Saturday, January 28, 2006

Weekly Folk Music Quiz (28ja06)

Indian sitarist/composer Ravi Shankar (born 1920) is best-known to westerners for his musical association during the 1960s with members of: a) The Kingston Trio, b) The Byrds, c) The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, d) The Beatles.

Weekly History Quiz (28ja06)

When he lost the pivotal Saratoga Campaign in the American Revolution in 1777, flamboyant British Gen. John Burgoyne was in his: a) 20s, b) 30s, c) 40s, d) 50s.

Weekly Amusement (28ja06)

At a Scottish highland festival, a distraught child approached a bagpiper. “Put it down and leave it alone,” she demanded, “and perhaps it will stop hollering!”

Monday, January 23, 2006

"Down to the Sea. . . ."

You’re undoubtedly familiar with the term “down to the sea in ships.” It’s been used—sometimes in a spirit of adventure, sometimes of toil, sometimes of omen—by poets and orators for many generations.

Its source? The phrase is contained in the Prayer Book of the Church of England, but it far predates the Anglican faith. Look to Scripture, specifically Psalm 107:23-24:

They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;
These see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Weekly Folk Music Quiz (20ja06)

“Little Boxes,” perhaps the definitive nonconformist parody of the Folk Revival era, was written by: a) Jerry Makem, b) Heddy West, c) Pete Seeger, d) Malvina Reynolds.

Weekly History Quiz (20ja06)

Portuguese explorers began establishing a presence in the River Congo region of Africa in the: a) late 15th Century, b) late 16th Century, c) late 17th Century, d) late 18th Century.

Weekly Amusement (20ja06)

A motel lodger complained vigorously at morning check-out. His room reeked with the stale smell of heavy cigarette smoke. There was only one small bath towel; no soap. The TV set received only one channel, his worn bed spread was shot with ash burns, and the only two settings on the climate control system seemed to be "sweltering" or "frigid." Finally, the bed was too short. "Don't you people want to make your guests feel at home?" he fumed.

"If our guests wanted to feel at home," intoned the clerk, processing the credit card, "we figure they'd have stayed at home."

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Aiming Low

Curious Footnote to the American Revolution: It was at the Battle of Trenton (following George Washington’s famous crossing of the icy Delaware River on Christmas night, 1776) that American Col. Charles Scott of Virginia reportedly issued the odd command for his soldiers to fire at the Hessian defenders’ legs. Scott allegedly reasoned that if a man was hit in the leg, two of his comrades would be occupied carrying him from the battlefield.

Is it just me, or does that seem ludicrous to you, too? I wasn’t there, but I’ve always understood that most of the wounded were carried from the field after a battle was over. Meanwhile, a soldier shot in the leg might continue to participate in the fray, loading and firing his musket.

Happily for Washington and company, the Hessians were totally surprised and surrendered with comparatively little resistance. I for one doubt that aiming low had much to do with the outcome.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The "No Ice Cream Diet"

Our 15-year-old annoys us with that typical teen-age deadpan, supremely self-assured attitude, quick to point out how dumb adults are. Offsetting it in her case, however, is a cool sense of humor. We watched her scowl at a TV commercial that attempted to evoke appeal for low-calorie ice cream, touting the product as a marvelous component of most any diet plan.

Alison, repulsed at the thought of low-calorie ice cream, intoned, "Here's a diet plan: Don't eat ice cream."

Friday, January 13, 2006

Weekly Folk Music Quiz (13ja06)

The "high road" and "low road" are figurative allusions in the chorus of a) "Loch Lomond," b) "Barbara Allen," c) "Blowin' in the Wind," d) "Dixie."

Week History Quiz (13ja06)

Tomás de Torquemada (1420-98), besides his notoriety as a brutal inquisitor, was a Spanish: a) grandee, b) sheriff, c) sea captain, d) monk.

Weekly Amusement (13ja06)

“Dah, muh feet’er duh biggest feet o’ all duh boys in duh fif’ grade. Is it ’cause Ah’m a bluidy Scot?”

“Mare likely ’tis ’cause y’re twenta-three years auld.”

Fine Quality in Gutenberg Readings

Project Gutenberg ( continues its amazing drive to publish a vast body of free e-books, many of them vintage texts. Currently, it offers some 17,000 titles for downloading; visitors are deriving some 2 million downloads from the project monthly.

Only recently did I realize the expanding scope of Project Gutenberg’s audio e-books. You can download numerous readings, both computer-generated and human-read. The latter are far superior, although fewer in number. I've begun by obtaining several unabridged Sherlock Holmes works, which Gutenberg reportedly passes along from From the notes at, I gather these are read by John Telfer, produced by Alec Reid Recordings. They’re fine reading performances and I eagerly recommend them.

Note: You'll want to use a high-speed connection to obtain these, unless you're willing to wait half an hour or so for the MP3 files to come through vial a dial-up connection. In the Holmes set, an entire volume might consist of a dozen or more separate files; a short story typically is broken into two files. Regardless, they represent a tremendous contribution to the cause of promoting quality literature.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Weekly Folk Music Quiz (6ja06)

The “traveling people” written and sung of by Ewan MacColl and other British Isles balladeers during the Folk Revival referred to: a) Irish emigrants, b) salesmen, c) Vikings, d) Gypsies.

Weekly History Quiz (6ja06)

The Old Testament book of Numbers is largely: a) a code of laws, b) a history of the Israelites living in Egyptian captivity, c) an early system of mathematics, d) a census of the Hebrew people.

Weekly Amusement (6ja06)

Frantic caller: “Burglars are trying to break into my house! Please send the police immediately!”

Reassuring dispatcher: “They’re on the way. How should they get to your house?”

Caller, after a confused pause: “I always thought they came in patrol cars—sirens and flashing lights would be good.”

Monday, January 02, 2006

The Cutting Word

We use the term “two-edged sword” to connote an item, issue or statement that “cuts both ways.” For example, a comment might be received either as an insult or compliment, depending on circumstances. An action can serve both positive and negative purposes simultaneously.

The proverbial two-edged sword is biblical, but not literally “proverbial.” That is, you won’t find it in the Book of Proverbs. You’ll find it first referenced in Paul’s letter to the Hebrews. In Chapter 4, Verse 12, he wrote: For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

In Revelation, the aged Apostle John likewise spoke of it figuratively as God’s holy word. Describing in Chapter 1 the appearance of “One like the Son of Man,” John noted (Verse 16) that “out of His mouth went a sharp twoedged sword.” In his message to the 1st-Century church in Pergamos (Rev. 2:12), John began: These things saith He which hath the sharp sword with two edges. . . .

The very existence and meaning of the Bible obviously “cuts both ways.” To the nonbeliever, it all adds up to little or nothing at all. To the believer, it is very Life!