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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!


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?


Richard Saunders

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.”

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

Wretched Daylight Savings. September 25, 2013

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It’s almost 7 a.m. in our part of scenic PA, and it’s still pitch-black outside. Thank you, Daylight Savings. How is anybody supposed to get up and function in the dark (unless they’re an Orc or vampire)?! This is not good for our biorhythms and health, to say the least. Night: sleep. Light: wake up. How hard is that to understand evolutionally?

Our friend Ben is forced to admit that it was our own hero and blog mentor here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, the great Benjamin Franklin, who first came up with the concept of Daylight Saving Time. But he did it as a joke, people, a joke! And now, unfortunately, the joke is on us, as our ever-more-intrusive government has made it our reality.

I’m sure old Ben would be mortified, or at least enjoying a chuckle at our expense and thinking of a witty remark to put in his Philadelphia newspaper or next almanac about people’s gullibility and government stupidity.

I’ve read many times about how harmful working second- or third-shift jobs is to people’s mental health and health in general, because they disrupt the body’s natural rhythms. And now the government is mandating the disruption of every single citizen’s natural rhythms by extending Daylight Saving Time way past the boundary between dark and light. What were they thinking?! And how dare they intrude on private life in this way?

Happy Constitution Day! September 17, 2013

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It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame, here today to wish you all a happy Constitution Day! In honor of the occasion, I’ve whipped up a little quiz so you can test your knowledge of the Constitution. Try it and see how you fare! As always, I’ll reveal the answers at the end of the quiz. But no cheating, now!

1. The U.S. Constitution was signed on this day, September 17, in:

a) 1776

b) 1787

c) 1791

d) 1803

2. Who was President when the Constitution was signed?

a) James Madison

b) Thomas Jefferson

c) George Washington

d) Benjamin Franklin

3. Who is called The Father of the Constitution?

a) Thomas Jefferson

b) George Washington

c) James Madison

d) Gouverneur Morris

4. The Constitution was based on:

a) The Magna Carta

b) The Articles of Confederation

c) The Virginia Plan

d) The New Jersey Plan

5. Where is the Constitution housed?

a) The White House

b) The Library of Congress

c) The National Archives

d) The Smithsonian Museum

6. How many states were there when the Constitution was signed?

a) 13

b) 15

c) 17

d) 21

7. What document did the Constitution replace?

a) The Declaration of Independence

b) The Bill of Rights

c) The Articles of Confederation

d) The Colonial Charter

8. How does the Constitution begin?

a) “It is hereby declared…”

b) “We, the duly elected representatives of the various States of the Union…”

c) “It is a truth universally acknowledged…”

d) “We the People…”

9) Which state refused to send representatives to the Constitutional Convention?

a) New York

b) Rhode Island

c) Massachusetts

d) Virginia

10) Who gave the closing speech after the Constitution was signed?

a) George Washington

b) Benjamin Franklin

c) James Madison

d) Thomas Jefferson

Now it’s time for some answers. Ready? Here you go:

1. The answer is b), 1787. The Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution in 1791, and the Louisiana Purchase Treaty was signed in 1803.

2. This is a trick question; the answer is “none of the above.” There was no office of the President when the Constitution was signed in 1787; the Constitution itself established the office. Our first President, George Washington, wasn’t elected until 1789.

3. The answer is c), James Madison, whose passionate support of the Constitution and Bill of Rights helped bring them into being. The Constitution is also partially based on the Virginia Plan that Madison drafted, and he coauthored The Federalist Papers to win public support for the Constitution. But the title could have also been bestowed on Gouverneur Morris, the most undervalued of the Founders, who actually wrote the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson is The Father of the Declaration of Independence and George Washington is, of course, The Father of Our Country.

4. Another trick question; the correct answer is “all of the above,” with quite a few other ingredients tossed into the stew for good measure.

5. The answer is c), the National Archives in Washington, D.C., which also houses the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Articles of Confederation, the Treaty of Paris, an early copy of the Magna Carta, and many other important documents. It’s well worth a visit next time you’re in D.C.

6. The answer is a). There were still just the original former Thirteen Colonies (now states) in 1787 when the Constitution was signed. The next state admitted to the Union was Vermont, in 1791.

7. The answer is c), the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, drafted in 1777 and ratified in 1781. The Articles of Confederation gave more power to the individual states at the expense of a strong central government. It lacked provisions for an executive or judiciary branch, a bicameral legislature (i.e., separate Senate and House of Representatives), or means of raising Federal taxes. The Constitution rectified these omissions, creating the strong central government we have today and paving the way for the Federal Income Tax. Thanks, guys!

8. The answer is d), “We the People.” If it were written today, it would probably be more along the lines of “In accordance with Provision 746-B of the…” Sigh.

9. The answer is b), Rhode Island. Like many States’ Rights advocates, Rhode Islanders opposed a strong central government, fearing that it would be dominated by larger, more powerful states and by urban rather than rural interests. This same states-versus-feds conflict fueled the Civil War, and you can still see it in action in today’s Libertarian Party and “tea parties.” The most famous patriot who championed States’ Rights was Virginia’s Patrick Henry, who refused to attend the Constitutional Convention, saying he “smelt a rat in Philadelphia [where the Convention was held], tending toward the monarchy.”

10. The answer is b), our very own hero and blog mentor here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, the great Benjamin Franklin. We find this entirely fitting, since there wouldn’t have been a Constitution—or an America, for that matter—if it hadn’t been for old Ben’s diplomatic skills in persuading King Louis XVI to act against his own interests (as subsequent events conclusively proved) and support the Revolutionaries against a fellow monarch. Ben Franklin was also the only Founder to sign all three of America’s seminal documents: the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Paris (which established peace between Britain and America after the war), and the Constitution. Go Ben go!!!

Do you feel smarter now? For more Constitutional fun, head over to the National Constitution Center’s website (http://constitutioncenter.org/FoundersQuiz/) and take their “Which Founder Are You?” quiz! I’m James Madison. No big surprise, our friend Ben is Ben Franklin. And can you guess who Silence Dogood is? Turns out, she’s James Madison too, even though when we compared notes she answered a lot of the 11 questions differently than I did. (Silence was a bit—well, a lot—disgruntled by this. She says she wanted to be Alexander Hamilton or George Washington or Gouverneur Morris. Sorry, Silence.) Let us know who you are!

A nice way to wake up. August 4, 2013

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Silence Dogood here. If, like me, our hero and blog mentor Benjamin Franklin’s maxim “Early to bed, early to rise” doesn’t exactly resonate with you, every little thing you can do to make getting out of bed in the morning a more pleasant experience is a good thing.

One of the most pleasant ways I’ve found is to hang crytals in the window. I don’t mean crystals like quartz, but rather, faceted glass like the crystals on a chandelier. You can use real chandelier crystals from antiques stores or flea markets, or, as I did, buy modern versions in gift shops or New Age shops. The advantage of buying them in gift or New Age shops is that they come in colors, they’re highly faceted (which is critical, as you’ll see), and they’re often pre-strung for hanging with smaller crystals on the string.

I have three crystal strands, one amber, one purple, and one pinkish-rainbow-colored, hung one on the other in an East-facing window. And when the morning light hits them, they cast dozens of beautiful rainbow droplets of light on the walls and ceilings of the room. This continues for several hours, and I can make the droplets spin and dance over the room if I gently push the lowest crystal once to set the strands moving. All three crystals are highly faceted, since the more facets, the more rainbows each crystal throws off.

This is a beautiful, entertaining, inexpensive light show. Since my goal is to motivate myself to get up and moving, my crystals are in a window in my home office rather than the bedroom. I need to get on the computer and start writing, after all, not have yet another excuse to dawdle in bed enjoying colorful patterns on the walls and ceiling. But think how magical it would be for a child to wake each (sunny) morning to rainbow splashes on his or her bedroom walls and ceiling! If your child’s bedroom has East-facing windows, I’d highly recommend it.

Meanwhile, back to working on the “healthy, wealthy and wise” part of old Ben’s maxim…

‘Til next time,


The art of the blog. June 6, 2013

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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.

Words of wisdom. May 9, 2013

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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, 2013

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

—Benjamin Franklin