Skip to content
Home ยป Independence Day

Independence Day

Return to Bonne Terre Mine

Over the Independence Day weekend, I took my family to the Bonne Terre Mine, about 50 miles south of St. Louis on Highway 67. It was once one of the world’s largest active lead mines, and the area around Bonne Terre is still known as the Lead Belt. Mining is still the major industry in southeast Missouri, and the area is dotted with big piles of mining waste, which the locals refer to as “chat.”

Mining in the area started way back in 1720 by French settlers; Bonne Terre Mine opened in 1860. It closed in 1962.

Read More »Return to Bonne Terre Mine

Where did we come from?

Today’s the Fourth of July
Another June has gone by
And when they light up our town
I just think
What a waste of gunpowder and sky…
–Aimee Mann

Cynical? Who, me? Murel, my next-door cubicle neighbor, asked me a question today that made me wonder, is what this country is today worth our founding fathers risking their lives for?

That’s assuming anyone knows anything about them these days. Which leads me to the question my coworker asked.

“Dave, you’re the resident history buff. What political party did Thomas Jefferson found?”

Why, the Democratic-Republicans. I thought everyone knew that.

“And what party does that correspond to today?”

Most directly, the Democrats.

Murel asked that question because he’d just read an editorial talking about “The Evil Republican Slave-Owning Thomas Jefferson.” I rolled my eyes at that.

“Abraham Lincoln was a Republican!” Murel said.

He’s right. Though that plays into another misconception. The Civil War wasn’t about slavery. That’s what the Politically Correct crowd wants to say, but that’s not true. Fundamentally, the Civil War was about a number of things. One big, forgotten issue is that of tariffs. The industrial north wanted protective tarriffs. This made American goods cheaper than foreign goods, encouraging people to buy American. Plus, in those days, there was no income tax, so tariffs were a major source of revenue.

The rural South didn’t want tariffs. Tarriffs increased the prices they paid for goods. Plus tarriffs made it more difficult to sell cotton and tobacco abroad. In short, what was good for the North’s economy was bad for the South’s economy.

You can see the other big issue by looking at the forms of government each side chose during the Civil War. The North maintained its centralized government, while the South chose a loose confederacy. The South valued states’ rights much more than the north did.

Where does slavery fit into all this? Well, it was an issue of states’ rights. But, truth be told, only a small number of southerners actually owned slaves. Everyone today seems to think the typical Southern family had a slave as a sort of live-in butler or something, because that’s how Hollywood portrays slavery. You had to be wealthy to afford slaves, so the majority of slaveowners were plantation owners. The majority of southern farmers weren’t large plantation owners. They may or may not have been pro-slavery. The issue certainly didn’t directly affect them all that much.

And the North was hardly a haven for escaped slaves. The North had experimented with it and found it cost too much to literally own your workers. So they abandoned it. The majority of northerners probably didn’t care one way or the other. Slavery wasn’t an issue that affected them. There were militant, outspoken anti-slavery activists, and they were loud, just like today’s activists are. That’s why they’re remembered. Slavery gets more people worked up than tarriffs. There are probably a lot of people who don’t even know what a tarriff is.

So why was there a war? Simple. The North was more populous than the South, so the only way the South was going to get what they wanted was by walking out the door.

And Lincoln’s goal wasn’t to abolish slavery. Lincoln’s goal was to preserve the union at any cost, with or without slavery, and he is widely quoted as having said so.

The irony here is that Lincoln was willing to consider abolishing slavery. And he was in favor of high taxes. Sounds pretty liberal. The only resemblance to the Republicans of today is the protection of big business.

The Republican party as we know it today didn’t come into being until after the Civil War, and its history as the party of big business and lower taxes is hardly consistent. Although Teddy Roosevelt was more conservative than his cousin FDR, he was running around busting up businesses at the turn of the century.

But I’ve digressed a lot. Murel talked about the failings of some of the Founding Fathers that have come to light in recent years and cast a shadow on their credibility. We’re horrified to find they had flaws. (Though somehow it doesn’t bother us that Bill Clinton and Jack Kennedy had flaws.) I disagree. The Founding Fathers were human. They were very forward-thinking and insightful and wise, but human.

But worthy of respect. Remember why they were here. European aristocrats were old money. When you couldn’t get land, you moved. So these were men whose ancestry had come across the Atlantic and started over. Yes, some of them were spoiled brats. John Hancock and Samuel Adams come to mind. But Alexander Hamilton was the epitome of the self-made man. Benjamin Franklin’s beginnings weren’t as humble, but he arrived in Philadelphia with little more than his pocket change and his training as a printer and became a tycoon.

These were men who knew what they wanted and knew how to go get it. They knew their interests and England’s interests weren’t the same and they weren’t going to get what they wanted from England, so they headed for the door.

The country we have today doesn’t bear a whole lot of resemblance to the country they fought to create. Political correctness is the rule of the day. You can’t let the facts get in the way of what’s politically correct. Nor can you let your constitutional rights. Freedom of speech, the free press, and freedom of religion are all in danger. (And you thought I was going to say something about guns, didn’t you?)

I won’t go to the extreme of calling Independence Day a waste of gunpowder and sky, because it makes sense to celebrate what we do have. We’re still a whole lot more free, than, say, Red China.

But most of us don’t know why. And as a result, most of us really take it for granted.

Monday, 2 July 2001

Some lucky people get a five-day weekend this week. Not me. I’m off Wednesday for Independence Day. About 30 years ago, my dad and his med school buddies used to go to the Missouri River and shoot bottle rockets at barges to celebrate. I’m not sure what I’ll get to do yet. Last year I had to work the 4th. That was a very nice paycheck, since I worked 60 hours that week anyway, on top of 8 hours’ holiday pay.
I found a use for absurdly high-speed CPUs this weekend. My Duron-750 can simulate a 30-team, 162-game baseball season in its entirety in roughly 3 minutes. Of course a faster CPU will do it even faster. Baseball simulation is very CPU-intensive and very disk-intensive. This 750 has a SCSI disk subsystem in it too. It’s old, but I suspect SCSI’s ability to re-order disk requests for speed helps. I haven’t swapped in an IDE drive to see if it makes a difference. So if you’re a statistical baseball junkie, you can actually justify an insanely fast CPU. It feels strange to call the cheapest CPU on the market today insanely fast, but for most things, the Duron-750 really is.

The other use I’ve found for these CPUs is emulating a 50 MHz 68060-based Amiga at full speed. A Duron-750 isn’t quite up to that task.

I talked about PartImage last week. I used it over the weekend to clone 7 PCs. My church’s sister congregation bought 8 Compaq Deskpro EXs earlier this year and just finished the room they’re going in. So I went in, set one of them up (and tweaked it out, of course–the first reaction of one of the members: “Wow, that sure boots fast!”).

Sadly, many companies seem to use non-profit organizations as a way to just get rid of their junk. Here are some of the jewels this church has been “blessed” with: two 386sx laptops with dead batteries and no power adapters, two XTs, two 286s, a pile of 386sxs, and three 486s. Two of the 486s are old Compaq ProSignia servers with big SCSI hard drives, so I can slap in an ISA NIC and install Linux on one of them and make it a file server. The only thing remotely useful that anyone’s ever given them is a pair of Pentium-75s. But one of the 75s had a 40-meg hard drive in it. That’s the better of the two, though. The other had no hard drive, no memory, and no CMOS battery.

Oh, and I shouldn’t forget the large quantities of busted monitors. They’ve got a room full of monitors. About three of them work. What’s anyone going to do with a bunch of monitors that don’t work? Legally, the church can’t throw any of this stuff away (and shouldn’t) because of all the lead content, which makes them hazardous waste. But the church can hardly afford to pay someone to take it away and dispose of it properly either. We’re talking an inner-city church here. Can you say, “blaxploitation?” I knew you could.

The Pentiums did at least come in standard AT cases though, and nice ones at that. They look like Enlights, but they had Sparkle power supplies in them, Whatever the make, they’re nice and thick so they don’t slice you, there’s lots of wide open space inside, and they have 7 drive bays. So I grabbed the diskless Pentium to make into a router/Squid server/content filter. I ripped out the P75 board and dropped in an AT Soyo Socket 370 board with a Celeron-366 on it. It’ll be fabulous.

The best I can do with most of these systems is to try to make X terminals out of them, assuming I can find a machine beefy enough to host StarOffice for a half-dozen systems. It may not be worth the bother.

One of the 386s had a 420-meg hard drive in it for some reason, so I pulled that drive, hooked it up to the first of the Compaqs, and used PartImage to dump it. I used 480 megs on the drive, so with Gzip compression, the image left just 12 megs free on the drive. Tight fit, but we were OK. Then I just ran around to each of the others, hooked up the drive, and pulled the image. I took the drive home with me so I could burn a CD from it.

That’s good use of free software.