Think he’ll friend me back? May 13, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
Tags: Benjamin Franklin, Colonial history, Mount Vernon, George Washington, blog humor, Martha Washington
add a comment
Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood went to Mount Vernon, the plantation home of George Washington, yesterday. It was the first time I’d been back since I was a child.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t the architecture, the majestic setting, the fact that it was the home of our first and greatest President, or even that it was the seat of my own relative Martha Dandridge (Custis Washington), that impressed the youthful Ben. Yes, I loved Colonial history and architecture even then. But no amount of history or achitecture could compete with the stench rising up from the (then) foully polluted Potomac River. It was basically the only memory I took away from my childhood visit to this historic site.
Mercifully, it’s been decades since the Potomac has been cleaned up. Now joggers, cyclists, walkers, and picnicers enjoy trails along its banks, often with their families and dogs. Not a whiff of foulness and rot rises from the river. Instead, the whirr of power boats, the honk of towboats, and the majestic sight of yachts and cruise ships brings your attention to the great expanse of water that, legend has it, as a young man George Washington hurled a silver dollar across to show his strength.
Looking across what seems like miles of water, this story seems as much a legend as Washington cutting down the cherry tree as a child. (“I cannot tell a lie.”) Yet it was supposedly witnessed. And certainly the young, athletic, 6’4″ Washington (he had shrunk to “just” 6’2″ in his 60s) prided himself on his prodigious strength.
If you think this feat unlikely, consider that the young athlete Benjamin Franklin regularly swam across the mighty Delaware River in Philadelphia for exercise, something few Olympic swimmers would consider doing today (and not one, to my knowledge, has ever attempted).
History affirms Ben’s wholesome swims, quite a slap in the face to the picture of the portly elder statesman. And Ben in his youth was not only a vegetarian but a teetotaler, denouncing the consumption of alcohol and advocating drinking water instead, a radical (and probably misguided) idea in an era when raw sewage was dumped in the streets and polluted the wells, rivers, and other water sources.
The general populace may have been ignorant as to why, but they were right that drinking water could kill you. No wonder they drank massive quantities of alcohol—beer, small beer, hard cider, grog, ale, wine, fortified wine like Port and Madeira, sparkling wine, wine punches, rum, gin, and so on—from morning to night. God forbid that you should drink a drop of that sickening, polluted water!
But I digress. As a Colonial history buff, I was probably a bit more aware of George Washington the man than many visitors to Mount Vernon the day Silence and I came. I knew how tall he was, and that only that other great Founding Father, Gouverneur Morris, was as tall; I knew he had numerous sets of false teeth made, but they were made of ivory and human teeth, not wood. I knew he was a great gardener, farmer, and botanist, as well as a statesman, and I was aware not just of his keen interest in agriculture but of all the innovations he implemented on the Mount Vernon estate.
I knew he had the foresight to abandon growing tobacco, a nutrient-greedy and labor-intensive crop, on his land and turn it to more sustainable crops two hundred years before the idea caught hold with other American farmers. And I knew that he freed his slaves on his death, something Ben Franklin had done well before his death, but that Thomas Jefferson never did, his will requiring them to all be sold off to settle his massive debts, along with his home Monticello and all its furnishings, leaving his heirs with nothing. Washington by contrast not only left his widow and heirs well provided for, but also provided funds for the education and fortune of his freed slaves.
What I didn’t know, and what the tour of Mount Vernon told me, was that the house at Mount Vernon was made of wood, and that George Washington had had the planks planed, varnished, painted, and then covered with sand so that they resembled set stone. He also had the roofing shaped from wood to resemble Italian ceramic tiles, and painted red to match them. I can’t imagine the upkeep this would have required, but as trompe d’oeil (fool the eye), it was brilliant.
But there was something else I didn’t know, and it came as quite a shock. I knew that George Washington’s inherent courtesy caused his death. On a cold December day, he’d gone riding as usual over the lands of Mount Vernon to see how the plantation was faring. Rain, sleet and snow drenched his garments and soaked him to the skin. But Washington, who never regarded the weather or his own typically robust health, never thought to turn back. After a long day in this bitter weather, he returned to Mount Vernon.
Upon arriving home, Washington saw that his guests had already assembled for dinner. As punctilious a host as he was a commander, he refused to consider detaining them by changing into dry clothing. So he sat there, chilled to the bone, in wet, frigid clothes, for hours, entertaining his guests. By the next morning, he felt that he’d caught a chill. But colds and the like meant nothing to a man who’d never been sick and had emerged unscathed from barrages of bullets that had riddled his uniform and killed the horses he was riding. What was a little cold compared to that?!
Unfortunately, today’s doctors think that he caught a rare but horrendous bacterial throat infection. I’d always assumed it must have been a high fever that killed him so quickly in his prime, but the evidence says otherwise. Apparently a bacterial infection of the epiglottis caused the first President’s throat to swell shut and killed him by suffocation. (Contemporary accounts of doctors and slaves attempting to give him liquids and his being unable to swallow them tend to bear this diagnosis out.)
This would have been a horrific way to die, but comparatively quick, given the so-called medical treatments of most of the doctors of the day. (And of course they did bleed George Washington four times between the onset of his illness and his death, weakening him further. No doubt it was only his robust constitution that allowed him to hold on through the bleedings rather than dying like most people who were bled.)
But the real sorrow was that the account pointed out that, had antibiotics been known in Washington’s time, he could have been quickly cured and might have lived at least 20 years longer, like his contemporaries Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. The Father of Our Country died too soon, and pointlessly.
But there was something else our friend Ben didn’t know about Mount Vernon: That it was and remains the graveyard of George and Martha Washington and generations of other Washingtons. You can visit the crypt and pay your respects to the Washingtons. I had no idea. Thank goodness the site was preserved and not turned into townhouses or an industrial complex! Good grief. To think that a tour of Mount Vernon also includes a visit to George Washington’s actual grave! Yow. You can look into the crypt and see two plain marble sarcophogi. One bears the seal of office, carved into the marble, and says simply: “Washington.” The other is completely plain. It says: “Martha: Wife of Washington.”
Clearly, for a generation for whom George Washington was peerless, that was enough.
I’d love to end this post here, but I have to add one poignant and one humorous comment picked up during our trip. First, when I asked the hotel clerk, a pleasant, competent young man, how to get to Mount Vernon from our hotel in nearby Falls Church, VA (for those who think Washington and environs are somehow offshore, they’re actually in Virginia, George Washington’s home state), he seemed a bit bemused. As with all check-in desk clerks, he was very used to recommending restaurants and directing travelers. But this time, he was stumped. “Ah, ahem, is that a city in Maryland?”
Well, no. It happens to be the home of the Father of our Country. But of course, who wants to be rude? I thanked the desk clerk and turned to our maps.
Now for the humorous part. When Silence and I were lining up for our tour of the mansion, we overheard a woman saying to her son, “They want me to friend George Washington on Facebook. Do you think he’ll friend me back?” Oh, oh, oh. Classic! But if George were here, I wonder…
Words of wisdom. May 9, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
Tags: aphorisms, Ben Franklin, Benjamin Franklin, Charles H. Spurgeon, wit and wisdom
add a comment
Apparently, our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, had a 19th-century imitator. But this man, a British Baptist minister, didn’t simply crib Ben’s sayings, as our friend Ben discovered this morning while reading a piece from The Week called “15 less-than-inspirational quotes from a book of moral advice” (read them all on TheWeek.com).
I was intrigued by the title of the article and assumed it would be poking fun at some outdated moralist’s misguided ideas. Instead, the Rev. Charles H. Spurgeon had a wealth of commonsense wisdom of his own to impart, in Dr. Franklin’s famous homespun style. Here are my favorites:
“Eggs are aggs, but some are rotten; and so hopes are hopes, but many of them are delusions.”
“Expect to get half of what you earn, a quarter of what is your due, and none of what you have lent, and you will be near the mark.”
“Make as few changes as you can; trees often transplanted bear little fruit.”
“It is far better to work with an old-fashioned spade that suits your hand than with a new-fangled invention that you don’t understand.” [Yeah! Go, Luddites, go!!!]
“It is true you must bake with the flour you have, but if the sack is empty it might be just as well not to set up for a baker.”
“Every minnow wants to be a whale, but it is prudent to be a little fish while you have but little water.”
Wow. I think Ben Franklin would agree.
Ben got that right. April 15, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
Tags: Ben Franklin, Ben Franklin quotes, Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Franklin quotes, death and taxes
add a comment
“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
Want more blog readers? March 3, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
Tags: Benjamin Franklin, blogging, Poor Richard's Almanac blog, popular blogs, Twitter
1 comment so far
This morning, our friend Ben read a fairly tongue-in-cheek article advising the next Pope about how he could maximize his Twitter and Facebook following. The author, who was actually trying to give tips to ordinary folks like yours truly, suggested five ways to up your Twitter exposure.
We’re Luddites here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, which means we don’t tweet. We don’t post on Instagram or Pinterest. We ignore requests to connect via LinkdIn. And we don’t have Facebook pages. We figure we spend enough time on the internet as it is, and between managing our blogs and e-mail and looking stuff up, we don’t have the time to waste. We’d like to spend at least part of each day actually living.
However, one of the author’s suggestions for driving more folks to your Twitter feed rings true for us in our blogging lives, and it’s the easiest way we know. He said if you want more followers, tweet often. We totally agree. If you want more people to read your blog, post daily. This seems to raise your profile on search engines such as Google, and that of course drives people to your blog.
There are certainly other ways to attract visitors to your blog, such as great photos or art, or capturing a niche and owning it (“Rabid Vegan Does Vegas”). But daily posts can also build a following, and build exposure, even without the frills. A Google search of “Poor Richard’s Almanac” turns us up at #13, after all the versions of Ben Franklin’s original. Searching “Poor Richard’s Almanac blog” puts us at #1.
Needless to say, we suggest that you consider why you’re blogging before you launch a campaign to raise your status and visibility. But if you really have something to say, post early and post often. It may take a while, but it’s really all you have to do to be noticed and gain a following who actually cares about what you have to say.
Choose your President. February 17, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: Alexander Hamilton, Andrew Jackson, Benjamin Franklin, Colin Powell, Dwight Eisenhower, George Washington, Teddy Roosevelt
1 comment so far
Our friend Ben was extremely interested to see a post in today’s local paper, the Allentown, PA Morning Call, that summarized readers’ responses to the question, “Which President would you bring back to solve today’s problems?”
Reader responses ranged from George Washington, John Admas, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison through Abraham Lincoln to Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan.
I myself would love to see a coalition, a “greatest hits” lineup of those who actually were President and those who should have been. My group would include George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Andrew Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Colin Powell. Like the Supreme Court, this group would combine extreme intelligence, individuality, and opposing views under the overarching tent of love of country and love of honor. I’d love to see the solution they proposed for our country’s current woes.
Who would you choose?
America’s founding foodies. November 19, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
Tags: Benjamin Franklin, book reviews, Colonial cooking, early American cooking, James Hemings, pre-revolutionary French cuisine, Sally Hemings, Thomas J. Craughwell, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson's Creme Brulee
1 comment so far
Silence Dogood here. All of us at Poor Richard’s Almanac are fans of America’s Founding Fathers, especially our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin. So I was thrilled to find a book on a recent shopping expedition that combined my love of the Founders with my love of cooking. It’s Thomas Jefferson’s Creme Brulee (Thomas J. Craughwell, Quirk Books, Philadelphia, 2012, $19.95). The subtitle says it all: How a Founding Father and His Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to America.
Jefferson is revered by many as the drafter of the Declaration of Independence, and viewed by many as the most intellectual of the Founders. (We think they’ve somehow forgotten Dr. Franklin.) He’s seen by others as the Founding Hypocrite, the man who preached liberty for all while holding (and selling) slaves. He is widely believed to have fathered six children on his slave, his wife’s half-sister Sally Hemings (a claim hotly disputed by his legitimate descendants), yet he freed neither Sally nor her children. He was so addicted to personal luxury that at his death, his descendents had to sell Monticello to settle his debts.
This is hardly the profile of a man who lived by principle. And yet it is Jefferson, his Louisiana Purchase, his Lewis and Clark Expedition, who made America the great nation it became. (Credit also goes to Jefferson’s old political rival, Alexander Hamilton, who envisioned the strong central government that forged the United States rather than a federation of individual states.)
James Hemings, another of Martha Jefferson’s half-siblings, was Sally Hemings’s older brother. Thomas Jefferson thought all the Hemings family were unusually talented, and when he was appointed ambassador to France, he took James Hemings with him. He made a most unusual deal with James: If James learned to cook French cuisine and taught the skill to another Monticello slave, Jefferson would grant him his freedom. It was a promise that Jefferson, if belatedly and reluctantly, kept: James was the only slave he ever freed.
In France, James Hemings learned fluent French and apprenticed with France’s finest chefs. He was chef de cuisine at Jefferson’s mansion in Paris and later at his home in New York (then the capital of the U.S.) when Jefferson became Secretary of State. He taught his brother Peter Hemings the art of French cooking, and after gaining his freedom, cooked professionally in Philadelphia and Baltimore.
James’s story, and his role in bringing French cuisine to America, is given as much play in Thomas Jefferson’s Creme Brulee as the author could give them, drawing on every surviving account to sketch a portrait of the man and his times. The book is obviously also about Thomas Jefferson’s years in France and his lifelong love affair with French food and wine. (One of the most interesting passages is about Jefferson’s tour through France and northern Italy, seeking out and spending time with the great wine producers and wine merchants, and learning everything he could about wine.)
But ultimately, Thomas Jefferson’s Creme Brulee is about French cooking during the reign of the ill-fated Louis XVI, the 32-course dinners, the delicate fare. (A specialty of the time was disguising dishes so they looked like something else, creating an apparently delightful surprise for diners when they cut into a peacock and discovered it was actually a rabbit or fish.) The author’s discussion of the presentation of food (by the time it was ceremoniously paraded to the upper-class table, it was invariably cold) and table manners (forks weren’t adopted by most Americans until the mid-1800s) is the real heart and hook of the book.
If you’re thinking of cooking a la Jefferson, you won’t find much to go on here. You’ll discover the dishes Jefferson and James Hemings introduced to America, such as French fries (known simply as fried potatoes, pommes de terre frites, in France), macaroni and cheese, creme brulee, and a recipe for making coffee. But to find usable recipes, you’ll need to refer to Marie Kimball’s Thomas Jefferson’s Cook Book (1938, reprinted Garrett and Massie, Richmond, VA 2004).
When we think of French food today, we don’t tend to picture mac’n'cheese, French fries, and coffee. Rather than picturing McDonald’s fries, Cracker Barrel’s mac’n'cheese, and Starbucks’ or Dunkin’ Donuts’ coffee, we’ll at least imagine Julia Child and her boeuf bourguinon, famous Michelin-starred French restaurants or their American cousins like The French Laundry and Le Bernardin, baguettes and croissants, or luscious French cheeses like Roquefort, Camembert and Brie.
But clearly, while potatoes may have originated in the Americas, those pommes frites dished up by the ton at Mickey D’s, and their trans-Atlantic cousins of fish and chips fame, originated in pre-revolutionary France and were served to royalty at Versailles.
Strange but true: Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were responsible for popularizing potatoes in France. They not only ate potatoes, they wore potato flowers in their lapels and hair, creating a rage for all things potato. Fried potatoes really were French fries. If Marie Antoinette had said “Let them eat potatoes” rather than “Let them eat brioche” (an expensive, “refined” bread; she didn’t actually say “Let them eat cake”), perhaps the French revolution would have been averted.
But I digress. If you love food history or early American history, you’ll enjoy a romp through Thomas Jefferson’s Creme Brulee. And if you’d like to see at least one Hemings get his due, this book is a great place to start.
‘Til next time,
Why John Adams? September 18, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
Tags: Abigail Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Colonial America, David McCullough, John Adams, John Adams series, Revolutionary War
Our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, our friend and fellow blog contributor Richard Saunders, and his fiance Bridget were watching a DVD of the miniseries “John Adams” the other night. We’re all huge fans of Colonial and Revolutionary history, but we all also found ourselves asking, as we do every time we watch this excellent series, “What the bleep?”
This is perhaps the best series about Colonial America that was ever made. But instead of featuring the movers and shakers of the Revolution, the colorful characters—George Washington, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Patrick Henry, Sam Adams, John Hancock, Gouverneur Morris, Lighthorse Harry Lee, Paul Revere—it stars the fat, bald, irritating, paranoid, unpopular John Adams. Why?!
John Adams was unloved in his day and is just as unlovable in the series. Even the flag that serves as the icon of the film, the severed snake of the 13 colonies with the motto “Join or Die,” was the creation of Benjamin Franklin, not Adams. Adams had no part in the shaping of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, or the Treaty of Paris. What could have possessed the creators of this series to focus on the man his own contemporary legislators contemptuously dismissed as “His Rotundity”?
Perhaps they were sentimentalists who focused on the lifelong love affair between John Adams and his wife Abigail. Like Martha Washington and Dolley Madison (and, for that matter, Deborah Franklin), Abigail Adams was a very strong woman, who supported her husband and bolstered his confidence no matter how his contemporaries viewed him.
Unlike Martha, Dolley, and Deborah, Abigail had her work cut out for her, with a pompous, unpopular husband. But she recognized her husband’s brilliance even as she also recognized how he needed to curb his ambition and arrogance to make that brilliance heard. (Thank God Ben Franklin inherently understood this and combined his gargantuan intellect with wit, humor, and compromise, or we’d have lost the Revolution.) Humor wasn’t John Adams’s strong suit, nor was an understanding of his fellow men. He stood for the law and for honor and justice, whatever the personal cost. And he paid a very high price for his noble ideals.
That the series (and the book by David McCullough that inspired it) is able to so brilliantly bring Colonial and Revolutionary America to life through the eyes of John Adams and his family is what our friend Ben would have called an impossible attainment. And yet it does attain it.
You may pity or despise John Adams at the series’ end, or feel terribly sad for a man with great gifts and great blindness about human nature. You will definitely feel desperately sad for his wife Abigail and his brave, tragic daughter. But you will also feel ennobled by the story of a people who collectively rose above themselves and above their station and achieved something no one had seen in over a thousand years: A republic where the citizens claimed the right to represent themselves and elect their officials.
Why John Adams? Our friend Ben still doesn’t have a clue. A less appealing character could hardly have been found. It would be like making a movie about the Civil War era and focusing on Confederate General Marcus J. Wright rather than Generals Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, Stonewall Jackson, Nathan Bedford Forrest , William Tecumseh Sherman, Philip Henry Sheridan, George Gordon Meade, Admiral Raphael Semmes, or, say, Presidents Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis. It’s not that Wright was irrelevant, he just wasn’t compelling. Nor was John Adams.
But the series “John Adams” is compelling. Thanks to historian David McCullough’s deep knowledge of the era and the filmmakers’ ability to bring it to life, it’s a must-watch for anyone who enjoys American history or values American liberty. And thank you, John Adams, for being so unattractive and so unpopular and still showing us what one person’s passionate beliefs, backed by their heartfelt actions, whatever their personal drawbacks, can accomplish.
What would the Founders do? And what should we do? July 4, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
Tags: Benjamin Franklin, Declaration of Independence, Founding Fathers, George Washington, how to fix our government, Independence Day, John Adams
Does this sound like any form of government you know?
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,
“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
Our friend Ben, a lifelong United States citizen, has never known a form of government that actually worked to safeguard the happiness and liberty of its citizens, as laid out in the Declaration of Independence, from which the passage just quoted is taken. Instead, our government is a huge, bloated, impersonal entity, peopled by career politicians who are bought and paid for by special-interest groups and the corporations that can, thanks to our Supreme Court, have the rights of individuals and “contribute” to campaigns accordingly. I’m not even allowed to decide whether or not to wear a seatbelt in my own car.
I’m sure the Founders, from George Washington down, are spinning in their collective graves. This was not the government or so-called “republic” that they envisioned. I wish with all my heart that our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, were here to lend his perspective, and possible solutions, to the parody of democracy America has become.
Just this morning, I read an op-ed piece advocating the use of the internet to level the political playing field. The article suggested doing away with the Electoral College and instead allowing the President and VP to be elected directly by popular vote, which I entirely approve. It’s an outrage that our leaders are still chosen by a clunky, archaic proxy system when the people themselves should cast the deciding votes, and we finally have the technology needed to tally them accurately.
The author of the op-ed piece went on to suggest that people should be allowed to vote on legislation themselves via the internet as well, which is an intriguing thought. That would certainly be true democracy in action, if anyone could tear themselves away from texting and Facebook long enough to actually read the proposed legislation.
Our friend Ben was on board so far, but the writer’s third suggestion threw me: That citizens be allowed to nominate candidates themselves online, and that those who garnered the most votes would run. In our celebrity-driven culture, this brought an immediate “American Idol”-like vision to my mind: “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you our new Chief Executive, Justin Bieber, and VP, Lady Gaga!” (Oh, wait: Justin Bieber’s Canadian, isn’t he? But my point still stands.) I think those who believe themselves prepared to lead our country should stand and declare their willingness to serve, and then people should decide who among them is most fit to do so.
In the absence of Ben Franklin’s wise guidance, our friend Ben would like to propose three additional ideas for returning power to the people, in addition to doing away with the Electoral College and electing the President and VP by actual popular vote (as in the vote of the populace, as opposed to a popularity contest). They are:
* Limit terms of office. Like the President, no member of the House or Senate should be allowed to serve more than two terms. Not a single Founder envisioned a political position as a career. It was, instead, a duty, a time to step up and serve your country, after which you returned to your plantation like George Washington or your lawyer’s practice like John Adams. This was an excellent counter to corruption, and should certainly be applied to the Supreme Court as well.
* Mandate free campaigns. Having to raise money—lots of money—for a campaign guarantees that even the most idealistic candidate will be beholden to—bought by—his or her contributors long before the election results are tallied. If you win, you owe us. Instead, I think we should implement a system where every candidate is given the same amount of free air time to present themselves and their platforms, leveling the field and freeing politicians from the Godfather grip of “the offer they can’t refuse.”
* Do away with political parties. George Washington himself strenuously opposed the formation of political parties, presciently seeing how damaging they could be to the idea of a “united” States. Our current poisonous political separation and the rise of hate politics proves our greatest President right. Forget parties, and let every candidate stand on his or her own convictions and plans for governing the country. In the age of the internet, the concept of parties is outdated and not just divisive but destructive. Let each speak for him- or herself!
On this July Fourth, let’s set down the picnic fare long enough to contemplate what a government “by the people, for the people, of the people” might actually be.
From the No Good Deed Goes Unpunished dept. June 18, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, pets, wit and wisdom.
Tags: Ben Franklin, Benjamin Franklin, breaking up catfights, breaking up dogfights, bubonic plague, feral cats, pet safety, plague, plague in America
add a comment
Our friend Ben saw a headline on yesterday’s Yahoo! home page that could have come straight out of The Onion, but unfortunately was true. Clicking through, I saw that sure enough, a man in Oregon just landed in the hospital with the plague. (Your eyes aren’t deceiving you: the plague. As in bubonic plague, the black death, the Middle Ages.)
This was bad enough, but I’ve read over the past decade about how plague turns up every once in a while in the Southwest, apparently carried by mice rather than the rats that carried it through Europe. So, though it came as a surprise to find that it’s now spread to Oregon, it wasn’t as startling as first learning that plague was back, and was in the U.S. (Our friend Ben would be remiss not to mention that armadillos are also apparently acting as carriers of leprosy, which doesn’t affect them. They typically transmit it to people who eat them, just FYI for fans of wildcrafting and foraged food. But I digress.)
What was really bad was why the man came down with the plague. Turns out, he and his family had befriended a stray cat, which they fed and named Charlie. Charlie enjoyed hanging out at their house. So far, so good. Good, at least, until the man observed Charlie doing what cats do second-best (first-best is, of course, sleeping): hunting.
Charlie had caught a mouse. The distraught man rushed out to try to save the mouse, and ended up—shock surprise—being bitten for his efforts. (The doctors seemed unsure if the terrified mouse or the outraged Charlie had bitten him; my guess is both.) And because of the bite(s), he contracted the plague, is now fighting for his life, and poor Charlie was summarily dispatched and shipped off to a lab for analysis. (The mouse’s fate was not disclosed.)
All this reminded our friend Ben of the many winter nights when our then-senior cat, Jessie, would catch a mouse in our house and alert Silence Dogood with a “broken cat” cry that she made at no other time. The groggy Silence (this always happened in the dead of night) would lurch into the living room, turn on a light, grab the fireproof (and also mouse-proof) gloves from the woodstove, unlock the front door, and wait. Jessie would obediently trot over and drop the (unharmed) mouse on the doormat, and Silence would scoop it up in a gloved hand and toss it back into the yard. We have no idea why Jessie did this, though of course Silence always praised her lavishly after each catch (and swore that the same mice would come back in repeatedly to play their part in the game). Those of our other cats who’ve been hunters—by no means all of them, some just watch, and others pointedly ignore intruders—have killed and eaten their prey. (Or, at least, eaten some of it, but let’s not go into that.) Fortunately, we live in Pennsylvania, and I’ve yet to hear of a plague attack here.
Dragging myself once again back to the point, our friend Ben would like to remind everyone of the perils of trying to do the right thing in the wrong way. Our friend Ben has read too many horror stories of people being badly mauled trying to break up a dog fight or even cat fight. Of course no one wants to see their beloved pet being ripped up by another animal. But rather than rushing into the fray, use a readily available and entirely effective weapon: water. Throw a bucket of water on fighting cats. Turn a hose at full blast on fighting dogs. It will definitely distract the assailants, and give you time to get your pet out of harm’s way before hostilities can resume.
But as our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, would doubtless say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. What are you thinking, allowing an animal you care about to wander unsupervised and become a target for another dog’s or cat’s aggression?!
If your dog is outside, you should be, too, and your dog should never be roaming free. If you have a domestic cat, it should be indoors. And if, like Charlie’s family, you befriend a feral cat, for God’s sake, let it be what God intended rather than what you think it should be. If it’s outdoors, it’s going to hunt and eat birds, mice, bunnies, chipmunks, squirrels, or anything else it can catch, along with that nice bowl of food you set out for it. You have to decide if inviting its company and winning its friendship (which you will) is worth that price or not.
Finally, as of yesterday’s news article, Charlie’s “father” was in critical condition. Our friend Ben would like to invite all of you to send a prayer for his recovery. He may have been lacking in the judgement department, but his heart was in the right place. And no one who acts from the heart deserves to die for their actions. May this good deed go unpunished.