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The Invention of the Pencil *

It was a dark and stormy night. A tree fell and exposed an outcropping of graphite near Borrowdale, England. It looked like lead, but it would leave a dark mark much better than lead. It was brittle so people experimented with wrapping various materials around the graphite to reinforce it. This year the German-Swiss naturalist, Canrad Gesner, describes carving wood strips to hold the graphite in place. We will have to wait until 1795 for a process to be invented that mixes graphite with clay and fired to vary the softness of the pencil. Now we can finally hold that Number 2 pencil in our mitts. [1] [2] [3]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
Just to be clear... there is no lead in pencils so you can't get lead poisoning from them. Pencils come in various hardness levels. The most common is the Number 2 pencil (using the USA numbering system) or HB pencil (using the European number-letter system). Drafting pencils are rated using the European system, from 9B which is the softest to 10H which is the hardest. I prefer a 2H pencil for general work. The more clay added to the graphite, the harder the pencil. If you can imagine the end of the world as you know it, and you must create the most simple of things from scratch, how would you ever make a pencil?

Stooping Over in Defense and Standing Tall in Victory on September 11th

As Ottoman sappers dig tunnels to set explosives under the walls of the forts on the island of Malta, the Christian Hospitallers dig their own tunnels to meet them. It is hand-to-hand combat in the dark where the tunnels meet. The Ottomans catch the worst of it, but the Christians are outnumbered and the tide of Turks is relentless. No quarter is given and none asked for. If Malta falls, all of Christendom will fall. The Turks boast that they will capture the Pope, but the Ottomans shall not pass. Winter is coming. The Turks march on a fortified city, thinking to over-winter there. The city has one shot left and they fire their cannon at the advancing troops. The Turks lose heart not wishing to face more cannon fire. They return to their ships, leaving behind 10,000 Ottomans dead and perhaps 20,000 of their allies dead. On September 11th, with 9,000 Christians still standing, they have repelled the Ottoman Turks, held fast to the strategic stronghold of Malta and saved all of Europe from an Ottoman mass invasion. [4] [5]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
I thank Buck Sexton for dedicating a podcast to describing this critical battle. When people think of the Siege of Malta they think of World War 2. Malta was a strategic location for military logistics. A small British force held off the Nazis with six obsolete Gloster Sea Gladiators and several Hawker Hurricanes (think of the Battle of Britain) which were obsoleted by the Spitfire. These men cannibalized their planes in order to keep a few fighters in repair. They named three of their planes: "Faith," "Hope," and "Charity" after the three Christian virtues mentioned in New Testament but there were more planes than the three... all of them held together with bailing wire and a prayer. [6] [7] [8] [9]

Optional comment: The science fiction novel Surface Detail by Iaim Banks imagines a series of battles in Hell, one of which is an ancient sapper fighting in the tunnels....

"There was a chorus of shouting starting further back in the tunnel and another rumbling sound. For a moment he thought it was the start of a cave-in, and felt a sickening pulse of fear run through him, even as another part of his mind thought, At least it might be quick, and that would be an end to it."[10]

The Beginning of Modern Judaism

Joseph Karo escaped from Spain in 1492 to Portugal but then had to escape to Turkey. He has published his book, The Prepared Table. (Most Jews know the book by it's Hebrew name but it's a mouthful so check the footnotes. [11]) It is a digest of Jewish Law, rulings and Spanish Jewish customs arranged by subject. The book will receive some criticism from the German Jewish community so Rabbi Karo republishes the book with notations where Spanish practice differs from German practice. This act of humility will gain him almost universal acceptance. This book is going to be a best seller and it will guide baseline Jewish practice until the early 1900s when Rabbi Israel Kagan publishes his collection updates and additions entitled "Clarified Teaching". [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
It is difficult to exaggerate the monumental influence this book has had on the Jewish community... all Jews, everywhere and not just Orthodox Jews. (FYI, Alex Shrugged is an Orthodox Jew.) Something fundamental is changing in the human mind and it's probably due to how our brain categorizes information In other words... this book is designed so that you can look things up rather than reading the book in its entirety. Most people just want to know what they are supposed to do and that is why this book is so special. It boils down lengthy religious discussions to answer the question: "So... what do I do about it?"

This Year on Wikipedia

Year 1565, Wikipedia.

See Also


  1. Pencil - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 20 April 2015. “Prior to 1565 (some sources say as early as 1500), a large deposit of graphite was discovered on the approach to Grey Knotts from the hamlet of Seathwaite in Borrowdale parish, Cumbria, England. The locals found that it was very useful for marking sheep. This particular deposit of graphite was extremely pure and solid, and it could easily be sawn into sticks. This remains the only large-scale deposit of graphite ever found in this solid form.”
  2. What 'lead' to Pencils (1565). www2.yk.psu.edu (2013). Retrieved on 20 April 2015. “The pencil was first described in 1565 by a German- Swiss naturalist, Canrad Gesner. He described it an instrument used for writing. Graphite at that time, was thought to be a type of lead, was placed into a wooden holder.”
  3. Pencil: Frequently Asked Questions. PencilPages.com (2001). Retrieved on 20 April 2015. “Though the exact date is not known for certain, the year 1565 marks the first record of a pencil consisting of a piece of graphite inserted into a wood shaft, making the first ancestor of today's pencil.”
  4. Sexton, Buck. The Buck Sexton Show: The Siege of Malta, September 11th, 1565 and Obama's ISIL Strategy. SoundCloud.com. 2014-Sep-11. Time Mark 00:08:27. (PODCAST) Length: 1:11:55. Size: 25.3 megabytes. Summary: "The Siege of Malta on September 11th has as much to do with the weather and harvest times as about the fighting. Also Buck's reaction to President Obama's pre-9-11 speech on ISIL/ISIS attack on Iraq."
  5. Great Siege of Malta - Wikipedia, 2014 [last update]
  6. Battle of Britain - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 24 April 2015. “The Luftwaffe's Messerschmitt Bf 109E and Bf 110C fought against the RAF's workhorse Hurricane Mk I and the less numerous Spitfire Mk I, Hurricanes outnumbered Spitfires in RAF Fighter Command by about two to one when war broke out.[41] The Bf 109E had a better climb rate and was up to 40 mph faster in level flight [42] than the Rotol (constant speed propellor) equipped Hurricane Mk I, depending on altitude, the speed and climb disparity with the original non Rotol Hurricane was even greater.”
  7. Hawker Hurricane variants: Mk I - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 24 April 2015. “By this time, the Hurricane was no longer a frontline fighter in the United Kingdom. However, it still saw extensive service overseas as a fighter, playing a prominent role in the Middle East and Far East. It was also critical to the defence of Malta during 1941 and early 1942.”
  8. Faith, Hope and Charity - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 24 April 2015. “The names are also the words designating the three key Christian virtues mentioned in Apostle Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 13:13)”
  9. 1 Corinthians 13 - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 24 April 2015. “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (Love is sometimes translated as charity --editor)”
  10. Banks, Iaim M., Surface Detail. New York: Orbit Books. 2010. See Chapter 2. (NOVEL) Summary: A war is fought over a series of hells, one of which is a fight on an orbital platform and another is in defense of a castle under siege.
  11. (1991) "Shulkhan Arukh", Jewish Literacy. New York: William Morrow and Co.. 
  12. Sephardim. Jewish Virtual Library (2015). Retrieved on 24 April 2015. “The descendants of Jews who left Spain or Portugal after the 1492 expulsion are referred to as Sephardim. The word 'Sephardim' comes from the Hebrew word for Spain, Sepharad, that is stated in the Bible.”
  13. Beit Yosef (book) - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 24 April 2015. “It is a long, detailed commentary on the Arba'ah Turim. It served as a precursor to the Shulchan Aruch, which Rabbi Caro wrote later in his life.”
  14. Joseph Karo. Jewish Virtual Library (2015). Retrieved on 24 April 2015. “He met and was strongly influenced by Solomon Alkabetz. Together, they created the ritual of Tikkun Leil Shavuot, the tradition of staying up all night on Shavuot evening. It was during one of these all-night rituals, that Karo was visited for the first time by his maggid, an angel who perched on his shoulder and kissed Jewish law into his mouth.”
  15. Rabbi Yosef Karo. Zissil.com (2015). Retrieved on 24 April 2015. “Rabbi Yosef Karo created very important Halachic books including the 'Bais Yosef' an encyclopedic commentary on the Tur, 'Kesef Mishna' on the Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch that became the official Code of Jewish Law. Not especially known as a Kabbalist, Rabbi Yosef Caro wad quite knowledgeable in Kabbalah and was frequently visited by an angelic Maggid who would reveal mysteries of the Torah.”
  16. Shlomo Ganzfried: Kitzur Shulchan Aruch - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 24 April 2015. “The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch is a summary of the Shulchan Aruch of Joseph Karo with reference to later commentaries, per the title page of the first edition, 'written for God-fearing Jews who are not in a position to study and comprehend the [original, full] Shulchan Aruch and its commentaries, and... composed in a Hebrew that can be easily understood.'”
  17. Mishnah Berurah - Wikipedia (2015). Retrieved on 24 April 2015. “His Mishnah Berurah is a commentary on Orach Chayim, the first section of the Shulchan Aruch which deals with laws of prayer, synagogue, Shabbat and holidays, summarizing the opinions of the Acharonim (post-Medieval rabbinic authorities) on that work.”

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