The Curious Autodidact

August 29, 2008

Katrina’s Aftermath

Filed under: book related,environmental ideas,media related — Honilima @ 8:18 pm

If you want a sobering look at Katrina and the tragedy in the Gulf read ONE DEAD IN ATTIC by Chris Rose and then take the time to watch Spike Lee’s WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE a series that was aired on HBO and gives you in the people of New Orleans what went on and how they continue to struggle. It is all certainly an embarrassing chapter in the book of BUSH and in the annals of the Army Corps of Engineers. I’d read quite a bit and felt fairly informed until I watched this series and read Chris Rose’s book that takes you there.


August 20, 2008


Filed under: Word Related — Honilima @ 8:20 pm

The morning sun
Rises above the frosty woods.
-Ilida Darotsu

In the twilight gloom
Of the redwood and the pine
Some wisterias bloom.

Red dragonflies
Flowing like a ripple
Toward the crimson sky.
-Miura Yuzuru

A whale!
Down it goes, and more and more
up goes its tail!

Buson, Yosa. (1716-84)

No sky
no earth – but still
snowflakes fall


An old silent pond…

A frog jumps into the pond,

splash! Silence again.

by Basho (1644-1694)

Over the wintry

forest, winds howl in rage

with no leaves to blow.

by Soseki (1275-1351)

August 14, 2008

More Nautical Phrases

Filed under: origin of phrases — Honilima @ 8:17 pm



In difficulty, between two dangerous alternatives.


The phrase was originally ‘Between the Devil and the deep sea’. The sea turned blue much later and the phrase became well-known via the title of a popular song. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea was written by Ted Koehler and Harold Arlen, and recorded by Cab Calloway in 1931, although that version of the phrase may have been circulating earlier.

What’s the source of the original phrase? Well, we would really like to know. CANOE, the Committee to Ascribe a Nautical Origin to Everything, would have us believe that it has a nautical origin (well, they would wouldn’t they?). In her book, ‘When a loose cannon flogs a dead horse there’s the devil to pay‘, Olivia Isil unambiguously attributes a nautical origin to the phrase.

Set against that there’s the explanation that this is from the usual meaning of Devil, i.e. the supreme spirit of evil. If it’s that Devil we are talking about then the origin is straightforward – the Devil is bad and falling in the deep sea is bad, so when caught between the two we would be in difficulty.

People who like that explanation can point back to Greek mythology for an earlier version of the idea of being caught between evil and the sea. Homer’s Odyssey refers to Odysseus being caught between Scylla (a six-headed monster) and Charybdis (a whirlpool).

To explain the nautical theory we’ll need to define some sailing terminology. That’s always dangerous ground for landlubbers and usually results in some horny-handed sailing type writing in to say that we don’t know our scuppers from our square-knots, but here goes anyway…

“Devil – the seam which margins the waterways on a ship’s hull”.

This definition is from Henry Smyth’s Sailor’s Word-Book: An Alphabetical Digest of Nautical Terms, 1867. That definition wasn’t entirely clear to me, but a correspondent who describes himself as ‘an engineer and vessel constructor’, clarified it this way:

“Devil – the seam between the deck planking and the topmost plank of the ship’s side”.

This seam would need to be watertight and would need filling (caulking) from time to time. On a ship at sea this would presumably require a sailor to be suspended over the side, or at least stand at the very edge of the deck. Either way it is easy to see how that might be described as ‘between the devil and the deep sea’.

Incidentally, another term for filling a seam is paying. Those that like nautical origins also give this as the source for the Devil to pay, although the evidence is against them on that one.

The first recorded citation of ‘the Devil and the deep sea’ in print is in Robert Monro’s His expedition with the worthy Scots regiment called Mac-keyes, 1637:

“I, with my partie, did lie on our poste, as betwixt the devill and the deep sea.”

The seafaring theory is plausible at least, but does it really hold water? Two factors count against it. Firstly, it doesn’t really explain the meaning. The devil on a ship isn’t inherently dangerous. Secondly, does the phrase pre-date the nautical term ‘devil’? We’ve no evidence to show the word in that context until over two hundred years after the first sighting of the phrase.

CANOE don’t quite convince with this one. On balance it seems wise to stay on dry land and stick with the Devil we know.


August 2, 2008

Take a Trip into Another Culture: Reading Abroad

Filed under: book related — Honilima @ 8:14 pm

River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler

May You be the Mother of 100 Sons by Elizabeth Bumiller

Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks

Where the Pavement Ends: One Women’s Bicycle Trip Through Mongolia, China, and Vietnam by Erika Warmbrunn

Neither East Nor West by Christiane Bird

Confucius Lives Next Door by T. R. Reid

West with the Night by Beryl Markham

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder

Fifth Chinese Daughter by Jade Snow Wong

Dream of a Thousand Lives by Karen Connelly

West of Kabul, East of New York by Tamim Ansary

My Father Came from Italy by Maria Coletta McLean

Under the Neem Tree by Susan Lowerre

Adventure Divas by Holly Morris

Swimming to Antarctica by Lynne Cox

The Saddest Pleasure: A Journey on Two Rivers by Moritz Thomsen

How to Avoid ID Theft

Filed under: helpful hints — Honilima @ 8:13 pm

In the perfect world you wouldn’t have to bother with such mundane matters as checking your credit report but it is a wise choice given all the ID theft that lingers in today’s world. It has been suggested that you check it annually, but many check it three times a year. Depending on what state you live in this can be free, if you check each of the three main reporting agencies annually, one Valentine’s Day, one Memorial Day, and one Halloween is a simple way to remember. Here’s the place that is really free if you don’t want the score and want to just check the credit that is outstanding.

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