Saturday, October 29, 2005

Troubling the Waters

Hurricane Beta, currently swirling westward through the Caribbean, has created more than the natural "stir" of foamy seas. Meteorologists are abuzz with excitement; it's the first time they've run through the entire alphabet in naming annual storms and have had to start over again.

What's more remarkable to me is that here in the Carolinas—a rather prominent part of the nation's "hurricane coast"—we've managed to escape all of them this year. We've had our share of slammers and drenchers in recent years, but for now we seem to be out of the cycle of storm tracks.

Major storm stats: Katrina this year became the priciest hurricane to affect the United States (they're still tallying the costs along the Gulf Coast) and undoubtedly provoked the windiest, most prolonged media attention. But the 1900 Galveston 'cane remains by far the deadliest in U.S. history; it killed some 8,000 unprepared lowlanders (and that was in a day when coastal populations were a fraction what they are now). By comparison, Hurricane Mitch in 1998 left 18,000 dead or missing in Central America—most of them flooding and mudslide victims. The most devastating storm worldwide was a 1970 cyclone whose monstrous surge rolled into what is now Bangladesh; approximately 300,000 died.

Hurricanes and tropical storms have been officially named only since 1950. Storm names today are selected by the World Meteorological Organization.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Weekly Folk Music Quiz (27oc05)

Singer/songwriter Bob Dylan changed his name from: a) Ronald Stoneman, b) Robert Zimmerman, c) Richard Greene, d) Samuel Petrie.

Weekly History Quiz (27oc05)

Englishman John Smith was the famous leader of which early North American colony? a) Plymouth, b) Portsmouth, c) Jamestown, d) Charles Town.

Weekly Amusement (27oc05)

Knock, knock.

“Who’s there?”


“Shorty who?”

“Shorty Carmichael. You know—the little kid next door who can’t reach your doorbell button.”

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

October Mystery Classics

Speaking of literature. . . . The October additions have been made to the "Vintage Short Mystery Classics" series of free e-book downloads. To wit: "The Mystery of Essex Stairs" by Sir Gilbert Campbell, "Talma Gordon" by Pauline E. Hopkins, "The Sapient Monkey" by Headon Hill (Francis Edward Grainger), "Thrawn Janet" by Robert Louis Stevenson, "A Tale of the Great Plague" by Thomas Hood and "The Bravoes of Market-Drayton" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Some two dozen classic short stories of intrigue, mystery and crime now are available at the site.

Searching for Macbeth

Those of you who are serious (I mean really serious) literary scholars or scholarly readers should look into the free, searchable renditions of Shakespeare's Macbeth, Hamlet and Romeo & Juliet at askSam ( askSam was a pioneer in developing searchable databases during the early years of personal computers. Today, it offers free downloads of governmental, legislative and political documents. Of late, it's also been making classic literature available—and the King James Version of the Bible. You may find it useful, and you can't beat free.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Weekly Folk Music Quiz (20oc05)

How many strings does a cittern have? a) 4, b) 5, c) 8, d) 10.

Weekly History Quiz (20oc05)

How did the Roman emperor Valerian (reigned 253-60 A.D.) die? a) in a chariot battle against gladiators, b) as a captive in Persia, c) poisoned by his wife, d) in battle against the Goths.

Weekly Amusement (20oc05)

A weathered farmer drove to the city on his tractor to apply for a factory job. In response to the application question "Nearest living relative?" he wrote: "Too near. About 4 miles."

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

History for Grown-Ups (& Students)

Debbie Roland directs one of the most remarkable local history museums in the nation. The Calhoun County (South Carolina) Museum is housed in a spacious, multifunctional, modern facility—a result of her years of public awareness and fundraising efforts, coupled with legislative diplomacy. More importantly, it’s an uncommonly lively place, considering its small town location in a rural, slightly populated county. School groups frequently are on guided tours; individual students come regularly to research history projects; genealogists arrive from across the country to benefit from Roland’s lovingly preserved and ever-increasing storehouse of family records and artifacts. The townfolk have acquired a deepening pride in their museum and are supporting it with donations of important family heirlooms, money and—just as vital—with their eager participation in museum programs.

How did she attain backing on such a broad scale, when residents of most other small towns with limited resources take a miserly view toward cultural spending?

Roland oversees a year-long public school genealogical research project, wherein students earn credit by digging into their ancestries. She’s seen countless youngsters convert from bored history students to avid historians in their own right. But that’s only half of her objective. Roland has learned how to attract the attention of parents. Students who visit the museum typically go home with a souvenir in hand—a balloon, mug, pen, etc. It’s a gift with a message, generally in the form of a question. “I always give them something with a question their parents won’t know the answer to,” Roland reveals. “That piques the parent’s curiosity and, at the same time, heightens the student’s interest. We get both the student and the parent involved in history.”

In an alarming era when more and more Americans, young and old, aren’t reading anything unless it’s absolutely required, Roland manages to get them to read, voluntarily, history (of all subjects!).

Friday, October 14, 2005

Weekly Folk Music Quiz (14oc05)

Who wrote “If I Had a Hammer”? a) Hedy West, b) Lee Hayes & Pete Seeger, c) John Stewart & John Phillips, d) Trini Lopez.

Weekly History Quiz (14oc05)

John Kay, whose 1733 invention of the “flying shuttle” speeded the weaving process, was from what country? a) Scotland, b) England, c) Ireland, d) colonial America.

Weekly Amusement (14oc05)

Newlywed husband: “You look so beautiful when you’re sleeping.”

Bride: “Thank you. I never noticed.”

Keeping Score

“Who Said That?” Department:

For when the One Great Scorer comes
To write against your name,
He marks—not that you won or lost—
But how you played the game.

The verse, so easily forgotten in the heat of athletic rivalries, was penned by Grantland Rice (1880-1854), one of America’s most respected sportswriters. Rice’s syndicated column, “The Sportlight,” made him widely famous during his later career. The Murfreesboro, TN, native and Vanderbilt University grad previously wrote for newspapers in Atlanta, Cleveland and New York.

It also was Rice who nicknamed the backfield of the 1924 college football championship team the “Four Horsemen of Notre Dame.” (Sports trivia: Who was Notre Dame's legendary coach that year?)

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Weekly Folk Music Quiz (6oc05)

The gimbri is a type of lute played in: a) Morocco, b) Pakistan, c) Samoa, d) Sweden.

Weekly History Quiz (6oc05)

The last Saxon king of England was: a) Edward I (Longshanks), b) Henry VIII, c) Richard V, d) Harold II.

Weekly Amusement (6oc05)

A 7-year-old girl took an uncommon interest in her parents’ monthly budgeting session, looking over their shoulders as they compared checkbook balances and notes. At length, she offered: “I know a way we can save lots of money on long-distance telephone calls.”

The parents were amused and pleased. “And how’s that, dear?” the mother asked.

“We call people when we’re sure they’re not at home.”

Waxing Scottish With Stevenson

Speaking of language studies. . . . I've long been fascinated by the brogues and dialects of peoples from different English-speaking countries. Especially intriguing are the distinctions, stark and subtle, between Scottish and Irish pronunciations.

If you'd care to probe along those lines, read "Thrawn Janet," a 19th-Century supernatural tale by Robert Louis Stevenson. It took us forever to typeset and proofread it for presentation in our "Vintage Short Mystery Classics" e-book series (, but it was well worth the time. It's just one of countless angles on how the language has evolved.

A more taxing but no less rewarding exercise is to read Gullah tales or listen to some of the dedicated Gullah story-tellers of our Carolina Low Country. More on them later. . . .

More Abuse of the Language

Addenda to the 29 September post regarding misuse of the English language:

* My wife and several of her siblings commonly refer to "these ones" when specifying items. ("These ones are my favorites.") Before I met them, I'd heard only one other person in my life use that expression. I think it runs in families.

* Among the enduring horrors of beatnik-hippie-valley days is the insertion of "like" into almost any statement by millions of Americans now spanning several generations. "That's, like, so cool!" "She's, like, my mother." "I was, like, furious." "I think he's, like, at work today, or maybe, like, out playing golf." "That's not really what I would call yellow; it's, like, sunburst, or maybe, like, light gold." "What I really, like, want to do with my life is maybe get, like, a job somewhere in a factory and, like, learn to make things with, like, my hands."

Our teen-age daughters waste so much time that way making the simplest of statements, attempting to wax, like, cool with their verbal delivery, that I sometimes, like, just have to get up from the kitchen table and, like, leave the room.