Ben Franklin Was a Man Wiser Than Most

One of our personal heroes is Benjamin Franklin. We’ve read several biographies about the great man and have always marveled at his capacity to think and act on such a global scale. He is an exemplar well worth following and we try to daily.

Sometimes when we’re stuck in traffic we like to play a little game with Franklin. As we plod along, we pick subjects out of the air or the environment next to the overwhelmed freeway and ask ourselves, “I wonder what Franklin would have thought of that?”

Music? “The rhythms are not wholly unpleasant, but the songs are not so pleasingly tuneful. I imagine such productions are an acquired taste which I have not yet cultivated.”

Cars? “This wagon, capable of such speeds and versatile in the highest, is surely a godsend, but you say it dirties the air and the water and burns a fuel not in plentiful supply. Surely this godsend will soon become a pox upon you and with that I cannot not abide.”

In the course of our daily reads, we came across one of Franklin’s less-well known inventions, despite the fact that it forms the basis for those Franklin Planners that are so in vogue amongst the management guru set. Franklin devised a plan to guide his daily life based on 13 basic virtues. We thought it would be illuminating to take those virtues and “update” them, as Franklin might have done, for life in the 21st Century.

  • Temperance: “Just because food and drink are freely available, do not feel obliged to consume it all. You will become diseased and surely be the subject of degrading comments, reality shows, and 12-step programs. Self-discipline is an admirable trait in all.”
  • Silence: “Silence is a powerful sword in the arsenal of persuasion. This is particularly true of the ruling classes, who more often than not, forget this important lesson. Speak not, lest you have something to say. The art of listening is more important than the art of portraiture. Practice it always by aspiring to become a true artist of the craft.”
  • Order: “A bird that lives in a disorderly nest will surely fall to the ground and learn the lesson of a place for everything and everything in its place. Distribute your time wisely and waste it not on trivial pursuit, the game or otherwise.”
  • Resolution: “Life is not a competition against your peers, it is a competition against yourself. Resolve to finish what you start, but be wise enough to change course if the situation dictates. A true leader understands the value of this advice and a leader who does not is more than a fool.”
  • Frugality: “Nations and individuals should have this in common – take on no debt you are unwilling to pay immediately, choose wisely those things to spend upon, and forego borrowing and credit cards when the swamp of their creation threatens to to consume the ship of your life.”
  • Industry: “Always work as if you are a fine craftsman writing computer code or serving in a McDonald’s. Take pride in your work, but do not let it define your life. It is as important to have time for yourself as it is to offer your industry to a commercial enterprise. Balance is the key and those infernal cell phones are the harbinger of its ruin.”
  • Sincerity: “Sincerity is the key to all that life offers and it takes more than a well-placed smirk or a well-turned lie to convince others of yours. Always speak honestly, offering opinions both good and bad, but remember to couch those truths in a civil and helpful manner.”
  • Justice: “Every person is entitled to the benefit of the doubt, but must also submit to the judgment of their peers. It is understandable that those who are accused may differ in opinion from yours, but they should hopefully see this and atone for their transgressions. If not, society should be prepared to act and act decisively for the good of all.”
  • Moderation: “Moderation is the root of the tree bearing the fruit of a good life. Do not do too much or too little of any single thing. Work to create a balance in all things you do, for it is only then that the tree of life will bear the fruit of true happiness.”
  • Cleanliness: “Being unclean or unkempt in this modern age is a shameful thing. Wash daily, after using the facilities, and for meals. Wear clean clothing of good repair and be well-groomed. Baggy pants showing the ass of stupidity are an abomination as are capri pants and all things camoflauge. If you see others unfortunate enough to not have the ability to maintain proper cleanliness, endeavor to help them. That person and society will both surely benefit.”
  • Chastity: “Always give as much of yourself as you request from those you love and respect those who say no as surely as you would engage those who say yes. Promiscuity is not the mark of the worldly, but rather the mark of a person who does not value love.”
  • Tranquility: “The value of casting petty annoyances to drift away upon the current cannot be underestimated. Trouble yourself only with the important things and leave the worrying about trifles to those who are small minded enough to engage them.”
  • Humility: “Model those exemplars who are of the highest quality, but do not be overly critical if you do not reach similar levels of perfection. History has softened their faults as it will surely soften yours. The effort, rather than the accomplishment of humility, is the important thing to which you should aspire.”

Oh Ben, where are you when we need you?

Laissez Bon Temp Rouler You Incompetent Crapweasels

Despite the fact that we’re really not very metrosexualish – we haven’t worn a tuxedo since the blue crushed velvet number to the junior prom – we have a subscription to Esquire magazine. As we perused the pages of the March 2006 issue, we ran into a curious full-page ad sandwiched between the Dolce & Gabbana and Ravazzolo ads that caught our eye.

It was a public service ad co-sponsored by the Ad Council and the Department of Homeland Insecurity. It features a dramatic black and white picture of a flooded town. The buildings are a little old and shop worn. There is a half sunken boat (or car, it’s hard to tell) in the background. The ad features the following copy in a faux handwriting font:

Every business should have a plan.

“At that point two of our buildings were already gone. The third was under water. We couldn’t salvage much, including the press.

Fortunately backup systems were in place and everything was relocated. Because we were prepared. We never missed a day of publication.”At first glance, it looked like a thousand other ads soliciting help for Katrina victims or exhorting people to have a disaster plan in place. But the kicker to this particular ad was the signature under the copy above – Mike Jacobs, Publisher and Editor of the Grand Forks Herald Tribune in Grand Forks, ND.

That’s right, the ad features a flood that happened in 1997. In the wake of the largest natural disaster the country has ever seen, DHS couldn’t find a more timely example of being well-prepared for natural disasters than a flood that was handled by FEMA more than eight years ago during the Clinton administration!

The following copy appears at the bottom of the ad:

“Whether it’s a flood, terrorist attack or other disaster, every business needs an emergency plan. A plan can save lives, company assets and your entire business – at little or no cost to your company. You can’t control what happens. But you can be prepared. Visit www.ready.gov for practical steps you can take now to give your company a better chance of survival.”

That statement is rich. First, it mentions the ever present watch word “terrorist”, a must for any Bush endeavor. Forget that the terrorists had nothing to do with the flood in Grand Forks or Katrina, but plenty to do with why the DHS response was so hosed.

The copy then goes on to talk about saving lives at “little or no cost to your company”. Apparently DHS and FEMA took this advice a little too literally and didn’t produce a disaster viable plan before Katrina in part, because it cost too much. Hopefully, businesses won’t also find that a suitable excuse for their of lack of a plan. It could, as we can see, be a very expensive mistake.

The ad then chirps, “You can’t control what happens (boy, you can say that again eh, Brownie). But you can be prepared,” apparently a concept Brownie was a little unfamiliar with.

But they save the biggest and best joke for last. “Visit www.ready.gov for practical steps you can take now…”

Well, we went to the site and here are some of the nuggets DHS suggests on this ironically entitled site:

  • Keep at least a three day supply of food and water. Great advice since it will take more than three days for FEMA to get anything to you. They did anticipate this glitch by recommending you also pack some “comfort/stress” foods, apparently to keep you calm as you starve.
  • Under clean air – a section in which they refer to terrorist-launched biological and chemical agents as “junk” – they advise using, well, a rag over your nose and mouth to protect yourself because, “something over your nose and mouth in an emergency is better than nothing.” Although probably not by much. And by the way, they’re still recommending the universal fix-all for biological and chemical attacks of all kinds – duct tape and plastic sheeting.
  • Under the first aid section it recommends a “tube of petroleum jelly or other lubricant”, something we’re sure actual victims will need in great supply if you catch our drift.

The list goes on, but that’s only part of the point. The real point was that FEMA, and by extension DHS, were woefully unprepared for Katrina. They tacitly acknowledge this by choosing a disaster scenario for the ad that wasn’t taken from the Katrina playbook and happened long before cronyism and incompetence ran the once-responsive FEMA into the mud-soaked ground of the Gulf Coast.

It’s a tragicomedy for another reason too. The point to the ad is to be prepared, something DHS is avoiding at all costs. It makes a great deal about victims getting themselves prepared – which is a correct and admirable thing – but the ad and the website never explain exactly what help you can expect from FEMA or any other government agency.

We have a question. If the administration truly believes that everyone is on their own in an emergency, then why do we have a FEMA or a DHS? If they can’t protect us, and can’t improve their abysmal record for providing help, then where is the money supporting this ad and the website and Chertoff’s salary and Brownie’s consulting fees going?

Oh yeah. It must go to paying all the lawyers who have to defend these crapweasels in front of the literally dozens of ongoing investigations into their malfeasance.

We fell better already, don’t you? As they say in New Orleans, “laissez bon temp rouler – let the good times roll.”

From the Poobah Files: Dog is Our Co-Pilot

Dog. A kind of additional or subsidiary Deity designed to catch the overflow and surplus of the world’s worship.

Ambrose Bierce, 1911 (Waking Ambrose)

No truer words could be said of man’s best friend. As a Deity and a dog owner, we’ve never found another animal so noble, so trusting, so friendly. Dogs never want more than to be a part of your pack and adore you. We believe them to be animals far superior to most others – including many humans.

Cats? Not so much.

Cat lovers, we know you love the tabbies and we know they are fine animals in their own right. We certainly wish them no harm, but they are finicky animals that are never quite fully domesticated. They view themselves as the center of the world, often looking disdainfully on their owners as inferior beings not worthy of their inscrutable attentions. True, they love to snuggle up on a blustery day, but only on their own terms. A soft purr is a nice thing, but they offer it only at their leisure, allowing you to momentarily intrude on their world only so you can cater to their whims.

We’ve had four dogs over the years. Each one with a fine and distinct personality. Each one counted amongst our truest and most special friends. Without exception, they loved us unconditionally, made few demands, and offered a special relationship in return.

King Domino I

Our first dog, King Domino I, was a purebred Boston Terrier. He arrived by train on our sixth birthday. When we went to the station to pick him up, we found the freight handlers had freed him from his crate and were playing with him on the plaform. A tiny puppy, hardly bigger than a teacup, scampered around the rough, grown men making them shriek with the laughter of children. He did it simply by being himself and following his centuries-old instincts. Play, and humans become putty in your paws.

Domino was a very smart dog. He accompanied his pack on many cross-country vacations, hiding patiently and soundlessly in our Mother’s purse when checking into motels. Once in the room he would leap out and hide under the bed to avoid detection. He stayed their, short nose poking from under the bedspread, until we gave the OK for him to come out. We never taught him this trick. He wisely found it on his own.

Domino was our constant companion until we went off to college. He endured the same sort of hide-brusing, accidental punishment as any dog belonging to a small boy. But he suffered it gladly, rebounding with only a small yipe and never with a snap or a snarl. His tiny stump of a tail wagged constantly, showing his love for us and for life itself.

He stuck by us and we stuck by him as surely if we had been brothers. Our only separation was at the end while we were away at college. At the age of 12, he finally petered out and signaled my parents that it was time to move on. They stayed with him until he passed, petting his head and comforting him in his last minutes. They didn’t tell us about it until we returned home for the first time. When they broke the news, we cried – something we’ve never done again to this day.

Roscoe, aka The Roscoe Man

Domino was followed by a Roscoe, a hound or indeterminate origin, with more confidence than we’ve ever seen in another mammal. He kept his leash tight and frequently showed the world who he knew to be boss. Unlike the mild-mannered Domino, Roscoe always challenged us as the acknowledged leader of the pack. We always won, but only after a display of his pack-leading prowess and firm hand from us. He would have made a fine wolf had he been born in the wild.

Roscoe was an escapee worthy of an Alcatraz-hardened criminal. As a pup, he routinely left the child’s playpen where we kept him at night. He did this by scaling the mesh with his tiny paws, removing the stiching that held the mesh to the playpen, wiggling out the small hole, and flinging himself several feet to the floor. We eventually admitted defeat and gave him the run of the basement den.

Gandalf’s Heartbreak, aka Chrissie

Roscoe was joined by a Golden Retriever Mrs. Poobah used for obedience training competitions. Chrisse – Gandalf’s Heartbreak on her AKC papers – was everything Roscoe was not. Submissive to a fault, she sometimes yelped when spoken to harshly. She faithfully followed every command, did everything ever asked of her, and more.

On a walk along a lakeshore on a sub-zero Midwestern Christmas day, she showed her smarts by stupidly leaping through the ice and into the freezing waters. Emerging covered with ice, she just stood there with a dumb grin, wagging her ice-encrusted tail, ready to repeat the swim. She wasn’t smart, but that didn’t matter in an obedience dog. She was a contest champion several times over.

Roscoe went blind suddenly one afternoon after an afternoon nap in the yard. He adjusted a little crankily to his pedicament, but got around well enough. However, when we left Ohio for California we knew he would never survive the trauma of the move. We put the old boy down before we left, telling the Poobette he was going to the vet’s farm. Just like in the movies, she didn’t find out the truth until she was much older and we could tell her the story without breaking down ourselves.

Chrissie stayed on with us to California and thrived until her later years when she developed spleen cancer. The doctors gave her six months, but she didn’t even acknowledge the illness for another three years. She passed while we were on a vacation. The dogsitter stayed on the floor petting her all night before taking her on the final trip to the vet the next morning. Although she died among friends, her pack wasn’t there and we ache for that misstep to this day.

Fiona, aka The Fionarater

And now, we have Fiona. A Sharbrador (Shar Pei-Labrador), we got her nine years ago from the Oakland SPCA when the Poobette refused to leave without her. Full of life, a constant cager of love pats and dog bones, she enjoys her life with us like no other dog we’ve ever had.

Although she can present an imposing image – she’s well-muscled, has a deep bark, and am unnaturally huge maw filled with large teeth and a black and purple tongue – she is so friendly that groomers give her the run of the shop while keeping the other clientele in crates. Every kennel, every groomer, every visitor has raved about her temperament and none of them has ever exaggerated.

Though the old girl is beginning to slow down, we expect she’ll still be around for quite a few years yet. When the time comes we’ll try to make her comfortable and return the love she’s shown us in spades. And when she’s gone, we’ll talk about not getting another dog. Too much hassle. They make a mess. Our life would be so much easier without one.

But, we’ll eventually cave in. Life without a dog is a life emptier than we could imagine. And so we’ll go and find a new one. Not a replacement. Not one we will love any more or less. We’ll find a dog that fits our family and gives us all the love we can handle.