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Happy Fourth of July

A bit of a time capsule: below is the post that I ran here on the blog on July 4, 2004. The kids are now heading off to college, both of them, for their freshman and sophomore years. We live in a different house, in a different state. But as mentioned yesterday, I’m cooking yet another pork shoulder today in the current backyard. My wife and her mother were drinking tea back there a few weeks ago on her most recent visit. The picnic table mentioned moved with us, but has long since been eaten by carpenter ants. I’m getting that same microscope out today, though, because there’s some interesting algae growing in the birdbath that I’d like to investigate. I’m hoping it’s Volvox, which I haven’t seen in years.

And the Declaration of Independence reads the same as it ever did, of course. I find myself, for various reasons, more dedicated than ever to upholding the ideals in it. Happy Fourth of July to my American readers, and greetings to everyone else as well!

July 4th here: my two small children are splashing around in an inflatable pool out in the yard while I check the whole pork shoulder that’s been cooking since about seven in the morning. More soaked hickory chips go in. (Where I grew up on the Delta, you can spot the barbecue restaurants because they always look as if they’re on fire.) I’ll have it with beans and my wife’s cole slaw, and there’s watermelon and homemade strawberry ice cream for dessert.

My wife and her mother are drinking tea out under an oak tree, beyond the kids’s splash radius. Next to them, on a green picnic table, I’ve set up my old microscope, a medical student model that my parents gave me when I was ten. Earlier we were looking at some pond droplets, my son and daughter dripping with pool water as they peered at rotifers and nematodes.

My son has already announced that he wants some scissors when we go back inside, because he wants to cut some of the signatures out to keep from the newpaper’s annual full-page reproduction of the Declaration of Independence. He and his sister especially like John Hancock’s, of course, and the smart remark he made when he signed it. This year I pointed out Ben Franklin’s signature, and related his line about all hanging together or all hanging separately, but I could tell that it didn’t register – as it well shouldn’t, but I couldn’t resist.

They haven’t grasped that people back then fought under terrible conditions – aren’t they all – to be rid of a king and what he represented. And they don’t realize how strange it was for a people to throw off the rule of a king and then, somehow, to avoid ending up under his replacement. (Meet the new boss!) George Orwell famously said that if you wanted to imagine the future, to picture a boot stamping on a human face, forever. But that’s an even better summary of the past. Just look at it.

What’s even stranger is that for over two hundred years we’ve continued to avoid all the kings, emperors, sultans, First Citizens, mullahs, all the other graspers and grabbers who long to be at the thick end of the whip. They’re in long supply, unfortunately. My wife and her mother, out there in the yard, are both exiles from Iran. They can tell you all about it, starting in the days of the Shah. Then they’ll go on to the days after the Shah’s portraits were crowbarred down and another loser’s stuck right up on the same spot so the paint job wouldn’t look funny.

It’s safe to say that none of us here in the back yard have any desire to be part of a restored Caliphate. The fellows who want to be in charge of it don’t look like the sort who would look kindly on this scene, and not just because of the pork shoulder. And there are plenty of others who would find it necessary to shape things up around here if they were in charge, for that matter.

That’ll serve as a test, then: anyone who’ll leave us to our own devices this July Fourth – those people are the ones welcome here, strangely enough. If you don’t give a damn, then sit down and have some strawberry ice cream. But if you think it’s your duty to set us straight, then I’ve got a section of the newspaper for you to study. It has some holes cut out of the bottom part, but the main points are still there.

24 comments on “Happy Fourth of July”

  1. Jon says:

    I may have my history a little upscrewed, but didn’t the CIA, the United States of America’s overseas “intelligence” outfit, deliberately engineer the coup that overthrew the popularly-elected (and secular) President Mossadegh and then install the Shah, while training and equipping his vicious secret police for as long as they could hold on? With American money?

    So that’s “America and Freedom for me, Kings (who play nice with international corporations) for thee”?

    And the CIA again, equipping religious fundamentalists with anti-aircraft rockets so they could overthrow an arguably popularly elected government and replace it with a religious “caliphate” in Afghanistan? Freedom of religion for us – Not so much for them. See how well that worked out?

    So I’ll be a bit cranky. America has much to recommend it – and much to apologize for. I’ll miss the strawberry ice-cream, but I do give a damn, and there are things that if I were in charge I would see about correcting. No zest in my pork, thanks! 😉

    J. Happy 4th and thanks for the blog, Dr. Lowe! ‘s appreciated.

    1. Derek Lowe says:

      That was indeed the CIA, and they’ve done worse. (You may or may not realize that my wife is Iranian – I know a good bit about the history!) But she’s also a naturalized US citizen. Like many others, she’s quite aware of the bad parts but is aware of the good parts as well, and has thrown in her lot anyway.

      1. Jon says:

        You mentioned she was Iranian in the post itself. But she’s also thrown her lot in with you, which involves also a bit of taking what you must with what you want, no? Congrats to you for finding one like that.

        Happy holiday. J.

    2. Design Monkey says:

      “popularly elected” Afganisthan government was “elected” by Soviet tanks invasion and assasination of president Amin in 1979. Giving mujahedins Stingers to off a bit of soviet aggresors was pretty worthwile use of them, actually.

    3. Dr. Doom says:

      You’ll definitely want to read up on your history. Suggested link

      TLDR is that the CIA did, in fact attempt a coup against a PM, but that PM had already engaged in undemocratic machinations that led to substantial unpopularity. In addition, the coup failed and Washington and London gave up on it. The Iranians involved in the coup then put together their own plan, which succeeded. It has served many interests to perpetuate the myth that you describe, but the history is different.

      1. Lane Simonian says:

        This is a case of historical revisionism based on the ideological beliefs of the writer.

        1. Derek Lowe says:

          Good to see you, Lane. I’m glad you’re still hanging around, post-AD-comments.

          1. Lane Simonian says:

            Thank you, Derek. I appreciate that.

            I teach a course in World history and the history of Iran has always interested me. Like the Armenians, the Iranians have suffered a great deal over the last century or so.

            One of my favorite student discussion questions was “How do we know anything in history is true?'” It has always fascinated me that one can essentially take the same set of facts and come to radically different historical conclusions. No historian is free from bias, but sometimes it is clear when someone has a specific agenda.

          2. Derek Lowe says:

            Do you know the story about Sir Walter Raleigh while he was in the Tower of London? He was planning on writing a history of the world, but one day there was some sort of huge disturbance that he could hear from his cell. He was never able to get the story of what had happened, and apparently started to wonder how anyone could write a history of anything, when he couldn’t even find out what had happened the day before right next door. . .!

          3. Lane Simonian says:

            I smiled and laughed at the Sir Walter Raleigh story. That is a good one.

      2. Design Monkey says:

        Yea, yea. War with Eastasia never existed. (c) Orwell, 1984.

        Nothing new there from you, Dr. Doom.

        1. AlloG says:

          Sir W Raleigh needs to get one of dose Iphones with Facetime like my homie Rainbow Jeremy and I use. Its not good when you have cell problems as you might miss you coonection for shanknugs

  2. Fluorine Chemist says:

    Happy Fourth of July to you all, Derek! Real nice reading through your post! Wish I were there, enjoying the homemade strawberry ice cream!

    Makes me nostalgic… I was in the US for 15 years, and celebrated Fourth of July every year with my American friends. Used to go out on long drives, enjoy the great food (being a vegetarian, I restricted myself just to the veggies, fruits, desserts…)

    Once again, thanks for rekindling my fond memories and Happy Fourth of July

    1. An Old Chemist says:

      I am also a vegetarian, and interestingly have realized that the vegetarian food in USA is a lot more tasty and healthy than it is in my old country! Being a vegetarian in USA is healthy but being a vegetarian in a country where the vegetables are grown with pesticides, herbicides, and growth hormones can be deadly! Happy July fourth to all the readers of this blog, and to all a happy, healthy, and prosperous life in the land of the free and brave, which certainly is USA!!!

  3. Scott says:

    Mmmmm, pulled pork. If you make a road trip sometime soon, you need to stop in Lexington NC, hit one of the barbecue places there. Lexington BBQ sauce is aged peppers (more sweet and hot) in vinegar. I have not found a better topping for pulled pork.

    Happy Fourth, Derek!

    1. Anon the II says:

      Barbeque in the South is a bit complicated. I’ve found the following video instructional when arguments arise.

      Happy Fourth of July week to all.

      1. secret sauce says:

        Indeed – some may argue that SC is even more complicated

        Happy 5th

    2. Scott says:

      Sigh, that should be “more sweet than hot”. Really got to stop being sleep-deprived at 0230…

  4. Steve says:

    In 2004, a fictional book by Nino Ricci called Testament came out in the paperback version which I enjoyed very much.

    The promotional blurb reads: “Set in a remote corner of the Roman Empire at a moment of political unrest and spiritual uncertainty, Testament is the timeless story of how a holy man of enormous charisma and passionate belief alters forever the course of human history.”

    One could read the book as a fictional account of the life of Jesus Christ, but good writing contains allegory and wisdom about the truths of human nature. There is a quote in this book that speaks very much to some truths of human nature:

    “I thought of the times in which we lived, of the murders and massacres, the kings who thought only of their treasuries and the bandits who robbed and killed the innocent in the name of justice; I thought how miserly and mean even the common people had become, so that in every village the gates were slammed shut against any stranger and te poor dies of hunger by the road. Perhaps, then, we were truly at the end of days as some as some of the madmen in the desert preached.”


  5. schinderhannes says:

    History has the sad tendency to repeat itself.
    We must never believe that human achievements like a functioning democracy are simply there. Society must work hard to keep them otherwise they´ll somehow faint.
    We Germans cannot believe how long a liar can stay in office in the US. To insult us by saying crime rate was up since we let Syrian refugees in, when statistics say the opposite is certainly not the worst lie he pulled of, but even a single equivalent one would have even enough for our chancellor to be forced to resign. We call it morals and political hygiene.
    Impeach 45!
    Or you might get something where you which you had kept those gentile British kings…

  6. Curious Wavefunction says:

    Happy 4th of July to you too, Derek. This great country continues to be an experiment in finding the better angels of our nature in pursuit of a more perfect union.

    1. Kent G. Budge says:


  7. Peter says:

    I must confess, when it came out that Russia had been meddling in our last election, my first thought was: “how’s it feel, eh?” Ah, well, plus ca change. We’re stuck with the Orange Menace for another 2-1/2 years, then we get to try again. We’ll make it through this, and hopefully, be better for it.

    And, as for your pulled pork, well, there’s something we can all agree on. Bon appetit, and Happy Fourth. Thanks for an always entertaining, thought provoking and fun blog. Be careful with those fireworks…

  8. eugene says:

    Since this is an open thread and the last comment was going in that direction, I want to ask for an update to the evil Russians poisoning innocent Brits with Novichok post. Now it’s four months later and some junkies apparently found a container with the stuff, that is at the same time has a highly unstable P-F bond, but is also able to survive rainy weather for four months and turn more deadly, now that one of the junkies is dead.

    I think since you were so quick to ascribe guilt to evil Putin, and everyone was busy with saying about how this stuff is 10 times more deadly than VX, now is about time for an update to check if you’re still 100% sure of your view. I was doubtful at the time, as I said, and the post turned to a ‘hate-Russia’ fest, which is unusual and overly political for ‘In The Pipeline’, but now I’m sure that somewhere, someone is lying, and it’s not the evil Russians this time. You obviously don’t owe an update since it’s your blog, but I would sure like one.

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