Month: April 2014

A Break From Wartime

The man in Grey

World War II seems to be in the air here, not only has our perusal of the 1001 Movies you must see before you die been reviewing the war years, as reflected by our last post in the series, but we are also planning a large series on the final days of the Bismarck, mixing our passion for history with our love of literature.  Nevertheless, so much war makes one wonder what it must have been like to actually have to live through WWII itself.

I imagine that one would want to have some kind of distraction from the ever-present war, and if going to the movies, one would probably only be able to stomach a certain amount of propaganda film.  But, at the same time, I also imagine that film audiences were nowhere near as convinced of the general expectation that people should respect and be nice to one another as we have today.  Gainsborough Pictures, a British movie studio, seems to have reached the same conclusion, and filmed the subject of today’s review, The Man in Grey, in 1943 (and again, I invite you to think about that for a second).

It is most emphatically not a war movie, as it is essentially a romance set in regency times, despite the fact that it begins with two servicepeople – a man and a woman, at an auction of the goods of an heirless notable killed at Dunkirk.  After that, however, it moves back in time to two ancestors of the man and woman, played by the same actors who are involved in a reasonably cynical love quadrangle.  Basically it’s the story of a man and women who get married and then fall in love with other people.  SPOILER ALERT IN THE NEXT SENTENCE: Happiness is averted at the last moment, and then the women die.

Unhappy Ending for this couple!

Even if you do read the previous sentence, it doesn’t give much away that you can’t guess from the opening scene, so you can still watch the film.

But of more value, in my opinion, is to wonder why this film with only a partially happy ending (no, I won’t spoil that for you) became the foundation of a successful series of melodramas.  Wouldn’t it have been much more logical, with the Luftwaffe potentially delivering death at night, to go out and watch a screwball comedy?  Or just a cartoon?

Perhaps not.  People of the time do see to have been a little less delicate than we are today.  Entertainment–even escapist entertainment–was not obliged to leave one feeling good or even sad but uplifted.  It was permissible to tell a story of bad people being bad, just because that’s the way life is, and there’s no such thing as karma.  Life isn’t fair, and the attitude of the times reflected that, and, looking around at modern social movements which seem to be trying to change that (next: watch idealists attempt to repeal the law of gravity!), I must say that I find the attitude amazingly refreshing.

juan-manuel-fangio-mega-galeri-25

Movies, of course, weren’t the only place where this kind of thinking abounded.  After the war, auto racing became much more popular, as cars became more ubiquitous.  Trees and houses were considered perfectly acceptable things to have on a roadside…  and crowds stood as close as they could.  There was no real public outcry, because “B-24s are dangerous, MGs are fun” explained away the danger of the activity.  And if someone died, it was their choice – after all, no one on the planet is forced to race cars, and only adults were doing it.  That wouldn’t fly today, where the Nanny State has invaded even these areas which should be between an adult and his conscience (do NOT get me started on helmets on ski slopes, because I am kind of a broken record on that).

I find it fascinating how seemingly unrelated issues such as movies and health and safety aren’t that unrelated after all.  I wonder if the pendulum will swing back to sanity, or if that only comes with the clarity given by a big, unpleasant war?

 

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Back in Time – Remembering a More Peaceful Syria

Damascus Airport

It has been widely reported that Syria is currently up in arms and engulfed in flames, but it wasn’t always so.  Back in 2005, I used to travel to Syria on a monthly basis, and we will be posting little details of what it used to be like, something that I believe has interest for both historical purposes and as a memorial to a time that will never return, and a “before” impression of the impression I had of the country’s invaluable cultural treasures – many of which have since been damaged in the fighting.  

 

In the semi-twilight of Damascus airport at four in the morning, it’s pretty much normal to wonder how in the world you ended up there.  It’s also normal to wonder when the next plane out was leaving but, sadly, that wasn’t an option for me.  I had just gotten there – and I had  work to do.

I nervously negotiated the immigration process, using a combination of English and sign language to communicate with the olive-uniformed airport personnel.  At each position, I became more and more worried that no one in the airport seemed to have a basic command of the English language.  I’d been to quite a few places, and had never had quite this hard a time talking to the airport people.  The uniforms weren’t good for my nerves, either.

About half an hour after leaving the plane, I emerged into the civilian part of the airport where I was greeted by a few desultory guys with moustaches leaning against a wall and holding up signs with names on them.  None of the signs had my name on them, so I walked past them to look for the official taxi stand.

It was unmanned.  There was a hand-written sign on the counter presumably giving instructions on what to do in this event, but it was in Arabic.  There was nothing even remotely resembling an information desk.

At this point, I stood completely still.  I would have cried, but that wouldn’t have been particularly manly.  I knew I could just walk out and grab a random cab on the curb, but years of travel in Latin America had taught me that that could be a very, very bad idea.  I had no idea what to do next.

And then a cell phone rang.

Normally, this wouldn’t have made any difference.  Ringtones blend into the background of airports like the sound of airplanes or the PA announcing flights.  It is not something one pays attention to.

But this one was impossible to ignore.  The ringtone was the lead song from the movie Lambada.

Just like that, all was right in the world.  Any country whose people could choose that ringtone wouldn’t be all that bad.  All the worries simply disappeared into a self-effacing chuckle, I reminded myself that I’d traveled over 24 hours to get to Damascus airport.  The last couple of miles to the hotel wouldn’t be the point at which I gave up.

Damascus taxis

I walked outside and climbed into one of the cabs on the curb.  “Hotel Semiramis,” I said.  The driver said a whole lot of stuff I didn’t understand and I just shrugged, repeated the name of the hotel and hoped for the best.  He mirrored my shrug and drove off.

 

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Bad Management Fads – A Classically Educated List

down-trend

Our guest blogger today, part of the Classically Educated core team, has decided to remain anonymous, since they suspect their boss reads this blog. But anonymous or not, we think you’ll enjoy it!

dilbert-boss

For those who’ve never been corporate zombies, it might come as a bit of a surprise that not everyone in management fits the stereotypes.  Not every manager is a serious-minded analytical guru, not all are whiz-kids, there are nearly no crooks and Dilbert’s boss, though iconic, doesn’t really represent a significant cross-section.  As a blog that self-describes as “eclectic”, we couldn’t let the opportunity of having a look at this, especially as many of us still spend a significant portion of our waking lives at work.

Most managers are just regular people who do regular things.  They have the same feelings that you or I do, have the same questions (What is the meaning of life? Will I ever be successful? What should I have for lunch?) and, like us, they are dissatisfied with the standard answer, 42.  They get home and watch something mind-numbing on TV, and the last time most of them read anything that might be considered classic literature is either in college or in high school, depending on what they minored in.

They are, essentially, Jane and Joe Shmoe with a bit more money and a BMW, with the big difference that they are under pressure to do better than their competition, a company that is staffed by people with exactly the same qualifications and exactly the same IQ.  That other company will be trying to do exactly the same things in mostly the same ways.  This means that most managers are desperate to fins something to set them apart – but they, like you or I, secretly believe  they aren’t up to the task, and also know that they stopped maturing at some point near their fifteenth birthday, just like everyone else.

Many people attain a sense of security by being part of a group, and managers are no different, which means that, like 1980’s hairdos, which seemed like a safe choice at the time but have since forced you to pretend that “I didn’t take any pictures during that whole decade”, management fads that everyone is doing are adopted by everyone else, in a sort of self-creational cycle that the best business writers are at a loss to explain (conspiracy theories are welcome in the comments).

There are many articles that talk about bad management fads, and this is another one, but we are funnier, snarkier, and have a fad in the #1 spot that we haven’t seen elsewhere!

So, without further ado, I give you the five dumbest management fads that the crew at Classically Educated have observed firsthand:

leadership_lemmings1

#5.  Consensus Management. This is one that sounds great on paper, especially to millennials who have decided to democratize everything, from music to internet content (said the blogger).  They feel entitled to be a part of every decision and that we should all get along, yay!

Verdict: Consensus is a bunch of people who think “A” getting together in a ten-hour meeting to compromise on “B”.

Quality Control... Fail

#4.  Use of Quality and Production Tools in Commercial Areas. Raise your hand if your company has forced you to qualify as a green or black belt, or applied Kanbans to your processes, or used some other production-sector quality tool to make your working life more organized.  Hmm, thought so.  Now raise your hand if you work in marketing, sales, Human Resources or any other area of the company in which the capacity to think on your feet and deal with situations that never arose before and will likely never arise again are more important than trying to bash a bunch of round pegs into square holes.  Sad, isn’t it?

Verdict:  Who the hell promoted all those engineers and accountants into top management positions, anyway?

moth.flame

#3.  Shiny! This is perhaps the fad that most clearly shows the connection between management and normal human feelings such as insecurity, especially in the internet age.  Here’s the deal: a very high-level manager reads an article that states that social interactive image and sound conflugialization is beginning to take off, and that there are already thousands of happy users sharing their conflugialistic infotermics, and that it’s the greatest thing since Facebook Ads.  Then they read the fateful sentence: “XXXXX (being a company in their industry) has already signed on as a beta test partner”.  The manager immediately assigns a slightly lower-level person (say an EVP) to the task of implementing the thing, and gravity ruins the lives of a bunch of middle managers for months.  The justification: “We can’t fall behind XXXXX.”

Verdict:  Did anyone bother to ask what the ROI on your Facebook Ads is?

 

#2. Cross-Functional Teams.  Cross-functional teams are another one of those that sound good on paper: let’s have all the stake-holding departments involved in the productive process, that way ensuring that nothing gets overlooked.  We’ll save a ton of time in not having mistakes.  The problem?  Mistakes happen anyway, and you basically have people from sales sitting in on long arguments between the guy from the factory and the guy from finance regarding how to shave a cent off procurement costs by importing gear oil from Myanmar instead of Paraguay.

Verdict:  The ancients once said something about “too many cooks”, and it still holds true.  Some of those ancients would have been excellent CEOs, but they’d if they’d been willing to bathe more often.

Random Dude wearing a Power Tie

#1.  Power Ties.  This one is embarrassing to even write about.  I can’t imagine how it must have felt to be subjected to it – fortunately, it died off about a year before I entered the workforce, but my coworkers were so scarred by it that it dominated lunchtime for ages.  Essentially, Power Ties were red ties, which, some behavioral psychologist had decided projected power, which gave you a psychological advantage over the people you were meeting with.  Many organizations mandated them for meetings with clients, and especially with C-Level managers visiting from headquarters.

Verdict:  He’s a millionaire C-level manager in a huge corporation.  He’s reached his position by backstabbing thick-hided insensibility.  He’s fought in four wars, and has the skulls of the enemy soldiers (and one insubordinate corporal) that he killed mounted in his trophy room.  He specifically requested that you serve him grilled interns for lunch.  But show him a red tie and he’ll cower, blubbering, into the nearest corner.  Let me know how that works out.

 

Anyway, feel free to add any you might like – that’s what the comments are for, after all!

 

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Dangerous Skies

Well, we did warn you that, this week, Classically Educated wasn’t going to be taking things too seriously.  We meant it, and today, the thing we aren’t going to be taking seriously is Easter.  We know that corporations the world over and at least two major monotheistic creeds take it extremely seriously, but we won’t.  It’s not a lack of respect for any of these entities – it’s just that there’s already too much being taken seriously in this world, and we are idealistic and inflexible* on making the world a less serious place.  In that vein, we believe you’ll really, really like the story below – the first time we do fiction on Classically Educated, but too good an opportunity to pass up!

Targeting

Two black eyes, dots of india ink set in a furry, elongated head, looked through the night-vision scope. Their quarry was much too canny to fly high enough to appear on radar, but had gotten complacent. The new year had come and gone and, glutted with the profit from the holiday season, and confident that no one would be looking out for him for the better part of a year, the fat man had thrown caution to the winds. Furry ears could pick up the sound of tack jingling, even at this distance, but it was of no consequence. The target, illuminated as it was by a red light at the front of the convoy, would be visible even to a casual observer.

The gigantic furry paws sweating at the computerized targeting system, like the eyes, did not belong to a casual observer.

Fueled by fury, and the deep knowledge that an overweight ostentatious atrocity with the bad taste to hitch a team of flying reindeer to a sleigh surely deserved what was coming to him, the eyes watched. Calculations were made in the computerized targeting system. A firing solution was reached.

And yet, the paws hesitated, perhaps savoring the victory.

Or perhaps they simply paused to recall past injustices. The overshadowing of the true Christian holiday by a date which owed more to pagan ritual than anything that occurred in Jerusalem. The transformation of a time of love and generosity into the ultimate monument to corporate greed. And, most shudder-worthy of all, the fat men bundled in red and white coats who spread false cheer to children who simply didn’t know any better in every shopping mall in the western world.

The rabbit wanted to blame Dickens and his stupid ghosts for the whole fiasco, but he knew it was useless. It was a debate that had been raging since the middle ages, with factions pushing for the holiness of one date over the next, with no clear winner ever declared until a century before. Then, those silly ghosts had come along, as well as an advertising campaign for a popular drink, and the century had gone to the fat man by landslide.

Swiss Cheese Venison

But that was all about to change. A furry paw pressed down on a button and the beady black eyes watched with satisfaction as tracer fire sped into the night. Silhouetted against the shining aurora borealis, reindeer began to jerk and drop like puppets with their strings suddenly severed. A paw pumped the air in exultation as the red-nosed leader became swiss-cheese venison. The sleigh itself disintegrated soon after.

There, it was done, the now-grown bunny thought to himself. That ought to redress the balance for a few decades.

But there was no time to gloat. Preparations had to be made, to capitalize on the victory. There were things to do, eggs to hide.

(c) 2009 by Gustavo Bondoni – originally published in Every Day Fiction, April 2009.

*Disclaimer:  if any large corporation which takes Easter seriously wishes to give us large amounts of money to promote their products, we’ll happily retract and erase this post and any others you might indicate.  Call us. Please.

Party Like it’s 1925

1920s  House Party

Here at Classically Educated, we think that everyone takes themselves much too seriously.  Hell, we’ll probably be accused of taking ourselves too seriously.  In fact, the very name “Classically Educated” reeks of pretentious big-headedness.  So we are officially declaring this week the “Week of Not Taking Ourselves or the Week of Easter Seriously”, also known by its simple acronym, WONT OOT WOES.  Our article on Thursday will probably poke some sort of  fun at something around Easter, but we had no article for today.

So, in the time-honored tradition of blogs everywhere, we asked a vampire to send us an article about how to party to run on Easter week.  I imagine all the other blogs are doing the same thing.  Well, at least those that recognize the universal truth that vampires haven’t been overdone.  Anyway, H’s post is below.  You may have read it before, but we don’t care.

Greetings,

As someone who’s seen it all over the past few thousand years, the most surprising thing isn’t that I’ve seen everything once, but how often I seem to see the same thing, over and over again.  History, in my opinion, doesn’t move in great cycles, it repeats itself once every generation as new teenagers ask the same questions.

I am always amused by how every generation believes, firmly, that it invented the out-of-control, call-the-cops and get-excommunicated-immediately party.  Ninety percent of people between the ages of thirteen and twenty-five would probably tell you that their parents were the sort of people whose idea of a good time was dinner, a movie and home by ten.  Teens today would be hard-pressed to picture younger versions of their folks in a typical 1980′s cocaine blowout.  They’d probably have an even harder time with the image of their grandparents at Woodstock.

The reason each generation believes that theirs are the best parties, is because they are clueless (and mortal, which means that most of them can’t even begin to imagine what real parties are like!).  They feel that, having finally gotten beyond the bounds of childhood, they are doing things never before permitted to anyone else.

Hah.

Over the past few millenia, I’ve observed several truly golden eras of debauchery, and I feel that a list of the great eras of the party is justified.  Of course, I will limit myself to those parties at which an undead person would 1) not be ashamed to be seen at and 2) not cause a panic.  I’m certain there have been some enjoyable orgies among illiterate goatherders in unregarded rural villages in the Appenines, but we need not concern ourselves with them for the nonce.

I present, in order, the great party epochs you shouldn’t have missed if you were alive, or undead, at the time:

Hanging Gardens Engraving

5) Babylon under the rule of Ishtar.  The energy of budding civilization – there were no rules for anything back then – great-looking city walls and the best setting for a garden party ever made the nightlife noteworthy.  The fact that the largest prostitution ring was run by the official religion (giving you an idea of what ‘morals’ meant back then) made it legendary.

Pericles and Architect

4) Pericle’s Greece.  Have you seen the movie Caligula?  Yes?  Good.  Well, remember that they were Romans, and the Romans learned everything they knew from the Classical Greeks.  They stole their gods, their alphabet, and their ethics from the declining Hellenes, but something was lost in the transition.  The Greeks remain the true masters of the decadent orgy.

Check out Dude with Head

3) The court of Louis XVI.  Talk about throwing everything at a party.  These people had the entire wealth of a nation to spend on their blowouts – and they did.  Each noble saw it as his duty to bankrupt his duchy to purchase wine when his turn to host the proceedings rolled around, and the dress code was strict: brand new clothes produced to that week’s fashion would get you in – anything else would get you sent around back to the servant’s quarters, although this banishment would likely only last until the inebriated nobles – male, female, undecided, undead, whatever – came around looking for something to add variety to the revelry.  It was a time of parties well worth losing one’s head over.

Victorians!

2)  Victorian England.  Let’s just say that neither Charlotte Bronte nor Jane Austen got invited to the good parties.  The late 19th century was a riot behind closed doors, and the upper classes went further and farther than anyone had dared before or since.  If I weren’t sworn to secrecy, you’d be shocked at the truth behind Jack the Ripper.  The only thing keeping this epoch from taking the top spot was their insistence on using opium-based drugs.  Not much of a party when one is too relaxed to stay upright.

Driving home after the party

1) The roaring twenties.  American Robber Baronesses meet the landed European gentry – and seduce it.  Women’s liberation finally brought what had been happening forever out into the open.  We were introduced to the vamp, the femme fatale and the powerful female figure, much to the distress of the middle class, who have always been the only ones to believe in morality in the first place (which is unsurprising, since it has always been a tool to control them).   Hard drugs and slinky dresses, impeccably dressed men and fast cars all performing to the beat of the foxtrot at eleven, and the tango at three – a prelude to other things.  If you moved in the right circles, prohibition was a joke – something that happened to strict churchgoers.  Black Tuesday robbed future generaions of the pinnacle of party – perhaps it’s just as well, because there was no way that generation would have survived much longer if they’d gone on like that.

Best of all, these epochs were undead-friendly, provided that particular undead didn’t smell and had gone to the right school.  Imagine popping into even the best party today, and asking if the house had an excess stable boy whose blood you might suck – your host would grow pale and mutter some lame excuse.  And you call that a party.

The bar has been set.  I expect all of you to strive to clear it from now on.

H

Docudrama from WWII: Fires Were Started

fires were started Still

One of the interesting things that arise from having joined the 1001 Movies list in the early 1940s is that these first posts, not surprisingly, are have a higher-than-average proportion of propaganda films and war subjects (and if you missed our initial post on this subject, see here, and here for the earlier posts in this series on a different site).

Today’s subject is a 1943 film produced by Britain’s Ministry of Information, entitled Fires Were Started.  It tells the tale of a newcomer to the Auxiliary Fire Service, a group of civilian volunteer firefighters (the real ones pictured below) who were often put at the forefront of the fire control effort during the Blitz.  It has all the hallmarks of a propaganda film*: it depicts a heroic activity in which the common man can participate during a time of war, and shows that you are better for it, and that everyone is doing their part against a terrible scourge.

Actual Auxiliary Fire Service Members

One thing I did find interesting, and something I’ve also observed in other British films of the era, is that the films are very careful never to demonize Germany or the German people.  While Nazis are fair game, when they are mentioned in the British films I’ve seen, they are shown as having perverted a noble race as opposed to representing it.  In this film, the scourge isn’t the Nazis, it’s fire.  Fire symbolizes the plight and fight of the people of Britain and gives a framework to the heroic actions of the firefighters, as well as a clear backdrop to the philosophy that, if one kept one’s head and continued working, everything would be all right.  There is one particular scene where the telephone operators in the firehouse, mainly young women, suffer a number of near -and one very near-misses from enemy bombs, but still carry on with their tasks.  Esprit de Corps is also a central motif here.

Screen-Shot-2012-09-05-at-20.54.06

The fact that it’s not an actual documentary, but a dramatization of typical events allowed the director, Humphrey Jennings (pictured above), the leeway he needed to make it more effective.  The film pulls at the heartstrings because the sacrifices have a human face, and it works as propaganda because the heroism of those that sacrifice isn’t wasted, it allows the war effort to proceed.  The fact that Jenkins employed real members of the Service to act in the film, probably increased the amount of emotion that shone through.

As a basic course in propaganda, it is hugely effective, and I’d love to hear which other propaganda films you’ve found to be equally so.  From an earlier era, Battleship Potemkin comes to mind (while October is an example of how to overdo it and bore an audience to tears).  Any others?  I’d love to hear your suggestions – and maybe add to the review list!

 

On a related but separate note, I’ve often been asked where one can get these movies, as it’s a bit frustrating to read a review of something, and then be unable to find it anywhere without resorting to piracy (although piracy seems to be less of an issue in some countries than in others).  For this particular list, I’ve found that Netflix has about 80% of all the titles available, including Fires Were Started.

 

*I was about to write “of a good propaganda film”, but edited it, as we need to have a discussion on what exactly makes a propaganda film “good”.

What the Reading of Blake’s Poetry Awoke in Me

tyger copy

María Evangelina Vázquez, today’s guest blogger, is amazingly well-suited to the topic of poetry and literature.  Not only did she study journalism, but her experience also includes stints at publishers and at leedor.com, a culture site – Spanish-speaking readers can read her articles here.  I think you’ll enjoy the following post as much as I did!

 

When the stars threw down their spears

And water’d heaven with their tears:

Did he smile his work to see?

Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

-William Blake: “The Tyger”

 

Songs of innocence and of experience, by William Blake was a book that touched me deeply when I discovered it back in high school, when I was sixteen, at the same time I first read the short stories by Cortázar and Borges. My English literature teacher, Janet Lenton, taught me Blake for the first time, and for that, among many other teachings, I will always be thankful. The fact that the book explored the two contrary states of the human soul with such craft and clarity was, to me, hugely captivating. Blake, this visionary and mystical poet, retrieved the strongest universal symbols in his poetry such as “the lamb”, representing innocence or God’s love; and “the tyger”, representing experience or God’s wrath.

Portrait of William Blake

The fascination I felt for the simplicity with which Blake depicted both animals with opposite meaning, but both made by God’s hand impelled me to continue reading his works in the following years. At the same time, the musicality of his poems and the precise composition of his rimes made an impact on me. I further studied this author when I was in my early twenties and I also took a course in romantic poets, his contemporaries; but Blake is the one to whom I always return. I think it’s because, through his work, he taught me  what the power of imagination is really capable of. He was the founder of his own mythology and the universes he created through language and images are still alive. His creations show that all the arts can be found together: literature (the texts he wrote), visual arts (the images he painted and engraved) and music (the rhythm and rime in his poetry).

The idea of the artist as a creator of a parallel world or reality where we can escape from everyday life has been an obsession for me ever since. Reading is the vehicle through which one can enter this world created by a writer or artist. Reading helps us readers become artists, as well, as we follow the path marked by the authors we love or admire.

Prometheus and the Fire

I truly believe in the power of inspiration and I think of Blake as an inspired author. When I think of him I think about the image of Prometheus, stealing fire from the Gods to share it with us humans. Maybe there is a divine flame inhabiting those inspiring poems we read. Some texts are able to enlighten us and some of them aren’t. There is a kind of magic which remains latent in words until we read them. We readers can bring words to life while reading, as if we were casting a spell.

Good books have a soul inside them. These souls are looking for a body to incarnate: a good and sharp reader that knows how to understand and interpret the texts will provide it to them. Texts are like a sleeping beauty waiting to be awoken by a kiss, and this kiss is the act of reading: the reader can be the prince chosen to awake the princess who is asleep in the written word. This is what I imagine that happens when I read Blake and other authors that move me.

Today, Blake’s “The Tyger” and “The Lamb” inhabit my mind; they have the same sounds of a childhood lullaby and I often turn to them when I am in distress. They have a soothing quality. Blake’s works have a strong insight on human nature and on the opposite forces that dwell in us. The power of his words can be compared to the warmth of the maternal presence, a protective being that watches over us and teaches us how to know the world, ourselves and the divine forces at the same time.

Creating a Successful Blog From Scratch

Blogging

So, today’s blog is about… blogging!  Specifically, it’s about blogging here, but it can be applied to any blog you might want to know about.  We did warn you that this blog would be eclectic, didn’t we?

When we began, a couple of months ago, we had a bunch of questions, ranging from “Would anyone be interested in this?” to “Will running the same topic in more than one post in the same week help or hinder readership?”  We’e answered those two (yes and help, in case you were wondering), but we know that we still have a lot of stuff that will catch us by surprise.

Nevertheless, I would call the first two months an unqualified success.  We kept to the publication schedule, had a bunch of guest bloggers sharing their wisdom on topics ranging from Romance to Awesome High Schools, and we have some interesting stuff in the pipeline as well (for example, if you ever wondered what life was really like in Syria before the civil war, stay tuned).

But what did we actually learn?

Well, the first thing we found out was that having a nice-looking blog interface really engages people.  I’ve had guest bloggers tell me that the reason they accepted the invitation was that the blog looks really good – and was even more of a motivating factor than the content which had gone before.

Facebook Logo

The second thing we learned was that having a Facebook fan page is important, as FB seems to be the place where most people go about sharing links and clicking through – a majority of the traffic we’ve seen has come through FB links.  Also, if you haven’t already done so, go ahead and like our FB Fan Page, and you’ll get updates automatically whenever we update the content.  LinkedIn, LiveJournal and Twitter feeds have also had some readership, but FB seems to be where it’s at right now.

Third thing – and this one was a bit painful – was that a nicely emotional, personal article will always attract more readers than the most interesting mega-punditry.  Unexpected, but true, and probably explained the need to write this post.

These are just some of the learnings – I could also mention the fact that readership grows slowly, in spurts, that no matter how many readers you have, people will be too shy to comment.  Or that unexpected topics wake people’s passions – such as last week’s tango extravaganza, which proved unexpectedly popular.

Not so positive things?  There were some.  If we had to do it all again, we would have launched the FB fan page the same day as the blog itself, so that even the readers who came aboard very early could have signed up for the updates.

Classically educated map

And the final thing?  The analytics are addictive, especially the map which tells you where people are reading your posts.  We’ve been delighted to entertain visitors from every continent other than Antartica…  But are now a bit obsessed by the fact that we’ve had none from Senegal or Nepal (in fact, Africa and Asia are both conspicuously blank).  Why not?  Where are you guys?

We know you’re out there…  and we will find and engage you!