The presidential election is in the news again, as our primary draws closer. Over the weekend, Barack Obama’s pastor proved to be the gift that keeps on giving, with his “All Wright, all the time” tour. Instead of explaining away his remarks, Rev. Jeremiah Wright only became more offensive, until Obama finally had enough; yesterday at a press conference, he declared that his spiritual guide is not the man he met twenty years ago. Will it be enough to save his campaign? We will see, in this “anything can happen” election year. Myself, I thought the words were good, but not the timing; he should have said that when the trouble started last month.

I’m ready to declare Black Liberation Theology a heresy, after hearing some more whoppers about what it teaches. I have a low tolerance for historical errors, when made on purpose. Previously, I mentioned their insistence that Jesus was poor and black. I have also heard that that in the Trinity United Church of Christ, Oprah Winfrey and Tiger Woods don’t fit their definition of “black,” because they are successful, so I guess you’re only acceptable to them if you’re a failure. This week, I learned that in Rev. Wright’s church they have a quiz for new members, and one of the questions asks which continent do the stories of the Bible take place on, from Genesis to Malachi? The correct answer is Africa! That can’t be the same Bible I use, because Israel is part of Asia, not Africa, and except for a few references to Libya, Ethiopia, and maybe “Ophir” (the land where King Solomon got his gold), Egypt is the only African country that is even mentioned. I’m also hearing a rumor that Moslems have become church members without converting.  Well, the church I attended in Florida had Jewish visitors all the time, because unlike other Evangelical bodies, we never tried to convert them. However, I don’t think this is quite the same thing; how often was the Rev. Louis Farrakhan a visitor there? And I wouldn’t be surprised if Wright believes that Jesus only came to save black people.

In local news, Hillary Clinton’s campaign opened an office in Lexington today, and our congressman, Ben Chandler, announced he’s now a super-delegate endorsing Obama. He gave several reasons, but the main one is that his kids find Obama exciting. Well, I did say Obama is the first presidential candidate from a major party who’s younger than I am.

As for me, I’m still not excited about anybody. There’s no candidate or party to represent my point of view. Since folks these days like “sound bites,” here’s the sound-bite version of what I want to hear a presidential candidate promise to do:

  1. Abolish the IRS.
  2. Cut spending.
  3. Ignore the tree-huggers.
  4. Secure the borders.
  5. Kill the terrorists.
  6. Smack the hippies.

Of course Hillary and Barack aren’t in favor of any of these; heck, they’re ex-hippies. The only ones John McCain supports are #2 and #5, and I have my doubts about his commitment to #5.

Finally, while I’ve been enjoying the Democratic catfight, it looks like others aren’t. Party chairman Howard Dean, for instance, said one or the other candidate must drop out of the race by July 1. Howard, you ought to know Democrats don’t follow rules. Remember what Will Rogers said about that, eighty years ago:

“I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.”

And pray tell, why did you schedule the convention so darn late? What is everybody supposed to do in July and August, if the primary campaign ends in June?

Jackie and Dunlap, those crazy good ol’ boys at Red State Update, are tired of the campaign, too. As Dunlap put it last week: “So now all you Democrats out there, you need to gather up all the homosexuals, and your atheists and your elitists and your baby-killers and your tree-huggers and your flag-burners and your socialists and your communists and your undercover Islamofacists and the Screen Actors Guild and the last living members of the Weather Underground, throw up a bunch of pictures of Obama and Hillary, grab one and go with it!”

From Being an American Idol Finalist to Flunking Geography

I figured both Leive and Lindy would like this:  Leive because she’s an “American Idol” fan, and Lindy because like her father, she’s strong in geography.  Here’s a hilarious video of a former “American Idol” star, Kellie Pickler, when she appeared on another show, “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?”  In this case, the answer is “No.”


How About A Literacy Test for the Internet?

It has been a long dry spell for the guestbook of The Xenophile Historian — 51 weeks without anybody signing it. Then today I got two signatures. One was just spam, so I deleted it. The other is still there, but it would be easier to repost the message than to describe it. Quote:

I read your “history” and how you promised in the begin this is a history for kids from 1-5 years old kids or people that think once you read something that called itself history you get smart and send some THANKFUL messages to the “historian”that opened the EYES!
I dont know what is your religion or nationality but know that you did a very “nice” job writing so a big LIE and living out of any notice one of the OLDEST FOLKS in EUROPE, ILLYRIANS and ALBANIANS! Are you payed from any Greek or Serb person or organisation to write the history with so “forgoten world” around? Shame on you and shame on your amateur work! I don’t know what is your profession but i will advice you, let that SHIT, go and work in any farm and at least when you will DIE( God’s work) you will offer your last duty to the earth, doing the WORMS happy!

Unquote: That probably didn’t make much sense to you. It certainly didn’t to me, and my initial thought was to respond by sending this picture to the e-mail address listed:

Or maybe this, because it sounds like our visitor could use it:

Does anybody know what I wrote that made this troll upset? Because he/she/it claims to be “Albanian-Canadian” and asked if I was a Serb or Greek, I’m guessing it’s the page where I covered the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. Nowadays I think we did the Serbs dirty, but I wasn’t so sure back in 2001, when I wrote that page; altogether I feel I took a neutral stand on that conflict. I doubt if I can be another Julia Gorin, when it comes to writing about the Balkans.

Anyway, I have a pet peeve when it comes to proper writing. It’s a vital part of my day job, and for some reason, the older I get, the more spelling and grammar errors I see in the work of others. This guestbook entry is clearly bad writing. Here’s what I wrote on the subject, from a few years back:

If you are not good with spelling or grammar, consider using a spellchecker. This is a pet peeve of mine, and not as critical as the other things in this chapter, so I saved it for last. Like it or not, the way you write reveals your cultural background, your education and your intelligence. Now when I meet people who do not speak English as a first language, I’m willing to cut them some slack. After all, they’re probably doing better in my language than I would do in theirs! The rest of you, however, better be able to write at the level expected of a high school graduate, or people will wonder what you’re doing online. Remember that no matter how witty you are, there’s somebody else more articulate than you, and you’ll need to be able to hold your own if you meet this person. In my case, it was my old friend and debating partner, Larry Buckmaster. In a chat room, the action moves too fast to catch mistakes before you send them out, but for e-mail and bulletin board purposes, you may want to run your creations through a spellchecking program before you post them. MS Word, WordPerfect, and many HTML editors have spellcheckers that work fine for this purpose.

For those who think that spelling doesn’t matter, this hilarious Christmas card shows what can happen if you get just one letter wrong:
Christmas with Elvis

And please get your spacing and punctuation right too, for goodness sake. If you are writing a long message, please break it into paragraphs. In e-mail or bulletin board messages, the easiest way to show a break between two paragraphs is to hit the “Enter” key twice. A computer monitor causes more eyestrain than a printed page, so a long paragraph or message can be tiring on the eyes. Mine tend to blur over if I’m reading a one-paragraph message with more than ten lines in it! As for punctuation, those little marks have special purposes; be sure to use them just for that. A long string of periods, called an ellipsis, is useful for quoting somebody else, but otherwise it should be used sparingly, and only at the end of a paragraph. Multiple periods or commas at the end of each sentence, what I call “diarrhea of the keyboard,” looks simply awful, and tells me the author doesn’t really know how to write.

Improved Page Navigation

I have just finished a makeover of the page navigators at The Xenophile Historian. The page navigators are tables I have at the bottom of nearly every history paper on the site, for quick movement to other pages. For the past 3-4 years I had a series of mouseover buttons over there, created with Java and colorcoded by subject (e.g., green for the Middle East, red for Russia, blue for India, etc.). Move your cursor over one of them, and it changes color; click on it, and off you go! Very pretty, but because of the Java, they’re also very slow. Too, slow, in fact. My pages were taking too long to load, not because of the pictures, but because of the buttons, and you can’t read the text or look at anything else until they finish loading. Even with my cable modem, which I’ve clocked at a speed of at least 1.2 megabytes per second, the pages can take half a minute to show what they’ve got.

I learned years ago that when it comes to good webpage design, you want them to load quickly, because websurfers are an impatient bunch.  This is not the place to prolong the pleasure; if visitors can’t see in about 15 seconds what’s on a page, they will go elsewhere to find whatever they are looking for. I hope I haven’t lost too many visitors because of slow-loading pages.

Anyway, I decided to replace the buttons with less attractive, but more useful drop-down lists. Each page with a page navigator now has three of those lists. The first has links to other pages in the same folder, the second has links to history papers in other folders, and the third is for pages on other subjects (“Beyond History”).

May this give you a more pleasant websurfing experience, on your next visit.

Indian Winter, and Announcing a Garage Sale

Today is unusually cold for this time of the year; it only got up to 58 in the day, and now it’s raining and we’re expecting it to drop to 35 tonight. Saturday is the last likely day of frost in this climate, and it looks like this year it is coming just in time. Because “Indian Summer” is the term used for the last warm days of fall, I’m calling this Indian Winter.

Now that Robert Bendoy, Rezia’s father and Leive’s brother, is back in the Philippines, we’ve been wondering how we can help the new missionary effort he is starting in Dipolog City. Last week we decided to hold a garage sale and send him the earnings. Because Gene and Rezia live on the other side of town from us, the current plan is to have one garage sale at our house and one at theirs. Our homeowner’s association is allowing everyone in the neighborhood to hold garage sales on Saturday, May 10, from 9 Am to 2 PM, so we’ll be doing it then (they call it the annual spring cleaning event). No permit or fee is required, all we have to do is tie some balloons to our mailbox to let everyone know we’re participating.

Last year we didn’t participate because we had just bought the place and we were acquiring stuff, not trying to get rid of it. I announced the sale at the church group we attended in the pastor’s house last night, and our pastor cracked the same kind of mean joke he told us last Thanksgiving. This time he told us that the hottest item to sell at garage sales is parrots. Now really!

Brin-Brin says “NOOOOOO!”

More Irresponsible Advertising

Last December 8 I posted a picture from a deli in New York City that offered a special on ham for Hanukkah. If you’re like me, you have to be wondering what the owner of that store was thinking when he put up the sign. Now here’s an ad that’s in even worse taste, seen at a funeral home in southeast Atlanta, GA:

I found this on Free Republic, where the lady who took the picture said, “I SWEAR I didn’t photoshop this!” It led to a series of grim jokes, like “they put the FUN in funerals.” Other participants asked if the owner’s name should be spelled “Ghoulsby” instead of “Goolsby,” and if one of the events would be a pinebox derby. However, they all agreed that a marshmallow roast at the crematorium would be too much!

Black Market Rice?

Just the other day (see the April 17 entry), I noted that out of a desire to achieve energy independence and save the environment at the same time, farmers are being encouraged to grow more corn for ethanol. Never mind that Brazil produces a more potent brand of ethanol by using sugar cane instead of corn. Consequently, we’re seeing a smaller harvest of other crops, and food prices are racing upwards because of it.

Now it appears that rice is one of the crops most affected by the reduced supply. I’m guessing it’s because so many people depend on rice as a staple, especially in the Far East. I’ve commented in the past that if Jesus had been a Filipino instead of a Jew, the Lord’s Prayer would have included the line “Give us this day our daily rice.” Maybe it’s also because most of the countries that grow rice, can grow corn, too.

Last week I read that Costco and Sam’s Club are limiting rice purchases to four twenty-pound bags to a customer per trip, to prevent hoarding. They are mainly talking about the fancy kinds of rice: basmati, jasmine and long-grain. Alas, basmati is Leive’s favorite kind, and before she discovered basmati, jasmine rice was her favorite. In fact, the two main reasons why we had Costco cards when we lived in Orlando were dirt-cheap prescriptions ($4 without insurance, and as little as $1 with insurance), and the best deal in town on basmati rice. On the radio last Friday morning, they ran a fake commercial about a “rice for cash” program where if you buy too much rice, you can put it in a zip-lock bag and sell it back to Uncle Ben’s. Who ever thought the day would come when you’d think about making a back-alley deal for a bag of Uncle Ben’s or Mahatma?

If there is a rice shortage, it’s not in America yet. I was in three Asian grocery stores today, shopping for Leive. Of course they had rice: besides the familar white kinds, they had several unusual kinds (wild rice, red rice, brown rice, black rice, multigrain rice, etc.), and plenty of them. No rationing in those stores; if the supply is running low anywhere in the US, it’s because of panic buying. Leive said we can always grow our own. Maybe so when we lived in Florida, but I don’t think the climate and terrain here in Kentucky are suitable for it. We’ll be buying rice again when the kids get here from the Philippines, so we’ll have to pay whatever it costs at that time.

In previous messages I listed things I missed from our Florida days that we don’t have around us now. About the last items on that list are our relatives (especially my parents), our former church, muscadine grapes — and Costco. Well, I think I can now take Costco off that list. So far the best place I’ve found in Lexington for basmati rice is the little Indian store near us, at the corner of Mapleleaf & Man o’War Blvd.  There last year, it was almost as cheap as it was at Costco. If this trend continues, there won’t be any more basmati specials like the “buy one bag, get one bag free” deal anywhere.

The good news is that some scientists at the University of Texas at Austin have just discovered a breed of cyanobacteria that produce a form of glucose, which converts easily into ethanol. Once they can grow these germs, they can do it on non-agricultural land, and return the farms to growing rice and other real food crops. Go for it, guys!

New source for biofuels discovered

Danish Priorities

Do you remember the argument from the 2004 election, where it was pointed out that if the whole world could vote, John Kerry would have been elected? Well, there’s reasons why voting is limited to citizens of the nation holding the election. My response to that was, “Big deal, if the animal kingdom could vote, Ralph Nader would become our next president!”

President Ralph Nader

Anyway, I’m starting to hear foreign opinions about our presidential election again. Some Moslem leaders are hinting that they’d like to see Barack Obama win. This time, however, foreign support for the Democrats isn’t total, presumably because serious character flaws in both candidates have become visible. Twice in the past 24 hours I’ve seen this quote from a Danish writer about why he favors John McCain. I wish I knew the original source, so I could verify that a Dane really said it:

“We in Denmark cannot figure out why you are even bothering to hold an election.
On one side, you have a lawyer who is married to a lawyer, and a lawyer who is married to a lawyer.
On the other side, you have a true war hero married to a blonde with a huge chest who owns a beer distributorship.
Is there a contest here?”

The Undead King of Popcorn

This creeped me out. Today I read a column by Greg Crosby entitled “Popcorn Zombie,” where he talked about a strange commercial for Orville Redenbacher’s gourmet popcorn. Mr. Redenbacher died back in the 1990s, but that isn’t stopping him from appearing in new ads for his product. Actually, it’s a recreated computer animation of him with a voice to match, like Jar Jar Binks in “Star Wars” Episodes 1-3. Since I hardly ever watch TV these days, I went on YouTube and looked it up. Here it is. He even looks younger than he did in the last commercials he made while alive:

About ten years ago, Kentucky Fried Chicken ran some ads where an actor made up as Colonel Sanders told everyone about the restaurant’s new healthier recipes. I remember a comedian joking that they must have frozen the Colonel, like it is rumored they did to Walt Disney, and when it comes time to do another ad, they pop him in the microwave and he’s ready to go! Well, this must be the next logical step.

I also remember some science fiction stories like this. Back in the 80s there was one I read (I forget the title and author now), where the technology became available to do near-perfect computer simulations of historical characters. For the first experiment, they recreated Francisco Pizarro, then Socrates, and the philosopher had a debate with the conquistador. And there was an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” where a dying scientist transferred his personality and memories into Data, causing the android to act just like the scientist until this fancy program could be persuaded to move to a computer network. We may be closer to trying this electronic form of immortality than we think. What next? Perhaps we’ll try to bring back some of the great minds of the past, to ask their advice in solving today’s problems?

Trying to do High-Tech Without Electricity

This morning at work was more interesting than I’d like it to be. When I arrived the power was out in my building. One of the transformers outside blew around 6 AM, and it was still smoking when I saw it. What caused the outage? I have no idea. In Florida we often had a problem with power failures caused by squirrels electrocuting themselves, when they climb on the wires around a transformer, but nobody saw a dead animal on the ground nearby. Of course with my job absolutely dependent on a computer, I couldn’t get any work done without electricity.

Luckily I had a meeting scheduled for 8 this morning, so I could pass part of the time by attending that. Normally I don’t look forward to those meetings at work, because I feel more productive when working, but it came in handy today. The repair crew on the base came quickly, and just before 10 AM the power came back on (whew!). By comparison, the rest of the day was more normal. If the downtime had lasted ten more minutes, I think I would have had to go home without pay for the rest of the day.

If the power had to go out, I’m thankful it happened now, and not in summer or winter, since we were outside a lot waiting for the lights to come back on. Also that it wasn’t raining; weather-wise, it was the perfect day for a blackout.

I’m reminded of a similar situation that happened back when I lived in Florida. At 8 AM on a Sunday, in March 1999, the main circuit breaker blew out, on the line bringing electricity into our house. Not only was it difficult to call a repair truck on a Sunday morning, the circuit breaker turned out to be a kind no longer made, and it had to be special-ordered from Dallas, TX. Thus, I was without power for five days. Leive and Lindy took the easy way out; they spent the time at a relative’s house until the power came back, while I stayed with my parents. Afterwards I told folks that for me, Y2K came nine months early!