Friday, November 11, 2011

Job, Civil War, Robots

Finished my first half-week at the new job. It seems very promising. The people there, from the owners right on down to the greeters, are extremely friendly, outgoing, and fun. The atmosphere is an odd combination of low-stress and high productivity. Weird. Something I’m definitely not used to these past five or six years.

Anyway, since my store is on a highway, I don’t really go anywhere for lunch. So I’ve been slogging through Keegan’s military history of the Civil War, much like Grant through the swamps of the upper Mississippi. Two thoughts occurred to me this afternoon.

First, being a Civil War general is not unlike a really, really, really awful and downright bad movie I saw many, many years ago: Robot Jox, I think the title was, complete with the “hip” spelling of jocks. The gist of that movie was that wars in the future were fought by gargantuan mechanical robots, tall as skyscrapers, in a gladiator-type battle that determined the winning nation. The robot was controlled by a teeny-tiny human a thousand feet up in the “brain” or control center.

When I read of Grant and Lee and Sherman and the rest controlling armies of 50,000 men and more spread out over dozen of miles, this stupid analogy comes to mind. I mean, Grant has to stand there, on the ground, in his tent, and visualize the geography and travel conditions of the terrain, the locations of his men, the location of the rebels, his logistical problems (food, clothing, ammunition), his strategy and tactics. And then, like that peon in the robot’s brain, he has to swing this arm of his forces into battle, then the other one, then both at the same time, then advance, then retreat, then go this way and that.

See what I mean?

The other thought was a brief snippet about Sherman. Seems the General was up all night planning out strategery in his tent. Next morning he decides to catch some Zzzz’s against a tree stump. Soldiers walk by, and one says, “Gee, ain’t it somethin’, us bein’ led by him,” or something to that effect. Sherman, only half-dozing, immediately wakes. Instead of tearing the young lad’s head off, he simply says, “Sir, while you were sleeping, I was awake all night planning for your welfare and a quick end to this conflict.” Then he goes back to sleep.

This nagged me, because I was certain – certain! – that something similar had happened to me. No, I never led troops. But somehow I was knocked for appearing not to be industrious and … oh yeah. The last five years of my working life. See first paragraph, above. The owner would never quite catch me doing the financial statement, or paying the mortgages and loans for the business, or helping advise employees on benefit plans, or transmitting payroll. No, he’d only walk up behind me when I was checking my email or chatting with the wife on the phone.

General Sherman, I sympathize!

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