April 16, 2010

The Iceland Volcano

The ash-cloud from the volcano in Iceland that is shutting down air-travel in parts of Europe reminds me that Ben Franklin may have been the first to theorize that a 1783 Icelandic eruption caused the cool weather and poor harvest in England that year. (Much like the 1991 Pinatubo eruption in the Philippines made the summer of 1992 in Chicago the coolest I experienced, with a notable dust haze in the sky all year). Franklin was in his late 70s at the time. 

As I've mentioned before, Franklin's life story is the most comically upbeat that I am familiar with. He just goes from one triumph to another well into old age. He negotiates the favorable Treaty of Paris settling the Revolutionary War, and then, en passant back to America, discovers the link between volcanoes and climate, maps the Gulf Stream, and invents bifocals.

61 comments:

RandyB said...

America and Israel are the only countries on earth founded largely by scientists. I think you can clearly see their influence in our Constitution.

Shawn said...

He also banged a lot of hot chicks. Let's not forget that, man.

kritisk_borger said...

Well the manmade climate change believers have got themselves a convenient “excuse” then if the temperature in the future drops significantly. They can just blame the volcano.

Whiskey said...

It was not upbeat Steve. That's just the stuff you see on the surface. His oldest son, who he adored, broke with him over the Revolution (was a Tory, and died in poverty in London). Other children died. His wife died. He was sick and tired, and plagued with pain, during the Revolution, including the committees that delegated the writing of the Declaration, and in considerable pain during his Paris Ambassadorship, by all contemporary accounts.

Age brings everyone tragedy.

Anonymous said...

Whereas Israel's Constitution (or lack thereof) is a laughginstock.

So I'm not sure what that proves.

Anonymous said...

I have tried to explain to my European friends the extent of Franklin's genius by describing him as an American Da Vinci -- but they don't get it nor do they believe me.

Which is ironic because in his very day -- Franklin was a rock star on the Continent.

James Kabala said...

I think the permanent break with his son certainly clouded his later years.

Luke Lea said...

The more you learn about Franklyn the more impressive he is. A talented writer, btw, in a variety of genres, from the time he was sixteen -- and with only one year of formal education (or was it two?)! The Library of America volume of his writings is well worth reading.

Anonymous said...

And now, the countdown to:

Your comments about 'Old Ben' are further evidence of the elementary school indictrination you chaps over there just can't seem to overcome. I mean, this mere printer's apprentice was no Burke, Hume, or Carlyle, after all.

Don't you realize that, like all colonials, Franklin was only a thinker in the crudest possible sense, and in fact, a tinkerer more than a thinkerer ("hah hah, good one, that!").

--drearieme

Anonymous said...

Im in southern England and the temp is hovering just above feezing, coldest its been for weeks.

You could see a haze low on the horizon at sunset, Im guessing thats the fallout.

The sky has been incredible today, clear blue. And clear into the evening and night, stars, Venus, Moon very, very clear. There is still a total ban on jet flights (one light plane flew over low today and a police helicopter, thats all). After 48 hours without flights the sky is so clear makes you wonder just how much crap jet flight is dumping into the sky.

Ive checked with a couple of friends, one south in London and one in Manchester, 200 miles north, its the same there.

John Craig said...

And he evidently got a lot of babes on the side.

Jim Bowery said...

And he did it all on the backs of slaves so none of it counts.

Mr. Anon said...

"RandyB said...

America and Israel are the only countries on earth founded largely by scientists. I think you can clearly see their influence in our Constitution."

I wouldn't say "largely". Franklin, Jefferson - both gentlemen scientists. But was there anyone else? I'm not aware of them.

Some british sources have named Franklin as a spy in the service of the crown:

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,945157,00.html

Although perhaps this is only an early example of disinformation, intended to discredit an enemy.

Dr. Freelance said...

Steve (or anyone else), any recommendations on the best book(s) about Ben Franklin? He's been on the list of historical figures I need to get up to speed on.

Anonymous said...

Its just after 4am in the UK, now freezing outside here in S. England. Volcano effect, or is that too soon?

Anonymous said...

Jim Bowery,

Dont forget that it was Ben Franklin's black slave who was holding the kite when Ben discovered electricity. So help me God an Afrocentric-devotee has told me that with a straight face, and informed me that Franklin got most of his knowledge from this forgotten historical figure.


And by the way, Beethoven was half-black, and the ancient Egyptians had spaceships and electricity.



Drearime,
Edison was also a tinkerer, as was Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and many other trailblazers. Thats one of the things that is so charming about America, people are allowed to rise through the ranks based on merit and not born social class. Steve Jobs and Wozniak weren't exactly born with silver spoons, and love em' or hate em', look at what they have accomplished. We ought teach our young men especially about the lives of men like Franklin and Tesla instead of Jordan and Tupac.

Anonymous said...

Franklin was an unusual genius because of his balance of left brain AND right brain output. That is very Da Vinci-like.

The franklin stove is another chapter in his career. If you have ever lived in a northern climate than you understand the raw genius of its design. They are sold today in large numbers.

Stop and think for a minute on how rare it is to design a piece of simple hardware that is still in use centuries later.

Anonymous said...

larger neighboring katla volcano could be pushed into eruption mode by the smaller one going off now.....mount st helens type situation if that happens....

there is an interesting connection between french revolution and enormous volcano that went off in 1783 or whatever it was and worsened the famine....

yes volcanoes do trigger famines which in turn triggers political upheaval.......

Anonymous said...

Benjamin Franklin's Observations on Weather and Volcanoes:

http://bingweb.binghamton.edu/~naslund/Franklin1789.html

SFG said...

Good point about the Franklin stove. One of the problems with being an engineering genius is that your inventions eventually get superseded by future engineering geniuses...not too many people could tell you who Hero of Alexandria or Newcomen are today.

Even though engineering geniuses probably contribute more to the standard of living at any given time than anyone else. Really.

kritisk_borger said...

On a more serious note though, several experts are worried that a second, bigger volcano right next to the one that just had an eruption, could come to life and cause some real serious damage to the area. Hopefully that doesn’t happen just yet, but sooner or later it will.

Glad I’m not living in Europe anymore :-)

ironrailsironweights said...

It's amusing how the volcano in question seems to have been renamed simply "the Icelandic volcano." You apparently have to be from Iceland in order to spell or pronounce its name.

Peter

Anonymous said...

"And he evidently got a lot of babes on the side.

How come people praise behavior like that?That is ghetto behavior.
The guy was a total scumbag.
I am so sick of people talking about Christianity and then admiring this guy of behavior.

Brent Lane said...

When I reflect on the men who led this nation in its infancy - Franklin, Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, the Adamses, etc. - it becomes clear to me how the idea of American Exceptionalism came into being.

Then when I reflect on the men and women who lead this nation today, it becomes clear that American Exceptionalism, if it ever truly existed, is now a rotting corpse with a stake driven through its heart - a fate that I fear America itself will inevitably share in the foreseeable future.

Anonymous said...

Read Schiff's A Great Improvisation for the story of Franklin's negotiations with France following the Revolutionary War. We forget how vulnerable the US was at the time. Franklin was negotiating from a position of weakness, but through bluff and wit he was able to commit the French to a treaty over the efforts of Britain. He was working on a dozen fronts at the same time and did this at age 70 with no experience, and he was up against masters of intrigue in Europe.

Could, say, Murray Gell-Mann have done that? Not a chance. And don't even talk about our present diplomatic corps.

Pyroclastic Serge said...

Dopey AP news service reported the volcano activity in the past couple of days like it was a blizzard or hurricane passing through Europe: "could last through the weekend"...

But this volcano could keep rockin for weeks. Or months. Or...who knows. Activity period is unknown and outside the control of EU mandarins.

The only known remedy for this situation is to appease the gods by throwing bankers into the volcano.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volcanic_eruption

josh said...

Who would you have play him in a movie? He is always portayed as a fat old guy,who has lots of women. Hmm..I dont suppose Larry King--too skeletal,too Jewish. Mel? It might work,if you throw in all the women and politics. Theres a lot of interest in the constitution these days...for some reason. he was quite inventive,and re the comment;"Stop and think...how rare it is to design a simple piece of hardware that is still in use centuries later." So I guess you're not familiar with the work of Seigfreid Dildo?

Dan Kurt said...

re:"Some british sources have named Franklin as a spy in the service of the crown:

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,945157,00.html [This link returns: (The page you've requested has been moved or taken off the site.
We apologize for the inconvenience.).]

Although perhaps this is only an early example of disinformation, intended to discredit an enemy." Mr. Anon

Franklin was a British spy. The telling of the story cost a historian a brilliant career. Cecil B. Currey wrote two books that present the case of Franklin the British spy:
Code Number 72/Ben Franklin: Patriot or Spy?
and,
Road to revolution: Benjamin Franklin in England, 1765-1775

Currey swept through the British Archives and found the "pay stubs" of Franklin's blood money. John Jay suspected Franklin's duplicity but never was able to prove his suspicions. Both books are terrific reads and worth the time as they reinforce the uncommon perception: the truth of history is hid behind a veil as what appears to be true is unlikely to be such.

Both books are available on Amazon, cheap.

Dan Kurt

bryanD said...

I like Franklin because once he achieved a certain level of material comfort rather early in life due his own energy, he spent the rest of his life doing what he damn well pleased and at his own speed without ever being Unhelpful.
(No matter what his fellow American delegates to France thought!)

About "banging all those" chicks. LOL! Yeah, him and Super K (Henry Kissinger)! I believe that reputation was image management by Frankin himself Against Calvinist Type aimed at the court and subjects of the Most Catholic king of France. In other words, we're not fellow crusaders in spirit with England; we're Moderates, we like siestas, we take long meals, etc.

But yes, Franklin was definitely into cheap thrills.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't say "largely". Franklin, Jefferson - both gentlemen scientists. But was there anyone else? I'm not aware of them.

A few off the top of my head.

Benjamin Rush, Professor of Chemistry at Penn, author of a textbook on chemistry, surgeon, Professor of Medicine, etc.

John Witherspoon - a little more at philosophy than what we would now call "science" [although Scots philosophy is much more practical than most].

BTW, Witherspoon's son, James, died at Germantown, and is buried next to General Nash, in the Towamencin Mennonite cemetery [which presence, to this day, the Mennonites are not exactly crazy about].

Along those lines, I don't know how closely related the North Carolina Nashes [Francis and Abner] were to the West Virginia Nashes, but I have always wondered about this.

There was a Welsh-American physician, John Morgan, who was the founder of the medical school at Penn & also a founder of the American Philosophical Society, but I don't know how closely related he was to the Welsh-American general, Daniel Morgan.

Anyway, some good sites to peruse include Penn in the 18th Century and the APS website.

PS: A little off-topic, but Thomas Jackson was a Professor of Natural & Experimental Philosophy at VMI.

PPS: Is it true that Alexander Hamilton's mother was once married to a German Jew, or is that just Wikipedia graffiti/vandalism?

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't say "largely". Franklin, Jefferson - both gentlemen scientists. But was there anyone else? I'm not aware of them.

A few off the top of my head.

Benjamin Rush, Professor of Chemistry at Penn, author of a textbook on chemistry, surgeon, Professor of Medicine, etc.

John Witherspoon - a little more at philosophy than what we would now call "science" [although Scots philosophy is much more practical than most].

BTW, Witherspoon's son, James, died at Germantown, and is buried next to General Nash, in the Towamencin Mennonite cemetery [which presence, to this day, the Mennonites are not exactly crazy about].

Along those lines, I don't know how closely related the North Carolina Nashes [Francis and Abner] were to the West Virginia Nashes, but I have always wondered about this.

There was a Welsh-American physician, John Morgan, who was the founder of the medical school at Penn & also a founder of the American Philosophical Society, but I don't know how closely related he was to the Welsh-American general, Daniel Morgan.

Anyway, some good sites to peruse include Penn in the 18th Century and the APS website.

PS: A little off-topic, but Thomas Jackson was a Professor of Natural & Experimental Philosophy at VMI.

PPS: Is it true that Alexander Hamilton's mother was once married to a German Jew, or is that just Wikipedia graffiti/vandalism?

dearieme said...

Sorry, anon, I just can't compete with satire of the order of "America and Israel are the only countries on earth founded largely by scientists."

supacheekay said...

worse not better .. iceland volcano fox news headline:

*no end in sight*

also:

*obama cancels trip to poland*

5pm est sat apr 17 2010

Anonymous said...

America and Israel are the only countries on earth founded largely by scientists. I think you can clearly see their influence in our Constitution.



Uh .... what?

Nobody studies history anymore.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't say "largely". Franklin, Jefferson - both gentlemen scientists. But was there anyone else? I'm not aware of them.

A few off the top of my head.


---------------------------



That's all you got? I suspect the Soviet Revolution had more genuine scientists involved in it than that.



John Witherspoon - a little more at philosophy than what we would now call "science"


Well, yeah. He was actually a clergyman. So you might as well claim that America was founded largely by clergymen.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure that once Iceland's debts are forgiven, it might be arranged for the volcano to helpfully ..... stop.

Heh heh heh.

Tom said...

Franklin wasn't "just" an engineering genius, he was one of the preeminent scientists of his time. He also became an abolitionist later in life, though apparently, he managed to do this while still owning slaves, another mark of genius I suppose.

Anonymous said...

@dearime,

Actually, I'll go along with you on this one. Saying that America was founded largely by scientists makes the story of little George Washington and the Cherry Tree seem like documented history by comparison.

Still, I felt like having a larf, and you've asked for a bit of satirizing yourself, or is that "satirising."

--drearie

Anonymous said...

President George Washington racks up $300,000 late fee for two Manhattan library books
BY Rich Schapiro
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Saturday, April 17th 2010, 4:00 AM
nydailynews.com

...Two centuries ago, the nation's first President borrowed two tomes from the New York Society Library on E. 79th St. and never returned them, racking up an inflation-adjusted $300,000 late fee...

On Oct. 5, 1789, Washington borrowed the "Law of Nations," a treatise on international relations, and Vol. 12 of the "Commons Debates," which contained transcripts of debates from Britain's House of Commons...

Anonymous said...

Franklin was a British spy...John Jay suspected Franklin's duplicity but never was able to prove his suspicions.

Someone in the comments box always brings this up every time Steve posts on Franklin. Like it's a devastating secret that forever banishes Ben from the circle of the Founding Fathers' memory.

The smarter reaction is "eh". It should not surprise anyone who knows anything about the man to learn that Franklin was working both sides of the street--to some extent. Please, please remember--in addition to being a scientist and diplomat and everything else, he was above all a political boss in Pennsylvania, certainly the political boss of Philly, and quite capable of backdoor deals when and as needed. Contact with British intelligence (or even a little money taken from them) would not mean that he was not a supporter of the Revolution; the more likely explanation is that he might have been setting up an 'insurance policy' in case the Revolution failed, for himself and indirectly for Pennsylvania. As a middleman, with inside connections on both sides, he could be in a position to arrange a moderate settlement.

Anonymous said...

Well, yeah. He was actually a clergyman.

All of the people in [what we would now call] the humanities were essentially clergymen until well into the 19th Century.

The idea of a non-clerical humanities professor is very recent in nature.

[And to the extent that all university people now believe - most passionately - in nonsense like the myth of global warming, it's entirely accurate to point out that they are STILL nothing but clergymen - it's just that the nature of the underlying religion has changed so dramatically (for the worse).]

Anonymous said...

That's all you got? I suspect the Soviet Revolution had more genuine scientists involved in it than that.

In the era we are talking about, "science" [as you undoubtedly choose to use the term] hadn't even been invented yet.

17th Century scientists were so rare that, from a statistical point of view, they didn't even exist - and yet we had very prominent, self-financed scientists and philosophers, like Franklin, Rush, and Witherspoon, whose signatures are on our founding documents.

By contrast, fast forward to the modern era, when everyone and their brother is a scientist - when we [quite literally] have a surfeit of scientists coming out of our ears - and ask youself: When was the last time we had a member of Congress who wrote a book on chemistry, or discovered a fundamental "force" of nature, or could engage in a discourse on the philosophy of science?

[You know, come to think of it, I might actually know the answer to that question.]

Anonymous said...

Glad I’m not living in Europe anymore :-)

Good, then I wont worry you by mentioning that super volcano lurking under Yellowstone. And you won't look it up.

Anonymous said...

I don't think he even patented the Franklin Stove.

I would probably have liked to be a slave for Franklin than work in a terrible factory during the Industrial Revolution as a "free" wage earner.
Why do we give the Capitalists credit then when they killed so many people in their factories and mines? Slaves were an asset while they factory owner didn't care if you died because there was someone else to take their place.Both were unpleasant lifestyles.

David said...

>Who would you have play him in a movie?<

Orson Welles did so twice. (1, 2.)

Mr. Anon said...

"Dan Kurt said...

Franklin was a British spy.

................

Both books are available on Amazon, cheap.

Dan Kurt"

Thanks for the tip. I'll check them out.

Anonymous said...

Another possibility is that Franklin was working as what we would now call a double-agent.

Jonathan said...

Franklin also had a special genius for networking and self-promotion, two traits that hye shared with George Washington.

Captain Jack Aubrey said...

Well, yeah. [Witherspoon] was actually a clergyman. So you might as well claim that America was founded largely by clergymen.

Well, yeah you could.

Anonymous said...

He also became an abolitionist later in life, though apparently, he managed to do this while still owning slaves, another mark of genius I suppose.

Maybe he figured that with slavery still legal, it served little purpose for him to free slaves. Chasing short-term menial jobs offered by the least-lowest-bidding employee isn't necessarily a much better fate for unskilled, illiterate, ununionized freedmen. I don't know myself, but I surmise that that was the opinion of a lot of slaveowning abolitionists.

Anonymous said...

"the more likely explanation is that he might have been setting up an 'insurance policy' in case the Revolution failed, for himself and indirectly for Pennsylvania. As a middleman, with inside connections on both sides, he could be in a position to arrange a moderate settlement."

Where do you come up with this malarky? If the revolution failed, every person who signed the Declaration of Independence would have been hung. Franklin would be in no position to cut a deal with anyone. He parked his hiney in France, because without the support of the French the war would have ended in a quick victory for the Brits, via a massacre of Americans.

Anonymous said...

I think some of you need to brush up on your knowledge of Ben Franklin. He had interpersonal challenges, just like you and me:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABFQ-T3uAVI

David Davenport said...

... Against Calvinist Type aimed at the court and subjects of the Most Catholic king of France. In other words, we're not fellow crusaders in spirit with England; we're Moderates, we like siestas, we take long meals, etc.

Brn. F. was a Quaker. Quakers were not at all Calvinist. You don't know much about Christian denominations.

And why did Franklin make his entrance at the Versailles wearing a dark, solid color coat and breeches and a rustic fur hat -- an outfit his contemporaries called a "Quaker suit," if he was dressing to make a sophisticated, oh-so-European impression?

I wouldn't say "largely". Franklin, Jefferson - both gentlemen scientists.

PS: A little off-topic, but Thomas Jackson was a Professor of Natural & Experimental Philosophy at VMI.


Better known as Gen. Stonewall Jackson. He taught math ... probably not very advanced mathematics.

John Witherspoon - a little more at philosophy than what we would now call "science"


"Natural philosopher" was the term in use in the 18th century, instead of "scientist."

Natural philosophy was a gentleman's hobby or avocation. There were very few full time natural philosophers.

This was changing by the 1850's, when Jackson was a math prof.


I would probably have liked to be a slave for Franklin than work in a terrible factory during the Industrial Revolution as a "free" wage earner.
Why do we give the Capitalists credit then when they killed so many people in their factories and mines? Slaves were an asset while they factory owner didn't care if you died because there was someone else to take their place.Both were unpleasant lifestyles.


You do realize that precisely that line of thought was presented as an excuse for slavery in the Olde South, don't you?

Read 1854's "Sociology For the South" by Virgina lawyer and slave owner George Fitzhugh.

Conveniently available from Amazon:

Sociology For The South: Or The Failure Of Free Society (1854) by George Fitzhugh (Hardcover - Dec. 7, 2009)
Buy new: $45.95 $34.92

9 new from $30.973 used from $36.37


Fitzhugh is credited with coining the word "sociology," by the way. Kind of ironic in that most sociologists nowadays are Commies.

Anonymous said...

Where do you come up with this malarky? If the revolution failed, every person who signed the Declaration of Independence would have been hung.

It's "hanged" not "hung". But in any event, try reading your history better. That "lives, fortunes and sacred honor" pledge was quite literal...for about two years. Google "Carlisle Peace Commission". By 1778, the North government in London had changed its position so that after Saratoga, in fact possibly before it even learned of Burgoyne's defeat, the peace terms were as generous as could be imagined: basically the British would give the colonists everything they had been asking for and more; And by "everything" I mean everything: all the taxes repealed, formal declaration by Parliament of no jurisdiction, repeal of the Quebec Act and a
greenlight to western settlement. They would even give blanket
amnesties across the board, not just general ones but specific ones to Patriot leaders, and would have sold the Tory Loyalists
down the river (which in the end analysis Whitehall did anyway).

Only independence was not on offer, and even that was on the table in a de facto sort of way, since obviously the status quo ante bellum could not be revived. Basically the Carlisle mission would have given the Patriots as much self-rule as they wanted as long as they kept some nominal allegiance to the crown.

It was too late. By that point in the war, de jure Independence was too popular and too central
to the revolutionary movement to consider even the most generous
peace terms. Nevertheless, by the fall of '78, the Founders were not really in danger of getting tried for treason.

Anonymous said...

"Natural philosopher" was the term in use in the 18th century, instead of "scientist."

My point was that Witherspoon was closer to what we would now call a philosopher, whereas Rush was closer to what we would now call a scientist.

But even within those divisions, I'm quite confident that Witherspoon wouldn't have had any problem holding his own in a conversation about what we would now call the Philosophy of Science.

Anonymous said...

Somewhat on topic, but Joseph
Smith (yeah that one) was saved
as a young boy by a ground breaking surgery to remove a bone infection which was unheard of in its day. This was performed at Dartmouth Med. School in the early 19th century. Now to this day, the area where Dartmouth is is semi-rural to think of how it was then.

Now my point is that something very special was going on in the old America, small rural populations with access to full literacy and fledgling medicine and science. Europeans don't get it, since all they know about America they get from T.V.

Anonymous said...

Guys like Darwin didn't seem to get hung up on the science/philosophy angle, I think they still thought they were hunting truth rather than creating B.S.

James Kabala said...

David Davenport: Franklin was neither a Calvinist (although he was raised as one in Boston) nor a Quaker. The French thought he was a Quaker because he played up the "just a plain Pennsylvanian" image, but he was never a member of the Society of Friends.

When a young man he worked out an elaborate sytem (somewhat similar to Mormonism, now that I think of it) in which there were many gods and each ruled his own solar system, but as an adult he was a Deist/proto-Unitarian, although I believe he occasionally attended Anglican services with his wife before her death.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous:

It's "hanged" not "hung". But in any event, try reading your history better. That "lives, fortunes and sacred honor" pledge was quite literal...for about two years. Google "Carlisle Peace Commission".

Irrelevant, since by the time the offer was on the table, it was far too late, the war was in full swing, with British casualties continuing to mount.
Who are YOU to say the author and signers of the Declaration of Independence would get off scott free by 1778 if they had, as they did, refused the offer of the Brits, but went on to lose the war?
Until the French arrived with their warships towards the very end, nobody knew how that war would conclude.
Not even you.
I think you'd be better off reading any biography on Franklin. You will come across numerous remarks regarding his concern of British retribution, and pay particular attention to his relationship with his son, a Tory. How'd that work out?
Stop with the "if grandma had wheels, she'd be a wheelbarrow" line of silly reasoning.
She doesn't, she ain't, and repeating it will only continue to deliver unintended comic results.

Skip G. said...

Steve,

Here is a temperture graph from the Summer you mentioned when Mt.Pinatudo in the Philippines
erupted:
http://ncwatch.typepad.com/.a/6a00d83451e28a69e201347fe4f8e6970c-pi

Anonymous said...

Now my point is that something very special was going on in the old America, small rural populations with access to full literacy and fledgling medicine and science.

It was a very, very special time in the annals of human history.