Chag Sameach, Tomorrow is Purim 5770!

Yes, Jews will soon commemorate the time in the fifth century B.C. when a Jewish Queen (Esther) defeated an Iranian anti-Semite.  Sure, it’s an event from ancient history, but it sounds like something we might hear on today’s news, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, I still haven’t found any hamentaschen locally (see the picture below and my entry from March 22, 2008).  Hopefully, one of these days they’ll turn up, even if there aren’t many Jews here in Kentucky.  After all, I did find muscadines (Florida grapes) here, after two years of searching.

The Xenophile Historian Goes North

It has been nearly three months since I finished my last new history paper, so I’ve waited long enough to get started on the next one.  It also seemed appropriate to do it now, because Canada was next on my “to-do” list, and the Canadians are enjoying two weeks in the international spotlight right now, while the Winter Olympic games are going on in Vancouver.

This will be the sixth (and last) history paper in The Anglo-American Adventure, my North American history series.  Called “The Great Wide North,” it will cover Canadian history from 1867, when the present Dominion government was established, to the present.  In Chapters 1 to 3, I was able to cover both Canadian and US history, side by side, up to 1867.  However, for the fourth and fifth chapters of the work, I concentrated just on US history.  I did this for two reasons:

1.  By itself, US history is long enough.  The original WordPerfect documents were whoppers before I converted them to HTML, 114 pages for Chapter 4, and 150 pages for Chapter 5.

2.  Canadian history is a big unknown for most Americans, including myself, alas.  In school we covered the main events of Canada’s colonial history (e.g., the French explorers and the French & Indian War), but my teachers and textbooks said almost nothing about Canadian history after 1867.  I wouldn’t be surprised if most Americans think nothing happened north of the 49th parallel after that date.  Heck, we’re lucky if we know the name of the current prime minister.  This means that I have to do more than the usual amount of research, in order to give our neighbor to the north equal time.  I’ll be learning and writing at the same time, but it’s only fair that I do so, to complete this series.  That way hopefully some readers will see Canada as more than just a land of spectacular scenery, hockey players and Mounties, the sidekick of the US and UK.

The good news is that with Canada’s smaller population, not as much has happened north of the border as south of it, so I don’t think it will take me most of a year to write the chapter, the way I did with Chapters 4 & 5.  Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more updates!

The Snow is Back

Rain on Monday, and a sunny Tuesday and Wednesday, got rid of most of the remaining snowdrifts left over from last week.  Then more snow fell on us today.  An inch was on the roads by the time I went to work.  It was slow going, because from the looks of things, the city was caught by surprise and the roads weren’t treated with salt.  I didn’t dare take the country roads for my commute, but even at an intersection on the main roads I spun out, while trying to make a slow right turn.  Don’t worry, nobody hit me and I didn’t hit anything.

Cold as it was, most of the snow on the roads melted by mid-afternoon, so I had no trouble getting home, though flakes continued to fall for the afternoon and evening.  But while there were plenty of accidents on the roads this morning, we were lucky again, because I heard that twelve more inches of snow was predicted to fall on Philadelphia and New Jersey.

If you’re following the bad news about Toyota, you probably heard that Akio Toyota, the company president, flew from Japan to testify before Congress today.  When he got done he came to visit Kentucky’s Toyota factory, located between Georgetown and Cynthiana, about 20 miles north of us.  We’re starting to get really concerned about this issue of the recalls over gas pedals and brakes, because it is hurting the car’s image, and Toyota is one of the largest employers locally.  One of my friends, Alphonso Fergerson, works for Toyota, to give just one example.  So far there have been cutbacks in hours worked, but I don’t believe there have been any layoffs.  But with politics in Washington being as vicious as they are, I wonder if Congress and the media are going to hound the Toyota executives until they fall on their swords?

A New Look For My History Papers

I’ve been at home each day since my last message; I just developed a minor case of writer’s block, where I couldn’t think of anything new to write.  Now I’m reporting that I made a change to the appearance of the history papers on The Xenophile Historian.  I removed the background that makes it look like they were etched in stone, so now the history papers feature black text on a plain white background.  This was done to make them a bit easier to read; today’s Internet surfers are an impatient lot, and webmasters shouldn’t do anything that will cause visitors to leave the website too quickly.

I will keep the “Expedition” theme (background) for the home page and those associated with it in the main folder.  The download page, link page, and the folder I call “The Holy Book of Universal Truths” will also keep it for the time being, as it shouldn’t take as long to read what’s on those pages.  If you use Internet Explorer or Opera as your browser, the colored scrollbars on the history pages will keep their colors, too.  Again, thanks for your support, and happy websurfing!

Move Over, Red Bull. Nisroch Will Really Give You Wings!

I’m saying this with my fingers crossed; it looks like the worst part of winter is behind us.  There are still several snowdrifts lying around (I saw one three feet high in a Wal-Mart parking lot today), and a few snowmen in front of houses, but I’m seeing more grass than snow these days.  Leive and I spent all of Saturday in Louisville, where the temperature got up to 55 degrees.  Then today it reached 62, so when I went out, I didn’t need a jacket at all.  A few more degrees and it will be up to what we are used to, from our Florida days!  However, the current forecast has daytime temperatures in the 30s and 40s for the rest of this week, so spring isn’t quite here yet.

And now for a different subject.  When it comes to great satire, I don’t believe anyone online has a better reputation for it than The Onion.  In the past I mentioned funny history-related news stories from them, like the one about archaeologists finding out that before Egypt had mummies, that ancient land was terrorized by skeleton people.

Now The Onion has announced the launching of a new energy drink named after Nisroch, the god of the Assyrian king Sennacherib.  This is the character you may have seen in Assyrian relief sculptures, who had the body of a man, and the head and wings of an eagle.  What better symbol for a drink that is supposed to give you power and speed?  Click on the link below to read the story.

Forgotten Assyrian God Revived to Name Sports Drink

Clueless British Reporters

Yesterday Vice President Biden made a speech on the economy.  This time, however, I’m not going to make fun of Mr. Biden, because he didn’t get in trouble with his mouth.  The people who committed an embarrassing gaffe with their words were two British reporters, Kay Burley and an unnamed male companion.

What happened was that Biden attended a Catholic mass before making his speech, because it was Ash Wednesday.  I’ve been to Ash Wednesday services, so I know what they’re all about:  the season of Lent begins, and the priest marks each person attending with a spot of ashes on the forehead, reminding us that we came from the dust of the earth, and will someday return to it.  Thus, Biden was marked, and the reporters had no idea what it was.  While everybody was listening, they asked out loud what the spot was, and if Biden had bumped his head while at the Winter Olympics.

What’s the matter with these ignorant reporters?  The Church of England observes Ash Wednesday, too, so even non-Catholics in Great Britain ought to be more familiar with the day than Americans are.  They should have gotten a hint earlier this week, when the Archdruid (formerly Archbishop) of Canterbury suggested that this Lent, parishioners ought to do something that will help the environment.  At the end of the video, Ms. Burley found out that Biden had ashes on his forehead, and apologized for being a bad Catholic.  Well, by the time she said that, I knew it was true what I heard several years back–that most Europeans don’t go to church anymore.

King Tut’s DNA Results

Yesterday the results were announced, after DNA from the mummy of Egypt’s Tutankhamun was compared with DNA from a bunch of other royal mummies.  The news was supposed to be released today, but I guess too much had leaked out already.  With these tests, I’ll venture that we learned as much about Tut’s family as we knew previously.  For a start, the tests give names to some mummies who didn’t have a positive identification before.  Here’s what we learned:

1.  Tutankhamun died of a combination of a broken leg and malaria.  Moreover, the presence of more than one strain of malarial DNA tells us he had the disease more than once.  He also had a clubfoot, and was forced to walk with a cane.  This is why he was buried with an assortment of canes and walking sticks, some of which showed signs of being used.  Evidently the picture showing him leaning on a walking stick was realistic.

2.   Tut’s poor health was probably caused by inbreeding (see #5 below).  The XVIII dynasty may have been less inbred than most of the families that produced pharaohs, but its genetic good luck ran out with him.

3.  The mummy identified as Amenhotep III was his grandfather, and the bones found in KV55 came from his father.  This settles another question one and for all–the person buried in KV55 was Akhenaten, not Smenkhkare.

4.  The mummy from KV35 called the “Elder Lady,” identified as Queen Tiye in 1976, was King’s Tut’s grandmummy, all right.

5.   Another mummy from KV35, the so-called “Younger Lady,” was Tutankhamun’s mother; she was Tiye’s daughter, and thus Akhenaten’s full-blooded sister.  Unfortunately we don’t have a name for her yet, so we can’t say for sure if she was Nefertiti or somebody else.

6.  The two mummified fetuses buried with Tut were his stillborn daughters, and a mummy from KV21 was their mother.  That means Tut’s wife, Ankhesenamun, has been found.

7.  Akhenaten didn’t really look as weird as his portraits and statues suggest.  The only unusual feature detected from the KV55 body was an elongated head.  It looks like he had the pictures done that way as an artistic convention.  The god he worshiped, Aten, was portrayed as sexless, so he wanted to be shown as both male and female, too.  For me this was the most surprising discovery.

At a minimum, I’m going to have to rewrite some paragraphs on my ancient Egypt page.

Here are some news links to the story:

From FOX News

From The Globe & Mail

From National Geographic

Snow Emergency

The snow has just been getting deeper.  Five inches fell on Monday, another inch last night.  The city mayor did something I never heard of before–he declared a “snow emergency.”  That meant get all parked cars off the sides of the main roads so snowplows can come through; those cars that the owners did not remove were towed away.

I was able to get to work all right by driving slow,  but the snow is piled up pretty deep along the roadside in the country; in some spots the drifts must be three feet high.  That can be dangerous because there’s not much room to maneuver.  I think I’ll have to avoid driving much on country roads until some of the snow melts.

Is Lexington Really a Loveless City?

We’re getting another snowstorm this morning.  At least an inch fell last night, and an accumulation of 4-5 inches is expected.  Good thing I’m off from work, due to the President’s Day holiday.  If I don’t leave home today, you’ll know why.

Kentucky Takes Another Wallop of Winter Weather

Now here’s something I forgot to mention in my messages over the weekend.  Last week a news website called The Daily Beast published a list of 104 American cities, ranked by your chances of finding a life partner there:

Best (And Worst) Cities to Find Love

At the top of the list was Long Beach, CA.  No real surprise there; with California’s reputation, you’d expect its cities to do well.  My former home town, Orlando, FL, came in at #32, because of its excellent night life (they probably included the theme parks there).  However, Lexington, KY, the place where I live now, ranked dead last.  No wonder our local in-law, Gene King, didn’t get married until Leive’s niece arrived here.

For the rankings, The Daily Beast used five criteria:  the percentage of single people in the population, how many restaurants and bars are in the area, overall emotional health, the number of marriages, and the number of divorces.  Finally, they listed a place in each city as the “romantic hotspot.”  For Lexington they picked a strange location; instead of someplace downtown, near the University of Kentucky, the hotels and Rupp Arena, the romantic hotspot is Arirang Garden, a Korean restaurant located three miles from our house.  Wait until I tell Leive about this . . .

If I was making that list, I don’t think I would figure the rankings the same way.  For a start, why is a restaurant or bar considered the best place to meet that special someone?  Luckily I stopped being single long before I moved to Lexington, but if I wasn’t, I can think of plenty of other places where I’d look first.  The mall.  Any sporting event.  Anything happening on or near the UK campus; didn’t they take into account that this is an overgrown college town?  Barnes & Noble; don’t bookstores have coffee shops so that intelligent people can socialize?  Church activities.  If I was still in school, my classmates would be possibilities.  And so forth.  Moreover, does anyone really believe you can choose the right spouse, in a place where you’re probably drunk and can’t get a good view of what’s happening a few feet away? Contrary to what we saw on “Cheers,” I have yet to find a bar that is clean, well-lit, and full of happy and interesting people.  Maybe that is why the divorce rate is high–people are looking for love in all the wrong places.

To finish, I’m noticing a disturbing pattern.  Whenever somebody makes a list ranking cities or states, Lexington/Kentucky usually comes out as one of the worst places, where that statistic is concerned.  For example, a year or two ago, Lexington was reported as the city with the worst infestations of pollen, mold and fungus.  Then we were called the most environmentally unfriendly city, because we burn coal for electricity and don’t have suburbs or an elaborate mass transit system.  And I can’t remember how many times we were declared obese, unhealthy, uneducated, or just plain poor.  For me Kentucky has been quite nice, but folks out of state reading those lists must think we’re a real hell-hole.  That explains why we don’t have crowds of people moving in, like we had in Florida.  And now I know why a co-worker once told me that other states may claim to be “God’s Country,” but Kentucky is “God’s Best-Kept Secret.”