Thursday, September 29, 2005

Weekly Folk Music Quiz (29se05)

Theobald Boehm, a German, in the 1840s patented a kind of instrument which is used commonly by performers today. What was it? a) "Spanish"-style guitar, b) flute, c) bagpipe, d) stringed bass.

Weekly History Quiz (29se05)

Approximately when did jewelers begin substituting glass for precious gems, under certain circumstances? a) 4th Century B.C., b) 6th Century A.D., c) 13th Century A.D., d) 1840 A.D.

Weekly Amusement (29se05)

There are three kinds of people: those who can count, and those who can’t.

Attempted Use of the English Language

Theodore M. Bernstein’s Watch Your Language was required reading when I was in journalism school. Bernstein, a longtime member of The New York Times’ editorial staff, cringed at such incorrect usage as “a new record” in sports pages (if an athlete set a record yesterday, it goes without saying that it’s a “new” benchmark), “speed up” in beauracracy (the verb “speed” alone says exactly the same thing) and “during the course of” in any form of reportage (“the course of” is unnecessary). He also challenged imprecise word usage. The noun “collision,” for instance, describes two or more objects, both of which are in motion, striking each other; if you drive your car into a tree, you are “crashing,” not “colliding.”

A couple of items I’ve heard recently would have brought out murderous instincts in Bernstein: “I generally like my job, but it has its downfalls.” (Try pitfalls.) “It was just so hard to understand the tremendousness of what was happening.” (Try shock, enormity, horror, scope, etc.)

Oh, why not let’s just rip up the bloody language and start all over? Let’s all be free to communicate as individuals, in our own ways, using whatever terminolgy feels good to us at the moment. If a listener seems confused by what we say, we’ll just scowl and bark, “What’s wrong with you? Don’t you understand English!?!”

Media pundits like to pick on politicians and other news targets for sounding dumb. Shame to say, some of those star anchors, reporters and commentators wax just as ignorant, IMHO.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Weekly Folk Music Quiz (22se05)

The 200 tunes of blind Irish harper Turlough O’Carolan were published during the early: a) 1600s, b) 1700s, c) 1800s, d) 1900s.

Weekly History Quiz (22se05)

The University of Genoa was founded in Italy in: a) 647, b) 1052, c) 1471, d) 1924.

Weekly Amusement (22se05)

A weird item appeared on the menu of a Parisian restaurant: New England clam chowder, Burgundy style.

A Wee Bit o' Loch Lore

By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie braes. . . .

So begins the famous folk song—which happens to be a dirge—about Loch Lomond. What many folk music enthusiasts may not realize is that Loch Lomond is Scotland’s longest lake at 24 miles (a mile longer than legendary Loch Ness to its north).

It’s indeed a grand locale. Almost 40 islands can be accessed by boat; one of them beckons tourists with a hotel. Two hundred species of birds thrive on and around the waters. At least one brewer of Scotch whiskey boasts of its Loch Lomond proximity.

The great ballad stems from the tradition of two soldiers of Bonnie Prince Charlie who were captured in the 1745 uprising. One was ordered executed, the other freed. The “high road” and “low road” to Scotland, referred to in the song, mark the somber destinies of the two captives.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Weekly Folk Music Quiz (15se05)

The lyrics of “Winken, Blinken and Nod,” a children’s poem set to music and performed by various folk groups and soloists of the early 1960s, were penned by: a) Pete Seeger, b) Peggy Seeger, c) Eugene Field, d) William Shakespeare.

Weekly History Quiz (15se05)

The Battle of Agincourt was fought 25 October 1415 in what country? a) England, b) Ireland, c) Scotland, d) France.

Weekly Amusement (15se05)

First Nurse: "Why does Dr. Throckmorton wear a tuxedo when he performs surgery?"

Second Nurse: "He enjoys formal openings."

A Word About Income Taxes

Since today is the day some of us Americans have to make our quarterly estimated income tax payments, I thought it appropriate to look briefly into the history of income taxation in this country. Did you realize the Constitution prohibited direct taxation on U.S. citizens? The government was allowed by the Supreme Court to impose an income tax during the Civil War, since other forms of federal revenue (tariffs and taxes on certain commodity sales) weren’t generating enough money to finance the war effort. The income tax was abandoned in the 1870s, then, after abortive efforts to institutionalize it in the 1890s, finally was authorized by constitutional amendment in 1913. Citizens that year were subject to a maximum income tax of 7 percent of their personal income.

Seven percent? Don’t we wish. . . ?

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Weekly Folk Music Quiz (8se05)

A bullroarer was a type of whirring musical instrument used by: a) Polynesians, b) Filipinos, c) Ukrainians, d) Native Americans.

Weekly History Quiz (8se05)

Elisha Kent Kane (1820-57) was an explorer of: a) the Indian Ocean, b) the Arctic, c) southwestern Africa, d) Tibet.

Weekly Amusement (8se05)

A student was doing her history homework. “Daddy, didn’t Thomas Edison invent the talking machine?”

“Actually,” replied the father, “God invented the talking machine. Edison invented a way to turn it off.”

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Back to the Brothers Four

It's about 6:30 on a late summer Saturday afternoon . . . which is approximately the niche in time when I discovered the Hootenanny television series and folk music. That was more than 40 years ago. For some strange reason, while "normal" people are watching college football, I'm handling some mystery book projects this afternoon (see I've put on a couple of Brothers Four LPs from those years. (Yeah, I still regularly use a phono player.) Takes me back, man, it really does, to those great times. "Four Strong Winds," "The Song of the Ox Driver," "The Green Leaves of Summer," "Seven Daffodils," "25 Minutes to Go." . . .

I got to analyzing their harmonies and put aside the mystery research just to listen closer. Their harmony arrangements, in no small regard, remain mysteries to this day to me. I can pick out John Paine's marvelously subdued bass lines--which don't necessarily consist of predictable bass notes, but sometimes thirds, up or down. The way they sing in unison and then open it up into their curious parts continues to baffle me.

And I like that--almost as much as I enjoy the overall sound. And at least as much as I enjoy historical mystery fiction.

Yes--you can find them online, BTW! Go to, for starters.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Weekly Folk Music Quiz (1se05)

A sheng is a sort of Chinese: a) fiddle, b) harmonica, c) drum, d) xylophone.

Weekly History Quiz (1se05)

Grace Abbott (1878-1939), an author, U.S. government official and University of Chicago professor, was a noted: a) painter, b) Pulitzer Prize winner, c) inventor, d) social worker.

Weekly Amusement (1se05)

A shopper miffed at not finding any wild rice on the shelves complained to the supermarket manager.

“Well here,” said the manager, taking down a box of white rice and shaking it vigorously. “Let’s see if we can make our tame rice mad.”

Ships of the Line

A bit of nautical trivia (though not trivial to naval historians): Many people assume the term “ship of the line” refers to a liner. The modern Queen Mary 2, the ill-fated Lusitania and the 19th-Century Britannia are famous examples of Cunard Line ocean liners. The Titanic and Olympic were White Star liners.

Actually, a ship of the line was a vessel of a warship fleet in centuries past, when major sea battles were fought in broadsides. Opposing fleets would form literal line formations and sail or steam past each other parallel, blasting away with their cannons. Those still able to maneuver would turn about and make another pass, firing the guns from the other side of their ships of the line.

The largest ships of the line each carried more than 100 guns -- astounding fire power. Most carried at least 60 guns, although in certain situations, vessels with as few as 40 guns were included in line battles.