humor

A Bilingual Treat

Growing up in multiple cultures can, sometimes, be difficult, but it also has it’s joys.  I was recently gifted a book by a friend entitled Ramon Writes.  Now, this book can’t be understood by anyone who doesn’t meet the following criteria:  A) lived in Buenos Aires for at least a few years, B) speaks fluent English and understands the culture of the large British emigration to Argentina in the late 19th century and C) speak fluent idiomatic Spanish–particularly focused on Buenos Aires slang from the 20th century.

Ramon Writes_Buenos Aires Herald_Basil Thomson

A tiny group, surely?

Apparently not.  Item A is dispensed with reasonably easily, as 15 million, give or take the odd million people currently reside here.  B is the one that seems to be the stumbling block unless one realizes that like most third world countries, the good schools are mostly British, which means that many middle-class and upper-middle-class children grow up with at least a passing knowledge of the culture needed, as well as a high level of proficiency in English.  C is pretty much everyone, so no problem there, except that it excludes foreigners.

The analysis above isn’t necessary, though.  My edition of the book is a third edition from 2007, meaning the two earlier ones sold well enough to justify this.

So what IS Ramon Writes?  It’s a collection of pieces from the sorely missed Buenos Aires Herald newspaper, once a bastion of culture which was eventually destroyed by both the internet and an unfortunate change of ownership but which, for 140 years gave Argentina one of the few decent sources of actually objective news for intelligent humans in the country (along with the La Nación newspaper… and nothing else). Also, it was the only place that ran peanuts cartoons; enough said!

These pieces ran from 1949 to 1977 and tell the story of the scion of a traditional British / Argentine family who is essentially what we’d call a vago atorrante (it translates roughly as ne’er-do-well, but has much deeper cultural meaning in Argentina).  This is a personality type which is well suited for life in Buenos Aires in that era, but not so much to keep with the expectations of his respectable family.  Being a ne’er-do-well doesn’t disqualify one from society, you just have to take the barbed comments!

They’re funny and entertaining but more importantly they’re also a veiled critique of life and morals at street level but also among the high society, while not shying away from the occasional barbed comment aimed at the politicians of the day.  When you realize that those politicos included people such as Perón and the military dictators of the 1970s, men with a true lack of anything resembling a sense of humor, you also end up admiring the courage these took.  Basil Thomson, the man behind the columns, could easily have had serious trouble because of what he wrote.

Anyhow, this is a tiny piece of extremely local color that serendipity dropped on my doorstep, and I decided to share with you.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer.  His latest is a very silly fantasy novel entitled The Malakiad.

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The Other British Master

Looking back, I wish I’d combined this post with the one I recently wrote about Sir Terry Pratchett.  After all, Pratchett and the subject of today’s post, Niel Gaiman, were friends, collaborators and, by all accounts, shared a sense of humor.

Smoke and Mirrors - Niel Gaiman

More to the point, two of the books I read: Pratchett’s book of short stories and Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors are directly comparable.  Both collect lesser known work by two great writers and will be of more than passing interest to anyone who’s already familiar with their major achievements.

Now, I’m not a Gaiman fan in the traditional sense.  I haven’t read all that much of his work, other than Good Omens which I bought for the Pratchett content and enjoyed.  In light of this, starting with the less-acclaimed shorter work might not seem like the sensible thing to do.

That, of course, has never stopped us before, so why begin now?

So, from this book, I can confidently say that I like some of Gaiman’s writing.  Would I enjoy Sandman or American Gods?  From this sample, I really have no clue.  I always find graphic novels just a little thin and unfulfilling…  American Gods is certainly more promising.

And Smoke and Mirrors?  Definitely enjoyable, and the breadth of Gaiman’s interest in on display here.  Some stories are, naturally more memorable than others but all display Gaiman’s love for the slightly surreal and his sense that nothing is so serious that fun cannot be poked in its direction.  My kind of book.

It feels very similar to the Pratchett, somehow less solid than a novel-length work, but a very satisfying sprinkling.

Of the tales here, one of them sticks out as a nearly perfect example of… something.  I’m not sure what, exactly it is, but if you want to decide for yourself, it’s entitled “The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories” (and you have to admire the kind of lunatic who would put “and Other Stories” in the title of his story, don’t you?).  It’s a strange and wistful and surreal story.  The ending wasn’t what I’d wanted it to be, but that might just have been the point.  I still think of it often.

Of course, if you’re reading Gaiman, that’s because you haven’t seen him on YouTube.  He is one of the most compelling public speakers I’ve ever seen.  If you can take a certain dose of Michael Chabon (did he create the Hipster persona or just perfect it?) without throwing your device out the window, I highly recommend this interview in which Niel Gaiman discusses his relationship with Terry Pratchett in detail.  It is mad and brilliant and still poignant and touching.

Anyway, this is a fun book, but I think the cool kids all started with Sandman, so that might be a good idea too…

 

Gustavo Bondoni’s is an Argentine writer whose latest novel, the Malakiad, is aimed squarely at those readers who miss Douglas Adams an Terry Pratchett and wish that there were more lunatics writing science fiction and fantasy.  It’s available in paperback and Kindle editions.

Reading Pratchett, Tinged with Sadness

I’m going to be honest.  If I was allowed to take the complete works of one humorist with me to a desert island, that writer would be P.G. Wodehouse.  For my money, he is the funniest author ever to grace the English language.  And I do mean grace: his sentences are a thing of beauty.  Without ever getting in his own way or using obtuse vocabulary, he managed to build perfect gems of writing… in almost every single sentence.  I can’t overstate the difficulty of managing that.  Sometimes you just want to write a sentence to get you from point A to pint B, but Wodehouse never allowed himself that.

If I had to keep ranking them, the second on my list would be Douglas Adams.  The perfect distillation of the English sense of humor.  Sadly, his oeuvre is too small to keep me entertained for an indeterminate period of time out in the south seas after a shipwreck but it is more intense.  He is more laugh-out-loud funny than Wodehouse is.

But though he doesn’t top my list on the pure humor and entertainment front, Terry Pratchett is by far the best novelist of my three favorite humorists.  He was the man who picked up the torch left by his predecessors and decided that he would not only write humor for humor’s sake, but he would break Wodehouse’s rule about writing a novel and make the books about something.  And they would be funny.

So, you get social conscience and human foibles and difficult topics with your humor.

I’ve read widely, and I’m here to tell you that only Pratchett has managed to handle that particular volatile mix without having it blow up in his face.

Most humorists fall into two camps: the ones that exploit the human condition for a few laughs and the ones who attempt to make us care.  The first group doesn’t really give a damn about humans as a group (or at least they aren’t there to make us think about humanity).  They just want their humor to be relatable enough so you’ll laugh at the right time.  The second group is usually preachy, holier-than-thou and so, sooooo concerned.  They are anything but funny.

Pratchett pulls it off.  You end up caring deeply about the issues in his book without ever having the sense that the writer is obsessed, and that the issues have taken over his work.  (actually, this happens to issue-driven books in any genre, not just humor.  When the agenda pushes the plot and characters aside, it’s a recipe for disaster).

So it’s with great sadness that I am reading the final few Pratchett books for the first time.  One can enjoy a book upon re-reading, but you never have the same sheer joy of discovery as you did the first time you encountered the words.  Since his death, a Pratchett book that I hadn’t read before became a priceless treasure.

Over the last year, I’ve consumed three of those treasures.

A Blink of the Screen by Terry Pratchett

A Blink of the Screen is a rare treat.  It collects Pratchett short stories.  Some of them we’ve all read before, but many are early work published in tiny magazines or very local newspapers.  They show a master at work before he was a master, with flashes of the genius that made him world-famous, but without the skill at weaving it all together.  Still, there are some gems in here, and punchlines that will make you chortle.  I enjoyed it.

Snuff by Terry Pratchett

Snuff made me even sadder.  It’s a Discworld novel.  If having any unread Pratchett book is a treasure, a Discworld book is like having the Crown Jewels and the Romanoff treasure all at once.  To make things even better, this is a Sam Vimes book.

A side note about Vimes.  While there are many amazing characters on the Discworld, Vimes became the most important of all after Pratchett discovered him halfway through the series.  He represents the everyman, but also the fatalist.  I have a friend who swears by the witches, but it’s Vimes who serves as the backdrop to Pratchett’s most mature work.  I like him even more than I like the Luggage and Death, and that’s saying quite a bit.

The only consolation I had when I finished this one was the knowledge that Raising Steam is still safely buried somewhere in my TBR pile.

The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett

The last book of the three I had to hand was The Shepherd’s Crown. The Tiffany Aching books fall in the Young Adult category and are a lot less funny.  Pratchett’s sense of humor is still there in the background, but these aren’t meant to be laugh-out-loud funny, but a coming-of-age story for a young witch growing into her powers.  All of Pratchett’s humanity is on display in these, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend them to someone out for a laugh.  However, it is to Pratchett’s eternal credit that he manages to make a Young Adult story aimed at girls compelling to a not-particularly-young adult male who (as attested to by earlier entries) is more likely to pick up a spy thriller than a book about a teenage witch.

I don’t think we’ll ever see another writer quite like this one for a while.

 

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer.  He has a comic fantasy novel entitled The Malakiad coming out on March 22nd (it can be pre-ordered through this link).  If you enjoyed reading Pratchett, you will likely enjoy this one.  Also, the title comes from a very rude word in Greek, so there’s that.

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!

BTW, apart from mugs, we also have a Facebook page.  You can like it if you like it!

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!

Not Sparkly, Never Sparkly

o-cemetery-at-night-facebook

Baron H is back as a guest blogger today (if you missed his earlier installments, you can read them here and here).  As always, he has a particularly… long view of mortal affairs which is refreshing.  And yes, we do believe he is still the internet’s only undead blogger.

Salutations Classically Educated Readers!

I could blame Stephanie Meyer for the recent misunderstandings I’ve been seeing regarding the undead.  After all, you can only see so many movies which portray the undead as effortlessly glamorous before you start believing the PR.  And I’m told she’s sold a number of books as well.

But I’ve been here longer than any mortal, so I don’t actually blame Meyer. Stoker, and then early Hollywood were truly more instrumental in giving us this image.  I guess it’s too late to try to get the unwashed to understand this (contrary to popular belief, people have not been getting dumber in the past few years.  Almost every mortal on the planet has been an imbecile since I can remember, and that’s more than a few centuries), but I can at least make an appeal to the intelligent readers out there.  Both of you should probably be able to catch the gist.

Vampires are not glamorous by nature.  We are just, to take a horrid neologism and apply it, regular guys.  In order not to let the side down, it is imperative that we understand and follow the rules of etiquette.  We might not have any of the olfactory disadvantages of zombies, or the aural handicaps of banshees, but we do need to work – imagine if we let ourselves go.  We’d all look like Nosferatu!

Still, this aside was not the main thrust of this particular post (although I remind you that etiquette is always the most important thing – be you mortal or Aikanaka).  I wanted to talk about documentary channels.  

It used to be that the people who watched The History Channel, or Nat Geo, were a bit snobbish.  Intellectuals who were too good to share the same mind-numbing programming that everyone else seemed to enjoy.

Now it seems that the executives at these places have either realized that that market was too small or have succumbed to the temptation of going after the brain-dead hordes.  So you get reality TV, Celebrity Biographies and, worst of all, a whole slew of programs with names like Ancient Aliens and Paranormal Encounters.

This last one is worrying.

Now, as a member of the undead community, I am all for a bit of information and greater understanding.  But, when you put every kook and whacko who can shake off the effects of the drugs long enough to do an interview on the screen and let him ramble, you are creating a dangerous precedent, which gets even worse when you treat it as credible evidence.

This isn’t documentary filmmaking.  This is shameless pandering to the lowest common denominator disguised as documentary.  Documentaries shouldn’t be stealing their ratings from the audience for Big Brother.  And I certainly can’t condone the way these fictionistas portray ghosts!

But the true reason I gnash my teeth whenever these subhuman programs come up is that I am one of those who were among the original target.  I will gladly watch a documentary about napoleon for six hours, but give me an episode of Ancestral Aliens, and…  well, let’s just be thankful that vampires can’t throw up (Bet you didn’t know that – Ed.).

But one of the keys to good etiquette is that one must not fight emerging trends, but find a way to incorporate them.  So I’m thinking of starting a program to portray undead as they really are.  I can sell it to one of these channels.

And I can eat any executive who declines.

With no sparkliness whatsoever.

Salutations,

Baron H

 

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

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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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