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Monday, February 20, 2017

The Life and TImes of Benjamin Franklin

    (Editor's Note: I originally published this 7 years ago, in another place and time. Since America finds itself at a perilous crossroads, it would do one good to look back at the lives of the Founders, who themselves were found at a pivotal point in our country's history. Revised and expanded from the original edition.)

    Benjamin Franklin, who would become one of the first great Americans and inventors, was born on January 17, 1706, in Boston, Massachussets. He was the 15th out of 17 children. His father, Josiah, was an immigrant from Northamptonshire, England, and a maker of soap and candles. He was married twice, first to Anne Child, with whom he had 7 children, and lastly to Abiah Folger, Ben's mother, with whom Josiah had 10 children.

    Franklin went to school for a short time, but dropped out and became an apprentice printer to his brother James. James cuffed him each time he made a mistake, and whacked him if he thought Ben was impertinent. While working for his brother, he played jokes, writing columns in the newspaper under an assumed name criticizing Harvard boys and other things, all the time using the pen name "Silence Dogood". When his brother found out he had been tricked, he was very displeased. At a young age, Franklin quit his job and ran away. He had a great interest in reading even before he ran away. He would buy any book that he could afford to buy, and he would also borrow as many books as he could, staying up all night reading the books. Franklin learned how to write by reading books like Addison and Steele's "The Spectator". He would take notes on what he had read and try to rewrite the Books like the authors' version. If he had made any mistakes, he would go back and correct them.

     Ben Franklin's careers started when he became a local printer. In this capacity, he set up the first printing press, moulding type from lead forms. He started his own shop where he printed newspapers, books, and magazines. He won a contract to print all official notices and records for the Pennsylvania Assembly. Franklin was also a community organizer and local businessman. He started the first circulating library in America, along with a volunteer fire company, the first hospital, and the first academy in America. His ability made him a marked man among people. He was appointed Secretary of the Pennsylvania Assembly and later Postmaster of Philadelphia. He was able to stop the money loss on unclaimed mail by printing in his newspaper the names of people who had mail waiting for them. When he was 24, he married Mrs. Deborah Read, with whom he had one child, William. After all that, he developed a simple and accurate way of keeping post office accounts.

    Ben Franklin was still very interested in reading, but he was also an inventor and scientist. He wrote and published the book Poor Richards Almanac. He often scorned his own advice about going to bed early because of his perpetual business. He had long hated the discomfort of homes half-heated by the drafty fireplaces; he therefore invented an iron stove. The back of this stove stood in the fireplace, but its grate extended out into the room. The Governor of Pennsylvania urged Ben to get a patent for his inventions, but he didn't. He wanted the stoves to be made cheaply so that many people could buy them. Another one of his scientific interests, along with his friends, was the force of electricity. Not much was then known about it. When a European scientist found a way to store electricity in jars or tubes, Ben ordered some of the tubes and set up a lab in his house. As he experimented, he suddenly realized that lightning could be a discharge from the clouds. In 1752, he sent an account of his idea to scientists in London, England, and Paris, France.

    To test his newfangled theory, Franklin and his son, William, went out into a meadow during a thunderstorm, flew a kite into the air, and brought an electrical charge down the kite's wet string. He then stored the charge into a jar of water and hooked a wire to the jar. Next, he hooked the wire to a bell, making it ring and proving true his idea of electricity from the sky. Because of all that, he was awarded honorary degrees from Yale, Harvard, and the College of William and Mary. He next invented the lightning rod to protect buildings from lightning bolts. In 1753, he was made Deputy Postmaster for all 13 colonies. At once, he began to visit Post Offices and improve the mail service. He put his bookkeeping system into every Post Office, hired more postal workers, and made them feel that carrying mail was important. Instead of delivering letters from town to town only twice during the winter, he had mail delivered every week.

    When the French and Indian War started, Ben Franklin had aroused Pennsylvanians to their danger. He started volunteer companies of soldiers drilling on the green and had guns placed on the Delaware River to deter French vessels. When the British troops landed in Virginia in 1753, Franklin gave them important aid by hiring wagons to carry supplies. All taxpayers in Pennsylvania were helping to pay for the expensive defense work, with the exception of owners of large tracts of land. To persuade the Penn family to pay their share, Franklin was sent to London. He was in London when he heard about the British victory in the French and Indian War. He returned home, only to find that a new quarrel had broken out between Pennsylvania and the Penn family. In 1765, after he landed in England again, Parliament had passed the Stamp Act, resulting in a fury of protests. When Americans refused to buy the stamps, Franklin was called over to the English House of Commons for questioning. He presented the case so clearly and reasonably that he was influential in convincing England to repeal the Stamp Act.

    For ten years, Benjamin Franklin was America's most important representative in England. He teased the British about their ignorance of America by writing funny, exaggerated stories in newspapers. In Germany and France, he was welcomed not only as a scientist, but also as a champion of liberty. In 1775, one year after the death of his wife Deborah and just after the battles of Lexington and Concord, Franklin returned to Philadelphia. He became the Postmaster of the thirteen colonies, a member of the Second Continental Congress, and was appointed to a Committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence, of which he was a signer. Before he left for France in 1776, he lent Congress 4,000 pounds of his own money to be used for various projects.

    From the moment he entered the French capital of Paris, "The Doctor Franklin", as he was called there, was swarmed by admiring visitors, and his simple dignity appealed to everyone. He worked very hard, first securing formal recognition for his country, and then persuading the French of the advantages of an alliance. His wisdom and affectionate understanding of the French people made him a successful diplomat. The Treaty of Alliance was signed on February 6, 1778, and Franklin was the outstanding person at the celebration at the royal palace one month later, on March 20, 1778. King Louis XVI told everyone that France was America's friend and would help fight for America's freedom in the Revolutionary War. Five years later, the war was over, and Ben Franklin, among others, signed the Peace treaty. When he came home in 1785, he brought with him tender farewell messages from the French, as well as a gift from the King.

     In Philadelphia, when Benjamin Franklin landed, a tremendous crowd swamped him. Old and frail as he was, he became President of the Pennsylvania State Assembly and a member of the Constitutional Convention. When members of the convention would disagree, a word from Mr. Franklin would calm them down. When the Constitution was drafted in 1787, Franklin was one of the signers. Over the years, people like George Washington, John Adams, James Madison, and other prominent Americans visited Mr. Franklin. They enjoyed his books, the rockers he had made for his armchair, and a chair which would turn into a stepladder for reaching books. Even though he was often too ill to get around, he loved his friends, wrote newspaper articles, and penned his famous autobiography.

    Benjamin Franklin's last public act, as President of the Penn State Society, was to carve his signature onto a memorial to the State Legislature for the 1780 abolition of negro slavery. When he died from pleurisy on April 17, 1790, at the age of 84, the world around knew it had lost one of the first and foremost sons of liberty.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Remembering Lucy Knight of 'ER'

I never met a girl who makes me feel the way that you do.
You're all right!
The Temptations, "Get Ready," 1966

    There is something to be said for the notion of cinema being life, and the rest being a review of the silver screens. The construction of alternate realities mirroring circumstances and personal aspects surrounding many people does strike deep. When you think about it, your own eyes(to say nothing of your car's wind-shield) are 3D theatrical screens in a way, showing you many views and perspectives of the world. You can truly thank the Lord, in his infinite wisdom, for that.

    I've always been more of a TV series guy than anything else. Some of my favourites include "Fresh Prince of Bel Air," "Newhart," and "All in the Family." These days, I get into "Better Call Saul," as well as the comedy shows of Bill Maher's and John Oliver's. Stepping into the wayback machine for the purpose of this article, in the year I was 16, I watched old episodes of the TV medical drama "ER," which served as a unique, kaleidoscopic view of society. For a young person like me, that show blew some of my mind's doors off of their hinges. Naturally, I had favourite characters, those being Lucy Knight(Kellie Martin, of "Life Goes on" fame) and Robert "Rocket" Romano(Paul McCrane, of "Fame" fame and last seen in "Atlas Shrugged, Part II"). This month marks 17 years since the airing of the two episodes in which the former, my favourite of the two, was killed off. That was an important moment in my life, in a lot of ways. For some reason, I'm feeling compelled to type this all out right now. So now, kiddies, let's take a journey through the looking glass...

    My father had long been insistent that we watch this show. We had the first season of it on the DVD shelf for years, so it seemed a logical conclusion. As I had gotten myself into hot water over school grades, I decided I might as well acquiesce to 'ER.' The show started off serious, yet engaging. The characters and story lines were easy to get into, sort of like Campbell's soup flavours that way. Lots of interesting side characters came and went, never staying on long enough to engender feelings of attachment.

    The entrance of the Anna Del Amico(Maria Bello) character at the end of the third season added a certain something to the show that was not there before. She was the first one who was, inside and out, decidedly not unattractive--Qualities I'd never seen on the show before. Don't get me wrong, there were plenty of average, inoffensive women on the show, but this was new. As I saw one of the patients embarrass himself with...shall we say uncontrolled excitement, the seed was inadvertently planted in my head, puns intended, regarding whether or not she was 'all that.' However, it was all clear from the beginning that she was, like the Tom Petty song, too good to be true. At the beginning of the fifth season, she was out, but someone else was in. Someone who grabbed my attention instantly.

    As Johnny Rivers sang in 1967, "She stepped out of the rainbow, golden hair shinin' like moon-glow." After all, before there was Erin Burnett, among others, there was Lucy Knight: A stand-out face in the crowd running out from the subway terminal to help someone in need. With swiftness and deftitude, her actions helped stabilize a badly injured old man lying across the pavement. She was certainly not lacking in looks, being easily the most attractive lady the show ever had as a cast member. Moreover, she had a good, easy-going, compassionate nature and a desire to help people in any way possible. In these ways, she ably emerged in my mind as a sort of a female ideal--Somebody who typified all those things I grew to like about women.

    But there was something else that jumped out at me, something that rubbed me the wrong way as I was watching. Being new as she was to medical environs, she bumbled and stumbled through both small and large situations and procedures, some serious and some not as much. For me, it was like looking into a mirror. My inner self told me "You know, you two are a LOT alike!" I angrily shot back "NO, I'm NOT!" It was an unavoidable truth, though. For perspective, I wasn't doing well getting Geometric concepts down that year, bumbling and stumbling similar to how she was. I felt like I was watching the female version of myself in a doctor's coat, and to say it wasn't fun would be to understate things.
    By the beginning of Season 6, though, I was finally ready to put all those things behind me and embrace the new girl as someone to like. She had grown as a character--Someone who did good teamwork with Dr John Carter(Noah Wyle) in an effort to track down a dad with a rare blood type, and was actually willing to bang on the acerbic Dr. Romano's door at 3-ish AM for the sake of a dying patient. That's somebody to love. Why wouldn't I try to get past my own personal insecurities and prejudices?

"And fate is setting up the Chessboard, while death rolls out the dice.
Anyone for tennis? Wouldn't that be nice?
Cream, "Anyone for Tennis," 1968

    On the eve of New Year 2011, as I was looking up pictures of the cast for a possible YouTube video(the finished product was recalled--could never get any song I liked to mesh with that show), I unearthed spoilers that would ruin the show for me. The biggest one for me, by far, was learning that Knight was slated to be brutally killed off in the middle of the 6th season, the season I had just started to watch. I had no expectations for the new year, which set the stage even more. Imagine starting out a new year with a sense of foreboding regarding somebody you had just grown to like. It wasn't fun.
    The episode was as bad as I had expected, and plunged me into the depression I now consider my reality. In defense of 'ER,' if it weren't that, it would have been something else, and maybe much worse--My dear friend Tim died 8 months after I saw those episodes. There are ways I could be more sideways, perhaps even dare I say sunk, than I am right now. Just imagine if I'd seen those episodes without benefit of a spoiler! Again, not fun considerations.

    I never begrudged, nor would I ever do such, Kellie Martin for her leaving the show. Given circumstances that were said to be in play at that time(family medical issues, and such of the like), it was clearly the best decision. Those times that I've seen her name in the news, I am very happy with what I see. No, the ones I have the problem with are producers who wrote such a rotten script. Given that she was posthumously accepted as a psych resident, you could have had her going out in a happier way than this. Then again, I don't write scripts for TV shows. There's a reason for that, I guess. All I do is create fictional alter-egos and other characters to act out roles in my own alternate universe. I'd love to be a fiction writer that merges Norman Rockwell-esque sentimentality with Piers Anthony/Alan Dean Foster sci-fi stuff, all written in the style of the rock music biographies I so loved in my teen years.

    Her death started the transformation of 'ER' from serious medical drama to just another carny-like excursion in pointlessness, by the end of its run completely fading into the backdrop of all the other sudsy, soap-operatic piffle that constitutes modern daytime TV. That trend continued with the departure of Carol Hathaway(Julianna Margulies, an acting mainstay on daytime TV) later on in season 6 and the cancer-death of Mark Green(Anthony Edwards, of "Top Gun" fame), and was finally cemented into place with the rather ridiculous, to say nothing of unrealistic, death of Robert "Rocket" Romano. At this point, I cut out of the charade.
    Really, though, it was the introduction of two characters in Season 6, Abby Lockhart(Maura Tierney, of “News Radio” fame) and Luka Kovach(Goran Visnjik), that set in motion all the silliness, and I spotted it off the bat. From Knight's death on out, the producers could have just named every episode of the show "Abby Road," "Dear Abby," or some other stupid variation of the name. While not bad people, the clear intention of these characters was to take the show where it should not have gone, transforming it into "Love Boat" in a doctor's office(Perhaps "Calling Dr. Love" would have been a good name for this show?). Matter of factly, it was only recently that I began to take anything good from my 'ER'-watching experiences, the framed pictures I've had of Knight and Romano on my wall notwithstanding.

    Maybe it was my continued shock over watching her TV death years ago that was at the root of the visceral reaction of horror and pure sadness I had at the murder of Pop singer Christina Grimmie this past Summer. It felt way too real, as well as being a continuation of the theme of wonderful people being taken out too young, before they can make the best impacts on this world. Grimmie, like Lucy Knight, had her whole life ahead of her and endless opportunities to do good things. Both were even close to the same age when they were brutally cut down, and had surviving parents. To paraphrase something I said in a previous posting on Grimmie, they were both somebody's children. Then again, I suppose one should give less weight to Knight, as she was a character in a TV show. Still, the point remains.

    As I type this, I feel like it is 2011 all over again. I'm standing in a dirt-floored Flea Market, and am holding in my hand an old-fangled Mike & the Mechanics cassette tape. I'm still thinking of her a month after watching those episodes. Surreal how trips down memory lane work.

    Coming back to the present day, was watching a short clip from the show a short time ago(How NOT to Present a Patient), and it was everything I remember of her and the show's classic period, with hindsight serving matters even better than wild dreams. While I still regrettably have the anxieties and foibles I saw in myself watching her years ago, I handle it better at 22 than I did at 16. As such, I'm not inclined to knee-jerkishly dislike her for what I see--To the contrary, I can identify, even if watching her in action is still a little uncomfortable. Besides, I'd hope that I can compensate with the better parts of her persona: Good naturedness, a willingness to help, and to go above and beyond to make sure things get done as they should. Of course, whether or not I do is up for others and God to judge, and not myself.

"Presenting a case is like telling good stories: Succinct, focused, and to the point."--Dr. Robert Romano to Lucy Knight, after an botched attempt at presenting a patient

    All right, end of this rant. Some people say I should keep my feelings to myself. I think not.