The rarest marble in the world? November 13, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
Tags: Benjamin Franklin, Dave McCullough, David McCullough, Dr. Franklin marble, JABO, machine-made marbles, marble collecting, marbles, Poor Richard's Alamanac, Sammy's Mountain Marbles, Steve Sturtz
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Our friend Ben isn’t talking about the marble that is used to make kitchen countertops, palaces, and sculptures here, but about the round glass marbles, the so-called “toy” marbles, revered and collected by folks like me.
On my computer desk is a “Dr. Franklin” marble, named after our hero and blog mentor here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, the great Benjamin Franklin. It was created in a marble run sponsored by Steve Sturtz, “Dr. JABO,” produced at the JABO plant in Marietta, Ohio, one of the last marble producers in the U.S. (with the iconic Marble King), and created by the preeminent machine marble-maker of all time, the legendary Dave McCullough. (Check out Sammy’s Mountain Marbles for his latest amazing creations.)
“Dr. Franklin” is a beautiful, complex creation, with brilliant opaque orange, opaque pink, and glittery black aventurine suspended in a clear matrix. It’s spectacular. But it’s also rare. There are probably fewer than 50 Dr. Franklin marbles in existence, certainly fewer than 100. They are one of the most beautiful marbles our friend Ben, a rabid marble collector, has ever seen. I love marbles, I have many jars and boxes of marbles, but the Dr. Franklin is the only marble I showcase.
Thank you Dr. Franklin, thank you Steve, thank you Dave, and thank you to the crew at JABO that made these marvelous marbles. As the Marines’ motto goes, the few, the proud. The rarest marble in the world?
Batting 2000. October 9, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
Tags: Ben Franklin, Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanac blog
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It’s hard to believe, but today’s is the 2,000th post for our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders here at Poor Richard’s Almanac. On behalf of all of us, and of our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, our sincere thanks for your support and encouragement from Day 1 to today. We look forward to sharing many more thoughts, discoveries, observations and recipes with you in the days, weeks and years to come!
“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”
Without representation. September 30, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: Benjamin Franklin, Congress, Declaration of Independence, government shutdown, Mark Twain, Obamacare
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“Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.”
Perhaps if our esteemed members of Congress represented the people of their states and districts rather than the corporations and PACs that buy and sell them, we wouldn’t be facing a standoff between the House, the Senate, and the President, and an imminent government shutdown.
This shutdown will deprive our 1.4 million military, who defend our borders at the cost of their lives and must support their families and pay bills like the rest of us, of their salaries for an indefinite period. I suggest that we send Congress and the President, who presumably will still be drawing their salaries during the shutdown, on the ground in the combat zones where our military is currently deployed, to defend us in their place until they can all stop acting like spoiled children and work together to find a viable solution.
As our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, famously said when urging the representatives of the Thirteen Colonies to sign the Declaration of Independence, “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately.” Unfortunately, in this case, it’s America’s citizens who are left hanging. For shame!
The art of the blog. June 6, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
Tags: Alexander Hamilton, Ben Franklin, Benjamin Franklin, infamous scribblers, James Callender, Jules Witcover, news, reporting, Thomas Jefferson, William F. Buckley
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Our friend Ben read an op-ed piece yesterday by Jules Witcover in our local paper, the Allentown, PA Morning Call, titled “Journalism’s golden age is far behind us.” (Check it out in its entirety at http://www.themorningcall.com.)
Mr. Witcover’s point is that, nowadays, anybody can set themselves up as an instant expert, whether they know what they’re talking about or not, and air their views online, in print, or on the air. He also points out that in the past, reporters were supposed to at least try to be impartial and unbiased, to the extent that it’s possible for anyone to set aside his or her own beliefs. But now they blatantly shill for their own political parties and stands, and some of them are even professional campaign managers.
Admittedly, long before Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, there was William F. Buckley. But unlike today’s hate-mongers, Buckley didn’t pursue an agenda of hate. He was brilliant and well-educated, and he knew whereof he spoke. He didn’t claim to be always right; rather, he simply offered to pit his mind and morals against those who held different views, and let the audience decide. My passionately Democratic mother adored the conservative Mr. Buckley and enjoyed watching his iconic show.
But I digress. As a blogger, what captured my attention was Mr. Witcover’s description of blogging: “With the advent of the Internet, the art of the blog has flourished. A blogger has an unlicensed license to offer all manner of views, speculations, rumors or just plain fantasies to a receptive audience, with or without forethought.”
This is, of course, true. But it has always been true in America, where free speech is a right, even if “free” isn’t “true.” Back in the day, George Washington was so incensed by the libelous, scandalous reporting of such newspaper journalists as James Callender that he referred to them as “infamous scribblers.” Many were no better than today’s paparazzi, chasing down scandals to titillate their readers: Alexander Hamilton’s adulterous affair, Thomas Jefferson’s long-standing relationship with his slave Sally Hemings.
Even Ben Franklin, our hero and blog mentor here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, didn’t bat an eye at making up humorous or salacious “news” to spice up his paper. Mind you, Ben didn’t libel real people; his were all fictitious, and often served up a lesson in common sense along with their misdeeds.
Which brings me back to Mr. Witcover and his despair over the state of today’s “reporting,” be it in blogs, on Twitter, or in so-called news panels populated by political hacks. Ultimately, as was the case back in President Washington’s day, it is up to us to be informed readers, viewers, and listeners. It is up to us to filter out what is true from what is biased reporting, reporting that favors an agenda over the truth. It is up to us to understand when a report presents a partial truth, because the whole truth isn’t known or a study is premature or flawed. We are ultimately responsible for what we believe, and why.
We’re also responsible for what we read, see, and hear, and why. If we’re addicted to Stephen Colbert or The Pioneer Woman or Dr. Phil, that doesn’t mean we’re watching them to learn more about life. There’s a difference between entertainment and information. Let’s bear it in mind.
Think he’ll friend me back? May 13, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
Tags: Benjamin Franklin, blog humor, Colonial history, George Washington, Martha Washington, Mount Vernon
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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
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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
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“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
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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
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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
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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,