I recently read an article about an archaeological mystery in the Golan Heights, which said it was located in the Middle East. I also have read articles that say Israel and Lebanon are in the Near East. I have read recent articles that say Libya is also in the Near East, but it's just across the Mediterranean from Italy, which is never said to be in the Near East. I understand why Korea and Japan are in the Far East, so it would seem that the Middle East is somewhere around India. Can you explain this? -- Julia, of Belleville
East is east and west may be west, but it sure has led to a mess of confusing terms in the past 150 years, as you have discovered. Let's see if I can simplify it for you, even though, like medicine and meteorology, this piece of geography is not an exact science:
First, you have to understand that all of these descriptions of "east" come from the "western" perspective of old-world Europeans as they tried to describe the geographical relationship between them and various foreign lands to the east.
Things were simpler back in the 1850s when people only differentiated between Near East and Far East. At that time, Near East primarily referred to the land between Iran and the Mediterranean Sea -- Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria, Albania, Armenia, Egypt, western Iraq and Anatolia.
In other words, it was basically the old Ottoman Empire although, early on, they threw in Egypt and a few nearby Asian countries for good measure. The first reference to Near East was 1856, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Everything else was Far East.
Things started getting messier when the first reference to "middle East" popped up in 1876, according to the OED. The Near East was still mostly the Ottoman Empire, but the area farther east around Mesopotamia -- modern-day Iraq -- was starting to become a distinct region in its own right, hence "middle."
This distinction was solidified in 1902, when U.S. geostrategist and historian Alfred Thayer Mahan is credited for coining the term "Middle East" with a capital M. It was an area of British colonial power from Iraq to British India/Pakistan as opposed to the Near East areas of Eastern Europe, Syria, Jordan and Asia Minor.
But when the Ottoman Empire disappeared after World War I, so did the use of Near East for the most part. Such countries as Bulgaria, Greece and Albania were now thought of as part of Europe while the western fringes of the Near East became part of the Middle East.
So, today, Near East is generally used only by old-timers. The Associated Press stylebook -- the bible of usage for many reporters -- defines Middle East as all of southwest Asia west of Pakistan and Afghanistan (including Israel, Saudi Arabia, Oman, etc.) as well as northeastern Africa (Egypt and Sudan). "Mideast" is acceptable, but Middle East is preferred.
And Near East? We are told to use it only when a source for a story specifically uses the term; otherwise, "Near East" should be left on the geographical trash heap. Of course that leaves the problem of how you can have a "middle" and a "far" without a "near." Sorry, some questions I cannot answer.
How do box cakes rise without yeast? -- H.S., of Belleville
Boy, doesn't that take the cake? Yeast is probably the best known "leavening agent" because it is so commonly used in a staple like bread. By converting sugars in the dough into carbon dioxide, it causes the dough to expand (rise) as the gas forms pockets (bubbles). As the bread bakes, these pockets set, giving it its soft, springy texture.
So why doesn't a Duncan Hines angel food cake mix have a devil of a time rising without yeast? Turns out that yeast doesn't have an exclusive lock on this process, News-Democrat Food Editor Suzanne Boyle tells me.
If you've ever baked a cake, you know it probably either includes or calls for baking powder, which produces much the same effect. Baking powder contains an ingredient like tartaric acid, which reacts with other things to release carbon dioxide gas into the batter just like yeast -- with the added advantage of not adding a fermented-yeast flavor.
If you look at the list of ingredients, you also may find buttermilk, which can heighten the effect. Whipping the batter in a mixer adds even more air into things. The end result is a cake that doesn't wind up like that old Head East album -- flat as a pancake.
What Oscar-winning actress was the granddaughter of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright?
Answer to Wednesday's trivia: The St. Louis Rams' Steven Jackson still has four years to go if he wants to break the record for most consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons. On Sunday, Jackson became the sixth man to notch eight in a row, but Dallas' Emmitt Smith is still king with 11 from 1991 to 2001. Others are Barry Sanders (10, 1989-1998), Curtis Martin (10, 1995-2004), Thurman Thomas (8, 1989-1996) and LaDanian Tomlinson (8, 2001-2008).
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or email@example.com or call 239-2465.