Q. Last week, one of your paper's letter writers said that, at age 21, Barry Soetoro changed his name to Barack Obama in keeping with the requirements of the Islamic faith for a boy reaching adulthood. I'd never heard of him changing his name before. Is this true?
-- A.R., of Belleville
A. I know my paper's philosophy is to let people have their say (within legal limits) and the truth will win out (hopefully). But I sometimes think we should consider offering an occasional editor's note when writers take a particularly flagrant departure from reality.
This would have been one of those times. From every reputable source I can find, there is no evidence that the president ever took the name "Soetoro" -- and he certainly was known as Barack Obama long before his 21st birthday.
I'm not going to belabor the point, because I'll never convince such groups as the die-hard birthers who undoubtedly will fill my e-mailbox again Monday. But let's do a quick review to understand the allegation:
He was born Barack Obama in Honolulu on Aug. 4, 1961, to Ann Dunham and Barack Obama Sr. The couple soon separated and divorced, and Dunham went on to marry Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian graduate student, in 1965.
There is no evidence that "Barry" Obama, as he often was called as a boy, ever took his stepdad's name, Soetoro. The only name change he made was to demand the use of his formal first name, because he liked Barack better than Barry. His half sister Maya has said that on Christmas 1980, Obama told his mother and grandparents to stop calling him Barry.
Note the time frame: He was only 19. And that's not the only proof. After graduating from the Punahou School in Honolulu, Obama enrolled in Occidental College, where Jim Tranquada, the school's director of communications, has said that its 1979-1980 freshman "Lookbook" lists a Barack Obama. Again, this is three years before his 21st birthday.
Now, often much is made of some survey of 400 people who don't remember Obama ever attending Columbia College. Well, there are several documented cases of people who do, including Michael Baron, who told NBC News that, as a senior, Barack Obama aced Baron's honors foreign policy seminar.
There are also various ID cards floating around the Internet, showing, for example, Barry Soetoro as a student at Columbia in 1981. But this, too, has been proven to be a fake because Columbia did not use that particular style of card until 1998 and that the card's ID number belonged to another student at that time, according to snopes.com.
So, no, he's not a Muslim, radical or otherwise, and he did not change his name at age 21 -- not that I think any of this matters to those whose minds are made up. I mean I have an acquaintance who believes that the Illuminati not only have forged Obama's Hawaiian birth certificate but his birth date as well. Why? So that we won't find out that he was born on the day the Antichrist was predicted to have entered the world. I wish I were joking. ...
Q. Can high fructose corn syrup be substituted for sugar in hummingbird feeders? My daughter-in-law has two dozen feeders, and it takes a lot of sugar to make the nectar.
-- Rose, of Millstadt
A. I'd like to say that making such a switch is for the birds, but I'm afraid I might be misinterpreted. So, let me be perfectly clear: According to the majority of experts, hummingbird nectar always should be made from common table sugar (sucrose), says Kathy O'Neill, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Swansea.
Without getting into the differences between monosaccharides (fructose) and disaccharides (sucrose), I'll let Kathy get to the heart of the matter:
"(Table sugar) is the closest possible duplicate of natural flower nectar," she said. "We do not recommend any alternatives such as honey, artificial sweeteners, raw sugar, organic sugar, brown sugar or agave nectar. They contain ingredients that may be directly harmful or could build up with regular feeding and become harmful."
She says fructose is found in fruits and honey, but these do not attract hummingbirds in nature. So stick with table sugar in a ratio of four parts water to one part sugar. Equally important, O'Neill said, do not add any red dyes to attract more birds; none has been deemed safe for our feathered friends.
When McDonald's started selling its Big Mac in Moscow in 1988, what did they call it?
Answer to Saturday's trivia: So, who was the first Felix Ungar in "The Odd Couple"? Why, none other than Art Carney, who, as Ed Norton, often drove Jackie Gleason bananas on "The Honeymooners." In "The Odd Couple," Carney starred opposite Walter Matthau from the show's Broadway opening in March 1965 to October 1965.
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or firstname.lastname@example.org.