Friday, July 31, 2009

This just in: Obama wants to eat our dogs and rape our cats

I watch a fair amount of comedy programming on television. Let's face it, life can be tough, and a few laughs don't hurt. But the funniest thing I've seen in ages was a commercial I caught last night. In fact, I was laughing out loud, even though I don't think it was intended to produce that response. The ad in opposition to health-care reform was paid for by the Family Research Council. The group was founded by noted hatemonger Rev. James Dobson. I went to the FRC Web site, and for the life of me, I couldn't find any actual research. Perhaps they just periodically ask their followers if they still love Jesus and hate Obama. But back to the ad. It features an elderly couple sitting at a kitchen table and looking like they'd just eaten a truckload of cat droppings. The guy is holding a piece of paper that looks as if it came from the government. He says, "They won't pay for my surgery. To think that Planned Parenthood is included in the government-run health-care plan, and we’re spending tax dollars on abortion. They won't pay for my surgery, but we’re forced to pay for abortions." Pretty nifty how they managed to stuff the word "abortion" into the ad twice within five seconds. At that point, it looks as if he's going to get down on the floor and writhe about. Then, the voice of a breathless woman says, "Our greatest generation denied care. Our future generation denied life." She asks that you call your senator to make sure this reform effort is stopped in its tracks. As I understand it, no one is going to be required to sign on with a plan that covers abortions. And do these people really think that there are not already health insurance companies that cover abortions? Also, if you don't like the public option that could come to fruition, don't choose it. And if you don't want an abortion, don't have one. Honestly, I hadn't seen this much hysteria, fearmongering and misinformation in a 30-second ad since the Bush re-election campaign in 2004. And, lo and behold, I heard last night that the old "turd blossom" himself, Karl Rove, has signed on to help the Republicans kill health-care reform. I'm sure more great comedy programming lies ahead.

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Where are a rope and a stout limb when you need them?

We've all had our "weeks from hell." Let me tell you (bore you) about mine. It all started on Wednesday, July 23, when I had to start preparing for a routine colonoscopy the next day. The process goes like this: About 3 p.m., you take a few Dulcolax tablets. A couple of hours later, you start gulping down glasses of Gatorade that has been mixed with a whole lot of a powdery laxative called Miralax. I was instructed to use 255 grams of Miralax, which is a whole tub of the stuff. I looked at the bottle, and if you're just trying to prod balky bowels, you use 17 grams. Needless to say, once the Miralax kicks in, it's a pretty good idea to be in the vicinity of a toilet. By midnight, I felt as if Mike Tyson had used me for a heavy-bag workout. The next day, I go in the for procedure, and despite the IV drug they gave me, I wasn't quite out of it when the doctor went to work on me with the tube. It felt pretty much like he had stuffed a couple of wolverines up my wazoo. Fortunately, the drugs kicked in shortly thereafter, and the next thing I knew, a nice lady was handing me a Coca-Cola. They also advised that the good doctor had snipped off a couple of polyps while he was "in there," so it wasn't just a casual tour of my lower intestines. After that, I'm figuring that life has to be looking up. Ha ha. It was shortly thereafter that the electrical system in my house began to behave in a strange manner. Out of the blue, half the house would periodically go dark. Just as mysteriously, it would go back on. Sometimes, if the air-conditioner kicked on, that would jump start the part of the house that was dark. I'm still in the process of trying to figure that one out and solve the problem without having to take out a loan. Then, the first of this week, the upstairs toilet and I had an epic two-day battle. I finally won, with the help of an Internet cure found by the missus that included hot water and Palmolive. In the midst of my jousting with the "royal throne," my son calls me at work to advise that something "really bad" has happened to the push mower. He tells me that there's some oil on the deck of the mower. When I get home, I tip it up to see if there's any damage underneath, and when I do that, all kinds of oil and large chunks of metal come out of the side of the engine compartment. Nice. I fully expected a plague of locusts or snakes the last couple of days, but all is quiet. And I got a call yesterday telling me those polyps I had snipped off were benign, so maybe things are looking up. Nevertheless, I'm still on the lookout for lightning bolts, and next week I get to take my car to the shop. Oh boy.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

But you can feel free to keep paying more

If you think you're doing your body some good by buying organic food, think again. Reuters reports that a study conducted by researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine has found that organic food has zero nutritional or health benefits, when compared with non-organic food. The study noted that consumers are paying more, sometimes a lot more, for organic food. I'm not one of those people. From what I've seen, organic food is typically smaller and, for lack of a better word, crappier, than the chemically enhanced versions. But if you want to feel good about your effect on the environment by eating the organic stuff, feel free. In the meantime, I'll be eating nice big vegetables and tasty chemically altered meat.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The wild, wacky world of Pittsburgh sports

There are a couple of big stories today in the world of Pittsburgh sports. For one, the Pirates have unloaded the albatross known as Adam LaRoche. I have included in this post, for your enjoyment and wonder, a photo of LaRoche actually making contact with a baseball. The guy looked like a sure bet to be a 35-homer, 100-RBI guy when the Pirates acquired him from the Braves, but he’s been a huge disappointment. After two seasons in which he fell well short of expectations and apparently didn’t realize that the season starts in April, not July, the Pirates, in the past offseason, gave the guy a $7 million contract. And LaRoche responded by hitting .247 with a paltry 12 homers and 81 strikeouts in 87 games. LaRoche is a slick fielder at first base, but the Bucs acquired him for his bat. Now Red Sox fans can watch him and pull their hair out. In exchange for LaRoche, the Sox sent the Pirates two low-level minor leaguers, including a shortstop who is hitting .253 with zero homers at Class AA. The Bucs also got a Single A pitcher. I frequently rip the Pirates for trading away talented players and getting next to nothing in return, but in this case, a can of Spam and a tampon applicator would have been sufficient. Now we can all wait and see what the Pirates’ “brain trust” decides to do with second baseman Freddy Sanchez and shortstop Jack Wilson, arguably the two biggest fan favorites on the team. Sanchez is a legitimate all-star, and Wilson is a great defensive shortstop who is adequate at the plate. The Nutting family recently made a show of their so-called efforts to sign Sanchez and Wilson to contract extensions, but the offers were laughable. They were clearly made so that when the Nuttings send Sanchez and Wilson packing in exchange for the figurative bucket of balls, they can say, “We wanted to keep them around, but they wouldn’t sign an extension.” And it’s not like the Bucs have anyone else to plug into those positions. No one on the roster or in their minor-league system is ready to be an everyday major league middle infielder. The Nuttings, at that point, will officially be putting a Triple-A quality product on the field and charging you major league money for it. We are well past the point when anyone in his right mind would put money into the pockets of the Nutting family. If Sanchez and Wilson go, it should be even more clear.


The other big sports story in Pittsburgh is really a non-story. Some hotel clerk in Las Vegas has filed a lawsuit claiming that a year ago, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger raped her in his room at a Lake Tahoe hotel and casino. I won’t go into the details of her allegations, because the story has already been beaten to death in the local media. But here’s a question: Does anyone really believe this woman? She never called police to report an assault, and just before the statute of limitations on a civil action was about to run out, she files a suit seeking more than $400,000 in damages. Hmmmmm. Another angle of this story is the media coverage it has received. We all know that if a Steelers player, especially a star player, has so much as an irregular bowel movement, we get breathless “team coverage” of the important “breaking news.” The TV stations, of course, are going totally bat@#$% crazy over the Roethlisberger story. As one commenter pointed out elsewhere on the blog, they’re even sending reporters to Las Vegas to get to the bottom of this. The correct approach to this story would have been to report it once and then give it the coverage it deserves, which is to be totally ignored until the case comes to trial, is settled or is dismissed. Enough already.

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To carry, or not to carry?

Someone suggested on the last blog post that it’s time for a fresh subject. So how about something non-controversial like gun control? The U.S. Senate today narrowly defeated an amendment to a defense-spending bill that would have allowed a person with a permit from one state to carry a concealed weapon to carry that weapon in any other state. I’m generally of a mind that most gun-control measures, such as the silly Pittsburgh law requiring a person to report the theft or loss of a handgun, are worthless, but I can see some sense in the arguments of the people on both sides of the gun permit debate. On one hand, if a person is deemed worthy of being able to carry a concealed gun in Texas, why should that change if the person drives over the border into Oklahoma? But at the same time, there’s some merit to the position of opponents who note that in some states, getting the OK to carry a concealed gun is about as easy as ordering a Big Mac at McDonald’s. What are your thoughts?

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Friday, July 17, 2009

I kinda figured

Meghan McCain, who had an opportunity to get up close and personal with Joe the Plumber during last year's presidential campaign, had this to say about the working Joe who became a central figure in her father's campaign for the White House: "Joe the Plumber – you can quote me – is a dumbass. He should stick to plumbing." McCain, who was speaking to Out Magazine about being a Republican who supports gay marriage, confirmed my general belief about Joe Wurzelbacher, the Toledo man who was used as a prop of sorts in attacks on then-candidate Obama's tax plans. Last fall, it became very clear to anyone with half a brain that Joe had, well, half a brain. That didn't stop some true believers from elevating Joe to a position at the left hand of Palin – with Rush Limbaugh on the right, of course. Joe recently announced that he has decided against running for Congress because God told him not to. If God is micromanaging things to the point that he's offering political advice to Joe the Plumber, then the Big Guy really needs to delegate. Maybe something like this: "Yo, Angel Zedediah, you did such a good job explaining that whole virgin birth thing to Joseph of Nazareth, I'm wondering if you could, as gently as possible, deal with Joseph of Toledo, who thinks he's the second coming of Robert Taft. Just tell him that it's our educated opinion that he'd be better served by concentrating on poop clogs."


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Height of irresponsibility

There was sad news out of Spain this week. Two children were orphaned at the age of 3, and the biggest shame is that it wouldn’t have happened if anyone involved had shown a shred of responsibility. Maria del Carmen Bousada died Saturday at the age of 69. You’re probably never heard of her. I hadn’t. What made her death newsworthy was that three years ago, Bousada, with the help of a fertility clinic in Los Angeles (Where else?), gave birth to twins. First, one would expect a woman in her mid-60s who was thinking about undergoing in vitro fertilization to have had enough sense to say no. But the Earth is chock full of stupid, self-centered people. At that point, it should have been up to the fertility clinic to display some ethical standards and employ some safeguards against this sort of thing happening. But Bousada said she told Pacific Fertility Center that she was 55, which apparently was the clinic’s maximum age for treating single women. And she said the clinic never asked for identification. You can see Bousada’s photo here. Ray Charles could have recognized that she was over 55 just by feeling her face. But this really shouldn’t surprise us. Look at the Octomom, a clearly deranged woman who was able to find professional help to increase her brood by eight. And will anyone among us be shocked when it comes out that Michael Jackson’s home was a virtual pharmacy, stocked with the help of doctors only too glad to look the other way? It seems the almighty dollar speaks very loudly, easily drowning out the ancient voice of Hippocrates. The central question in Bousada’s case might be, why did she do it? And the answer is: because she wanted to. “I think everyone should become a mother at the right time for them,” the woman said in a 2007 interview. “That was the only way to achieve the thing I had always dreamed of, and I did it.” I, I, I. It was all about her, of course. Now she’s dead, and the children will have little or no recollection of their mother. What about the father? Well, good luck throwing catch in the backyard with a test tube.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

For an FBI director, he sure has crummy English skills

Here's the opening paragraph of an e-mail I received recently, purportedly from FBI Director Robert Mueller:

This is to Officially inform you that it has come to our notice and we have thoroughly Investigated with the help of our Intelligence Monitoring Network System that you are having an illegal Transaction with Impostors claiming to be Prof Charles C. Soludo of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr. Patrick Aziza, Mr. Frank Nweke, none officials of Oceanic Bank, Zenith Banks, Kelvin Young of HSBC, Ben of Fedex, Ibrahim Sule, Larry Christopher, Puppy Scammers are impostors claiming to be the Federal Bureau of Investigation. During our investigation, we noticed the reason why you have not received your payment is because you have not fulfilled your Financial Obligation given to you in respect to your Contract/Inheritance Payment.

Well, if that hadn't piqued my interest, the e-mail went on to say that I was in line to get an "ATM CARD" that would give me access to $11 million, at a maximum withdrawal rate of $40,000 to $50,000 a day. My only obligation was to send these kind folks at the FBI the $110 payment necessary to secure my "Approval Slip." I know, I know. Some of you are thinking this is a scam. But the e-mail went on to tell me that "Since the Federal Bureau of Investigation is involved in this transaction, you have to be rest assured for this is 100 percent risk free it is our duty to protect the American Citizens." So there. Anybody else want in?

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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Did a limb fall on their heads?

I swear this is true. An Associated Press story out of Ireland says thousands of Irish Catholics are flocking to a rural church to pray and create a shrine at the stump of a recently felled willow tree that some people say resembles the Virgin Mary. No, really. Noel White, who is overseeing the removal of trees from the churchyard at St. Mary's in Rathkeale, said a "funny shape" was created when a major limb cracked off one of the trees that was being cut down. Then a worker cut through the stump vertically to create the supposed Virgin Mary outline. If you ask me, it looks just as much like an emperor penguin chick. The local priest, the Rev. Willie Russell, stopped just short of calling the tree pilgrims nut cases. Even the guy who cut into the tree stump to create its current shape isn't buying it. "I see it as the grain of a tree, myself," said Anthony Reddin. And the County Limerick diocese of the church says it views the stump hoopla with "great skepticism." I know the Irish have the reputation of being a drinking people, but it must take a lot of whiskey to make this hunk of wood look like the Queen of Heaven.

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Racism is alive and well

So much for that "City of Brotherly Love" thing. According to an AP story, a day camp director says her kids were tossed out of a private swim club recently in suburban Philadelphia after members allegedly questioned what black children were doing in the pool. Creative Steps day camp had paid fees to swim at the pool, but camp director Alethea Wright says three of her kids told her they heard members of The Valley Club ask what blacks were doing there. Several days later, Wright says the camp’s swimming fees were refunded, without explanation. The president of the club, John Duesler, told a Philly television station that several club members had lodged complaints because the black children "fundamentally changed the atmosphere" at the pool. He said the complaints didn't involve race. Noooooooo. Of course not. The members were probably concerned that the black kids would create safety hazards by getting fried chicken grease all over the diving board and spitting watermelon seeds everywhere. What's next at The Valley Club? Night swimming, softly lit by burning crosses?

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Did you ever say something critical about someone who had just died, and another person told you that you should be more respectful because the person "wasn't even in the ground yet"? Well, now that Michael Jackson is presumably in the ground or headed there very shortly (unless his head is being frozen somewhere, a la Ted Williams), I'd like to say that the amount of attention paid to his death by the media was beyond ridiculous. I do understand that he "did Thriller" and was a music icon. But the level of fawning and hyperbole at Jackson's memorial service boggled the mind. Magic Johnson, who has never been the sharpest tool in the shed, said that watching Michael Jackson made him a better basketball player. Huh? And then there was this from the Rev. Al Sharpton: "Those young kids grew up from being teenage, comfortable fans of Michael’s to being 40 years old and being comfortable to vote for a person of color to be president of the United States. Michael did that. Michael made us love each other." Now, Sharpton is an idiot of epic proportion, and he and the truth have not always been on the best of terms, but really? A co-worker heard someone else say - and they weren't kidding - that Jackson was "the greatest figure of love and peace in the history of the world." Sorry, Jesus. You're No. 2 now. But I saved the best for last, and it's once again from Sharpton, who told Jackson's three children that "your daddy wasn't strange." OK, I have to call "shenanigans" on that one. What we had with Jackson was one of THE strangest people to inhabit the Earth during my lifetime. We can debate all day whether he was a child molester. But it's pretty clear that he was a druggie who probably took so much "legal" dope that he killed himself. He also was a guy who was once good-looking and black, and at the end of his life, he was a circus freak who made Clay Aiken look like 50 Cent. And while I give the guy his props as a onetime "King of Pop," those days were long gone. Jackson hadn't been a major player on the music scene for close to 20 years, during which time he became a public joke. Some called him the greatest and most influential artist in the history of popular music, but wouldn't you think the greatest artist ever would have continued to be productive and relevant past the age of 35? And there are plenty of other people - Lennon and McCartney, Buddy Holly, Kurt Cobain, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Brian Wilson, to name a few - who were every bit as influential. It's sad that Michael Jackson is dead, and that his life since the mid-90s had been a downward spiral. But there's really no one to blame for that but Michael Jackson, and maybe those who raised him and enabled him. Just a sad story with a final act that was way too loud and long.

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The state benefits, but do we?

I've been a frequent and consistent critic of the Pennsylvania state store system, and a fresh news release from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board reinforces my reasons for advocating a free-market, private-enterprise operation. The PLCB announced Tuesday that its liquor stores raked in a record $1.84 billion in the last fiscal year, a figure that included about $495 million in sales tax, liquor tax and profits that was forwarded to the state’s general fund. No one is denying that the PLCB contributes a major chunk of money to state operations, and this year's contribution was a record. But couldn't the same money be generated by privately owned businesses? The liquor taxes would remain in place, as would the sales tax. Perhaps, with lower prices created through competition, those taxes could even be increased slightly without negatively affecting the bottom line for consumers. One would also think that taxes on the businesses running these private wine and liquor stores would offset a significant portion of the $125 million in profits that the state stores generated for the general fund this past fiscal year. And sales might even increase in a free-market system that, presumably, would include more than the 619 stores currently operated by the PLCB. In Washington, we have three liquor stores. The best of the stores is behind Washington Mall, not exactly a prime location. And when I say best, I mean only that its selection is slightly better than the offerings at the two crummy stores on South Main Street and in Tylerdale. The South Main store is now open only three days a week, and its hours of operation are a joke. Ingress and egress from the Tylerdale store are horrible. But the PLCB promises great things ahead. Said PLCB Chairman Patrick Stapleton, "In the next year, our customers will begin to see a renaissance in our retail operations highlighted by vast improvements in the look and feel of our stores and a renewed commitment to customer service and employee education." Does this strike anyone else as comparable to what comes out of the back end of a bull? Of course, these are the same guys who signed a six-figure deal with an outside firm to teach their people to be polite to customers. The news release on Tuesday went on to say that the PLCB has a plan for the coming year that "includes initiatives to improve the customer store experience; enhance training for board employees; boost returns to the state general fund; assure and promote responsible use of alcohol through regulation and education; and take advantage of new technologies." Maybe I missed it, but I sure didn't see anything in the release about better prices, more variety and more convenient hours and locations. I recently conducted an informal e-mail survey of Pennsylvania state senators, asking them whether they would support privatization of the state store system and/or allow the sale of wine and beer in grocery stores and other retail outlets. Most of them ignored me. Some referred my inquiry to my own state senator, who ignored it. But a few responded, and there is some support for privatization. And you might be surprised by this, but it was Republican lawmakers, who sometimes get branded as sticks in the mud, who were more often in favor of the proposals. I know I probably won't live long enough to see these things come to fruition, but I'll keep dreaming.

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Saturday, July 4, 2009

How will the people of Alaska overcome this devastating loss?

She didn’t come right out and say it, but it appears pretty clear that Sarah Palin, who announced Friday that she’s abandoning her post as Alaska governor in a couple of weeks, grew tired of the actual job she was elected to do and yearned for something brighter and glitzier than the Northern Lights. At a hastily called news conference, and in her typically rambling and disjointed fashion, the “folksy” Palin said it wasn’t fair to the people of Alaska for her to serve as a lame-duck governor. Never mind that every governor, unless he or she dies in office or ascends to another post – or quits on a whim, of course - becomes a lame duck at some point. And would Palin, if elected president someday, serve only until she started feeling lame, or duckish? But, hey, Palin says she needs to shuck off those gubernatorial chains in order to best “fight for all our children’s future.” So, only a little more than halfway into her term, Palin is ditching the people of Alaska and leaving the office to her lieutenant governor. There’s no firm word on what she might do next. If Palin is planning to run against fellow Republican Lisa Murkowski for Murkowski’s U.S. Senate seat next year, then use that position as a springboard toward a 2012 run for the presidency, she’s not saying. But, really, it wouldn’t look good to bail out on the people of your state while admitting that something like that is your master plan. Perhaps she’s just eyeing the 2012 presidential race with no intervening elected position, but if that’s the case, couldn’t she have finished out the rest of her term, still leaving herself with two years to run for the White House? Oh, I forgot, it’s really inconvenient and difficult to keep oneself in the public eye from Wasilla. There’s also the possibility that she’ll turn up with a television talk show, but again, ditching your public-service job to become a talking head on TV doesn’t look very good. Maybe she just wants to travel the country, racking up huge fees for speaking engagements. Again, kind of mercenary. In making her decision to resign, Palin said she asked her kids if they thought she should move on, and she received “four yeses and one ‘Hell, yeah!’” I don’t know if it was baby Trig, or maybe Pyrex, Crater, Storm Window or Catch Basin who chimed in with the “Hell, yeah!” but Palin was wise to seek the kids’ counsel, since they’re probably deeper thinkers than their mother. But heck, maybe that’s the reason. She’s going to spend the next few years soaking up knowledge so that she can be a well-qualified presidential candidate in 2012. Just one problem. It’s like trying to stuff 10 pounds of excrement into a five-pound bag. The capacity is just not there. Palin might have fooled the people of Wasilla and even charmed the people of Alaska with her “aw shucks” manner and “I’m one of you” persona, but when it came time for her to hit a bigger stage, the majority of the people of America, to their credit, didn’t think it was wise to back up an elderly cancer survivor with a woman who displayed the intellectual depth of Ellie May Clampett. For the good of all of us, let’s hope Palin’s resignation is her first step on the path to oblivion.

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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Teabaggers, Part II

America is on the brink of going to hell in a handbasket. At least that seems to be the opinion of the folks who are staging another "tea party" today on the steps of Washington County Courthouse. As you might recall, the tea party gang's sudden realization that all is not well with this great land of ours and that - OH MY GOD - the government is not spending our tax dollars wisely just happened to coincide with the election of our new president last November and the beat-down of Republican congressional candidates from coast to coast. With every passing day, those on the right seem to be getting angrier and angrier about being in the minority. I was at a party (not of the tea variety) south of the Mason-Dixon line last weekend, and I really thought some of the folks there might be planning another attack on Fort Sumter. The latest tea party here will be hosted by Republican Washington County Commissioner Diana Irey, who will be dispensing pocket versions of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, just in case you need a refresher. An invitation stated, "As our Country's values, principals (their spelling) and history become increasingly under attack, now is the time to stand up, take action and show your true American colors!" Our history is under attack? Really? And true colors? I'm guessing that for some of the tea bag crowd, the part of our flag they like best is the white part. And, as always, this gang believes they are the only ones in the country who have values. Seems to me that the "values" of the Republican Party were soundly repudiated at ballot boxes nationwide a few months ago. But of course, McCain wasn't a "true Republican." And now the people with the "right" stuff have decided that George W. Bush wasn't really one of them. He was a member in good standing during the initial butt-whipping in Iraq and when he was doling out tax cuts to the wealthy. You couldn't walk through any parking lot without seeing "W" stickers on the backs of gas-guzzling SUVs. But Bush was tossed out like two-week-old leftover Chinese food when the economy went in the crapper. And it's the economy that holds the fate of the tea party gang's political candidates. If we're still mired in a recession in November 2010, you can expect the Republicans to make gains in Congress. But if there's a turnaround under way, their descent into becoming a regional party of the South could be accelerated. If you miss this tea party, I'm guessing you'll get another chance around Labor Day, because what opportunistic political group could pass up a chance to embrace the “Amurrican” working man and woman? And a friend of mine wondered today whether the tea-baggers will anoint Columbus as a Founding Father so they can have a tea party hayride in October. And then there's Christmas. ’Nuff said. So keep your calendars open and a box of Lipton’s finest at the ready.

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