- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 19, 2006

Foundering father

“Though his name sounds familiar to me,

I’m still wondering who he could be:

In the index I look

Of my history book,

But George Washington’s name I don’t see.”

F.R. Duplantier

Godspeed, Phryne

For more than a decade we’ve written of the controversy swirling around the shapely courtesan “Phryne,” a valuable nude painting that hung in the National Press Club beyond a half-century — that is, until the politically correct breed of “journalist” arrived in the nation’s capital and declared her “inappropriate” for viewing.

As former club president Richard Sammon once explained: “In many ways, she has become the Confederate flag of the National Press Club. The older members of the club [Silver Owls, they’re called] find that the painting is a connection to the past, an identity marker for the club through the years. The painting harks back to a time at the press club when the only woman in the club was a naked one hanging on a wall.”

As it was, the board of governors in 1998 voted to expel Phryne from the club, even though she’d been a member longer than anybody. And so what if she was painted by the famous Brazilian artist Antonio Parreiras? The only question remaining was how to dispose of her?

Now, Don Larrabee, a retired newspaperman from Maine — and chairman of the Fine Arts Committee of the Silver Owls, whose 700 aging members have been seeking a proper resting place for their naked lady — tells Inside the Beltway that Phryne has been sold for $80,000 to a Brazilian collector.

And far from being sore losers, the Silver Owls have kindly earmarked two-thirds of her profits to the National Press Club’s archives development project. But what impressed us most throughout this ordeal was when the Silver Owls raised $8,200 from among themselves to restore Phryne to her original glory, making sure she looked her absolute best before going on the Sloans & Kenyon auction block.

Pass the chili

This is a big week in Washington, as one of the country’s leading gastro-political lobby groups, CHILI USA (Chili Heads Interacting for Legislative Initiative), has designated Feb. 23 as National Chili Day, hoping Congress will finally proclaim the spicy concoction as America’s “official food.”

“We have an official bird, song and flower, so why not a food?” asks Fred Parker, spokesman for CHILI USA and co-founder of Hard Times Cafe. “After all, what is more representative of a culture than its food?”

He successfully argued that point more than a decade ago with former Rep. Manuel Lujan of New Mexico, who introduced the first “Chili Bill” before Congress. After it failed, a similar resolution was introduced by then-Rep. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma (now a U.S. senator), also to no avail.

This week, Mr. Parker seeks to “refocus congressional attention on an issue that has too long been on the legislative back burner.”

But why chili, and not hamburgers or apple pie?

“It’s one of this country’s proudest culinary traditions,” Mr. Parker states. “Chili was first served from chuck wagons on the Western cattle drives of the late 1800s, and soon became a national favorite. In the 1930s, this remarkable American creation went on to provide an inexpensive and nutritious meal for millions of folks during the Great Depression.

“A newspaper back then commented that during those hard times chili saved more lives than the Red Cross.”

Ben’s plan

Historians simply call it “Ben Franklin’s plan,” a handwritten document now on display at the National Archives through March 5. Why now?

It was exactly 300 years ago, in 1706, that printer, newspaperman, inventor, statesman and careless kite-flyer Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston, the 10th son of soap maker Josiah Franklin and his wife, Abiah.

At 15, Franklin apprenticed for his older brother, who had launched Boston’s first newspaper, the New England Courant. (Nobody knew it, but the young Franklin was writing letters to the paper, which proved quite popular, pretending to be an outspoken widow named “Silence Dogood.”)

In 1729, Franklin bought his own newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and four years later Poor Richard’s Almanack was born, which he packed with worldly advice — “A penny saved is a penny earned” — homilies and weather forecasts.

But it was Franklin’s Plan for the Articles of Confederation, written in his own hand, that went on display last Friday. He presented the plan, which sought to unify the Colonies as they fought for independence, to the Continental Congress in 1775, preceding the Declaration of Independence — which borrowed heavily from Franklin’s vision — by almost a year.

John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jmccaslin@washingtontimes.com.

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