Humor

Three Unconventional Roads To Wodehouse

Mention PG Wodehouse in a conversation and most people will immediately think of Jeeves and Wooster.  That’s partly due to the success of the books and stories, but, I suspect, mostly because of the various film and TV adaptations.  Of course, the one with Hugh Laurie as Wooster utterly deserves to have that notoriety.

But there is more to Wodehouse than the butler and his hapless gentleman.  No less a writer (and polymath) than Isaac Asimov said that Wodehouse, on a sentence level, is one of the three greatest writers in the English language (the other two, if memory serves, being Austen and Dickens).

People often scoff at that, of course.  A mere humorist upstaging countless numbers of earnest, serious writers, some of whom are even politically committed?  Blasphemy.  My answer to that is simple: pick up any of Wodehouse’s books, turn to a random page, and read any sentence that is more than five or six words long.  If you know anything about literature or writing, the odds are that you will have to concede the point.  He is consistently that good.

The above means that it’s a bit of a tragedy that casual readers don’t always go beyond Jeeves and Wooster so, in order to address that failing, we present three other good Wodehouse books (and discuss the three very different editions we read).  Think of it as a Classically Educated public service (you can thank us by buying our mug)!

The Girl in Blue.  PG Wodehouse.  Paperback

The first is The Girl in Blue.  This is a fairly typical standalone Wodehouse novel, and is a good non-Jeeves primer.  As you can see from the cover illustration of the version we read, a policeman ends up in a pond.  This is a recurring theme in Wodehouse, and upon reflection, we feel that if it were only a recurring theme in other types of literature as well, the world would be a better place.  Of course, star-crossed lovers feature as well, another central tenet of the canon.  If you’re going to start, and have already read the Jeeves books, this is a good place to begin.

Mr Mulliiner Speaking PG Wodehouse

Unlike the above novel, which is unrelated to other Wodehouse tales the Mr Mulliner stories are linked together in various books.  The one we’ll be discussing here is entitled Mr. Mulliner Speaking, and is sheer happiness.  Mr. Mulliner is an older and wiser character, so he is usually above Wodehousian shenanigans but, to the eternal entertainment of his drinking buddies, he has a number of young, nearly brain-dead, relations who get themselves into ridiculous situations.  They always work out for the best, of course, but the way they do reminds us that in Wodehouse, as in life, it’s about the journey, not the destination.  And few journeys are more rewarding.

We read this one in the original hardcover from 1929 (pictured above), and it was fun to experience it as pre-war readers would have.  But even though these are plentiful and affordable, there’s no real need to track one down, as 1929 is reasonably modern, so the book is just a book, not some artifact.

 

Utterly Uncle Fred PG Wodehouse

Finally, we reach the main course, a volume entitled Utterly Uncle Fred, which is quite possibly, the perfect Wodehouse.  The reason is that Uncle Fred is, perhaps, the most demented character in his oeuvre.  Age has not made this one wise, not in the least.  Instead, it sharpened his sense of chaos.  Of course, he is a kindly old man despite the propensity for landing his nephew in the soup, and his ability to get everyone in trouble is matched only by his knack for pulling them back out.  Once again, it’s the journey, not the destination that makes this book.

The book above is an omnibus edition (one of the nicest things about Wodehouse is the number of collections you can buy) containing three novels and one story, so it’s a meaty proposition.  We’d recommend buying it even if you’ve never read a line of Wodehouse in your life… but most people are too cautious with their money to do so, perhaps start with one of the other two.

Or just read some Jeeves and Wooster.  I’ve never heard of anyone going wrong with that!

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The 2015 Post

Hand Emerging From Crypt

Our strangest (albeit most critically acclaimed) guest blogger, Baron H, is back from wherever he’s been hiding these last few months (we sincerely hope his explanation for his absence below isn’t indicative of reality).  Why he would bizarrely send us his New Year’s resolutions in March is likewise a mystery, but as we had no other piece planned for today we decided to run it anyway, and see whether our readers would suck it up or simply abandon the blog in droves.  For those new to Classically Educated, Baron Hieronymous is the net’s only undead blogger – he claims to be a vampire – and he gives etiquette advice with a particularly strange twist.  Of course, we think he’s just a deranged old coot out in the wilderness somewhere, but that doesn’t change the undeniable fact that he penned our most popular post ever.

Greetings and salutations,

There are various reasons for the fact that my first post of 2015 is in March as opposed to January.  The first two (minor reasons) have to do with the fact that a) we undead are in no hurry, so a couple of months is nothing to us and b) that I was in a relationship with a mortal that didn’t quite work out, so I lost a bit of time while I worked out the details of the feast I was going to throw in her honor; she was a hit with my friends, as was the garlic sauce she attended the dinner in.

The main reason, however, has nothing to do with that at all.  You see, I’ve been feeling a little guilty over the fact that many of my previous posts (here and here, for example) have specifically been aimed at explaining and clarifying everyday situations or historical trends.  I seem to have forgotten that my function, in death as it was in life, is not to be a force for good, but a force for evil.  I live in New York, after all, and have a reputation to maintain.

So, with that firmly in mind, I have decided to write my 2015 resolutions on the first days of March.  The reason for this is that all the people who made resolutions on New Year’s day have probably already broken them, so this will remind them that they are just worms with no discipline (I apologize to my zombie readers who might be offended at the mention of worms).

So, with no further ado, here are my resolutions for how to make the world a worse place in 2015.

1) Send in a script for a new reality show to the good folks at the networks.  This one will follow a group of schoolkids in the bible belt as they become progressively dumber and more confused as the battle for what is right and proper education rages on.  One day, they will be taught one thing, and the next, they will see the polar opposite.  This will definitely go on the air as the it will appeal to both conservatives and liberals.  Eventually the ratings will go through the roof, as the poor kids will wind up so confused and misguided that they will end up almost as stupid as the average TV audience.  And remember folks, an audience that can relate to the characters on the screen is an audience that won’t change channels!

2) Donate money to a cause run by fanatics, but stipulate that the gold (I don’t trust this newfangled paper currency) can only be used for PR and advertising.  What more could we want than another group of true believers with no sense of humor or capacity to understand the concept of “middle ground” with more money to get their vew across.  Perhaps some group that thinks indoor plumbing is an offense against the gods of native people might work.

3) No more giving werewolves bottes of Head & Shoulders for their birthday.  This is just mean, and the fun of it wore of a long time ago.

Pyramid Zombie

4) Hire a zombie to haunt the pyramids.  I’ve wanted to do this for ages, but with airport security the way it is, it was always tough to get zombies on airplanes.  But now, I hear they have Twitter in Egypt, so I’ll tweet for local candidates interested in the position.  And then I’ll wrap the winner in bandages, place him in a crypt and sit around watching CNN until the story comes on.

Borley Rectory - Most Haunted House in England

5)  Take a trip to Borley.  Haven’t been there in years, and the ghosts are starting to get unhappy with me.  Stakes and garlic have been mentioned in a couple of their more recent communiqués.

6)  No more eating garbagemen.  This is actually the one I’m mot likely to stick to.  These guys are tasty, easy to pick off the street and always do for a quick meal, but they give me gas.  Oh well, guess I’ll pop in to McDonald’s if I need a quick bite.

Like all resolutions, we’ll see how these go.  In the meantime, be good.

And if you aren’t good, please be certain to invite me along!

Regards,

H

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The Micromanager’s Guide to the Galaxy

Micromanagement

Classically Educated is dedicated to showcasing the largest number of different interesting subjects possible, so we’d be remiss if we didn’t visit the business world every once in a while – after all, a great number of our readers spend most of their waking hours working in an office setting.

The last time we explored the business world, we didn’t exactly focus on best practices and financial wizardry, but instead attempted to identify the dumbest management fads ever.

Perhaps the time has come to do a serious article on business, and explore the trends in… oh, who am I kidding.  There are plenty of excellent business books and blogs to get the good stuff, and the errors are so much more entertaining.

So today, we’ll take a look at the most irritating piece of semi-human fauna one will ever encounter within the workplace ecosystem: the micromanager.  Micromanagement is probably the easiest way to kill any budding buy-in and creativity, both of which are undesirable, because it means that people in the company are treated as adults and have freedoms that many managers are afraid of.  So, in the spirit of making companies a little less threatening to insecure managers, we proudly present a list of the things that make an effective micromanager.

1) Things must be perfect to be released.  There used to be a sign on the wall in Facebook’s offices that said “Done is better than perfect”, which embraced change and gave employees tacit permission to make mistakes in the name of progress.  A good micromanager will always endeavor to act precisely the opposite way.  Things must be perfect, and personally reviewed at least five times by the manager in charge before being released in beta versions.  And employees must be constantly reminded that perfection is the only acceptable result.  If this delays projects constantly and causes missed deadlines, so be it.  There is no replacement for perfection.

walmart deli equipment

2) Some people insist that process is king.  A good micromanager knows that these people are wrong.  Process is not king…  process is GOD.  Strict adherence to processes and regulations is much more important than any positive results that might arise from stepping out of the process structure.  And if any activity within the company is identified as having too few processes, then it must be brought up to standard.  This is especially true if there is a manager who believes in delegating and allowing his people to use their own judgement in charge of that activity, and is doubly true if the department is successful, and therefore undermining the spirit of process-as-God that is being imposed in the rest of the company.

3) Meetings are important.  They are important for two reasons: the first is that everyone must be aligned and agree to follow the process and to iron out all the details regardless of agreed-on dates.  The second is that only in meetings can a micromanager get everyone together to talk about tiny details that they may or not be directly involved with, instead of having people focus on the big stuff first.  That is an important point because, as any good micromanager knows…

Priorities Cartoon

4)  There is no such thing as priorities.  EVERYTHING is equally important.  You cannot have perfection if people insist on doing “important” stuff first, or if sales says irresponsible things like “it’s a billion dollar deal, and all I need is a couple of documents – send me whatever you have right now”.  These people clearly have no sense of proportion and are dangerous to the company.  Be strong and steadfast and never forget rule number one.

5)  Words are important, and only have one meaning.  It is a micromanager’s sworn duty to stop any conversation, no matter how seemingly productive, if another person uses a word that isn’t exactly descriptive of what is being discussed, ESPECIALLY if the meaning is “close enough”.  We’ve talked about this here on CE before, but it’s especially important in a business setting.  People who don’t use exactly the right word are heretics who probably care more about results than about process, and must be corrected – publicly if possible.  Job titles, of course, must be defined with utter precision, because if someone confuses a senior assistant with a junior analyst, it is quite possible the world will end*.

So there you have it!  All you have to do is follow these five simple rules, and the world will work precisely as you wish it to while you are at work.  Even if you are not a manager, they are useful, as who can possibly argue against perfection and precision?  No one will, at least not to your face!  And what you don’t know can’t hurt you, right?

And don’t forget that if you like our Facebook page, you will never miss a post… unless you want to or it irritates you or something.

* And no one wants that unless the proper forms are filled, in triplicate.

PS: a true micromanager will be rereading this post looking to see if all the formatting is correct.  Please don’t fail us!

About Humor

Humor

We’ve convinced Baron H, our only undead blogger (we actually believe he’s unique anywhere on the internet…), to allow us to use this piece for Classically Educated.  Needless to say, we enjoyed this one almost as much as we liked the one on party eras (BTW, we’re cooking up a second party era post – the Baron has been telling us stories of ancient times again)!  His topic today is humor… but we won’t go with the obvious “gallows humor” theme, of course.  We’re much too mature for that.

 

Greetings,

Every time I talk about humor, I’m asked whether an ancient vampire really ought to be broaching the subject. After all, there are few things less funny than a monster who eats people unapologetically.

This is simply untrue. Being alive (or undead if you prefer) for so long means that the centuries can seriously drag if you don’tmanage to find something to laugh about. In addition to this, vampires tend to be brilliant (evil, of course, but brilliant), and a lack of humor has always been the hallmark of the weak-minded and insecure. One might almost say that it is an exclusively human trait.

There are some groups – particularly militant groups in extremist causes (or, even worse, causes that are “just”) – who seem to be unable to spot the fact that they have, through the spewing of rhetoric, become caricatues of themselves. We all know who they are in today’s world, and I’m not going to turn this into a fight about specific issues, but I was extremely well-placed to watch them in earlier ages.

So, without further ado, I give you the five people (or groups) with the least sense of humor in recent history:

Temperance Movement Carrie_Nation

5) The Temperance Movement in the United States. I was already ensconced within my Park-view apartment in the years before Prohibition was enacted, so I was able to observe first hand the behavior of the members of the Temperance Movement. There is a strong temptation to say that this movement was made up of dry, dusty old bats, but – being a vampire – I have too much respect for bats.

Let’s just say that these are the old maids and parish preachers who created the template for activism in the US, and are probably responsible for keeping alive the tradition that people can only be completely right or completely wrong, and those in the wrong are to be vilified.

Despite being completely ridiculous (a free country under Islamic prohibition of alcohol?), they were completely unable to see the humor in their actions. They were clearly people who needed a drink.

Catherine_II_on_horse

4) Catherine the Great. Most of my time in Russia was spent in the years just before and during her rule. Russia is something of a humorless place at the best of times, but things got a bit extreme when Catherine was on the throne.

The main issue is that the one thing we all wanted to do is to publish an anthology of jokes about the fact that she’d deposed her own husband to gain the throne. Some of the jokes were classics, all of them were off-color, many were about the horse, and poor Peter III did not come out of them looking good (of course, he’d been killed in the deposing, but that just made it better). If Catherine had had any sense at all, she could have secured her legacy by allowing these volumes to be printed.

Or perhaps, if Peter was really that bad in bed, she should have agreed to marriage counseling.

Mussolini's pants

3) Benito Mussolini. After the passing of the eighteenth amendment, I moved back to Europe, just in time to watch the ascension of fascism across the continent. While that kind of thing was natural enough among the orderly Germanic tribes, or plodding agrarian Spaniards, it simply did not work for Italians.

Italians, you see, are not fascists. They are not communists. They really don’t care about politics one way or the other. They care about wine and seafood and sun and love.

So picture poor Mussolini. Here he was with a shiny new dictatorship, trying to convince people to wear khaki shorts and march in lockstep, and here was everyone else, worrying about cars and olive oil. Not a situation designed to make him feel secure on his throne, and one that completely robbed him of any sense of humor. I don’t think he wanted to get involved in the war, but was unable to stand it when the Germans laughed at him because he didn’t have a Poland to play with.

It’s always possible, however, that he was just tired of people making fun of his pants.

Stalin's Mustache

2) Joseph Stalin. Same war, opposite band, and yet another Russian who had a complete inability to laugh at himself. Find an old photo of the man and look at that mustache.

Did you laugh? Of course you did. So did I. It’s impossible not to laugh at that mustache.

He sent me to Siberia for it. In winter. There were three entire Gulags filled only with men and women who’d been unable to control their mirth at the lip foliage.

Which brings us, finally, to…

The Spanish Inquisition

1) Torquemada.

This one is personal.

Torquemada is my big disappointment of the list. He had so much potential, so much to live for. Some of his methods were new to the world, of a cruelty I had never seen in all my centuries. He was my one true friend among the people on this list, and one of the few mortals I (or any vampire) could truly learn from and admire.

But just when I thought he was a force to be reckoned with, he showed an apalling lack of a sense of humor. It so happened that, after a long night of gambling for alcoholic forfeits with his undertorturers, a sinister group of hooded men who would have been excellent poker players (the hoods made it impossible to read their tells), we decided to set fire to Torquemada’s carriage, drive it around the complex and then sink it in the moat.

Oooh, boy.

Anyone with an ounce of humor would, eventually have realized that it was hilarious, wouldn’t he?

Oh, well. As far as I know, I’m still considered a fugitive from the inquisition. The humor of it is that, in this case, everything they’re accusing me of – and much more – is completely true.

So, I’ll see you soon,

H

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