Friday, July 04, 2003

Happy Fourth!

Happy fourth! Looks like it's going to be a nice day; the sun is out (I got really tired of rain, there). Herewith some random thoughts, apropos of nothing in particular.

Pre-9/11, the only people who put up flags anytime but the Fourth or on Flag Day (remember that?) were the "ultra-patriot" right-wing types. Not nice people, in general. Now, it's everybody. When I was in elementary school, I was a Flag Monitor. I got to put the flag up in the morning and take it down after school. It was a big honor. Now, one of the things that a Flag Monitor had to do was learn Flag Etiquette. This includes such things as never letting the flag touch the ground, never letting it fly in the rain, never flying it at night unless it's illuminated, how to fold it, etc, etc, etc. With all the flags flying currently, seems that nobody really knows about that stuff any more. My next door neighbor, who is retired military, bought and installed a flagpole immediately after 9/11, put up a flag, and left it there until it fell apart. He's on flag #3 now, I think.

Now, patriotism is one of those things that seems to mean different things to different people. For far too many on the political Right, it means "shut up and sit down. It's unpatriotic to criticize." Now, I love this country, with all its natural beauty and wild and crazy people. This does not mean that any part of it is above criticism. I think of it as maintenance. Refusing to fix the fanbelt or radiator hose on your car isn't "respecting" the car; it's just stupid. We've got a fair number of those funny squeaky-thump noises coming from underneath things; ignoring them or claiming that it's the windshield wipers is asking for Real Trouble.

I think that the people who get all bent out of shape over things like "unpatriotic criticism" are really unsure of their own patriotism; they're trying to "prove themselves". To most of us, patriotism is such an integral part of our personalities that it simply doesn't need to be exercised, or taken out and waved around. One side effect of this is that, because I love my country, I consider it as natural and as useful as rain in springtime that other people love their countries, too. P. J. O'Rourke did an article (can't find the reference right off hand) about a trip up the Volga that he took with a bunch of old-line Socialists shortly before the fall of the Soviet Union (why???). On the same boat were a bunch of ex-Marines from New Mexico. The "all hail the Proletariat" Socialists snubbed the boat crew pretty thoroughly; the Marines and the Russians ended up getting drunk together and singing patriotic songs. For some reason, some people find this unusual.

When I was a kid, I spent summers with my grandparents in an itty-bitty town in Kansas. I would save up my money and buy a big pile of fireworks, and spend the whole day shooting them off. Some of the "night" fireworks were pretty, but the high point was always firecrackers. I never got any of the really big ones: M80s, Silver Salutes, or Two Inchers, which had the explosive force of a small piece of dynamite. While I have heard scare stories about the "inch and a half" firecrackers that I favored, they were always distant and never had any immediacy. (I've had them go off in my hand. No big deal.). Scare stories for the big ones were all too common. They really would take off a piece of your hand if they went off in it (happened to the kid brother of a friend. It wasn't a very big piece, but still.)

Now, I don't think that anybody allows firecrackers any more. Some of the rules are concerns about fire; I suspect more is simply that the people in power simply don't like loud noises. There's also the problem that firecrackers seem to create a particular kind of stupidity in some people. The kid I mentioned above found a two-incher in the oven in his kitchen; it blew up when he took it out. I had a close call with a Silver Salute one time. Looking back, somebody threw one out of a passing car and it landed at my feet. I didn't see it land, said "Oh, a Silver Salute that didn't go off", and reached down to pick it up, just as it went off. Military types -- what do they tell you about unexploded ordinance?

Ah, well. Time to head off to the picnic. Hotdogs, ice cream, and beer. Fireworks later. All nicely "safe and sane", shot off by professionals. Only thing to worry about are mosquitos.

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