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4 July 2013

Last year we celebrated the Fourth with spiral hot dogs, which patriotically promised more surface area for condiments to salute the meat. This year, we're in a more reflective mood, looking for something a little less filling to chew on.

We looked over the images we've taken on previous Fourth of July excursions. It was easy with Lightroom 5, looking for any searchable field with "07.04" in it, which reflects the MM.DD part of our folder-naming scheme (CCYY.MM.DD slug). The Folder name is a searchable field.

Noe Valley. Sony HX1 capture with a 19.2mm focal length, f4.0, 1/500 second and ISO 125.

That retrieved the image you see here taken in 2009 on the sunnier side of Twin Peaks in San Francisco. A lovely old home, the front door just steps from the hilly street, a flag gracefully hung out.

There's nothing remarkable about the shot, but it's a pleasant image anyway.

And the pleasant feeling recalled what has turned out to be the most harrowing moment of our life and how we survived it.

We were about to take our first final exam in the chill of winter at the University of California at Santa Barbara. The subject was Political Science and John Kaye, the professor, had won us over the first day with a survey of the subject through history whose refrain, at the end of each example, was, "My god, if one only knew with how little wisdom the world is ruled."

We were there, after all, to change that.

Our enjoyment of the class never waned but for some reason, the moment of the final had us on the verge of panic. To settle down, we grabbed our high school paperback copy of De Tocqueville's Democracy in America and skipped to the end. How had he concluded that powerfully perceptive work?

The Library of America version is perhaps more accurate than our abridged version but this is what we read, and never forgot:

I am aware that many of my contemporaries maintain that nations are never their own masters here below, and that they necessarily obey some insurmountable and unintelligent power, arising from anterior events, from their race, or from the soil and climate of their country.

Such principles are false and cowardly; such principles can never produce aught but feeble men and pusillanimous nations. Providence has not created mankind entirely independent or entirely free. It is true, that around every man a fatal circle is traced, beyond which he cannot pass; but within the wide verge of that circle he is powerful and free: as it is with man, so with communities.

The nations of our time cannot prevent the conditions of men from becoming equal; but it depends upon themselves whether the principle of equality is to lead them to servitude or freedom, to knowledge or barbarism, to prosperity or wretchedness.

It was that image of a wide circle, which education widens, that calmed us. It was not a shackle but a sphere of influence. We were, within it, empowered. Free. Independent.

We aced that test and never looked back. Just around.

(BTW, our June 20 Around The Horn featured a link to the best fireworks tips we've read in years: Joe McNally's. -- Editor)

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