)...

and as for the rest (the ones worn by Eugenie and Beatrice --- well, let's just say i'm still recovering from the unexpected spectacle), some look like inverted bowls, flying saucers, misplaced sculpted pieces, strategically angled vegetation, overgrown insects, fluffy leftovers, skewered bird parts, or overdecorated nests. well, you get the drift. great imagination on the part of their designers though.

my take? these hats deserve to have a museum of their own since there aren't that many royal weddings to provide a worthy excuse to take out these things out of their boxes.

it was nice seeing those things though, because it gave me something to chew on while waiting for things to happen.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Japan Files: Miki Endo

what fitting tribute can you think of to honor a 24-year-old woman whose unflagging efforts to urge her town-mates to run for safety literally saved thousands of lives -- a heroic action that eventually cost her own?

Miki Endo, a recently married public employee who worked for Minamisanriku's (a town that was hit hard in the recent quake/tsunami disaster) Crisis Management Department, was manning the public address system -- exhorting the residents to run for higher ground -- as the tsunamis were about to roll in. According to various accounts, Miki Endo stayed at her post and continued her urgent broadcast even as the waves finally hit the coastal town.

it was later learned that Miki Endo did not survive this tragic disaster (a co-employee last saw her being carried away by a huge wave), much to the dismay and grief of her parents and the very people whose lives she had helped save.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Mask of Command (John Keegan)

One of the reasons why i bought Mask of Command (Penguin, 1988) was because it partly focused on two of my favorite all-time battle commanders — Alexander the Great and the Duke of Wellington. This, and John Keegan’s persuasive gift for making centuries-old battles seem increasingly relevant and significant for modern-day readers.

Mask of Command concentrates on four commanders and leaders -- Alexander the Great, Arthur Wellesley (Duke of Wellington), Ulysses s. Grant, Adolph Hitler -- whose impact on history is thoughtfully explored in this highly legible book.

John Keegan postulates that throughout history, the role of commanders/leaders in conducting battles has evolved and paralleled the level of man’s technological progress (along with a host of other sociocultural, economic and ideological factors). He then categorizes the way leaders/commanders fulfill this role into four styles of leadership: (1) heroic, (2) anti-heroic, (3) un-heroic, (4) false heroic.

To pigeonhole his subjects into this classification, Keegan posits the question: “When conducting a battle, do you lead your men in front?” Each of the four possible answers — (a) always, (b) sometimes, (c) seldom, (d) never — defines a type (mask) of command/leadership.

Thus, we have Alexander (Greece), who personifies the "heroic" brand of leadership: always conspicuously spearheading his army’s attack, because that’s how he wanted to be seen and how his people expected him to behave. In this sense, the term “heroic” takes on a theatrical quality — where a leader needs to highlight his presence (via distinctive attire, brilliant oratory, rash and bold actions) to encourage and lead his men into battle. This type of leadership equates to the classic concept of a hero.

Next, we have the Duke of Wellington (UK), who -- due to the advancements in weaponry (e.g., rifles, artillery weapons) of his day -- had to constantly move in and around battle scenes so as to direct how much and which of his resources (men and supplies) should be moved where and when. Much of his style (aloofness and sobriety in manner, dress, and speech) was in marked contrast to Alexander’s larger-than-life qualities, hence the term "anti-heroic". In this sense, Wellington is largely viewed as an aristocrat who wages war for England and his monarch.

Then, we have Ulysses S. Grant (USA), who largely directed his army from the rear due to the longer range of weapons and to effectively exploit the advantages offered by communication gears (telegraph) and transport options (railroad) of his time. According to the author, although this may seem "unheroic" in a conventional sense, it was actually a practical way to fight a war in a democratic and sprawling society. Grant, who would eventually become the 18th president of the United States, held himself no better than the men who served under him.

Adolf Hitler, largely viewed as one of the 20th century’s ‘monster’ (both literally and figuratively) figures, scarcely needs any explanation. Although he largely led a bunker existence for much of World War II (especially towards at the end of it), Hitler was seen to have ‘micromanaged’ many situations from the rear — much to his generals’ dismay and consternation — and would repeatedly allude to his WWI experience (aided by a well-choreographed propaganda machine and his own gifts of demagoguery) to clothe himself in a ‘heroic’ mold ("false heroic"). Needless to say, among the four leaders/commanders that Mr. Keegan has highlighted in Mask of Command, Hitler is considered to have ultimately failed the test of leadership.

As a parting shot, Keegan concludes that the "mask of command" required for contemporary times (which he calls Post-Heroic) is the type of leadership that eschews warfare in favor of a rational, multipronged approach (here he cites John F. Kennedy’s handling of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis as an example). Such an approach, he hopes, would eventually render large-scale battles a thing of the past.

While this proposition seems a bit optimistic — given mankind’s war-making propensities — the author presents an insightful and weighty case to promote his theory. And when one considers the bulk of his work so far, one can’t help but appreciate the extent of the groundwork that he had undertaken in order to come up with this interesting theory on command and leadership.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Japan Files: a remarkable canine survivor

here is another heartwarming development from Japan -- there have been only very of them so far, so each one feels like a rare and unexpected gift -- this time, involving a canine that was rescued by the Japanese Coast Guard (JCG).

the canine survivor was spotted by rescuers on a huge floating pile of debris off the coast of Kensennuma (northern Japan). according to some accounts, the dog apparently managed to survive (for 3 weeks) after he was swept out to sea as a result of the disastrous earthquake/tsunami that ravaged Japan on March 11, 2011.

the dog, which was described as slightly emaciated but relatively healthy, was first spotted on the roof of a floating house. after his rescue, which took longer than anticipated, he was taken to Tsugaru (a JCG patrol boat), where he was fed and cared for by the crew.