The awkward thing about conversing with Blue-Footed Boobies is knowing where to look.
Wodehouse never disappoints! If you haven't had the pleasure, the best I can do is to compare him to Oscar Wilde - they both write the sorts of stories that involve bright young things exchanging dazzlingly witty dialog and getting themselves entangling in preposterous situations that are only in the end untangled by a combination of luck and cleverness.
In this outing, Wodehouse supplies us with not one but two seemingly doomed romances, the first between Hugh Carmody, secretary to wealthy Lord Emsworth and Emsworth's haughty daughter Millicent, the second between Ronnie Fish, Emsworth's ne'er-do-well nephew and Sue, a self-possessed chorus girl. Now throw in Galahad Emsworth, who's writing a tell-all bio destined to embarrass most of England's peerage; Pilbeam, a comical private detective; Parsloe-Parsloe, a blustering neighbor; Baxter, Emsworth's former secretary, who has an odd propensity for falling out of windows; Beach, the unflappable butler - mix generously with a convoluted plot involving attempted larceny, impersonation, flower-pot throwing, and a particularly nefarious pig-napping - and you get this froth of a confection: bright, clever, breezy, and laugh-out-loud funny. (Honest to goodness, I almost choked trying not to burst out laughing in my doctor's waiting room.)
Absolutely PERFECT beach reading, though I make a point of reading Wodehouse year-round because there's never a time when a bit of humor isn't just what the doctor ordered.
Every year students from high schools throughout America meet to decide on a theme for that penultimate high school experience, the senior prom. The best prom themes are timeless, tasteful, and lend themselves to limited decoration budgets: Under the Sea (you can never have too many blue/green crepe paper streamers!), Hollywood (sparkly lights and a red carpet), Tropical Paradise (construction paper palm trees), A Midsummer Night's Dream (tinfoil stars - they never get old), Winter Wonderland (merely substitute snowflakes for stars).
Every now and then, though, a high school student council succumbs, tragically, to the temptation to choose something "different" - or, even worse, something "topical". What can you do but stand back and wince? For those student councils beginning their deliberations, I offer the following suitably tasteless options.
- Hunger Games Prom. Voting for the Prom King and Queen is soooooo 1999! In the 21st century, prom royalty will be chosen in a Hunger Games-type dystopian competition in which all the competitors are eventually whittled down to a single surviving royal couple who will have to earn their paper mache scepters and rhinestone crowns. Meanwhile, the remaining prom guests will party like they're lifelong residents of the Capital and they all were smart enough to place illegal bets on Katniss.
- Sharknado Prom. Your night begins with dancing under a canopy of puffy grey clouds illuminated by fairy lights - until someone turns on the industrial-strength fan and sharks drop from the ceiling! Think of all the opportunities to dazzle your date with your shark-slaying prowess - pinion them with corsage pins, slam-dunk them through basketball hoops, dazzle them to death with your epic dance moves! It's all fun and games until someone shows up with a chainsaw.
- Meme Prom. Everyone comes as their favorite meme! Which meme will you choose to emulate? Picture the magic as Grumpy Cat dances by in the arms of Ermahgerd, Poptart Cat laughs uproariously as a classmate dressed as Willy Wonka says something snarky, and Ridiculously Photogenic Guy photobombs everyone taking pictures. Of course, 10 years from now when you look back at photos of the special night, you won't remember a single one of the jokes, but you will wonder why the band played Rick Astley's Never Gonna Give You Up all night.
- Gluten-Free, Peanut-Free, Anti-GMO Locavore Prom. For too long have proms - with their iced cupcakes and gluton-stuffed cookies, their hothouse strawberries and imported conflict chocolate - flaunted cultural sensitivity. Isn't it time for a prom that embraces people with dietary differences, that takes a stand against the evils of genetically modified foods, and publicizes the ecological necessity of eating locally-grown food? Students would be encouraged to wear outfits created from organic, unprocessed fibers and the entertainment would be provided by a chorus of African school children here on a cultural exchange program.
- Geek Prom. No longer are proms just for the "cool kids" anymore! This prom is dedicated to all things geek: from superhero-themed decorations to banks of video game screens along one wall; from Star Wars cantina music to treats from faux Star Trek replicators; from girls with their noses in books to boys riveted by handheld games, and awards for the best cosplay in multiple categories. Totally geekulous!
- Cold War Prom. Now that things are hotting up with Russia once again, it's time to wax nostalgic over the good ol' days of the last Cold War. Gossip will be censored, food will be delivered via airdrop, and the decorating committee will be constructing a massive wall across the center of the gym to separate the boys from the girls, guarded by armed chaperones in towers. On the plus side, everyone will receive spraypaint cans for tagging the wall and while the folks on the west side of the wall will be enjoying ample food and fun, the folks on the east side of the wall will be allowed to drink as much spiked punch as they want.
- Reality Show Prom. Add much-needed drama to your prom by inviting in a reality television crew to capture every boast, complaint, plot, insult, and embarrassment! Which of the reality show stereotypes will you choose to be: the drama queen/king, the bitch, the dunce, the tramp, the manipulator, or the party animal? By the end of the prom no one will be talking to anyone else but at least everyone will have had a chance to spill their inner-most secrets to the camera in the ultra-secret confession booth.
- Out of This World Prom Prom. For decades high schools have recycled some version of the "Out of This World" theme, to great effect. Reflecting NASA's drastically reduced budget these days, however, it may be necessary to trim some of the usual excesses. For instance, instead of tin-foil stars, the decorating committee may need to limit themselves to moons; instead of buying new clothes, students may need to repurpose clothes well past their technical obsolescence; and instead of Starbucks instant coffee they may need to settle for Tang. Actually, it's problematical whether even these cuts will be enough; the student council may actually wish to consider soliciting private companies to arrange the prom on their behalf, in exchange for being able to sell tickets back to the students at twice the price and open up sales to students from other schools.
- Election 2018 Prom. Proudly announce your political preferences by coming as either a gun-weildin', gay-bashin', God-fearin' conservative or a tree-huggin', immigrant-lovin', pot-smokin' liberal, and let the fun begin! Because nothing lends itself to a night of goodwill and gracious manners like intelligent, rational political debate. The music will be patriotic, the food table groaning with fried chicken and apple pie, and both the décor and the guest's faces will be red, white, and blue - red with bluster, pale with rage, and blue with bruises from particularly impassioned debates with classmates.
- Virtual Prom. Why bother to go to all the work and expense of a prom when you can substitute a virtual prom instead? First, use SurveyMonkey to determine an appropriate theme and set up an account on a crowdsourcing website to take care of the fundraising. (Bake sales and carwashes are so passe!) Next, ladies will want to visit Polyvore to assemble and share their dream outfits. As the date approaches, time to set up a common Twitter hashtag so that virtual attendees can comment on every aspect of the event. At last, the magic night arrives! Time for everyone to start posting instagrams of themselves with their dates, visiting Reddit to vote potential hors d'oeuvres "up" or "down", and adding their favorites songs to the collaborative Pandora prom playlist. Finally, top off the night by photoshopping you and your date against a festive "Class of 20xx" backdrop and posting the results to your Facebook timeline so that you'll remember your special night forever.
A few years ago a couple of well-meaning, passionately religious Christian ladies rapped on my door and tried to convince me that the reason society is collapsing is because we've lost our faith in God. Curious, I asked them what made them think that society was collapsing. Their answer: crime, poverty, war, disease, drugs, gangs ....
This got me wondering how many other people are laboring under the delusion that things are worse now than in the past. God knows our world has its challenges - particularly with respect to environmental stewardship - but to characterize society as collapsing is not only unnecessarily pessimistic but also just plain misguided. The following list summarizes some of the many amazing ways in which our global community is far, far, far better off now than ever before.
- Fewer Wars. While it may seem as if all we hear about in the news is war, what's happening now - mostly regional conflicts and the occasional out-of-control warlord - is nothing nearly so devastating as the world wars of the past; and deaths from war are many hundreds of times less now than during such historical conflicts at the Napoleonic Wars, the Taiping Rebellion, the Mongol Conquests, or pretty much any conflict involving China or Japan.
- Fewer Atrocities. Thanks to the Geneva Convention, many of the most egregiously horrifying practices of war have diminished. Yes, there will always be countries that ignore these conventions. But think about how far we've come since medieval times, when it was common practice to draw and quarter people alive.
- Less Crime. You think crime's bad now? Statistically speaking, crime is vastly less common in the U.S. now than it was during the days of prohibition; nor is it hyperbole to call the Wild West of the 19th century lawless. Across the world there are still plenty of countries in which governments and militaries remain wholly corrupt, but there are also plenty of countries where, for the first time in thousands of years, laws are being aggressively and successfully enforced.
- More Human Rights. Thanks in large measure to the tireless efforts of Eleanor Roosevelt, the UN has adopted a Universal Bill of Rights. While, again, there will always be countries that cheat, society took a massive step forward the day they acknowledged that all humans have certain inalienable civil rights, including the right to life, justice, and religious freedom.
- Emancipation. For the first time in history, most major countries allow women & minorities to participate in the democratic process.
- Women's Rights. It's taken several thousand years, but in many countries women are finally being entrusted with the same rights and responsibilities as men. That's good news for 50% of the world's population and should be good news for the other 50%, as men gradually come to realize how many more opportunities this arrangement opens for them too.
- Animal Rights. Though not quite as world-shaping as women's rights, it's nice to know that we now live in a world where most people acknowledge that cruelty to animals is uncalled for and animals are in some measure protected.
- Less Pestilence. Thanks to innovations in sanitation and nutrition, most of us live healthier, longer, much more pain-free lives than ever before.
- Less Starvation. And thanks to innovations in science - drought-proof strains of wheat, genetic engineering to keep foods fresher, longer - fewer people than ever before are living in starvation.
- Medical Advances. These days, catching flu is an excuse for missing a few days of work; not so long ago, it was a death sentence. Thank medical science for the fact that pandemics, polio, small pox, measles, bubonic plague, food poisoning, and a host of other maladies are now largely consigned to the history books
- More Tolerance. Though the struggle against intolerance continues, it marks an important milestone that most of the global community now appreciates that tolerance - for people of other religions, other tribes, other sexual preferences - is a worthy and necessary goal.
- Reduced Drug Use. Folks who think drug use is on the rise obviously haven't studied history, because humans have always indulged in drug use - it's just that the drugs of choice have changed over the years. Whereas these days we worry about cocaine, marijuana, and prescription drugs, it wasn't so long ago that our societies were devastated by alcohol, laudanum, and opium. (Seriously, check out the label of pretty much any 19th century drug - I almost guarantee the main ingredient will be one of these three.) These days narcotic use is much less prevalent and help for addicts much more available than ever before.
- Universal Education. Education is one of those "silver bullets" - it has the ability to deliver people not just from ignorance, but also from crime, disease, poverty, and hopelessless. It's useful to reflect upon the old Japanese proverb: "If you give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day; if you teach a man to fish, he'll eat for a lifetime."
- Improved Communications/Freedom of the Press. Because the #1 enabler of tyranny, cruelty and oppression is the inability of oppressed peoples to discover the extent to which they are oppressed and to organize coordinated protests. In this era of internet, mobile phones & satellite radio, it's getting harder and harder for tyrannies to keep this sort of information out of the hands of the people they are tyrannizing, as the phenomenon dubbed "Arab Spring" very recently illustrated.
- Improved Social Mobility. Not so long ago it was easy to figure out what you wanted to be when you grew up because you really had no choice in the matter: if your parents were peasants, you were going to be a peasant too. Thanks largely to the growing availability of education, many of our world's citizens have unprecedented access to better jobs, better opportunities, and better lives.
- Fairer Labor Laws. Just 100 years ago, laborers worked 6 days/wk, 12hrs/day with only one 15minute break; children as young as 2 worked in factories or mines; employees were locked/chained into rooms with no AC & no escape in the event of fire; workers were regularly exposed to toxic chemicals; and it wasn't uncommon for people to spend their lives trying to work their ways free of indentured servitude. And that's just here in the U.S. While, obviously, brutal labor practices persist in some countries, many countries have recognized the error of their ways & now protect laborers from exploitation.
- Technology. Can you imagine what life was like before the days of steam power, farm equipment, factories, and indoor plumbing? Neither can I.
- Less Work. I love my labor saving devices! Electricity, plumbing, appliances ... even the ubiquitous bicycle have significantly reduced the physical labor of day-to-day life, freeing up hours in the day for us to spend on pursuits that make up happy.
- Volunteerism. Just because churches are no longer playing such a dominant role in charitable works doesn't mean that charity is disappearing from the earth. On the contrary, "freeing" charitable works from the confines of religion has allowed it to spread through the secular community - and up the social ladder too, as organizations like the Gates Foundation prove.
- Morality. My ladies were particularly determined to believe that we are living in a less moral society than ever before. Really? Less moral than when our plantations were farmed by slaves? Less moral than when we hung people for shoplifting? Less moral than when politicians ran cities on the basis of bribery and graft? Less moral than when men were allowed to rape women if they "asked for it" by being female?