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Happy birthday Ben! January 17, 2015

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Apparently this is National Fig Newton Month. Well, we here at Poor Richard’s Almanac have nothing against Fig Newtons. (Though the thought of that filling sticking to our teeth makes us cringe. And who was Newton, anyway?)

But for us here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, today, January 17, has quite a different significance: It’s the birthday of our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, who was born in 1706 (so it’s his 309th birthday!). He and Alexander Hamilton are perhaps the only two of the Founders who’d actually have enjoyed living in modern times and using social media and modern conveniences.

Ben would also have loved access to a gym—he was a huge health nut, like George Washington, and especially enjoyed swimming—far from the tubby scientist/statesman we picture today. Too bad we don’t have a picture of him from those days! He’d have loved the focus on health today, but kept the focus on balance.

Anyway, to Ben, who brilliantly combined earthbound savvy with statescraft, happy 309th! We wish you many, many more!

Another great quote (from the days when people believed them). January 15, 2015

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Which Founding Father said:

“I would rather die standing than live on my knees!”

Was it the fiery Sam Adams or speech-making genius Patrick Henry? The visionary Ben Franklin, or Thomas Paine, whose power with the pen kept the troops from deserting Washington? The brilliant Alexander Hamilton, boy genius from the tropics? Or perhaps Washington, Jefferson, or Madison themselves?

It certainly sounds like a Founding Father quote: big, noble, and brief (thus, memorable). But it isn’t. The man who said those words was Emiliano Zapata.

What a quote, so stirring! We’ve now heard it attributed to the owner of the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo before the magazine was attacked by extremists. Maybe it was simply one of his favorites. Whatever the case, it would be nice to take the time to think about how you could stand for your principles without having to die for them.

Don’t tread on me. September 16, 2014

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It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame, here today to explain why a rattlesnake became a major symbol of American resistance and independence. Our friend Ben recently asked me if the yellow flag with the coiled rattlesnake and “Don’t Tread on Me” motto hadn’t been created by our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin. Then Silence Dogood said, “No, Ben, that was the flag of the rebellion in New Hampshire.” Well, no.

Ben Franklin does get all the credit for promoting the rattlesnake as a symbol of the American spirit. In 1751, Franklin, publisher of the Pennsylvania Gazette, satirically suggested that, since Britain made a policy of sending criminals to America, America might return the favor by sending rattlesnakes to England. Then in 1754, during the French and Indian War, Franklin published the first-ever political cartoon, showing a rattlesnake cut into eight pieces to represent the 13 Colonies (all New England was compressed into the head) with the message “Join, or Die.”

This “cartoon” was so powerful that it was used in the opening credits of the marvelous TV docudrama “John Adams,” and it was what our friend Ben was thinking of instead of the “Don’t Tread on Me” coiled rattlesnake flag. During the vote to ratify the Declaration of Independence, Dr. Franklin echoed the sentiment in his famous statement “Gentlemen, we had better all hang together [i.e., ratify the Declaration], or we shall most assuredly hang separately.”

So where did the “Don’t Tread on Me” (originally “Dont Tread on Me,” punctuation wasn’t that great in the Colonial period) flag originate? In South Carolina, Continental Colonel Christopher Gadsden designed the flag, based on a concept initiated by the first American Marines, and presented it in 1775 to the first Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Navy, Commodore Esek Hopkins, who flew it on his mainmast. No wonder OFB and Silence found it in the Naval Academy gift shop on a recent trip to Annapolis! Historians usually refer to it as the “Gadsden Flag” for that reason.

It’s easy to see why Libertarians adopted the flag as their symbol: They want to mind their own business and for the government to keep out of their private affairs. But when the Tea Party took it up, that sort of tainted it, turning it into a symbol of intolerance, bigotry, and reactionary thinking. How demoralizing for everyone who would like to display the flag as a comment on their personal feelings, without any connection to the Tea Party! It’s rather like when the Cross of Christ was co-opted as the masthead of the Spanish Inquisition. Many good Christians were tortured and died while being shown the very Cross that was the foundation of their faith.

So there you have it: What Benjamin Franklin began in 1751 and immortalized in 1754 with “Join, or Die” morphed into “Don’t Tread on Me” in 1775 and electrified the U.S. Navy into victorious action. By then, Ben’s snake cut into eight parts had indeed been united into one, coiled and ready to strike, with 13 rattles representing the 13 Colonies. More than any other symbol of American freedom, the rattlesnake ended up standing for us.

Incidentally, Silence’s mistake comes from New Hampshire’s official motto, “Live Free or Die,” penned by its Revolutionary War hero General John Stark. Do you know your state’s official motto?

Warmly,

Richard Saunders

A three-part food disposal system. September 11, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. There’s nothing as demoralizing as wasting food, but we all do it. It’s not just a shame, but a sin, when people all over the globe, people in our own cities, are going hungry. Yet we’ve all had the experience of opening our vegetable drawer and finding produce that’s past its prime, or discovering a container of leftovers that makes us go “Eeeeewww!!!,” or looking forward to our morning toast and finding a moldy loaf of bread (sob).

No worries, this food needn’t go to waste. Our friend Ben and I have a three-part food-disposal system that takes care of pretty much everything. Well, actually, I guess it’s four-part. The first line of defense is our black German shepherd, Shiloh, and our yellow-naped Amazon parrot Plutarch. They do a pretty decent job of eating scraps of cheese, veggies, chips, nuts, and the like.

The second line of defense is our flock of six heritage-breed chickens. They’ll eat that moldy bread, overripe tomato, leftover rice or pasta, wilted greens, or what-have-you with relish. The only thing I’ve ever seen chickens reject is zucchini. If that’s not a statement, I don’t know what is.

Then there’s our earthworm composter. Earthworms also love leftover fruits, salad greens, and veggies, but they’ll also eat things like coffee grounds and tea bags, turning them into rich fertilizer for greenhouse and garden plants.

Finally, there are our compost bins. We can put anything in them, with these exceptions: diseased plants, meat, dairy, grease. Diseased plants will contaminate the compost, infecting whatever you put it on, while the other contaminants will attract rats and other vermin to your compost bins. I’d also advise against putting weeds, especially weeds that can harm you like poison ivy or aggressive weeds like thistle that can spread throughout your garden, in your compost bins. Sometimes, the trash can is the only option.

However, between pets, chickens, earthworms, and the compost bin, a lot of potentially wasted food gets returned to the earth and enjoyed. I love to cook and use fresh seasonal produce, but I never feel guilty about eating out. OFB and I make a point of bringing every single thing we don’t eat home. I’ll bring a meal home that’s big enough for the two of us for another supper. OFB will bring his leftover French fries and half a bun home for the always-thrilled chickens. With our pets, our chickens, our earthworms, our compost bins, and, well okay, ourselves, there’s never an excuse to waste food. As our beloved hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, would say, “Waste not, want not.”

‘Til next time,

Silence

Death and taxes. April 14, 2014

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“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

To think that this famous quote from our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, was said more than a hundred years before the Federal income tax was even instituted. Those of us who grew up with income tax, property tax, estate tax, school tax, and the like tend to associate old Ben’s quote with them, and especially income tax. Yet income taxes as we know them weren’t passed into law until 1913!

The taxes Dr. Franklin was referring to were those imposed by Britain on everyday goods, like stamps, tea, sugar, beer, spirits, tobacco, and salt. These ever-increasing sales taxes, intended to help Britain pay her debts for the French and Indian War, aka the Seven Years War, led to a cry of “Taxation without representation!” from the outraged Colonists and eventually to the American Revolution.

To think that taxes on something like tea could once fire a revolution, while today, though we may grumble, we hand over monstrous amounts of our hard-earned income to our own government like so many sheep. Taxation with (supposed) representation. Ben Franklin’s quote is more applicable than ever.

But to those who are frantically trying to file their income taxes today, our friend Ben has another quote for you, courtesy of the comedian and wordsmith Steven Wright: “If you think nobody cares about you, try missing a couple of payments.”

Our Founding Fathers speak. March 27, 2014

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It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame, here today to share some wisdom from our Founding Fathers. Normally we quote our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin. But the other Founders had a lot to say for themselves, too. So today we’re featuring quotes from George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison. Note especially the last three quotes by Madison; maybe he had a crystal ball and could see into our times.

From George Washington:

“Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.”

“If freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”

“Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire, called conscience.”

“It is better to be alone than in bad company.”

“Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”

From Alexander Hamilton:

“Those who stand for nothing will fall for anything.”

“A well adjusted person is one who makes the same mistake twice without getting nervous.”

“Nobody expects to trust his body overmuch after the age of fifty.”

“Man is a reasoning rather than a reasonable animal.”

From James Madison:

“Philosophy is common sense with big words.”

“It is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to the provisions against danger, real or pretended, from abroad.”

“I believe that there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”

“It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood.”

The cheapest form of hope. March 24, 2014

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“He that can have patience, can have what he will.”

—Benjamin Franklin

Our friend Ben isn’t sure that I agree with our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, on this one. The ugly old guy is unlikely to get the beautiful young girl unless he’s rich and powerful and she’s shallow and greedy, however patient he is. The person who can barely add 2+2 without a calculator is unlikely to become the next Einstein, however patient he is. A techno-idiot like me is unlikely to become the next Elon Musk or Larry Page or Mark Zuckerberg, however patient I am. Patience will not make an aspiring writer into a bestselling novelist or even get them published (not even talent can do that, it’s all about platform, but I digress).

Perhaps Dr. Franklin would have hit closer to the mark by saying “The person who truly knows himself can have what he will.” I know a 90-year-old widower who wanted to go out with a bang. He bought a Camaro, started throwing his money around, doubtless stocked up on Viagra, and let it be known that he had $2 million in assets. Then he went after a much younger woman in financial distress who liked to wear vulgar clothes that showed every inch of cleavage and was, in complete opposition to him, totally uneducated. He’s been happily married and getting exactly what he wants ever since. He knew himself, much to the surprise and distress of his family, who only thought they knew who he was.

The person who truly knows him- or herself has something the rest of us lack, which is focus, as well as patience. The person who lusts after a scientific breakthrough like that 90-year-old lusted after a young, hot wife will spend a lifetime looking, and will not feel that one second has been wasted. Instead, they will feel a continuous rush of hope. Every day, when they get up, they might find the Higgs boson or the gravitational waves that followed the Big Bang and established our universe and so many others, or a cure for cancer. What a great motivation to get out of bed and get going!

Our friend Ben is not big on getting out of bed, especially in the ongoing cold and dark. (Curse you, Daylight Saving Time.) But one thing helps, and that’s lottery tickets. Every day, I have one lottery ticket, and it could buy me and my family and friends financial freedom for the rest of our lives. I always buy the ticket for the biggest payoff of the day, and I always buy just one, which means I spend $11 a week on lottery tickets. Many of my friends ridicule me for this, since to their minds it’s a total waste of money.

But for me, it’s priceless, since what I’m buying is hope. Sure, I could spend $11 a week on soda or convenience-store hotdogs or candy or gum or some other trash. (I’m not sure if you can even buy a pack of cigarettes for $11.) I could spend it going to a movie if I didn’t buy anything additional from the concession stand. I could spend it on a drink at a restaurant. And then it would be gone.

To my mind, waking up each day with the possibility of financial freedom before me, for just $11 a week, is the cheapest form of hope. As Ben Franklin says, I’m happy to be patient, for each day offers the same promise as the last. It’s hope I’m paying for, not a financial windfall. It would of course be fantastic to win. If I won enough to support myself and Silence Dogood and those we love, that would be a dream come true. To win more than that and be able to support or found causes we believe in would be a lifetime goal achieved. But even if we never win more than $2 or $5 or $11, it’s still a great reason to get up in the morning, because every morning brings a new opportunity for all the world to open.

Coin collecting: Toning up. March 15, 2014

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It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame, here today to talk about one of the fun things about coin collecting. If you’re a pocket-change collector like me, you know how much fun it is to collect pennies, nickels, and quarters that have different designs. (Where are new dimes, U.S. Mint?!)

And I’m sure you know that coins change color over time. If you have old nickels, you may be grossed out by the greasy dull grey color they’ve taken on in their many years rattling around in pockets and purses. If you’re lucky enough to have found some “wheat ears” pennies in your change, you’ll have seen how they turned from their original bright copper to flat brown over time. (“Wheat ears” pennies had two ears of wheat on the back, and the design was used from the debut of the Lincoln cent in 1909 until 1959, when the Lincoln Memorial replaced it.)

Nobody would call these changes for the better. But there is a color change that is cherished by coin collectors. It’s called “toning.” Basically, it’s when a coin takes on attractive colors as it ages, and it’s another great reason to check your pocket change. Toning is usually most pronounced on silver coins—especially silver dollars, half-dollars, and quarters. You can buy spectacular examples covered with an entire rainbow of colors or just a couple, such as blue and gold, or coins that are now a gorgeous gold tone but started life as silver. (But buyer beware: Because toned coins have a higher market value than regular coins, there are a lot of fakes out there.)

But here’s what’s exciting: Regular pocket change can also be toned, and it doesn’t have to be old, either. Just last week, I found a Lewis and Clark nickel from 2004 in my pocket that had started to turn gold. Mind you, not that this is real gold, and not that pocket change ever has much more than face value, unless you really do come upon a rare penny or an old silver dime, quarter, half-dollar, or dollar. (I never have; they were pretty much all grabbed up after the Mint stopped producing silver coins in 1965 and went to alloys.) But toning is a fun and different look to add to your collection, and some of these toned coins really are quite beautiful.

So don’t forget to check that pocket change! As our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, would say, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

Warmly,

Richard Saunders

The rarest marble in the world? November 13, 2013

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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, 2013

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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.”
—Benjamin Franklin

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