Saturday, January 17, 2009


Benny Half
Benjamin Franklin half dollar.

“Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” - Benjamin Franklin

It is my pleasure to issue a big Blog d’Elisson birthday shout-out to an American who, in the words of Henry Steele Commager, combined “the virtues of Puritanism without its defects, the illumination of the Enlightenment without its heat.”

I speak, of course, of Benjamin Franklin, who - were he, miraculously, still alive to do so - would be celebrating his three-hundred-third birthday today. But since, alas, he is no longer with us, it is up to us to commemorate the birth, and indeed, the life, of this individual who not only affixed his name to the Declaration of Independence, but who also was so influential in defining the character of the American nation.

Benny was a true Renaissance man. Politician, statesman, musician, writer, journalist, scientist, astronomer, inventor... and ladies’ man, to boot. It’s entirely appropriate that his phiz adorn our hundred-dollar bill, the largest denomination currently in production; I regret that the half-dollar coin that bore his profile lasted only sixteen years thanks to the untimely death of John F. Kennedy, whose image displaced Franklin’s in a reflection of national mourning.

A list of Franklin’s accomplishments would be so lengthy as to become almost boring. His inventions alone would be enough to enshrine him in the history books: bifocal glasses, the Franklin stove, lightning rods, and the flexible urinary catheter (!) being just a few. I personally have experience with a couple of ’em - see if you can guess which ones?

Twenty-eight years ago, She Who Must Be Obeyed and I visited Philadelphia, accompanied by Elder (then Only) Daughter. It is a city that bears Franklin’s unmistakable imprint; it is, as well, the final resting place of his bones. I still remember the three of us standing before his grave, trying to comprehend the many contributions of this singularly brilliant American.

I’ll raise a glass to Ben’s memory tonight. And, if I want to be as appropriate as possible, it’ll contain some beer.

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