Benjamin Franklin and advice

Advice

As long as there have been generations advice has been passed from elder to child and those who bestowed such information were looked upon as sage-like and wise. Older individuals were assumed to have accrued knowledge and wisdom from their own personal trials and tribulations. It became a perfectly natural set of circumstances that parceling out answers to a child’s question or giving advice was the job of a parent and grandparent; a responsibility they inherited from the previous generation of elders…

However, that was once the course of action taken from the beginning of time until we have turned over the pages of the calendar to the present. Alas, today, finding and retrieving information, getting an answer to a question, seeking advice, these missions have all has been usurped and supplanted by the internet.

We live in an age where there is not only a demand but an expectation for instantaneous results; where retrieval is met with little patience for wait time. Just a “google away” one can eliminate the “middle man; no longer does a child have to wait for a parent to come home from work or interrupt their reading of the newspaper to get an answer. Now they are able to bypass this hierarchal position that has been “outsourced” by the internet.

So unfortunate does it appear to be for parents who yearn to be adviser and confidant… however, before one laments take heed… for in fact it is the child who we should be sad for. The internet may be able to answer with lightning speed, but it remains to be a rather cold and unaffectionate replacement for these sages.

Today’s post brings you the esteemed thinker: Benjamin Franklin (170Benjamin franklin6-1790), one of America’s “Founding Fathers”. The list of his accolades are so numerous that it shall be limited here to statesman, philosopher, inventor, publisher, scientist, and sage.  Barely rivaled, his illustrious career and writings make him a favored celebrity in America’s lively history.  Born in Boston, Massachusetts, his father, Josiah, had come to the British colony and set up shop as a candle maker, while his mother, Abiah Folger, took care of the home and ten children. His parents could not afford to get him an education, so Benjamin had only two years of formal schooling, however, his curiosity and thirst for learning kept him reading anything he could get his hands on, culminating in a most illustrious life.

His work in the sciences included shaping our understanding of electricity with inventions such as the lightening rod. As a statesman during the time when the United States was finding its own voice and independence, he was one of five men who drafted the Declaration of Independence (1776).

And so, I bring you back to the early days when writing was the only way of communicating to those who were not in speaking distance. From his autobiography, Memoirs of Benjamin Franklin (1834) we will see that even such a great and wise man as he was took time to listen and reflect on his father’s advice.

“… I suppose you may like to know what kind of a man my father was. He had an excellent constitution, was of a middle stature, well set, and very strong: he could draw prettily, was a little skilled in music; his voice was sonorous and agreeable, that when he played on his violin and sung withal, as he was accustomed to do after the business of the day was over, it was extremely agreeable to hear. He had some knowledge of mechanics, and, on occasion, was very handy with other tradesmen’s tools; but his great excellence was his sound understanding and solid judgment in prudential matters, both in private and public affairs. It is true, he was never employed in the latter, the numerous family he had to educate and the strictness of his circumstances keeping him close to his trade: but I remember well his being frequently visited by leading men, who consulted him for his opinion in public affairs, and those of the church he belonged to, and who showed great respect for his judgment and advice: he was also much consulted by private persons about their affairs when any difficulty occurred, and frequently chosen an arbitrator between contending parties. At his table he liked to have, as often as he could, some sensible friend or neighbour to converse with, and always took care to start some ingenious or useful topic for discourse, which might tend to improve the minds of his children. By this means he turned our attention to what was good, just, and prudent in the conduct of life; and little or no notice was ever taken of what related to the victuals on the table, whether it was well or ill dressed, in or out of season, of good or bad flavour, preferable or inferior to this or that other thing of the kind, so that I was brought up in such a perfect inattention to those matters as to be quite indifferent as to what kind of food was set before me. Indeed, I am so unobservant of it, that to this day I can scarce tell a few hours after dinner of what dishes it consisted. This has been a great convenience to me in travelling, where my companions have been sometimes very unhappy for want of a suitable gratification of their more delicate, because better instructed, tastes and appetites…”

First image: Created / PublishedNew York : Published by S. Zickel, No. 19, Dey-Street, c1871.

Second image: Benjamin Franklin: reproduction (1913) by Charles Willson Peale, 1741-1827, artist

 

John Muir and summer

Sierra forest Lake_of_the_Lone_Indian_JMW

Summer… when fireflies come out at dusk and ice melts too fast in lemonade; ice cream tastes better even though it’s the same-old flavor. It has two weather patterns, hot and very hot, and when it rains it likes to pour. We complain in the summer because the steering wheel burns our hands and the sand burns our feet. The weeds grow thick and the air grows thick and everything feels sticky. The mosquitoes swarm and the flies love the picnics. It’s too crowded at the beach and the jellyfish fills in the empty spaces. Days are long, nights are short but then, without us noticing, when we turn the calendar over Labor Day comes and goes… we feel a sudden sense of remorse because summer is no longer there to complain about!

Today’s blog brings us the esteemed thinker: John Muir (1838-1914), one of the earliest preservationist in the United State. Naturalist, writer, conservationist, and founder of the Sierra Club, John Muir is noted as the Father of the National Park Service. muirHis foresight and influence to convince the U.S. government to protect Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon and Mt. Rainier as national parks was a testimony to his writing. John Muir’s illustrious words came from a lifetime of work as a wilderness explorer, and his unyielding desire to maintain a natural environment that would not be exploited; still a rallying cry for all who wish to preserve our world.

I now bring you from his work of 1911, My First Summer in The Sierra; surely his personal reflections will remind you of the wonders that nature brings.

“… Warm, mellow summer. The glowing sunbeams make every nerve tingle. The new needles of the pines and firs are nearly full grown and shine gloriously… Summer is ripe. Flocks of seeds are already out of their cups and pods seeking their predestined places. Some will strike root and grow up beside their parents, others flying on the wings of the wind far from them, among strangers. Most of the young birds are full feathered and out of their nests, though still looked after by both father and mother, protected and fed and to some extent educated. How beautiful the home life of birds! No wonder we all love them…”

First image: Sierra Forest

4th of July

flag

All around the neighborhoods, in the cities, on the farmlands, in the mountains, along the grassy plains, and even rocking on the oceans and seashores. Americans are celebrating Independence Day…the Fourth of July. The skies are doused with the smells from smoky barbecues and diamond-studded sparklers…while the night skies will be ablaze with fireworks’ shows that dazzle, awe, and surprise… dogs will bark, some will hide, while children coax them out from beneath the bed with pieces of soggy hot dog buns. How lucky and grateful are we in the United States to be able to celebrate this historic occasion, while I lament that still others round the globe are unable to express freedom such as ours.

Today’s blog, in honor of the 4th of July, brings to you the words of the esteemed thinker: Edwin Percy Whipple (b. Massachusetts 1819-1886). Who? Oh, maybe you will recognize him by ‘E.P. Whipple’…is that better? Oh, still no recollection…well let me give you a bit of background about him. Of his time, he was considered a “compelling” speaker, lecturer, intellect, and literary critic; offering him an opportunity as the literary editor for the Boston Daily Globe. He was not stranger to the literary world having been the trustee of the Boston Public Library, 1868-1870. During the height of the lyceum movement*, he delivered as many as one thousand public lectures from Bangor to St. Louis.EP Whipple

From his essay The True Glory of a Nation, we take a moment to pause and read the words of Mr. Whipple…and though he may not be the most celebrated writer today, his thoughts regarding the people who “are” a nation indeed parallels the glory of why we “can” honor Independence Day.

“The true glory of a nation is an intelligent, honest, industrious people. The civilization of a people depends on their individual character; and a constitution which is not the outgrowth of this character is not worth the parchment on which it is written. You look in vain in the past for a single instance where the people have preserved their liberties after their individual character was lost. It is not in the magnificence of its palaces, not in the beautiful creations of art lavished on its public edifices, not in costly libraries and galleries of pictures, not in the number or wealth of its cities, that we find a nation’s glory. …The true glory of a nation is the living temple of a loyal, industrious, upright people…”

* Lyceum movement in the United States, especially in the northeast, was the beginning of adult education; organizations sponsored lectures and debates often on current interes

Esteemed thinker: Edwin Hubble

hubble-space

The idea that the universe is infinite is a term that defies logic. Humans are a species that likes to feel that beliefs and ideas can be packaged with a beginning and an end. So when it comes to comprehending beyond our visual scope of our universe, we have a difficult time comprehending that there is a forever expanding cosmos. The notion of “endless” is mind-boggling.  NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, launched on April 24, 1990, on the space shuttle Discovery from Kennedy Space Center in Florida has given us its shared view from a space. It can see astronomical objects with an angular size of 0.05 arc seconds, which is like seeing a pair of fireflies in Tokyo from your home in Maryland. Hubble has peered back into the very distant past, to locations more than 13.4 billion light years from Earth.

And so, having passed its 25th anniversary, there are some who may not know its namesake. Today’s post brings you the esteemed thinker: Edwin Hubble (1889-1953), American mathematician and astronomer,  born in Marshfield, Missouri.  Having received his first telescope at the early age of eight, his passion for astronomy was established quite early.

Although his father wanted him to pursue different interests, Hubble studied astronomy,  physics, and law; after which he traveled to Britain as a Rhodes Scholar. On his return to the United States, he set out to teach high school and coach basketball, but, he soon switched gears and continued to pursue astronomy studies. In 1915, he earned time on one of the Yerkes Observatory telescopes, launching his new career.

He began his PhD in astronomy in 1914, but postponed his work in 1917 to enlist, serving in France during World War I.  After the war, Hubble was fortunate to be at Mount Wilson, the center of observational work underpinning the new astrophysics, later called cosmology, and the 100-inch Hooker Telescope, then the most powerful on Earth that had just been completed and installed.

He began to classify all the known nebulae and to measure their velocities from the spectra of their emitted light. In 1929 he made another startling find – all galaxies seemed to be receding from us with velocities that increased in proportion to their distance from us – a relationship now known as Hubble’s Law. This discovery was a Edwin hubblesensational  breakthrough for the astronomy of that time as it overturned the conventional view of a static Universe and showed that the Universe itself was expanding.

Hubble worked at Mount Wilson until 1942, when he left to serve in World War II. He was awarded the Medal of Merit in 1946. Returning to his Observatory, his last great contribution to astronomy was a central role in the design and construction of the Hale 200-inch Telescope on Palomar Mountain. Notes as being four times as powerful as the Hooker, the Hale would be the largest telescope on Earth for decades.

Although wishing to win a Nobel Prize, all the effort was in vain since there was no category for astronomy.

From The Realm of the Nebulae (1936), I bring you the words of the great Edwin Hubble, a man with dreams that gave us the universe. “With increasing distance, our knowledge fades, and fades rapidly. Eventually, we reach the dim boundary—the utmost limits of our telescopes. There, we measure shadows, and we search among ghostly errors of measurement for landmarks that are scarcely more substantial. The search will continue. Not until the empirical resources are exhausted, need we pass on to the dreamy realms of speculation…”

First image taken from the Hubble Telescope.

Esteemed thinker: James Smithson

Smithsonian InstituteTo preserve the past is to save the future, and though this observation may be heard by some as a contradiction, it is the very irony of its verbiage which makes it true.  Not all of the events of the past are positive and for that very reason we must not forget them. To discover, reflect, and evaluate what came before may help humanity not repeat its mistakes and crimes.  And so, what better place is there than a museum to learn about what it was like “before”. In glass cases and plexi-glass displays, on walls and  on pedestals are the gatherings of artifacts and relics, all of which made the world we inhabit today. Setting forth newly acquired facts in the fields of anthropology, biology, history, geology, technology, and the arts…they all are set before us with the intention of simply allowing us to ponder.

And so, I encourage you to take a walk and stroll through the corridors of any museum for surely there will be a bit of the world that will amaze you.

James smithson1

Today’s blog brings you the esteemed thinker: James Smithson (1765-1829) British scientist who willed his estate to the United States for the creation of what we know today as The Smithsonian Institute. Born in Paris, France, he was the illegitimate son of Hugh Smithson and Elizabeth Keate Hungerford Macie, a widow of royal blood. He was named James Lewis Macie at birth however, in 1800 following the death of his mother, he took his father’s name.

Because of his birth status, he was unable to pursue careers of most nobility at that time in the military or clergy, so he turned to the sciences. He went to Pembroke College at Oxford University, and there became interested in the natural sciences. He graduated as a mineralogist and chemist, devoting his life to research. He published at least 27 papers on chemistry, geology, and mineralogy in scientific journals and proved that zinc carbonates were true carbonate minerals, not zinc oxides as popularly believed.

He inherited a great deal of land from his mother and his management brought him a great deal of money. Having never married, he left a portion of his wealth to his nephew, and “Under the arrangements of his will, the whole estate went “to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” As such the reasoning was most likely his resentment over the circumstances of his illegitimate birth. He had once written, “My name shall live in the memory of man when the titles of the Northumberlands and Percys are extinct and forgotten.”

Smithson died in Genoa, Italy, on June 27, 1829, however in 1904, Smithsonian Regent Alexander Graham Bell brought Smithson’s remains to the United States to rest at the Institution he had established.

(In 1865 a fire at the Smithsonian Institute destroyed most all of Jameson’s published work)

First image: Rendering of the Castle Smithsonian Institute, 1840

Second Image: Painting of James Smithson by James Roberts, 1786

 

Esteemed thinker: Louisa May Alcott

When it comes to hearty, size is not always the defining feature. Most of us have the perception that “big” equates to strong, however that particular idea is frequently a misconception. It is often in nature where we wsnow on crocusitness “small” being just as robust as  its counterpart. A mighty oak is surely a visual spectacle of greatness however; it is the tiny crocus that often seems to defy all weather challenges put forth upon it.

The crocus is one of the first blooms appearing even as early as January; a time when most dwellers of North America are still donning winter coats. So don’t be surprised to see these flowers’ colorful little “heads” pop up out of the ground before all the others… and they will remain faithfully in bloom, with buds held high defying its covering of snow, gently unfolding towards the sun as if they were sunbathing on the beach!

Today’s blog brings you the acclaimed American author, Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888). Born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, she is best known for her novel Little Woman. Alcott’s parents were progressives for the time, taking part in the mid-19th century social reform movement, supporting the abolition of slavery and even acting as station-masters on the Underground Railroad. They were also active in the temperance and women’s rights movements.

Louisa May Alcott was educated mainly by her father, although Thoreau, Emerlouisa may alcottson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Margaret Fuller were family friends, also providing her lessons. She began writing when she was young, and she and her sisters enjoyed acting out some of her stories.

During the American Civil War, she volunteered to sew clothes and provide other supplies to soldiers. Including volunteering to be a nurse in Washington, D.C.

Her career as an author was wide spread, including stories and poems. A lesser-known part of her work are the passionate, fiery novels and stories under the pseudonym A. M. Barnard. In her later life, Alcott became an advocate of women’s suffrage, and was the first woman to register to vote in Concord, Massachusetts.

From her novel, Little Men (1871) I now bring you a quote; few in words but mighty in spirit…like the crocus.

 “Love is a flower that grows in any soil, works its sweet miracles undaunted by autumn frost or winter snow, blooming fair and fragrant all the year, and blessing those who give and those who receive.”  

 

Esteemed thinker: John James Abert

enchanted island

We get used to things the way they are and when our usual gets shifted or changed our whole world seems to get out of sequence. Take for example driving; we are accustomed to the same route and without having to make a conscious effort we are able to get home without the aid of a map. However, if a tree on the very street you always travel was to suddenly be cut down, you would find that this once so familiar journey has been altered and might just question if indeed you are going the correct way.

Call it what you will: habit, comfort zone, routine… the same thing can happen if your desktop icons are suddenly misaligned. Like the road well-traveled, we are accustomed to finding specifics without much effort. But let the familiar computer screen suddenly go into its own snit…rearranging what we have taken the time to set up, like the driver whose road has lost its favorite landmark, we too are lost. John James Abert

Today’s blog brings you a more obscure but none-the-less esteemed thinker: John James Abert (b. 1788-1863) Abert was born in Shepherdstown, Virginia (now West Virginia). He graduated from West Point in 1811, but declined a commission. He enlisted in the D.C. Militia during the War of 1812, and rejoined the army as a topographical engineer with the rank of Major in October 1814.

In 1813, The Topographical Bureau was created as a branch of the U.S. Army Corps of and remained only a small, elite corps until John James Abert, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, became its head in 1829. The major mission of the Corps was to map out the West, an unexplored undocumented region and unlock its secrets. For 32 years under Abert’s leadership, the Corps of Topographical Engineers, which recruited the best soldier-scientists, or “Topogs,” Abert could find, made explorations that resulted in the comprehensive mapping of the American West.

James, who became a Colonel in command of the US topographical engineers in 1838, and one of the organizers of the National Institute of Science, which subsequently merged in the Smithsonian Institution.

I now bring to you a most fascinating letter written by Abert to the prominent naturalist James Audubon in 1847.  Take time to relish in the discovery of what today is indeed a rarity.

Dear Sir.

 I have sent you a copy of my son’s first expedition to the Rocky Mountains. The report of his second, from which he has just returned is, of course, not yet made out. I shall talk to him about the subjects of your letter. It was after an examination of your small edition of the birds of America that I considered the Quail a new one. There is certainly nothing like it in that work, unless it be out of place in the book and in that way has escaped my examination. A person of some knowledge in these matters, who has seen the skins, calls it a new bird, but there is no one of sufficient authority to depend upon.

 Yours truly,

J.J. Abert