Published on
the Bangor Daily News (Maine)

Wake up and Smell the Coffee

Sometimes it's hard to understand old ways of thinking. With pretty rare exception it's difficult to imagine why anyone would put leeches on a person's body to cure them. Still, it's fascinating to examine some of these old concepts and then imagine how incredibly outside of the box the thinkers were that rejected the old notions and provided our new correct principles of today.

For example: Back in the late 18th century folks believed that when something got hot, a liquid material - heat - was actually mixed into it. This liquid heat diluted the matter causing it to expand. Think about ice melting. The prevailing wisdom wasn't that water was the liquid form of ice but that liquid heat mixed with the ice and it became wet.

Close your eyes and picture a lava flow or butter melting; early western civilization didn't know that these were simply materials changing form. No, early thinkers believed that the rock and the butter with both infused with the same additive - heat.

That is until Sir Benjamin Thompson Rumford came along. Born on this day in 1753, this American physicist constructed the theory that when things heated up tiny invisible particles inside the substance simply moved faster.


Now if that had been his only claim to fame, you might not know anything about him unless you read the same nerd journals that I like to read, but Rumford used his understanding of how heat works to invent some pretty nifty and crucially important gadgets. That's right; Old Benny Rumford took all that new knowledge about heat and invented the drip coffee maker.

And ever since, Rumford has daily impacted America.

Too bad he couldn't be trusted. See, Rumford was a spy. In fact he ended his days living in exile because he worked as a British secret agent during the American Revolution and folks here sent him away.

If Rumford had had his way, Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, Adams, Hancock - and all those other revolutionary dudes - would have gone down in history as nothing more than rogue scoundrels and terrorists.

But our founding fathers prevailed and Rumford got banished to England. Yes, that's right, our "life, liberty and pursuit of happiness" were all secured in spite of Rumford's best efforts for oh, about 224 years.

You know what I like best about history? Even when the reality is bleak you can still find things about everyday circumstances that are so downright fascinating that even the most wretched reality becomes mesmerizing.

See, 177 years - to the day - after Rumford's birth another fan of oligarchs named George would be born. Yep, today is Sandra Day O'Connor's birthday, too.

And while O'Connor didn't do anything as routinely vital as invent America's coffee makers, she did become our first woman Supreme Court Justice.

O'Connor has retired now and lives back in Phoenix, Ariz., but I think it's time for her to move. Hey, if we threw Rumford off the continent for attempting to overthrow our democracy, then O'Connor should go, too - for succeeding.

That's right, just 224 years after Rumford gave secrets betraying our nation to King George, Justice O'Connor stopped the ballot counting in Florida.

Now for some reason it's hard for many folks in our country to understand why it's such a bad thing that the right to vote that Jefferson and Madison and those guys bestowed on a free society was denied to so many Floridians.

For the life of me I can't explain to some folks why I believe stealing those votes is treason. But then I realize that I mistakenly assume that everyone values the right to vote as much as I do; as much as Franklin did. And with more folks watching the Super Bowl this year than are likely to vote for president, I'm mistaken.

So let's pretend that O'Connor didn't stop the vote counting in Florida. Let's pretend that she stopped the Super Bowl instead - like fifteen minutes early. Maybe you wouldn't care because your team would've won. But you'd still be cheating.

Now before the next crooked election, get some help from Rumford and wake up and smell the coffee.

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Pat LaMarche

Pat LaMarche

Pat LaMarche is an author, activist and advocate. She is the author of "Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States."  Her new novel, The Magic Diary, is due out in late spring.

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