The 4th of July -- a day upon which Americans assert their independence from, apparently, common sense.

The big thing about the 4th is fireworks. I'm sitting at home in my apartment, I hear a series of sharp cracking noises, and I think to myself, is that gunfire? Nope, it's firecrackers.

There's a several-day period leading up to the 4th, where people gradually set off more and more explosives, culminating in the 4th itself.

And on the 4th, there are a bunch of professional fireworks displays, put on by radio stations, etc. We go to one of these. It's to be on ground between a couple of casinos, near North Las Vegas airport (a small field that doesn't carry any commercial airline traffic). We drive past vacant lots that are full of parked cars, people sitting in or near them, waiting for the show.

And in a sane country, that's all they'd be doing. But this is America, so they're all setting off explosives.

There are two ways to buy fireworks: you can go to one of the fireworks stands around town, which sell fairly small fireworks. None of these are mortars or rockets, so they don't actually fly; but you can get fountains that shoot sparks and flame a metre or so in the air, spinning top fireworks, sparklers, etc. These are the fireworks that are regarded as "safe", but that's a relative term. In those lots full of cars, people, and dry desert scrub, we see people setting off these fireworks right next to their cars. With no thought as to wind direction. Common sense is evidently in short supply.

And then there's the other way to buy fireworks. This generally involves driving to a county with laxer laws; or to an indian reservation, which seem to be exempt from a whole bunch of laws. There, you buy the really dangerous fireworks: the kind that fly, the kind that go boom, the kind that set fire to your neighbour's roof. It helps that your neighbour's roof is usually made of wood shingles, tinder-dry after years in the desert sun. It also helps that these fireworks are not particularly designed to be bought, transported, stored, assembled and detonated by idiots. There are two sounds of the 4th of July: the sound of fireworks, and the sound of fire truck sirens.

North Las Vegas airport is, of course, flat; so the area where the fireworks are to be set off is visible from all the way around it. We drive around looking for a good spot. We don't find any particularly good spots, but we do drive past many cop cars, who are there for traffic management; several fire brigade units, waiting for the inevitable; and some idiots launching mortar fireworks into the flight path. Par for the course, really.

We wait for dark, and for the fireworks display to begin. It's pretty hard to tell when it starts: every few minutes a large shell that someone has bought and launched illegally will go off, and everyone will say, "Is the show starting?"

Eventually it does start, and it's a typical fireworks display: things go boom, heavy on the patriotism. They're doing some nice things with those packed charges that explode in an asymmetric pattern, like a ring or a heart or a smiley face, but they still haven't figured out how to make them go off the right way up.

And afterwards, it's a typical post-fireworks-display traffic jam: everybody leaps onto the road, and the traffic precipitates into a solid. But here in America, there's an added element: the fire trucks. Every now and then, a fire engine, lights blazing, sirens blaring, will try and force its way through the solid traffic, to get to yet another clueless individual who has set fire to the desert scrub or to their vehicle.

Don't get me wrong: it's fun to have access to things that go boom; but it would also be nice if there was some sort of cluefulness test that people had to pass before being allowed to buy this stuff. Here is a proposed test:

Q1. Do you have a clue?
(a) Yes.
(b) No.
(c) Huh?

Scoring: (a) pass; (b) fail; (c) mark for deletion from gene pool.