Happy Birthday, America!

AUSTIN, Texas -- Happy birthday, America! Two-hundred twenty-seven years old and still ready to boogie 'til we puke. What a great country. Another glorious year in the land of the free and the home of the brave, with only the usual idiocy attendant.

As you may recall, we are fond of celebrating in this space not the majesty, not the glory, but the sheer improbable bliss of life in a free country. Every Fourth, we reserve this space to praise not the mighty, but to recognize the general, ordinary goodness -- and slight absurdity -- of all of us regular citizens. Our motto is the poet Marianne Moore's observation, "It is an honor to witness so much confusion."

I'd like to begin by thanking rural Texans for their natural assumption that Osama bin Laden is called "Osama-Bin," as though he had two front names, like Billy Bob or Jerry Jeff. The virtue czar turned out to be a gambling addict. The House of Representatives decided to rename French fries Freedom fries. Fox News calls itself "fair and balanced." Fifty-one Texas legislators fled to Ardmore, Okla., to break a quorum, where they were sought by the Homeland Security Department. Bushism of the Year (so far) on May 19: "First, let me make it very clear, poor people aren't necessarily killers. Just because you happen to be not rich doesn't mean you're wiling to kill." In other words, only the normal lunacy.

Since I adore people with harmless passions, I'd like to salute the bicycle racers who cross Iowa -- not to mention Austin's own Lance Armstrong -- the people who compete in chili cook-offs, the barbecue competitions, bake-off entrants, backyard grillers and the judges at the wine-tastings of this great nation. (We know you only sip in the slightest fashion.)

Here's to all the Little League baseball coaches, soccer moms, volleyball mothers, PeeWee Leaguers, Golden Gloves and Special Olympics participants. Here's to everyone involved in putting on the Mullet Toss, the Turkey Trot, the Watermelon Thump, the Fire Ant Festival and all the other civic fandangles that enrich our communal life.

In saluting highly irregular Americans, we'd like to recognize the service of the Houston woman who ran over her husband (several times) because he was cheating on her. That should cut down on adultery. (The price of gasoline in Texas has got so high, women who want to run over their husbands have to carpool.)

Here's to all the hairdressers who donate free time and service at homes for the elderly to make the old ladies look great; here's to the dentists who fix poor kids' teeth for free; here's to everybody who runs and walks in all those "Runs and Walks for Whatever"; here's to the Billion Bubba March and the folks in Minnesota who stood outside an absurdly unscientific speech with duck hats and duck callers to protest "quack science."

Here's to everybody who gets together with everybody else to fix whatever-it-is, and has fun doing it -- citizen activists are the soul of this country.

I'd also like to speak to you this Fourth about patriotism. We've got some patriots here who are enough to give the word a bad name. Their ugly side is always brought out by war: the professional-patriot bullies have never been able to distinguish between dissent and disloyalty. In WWI, we had citizens who used to go around kicking dachshunds, on the grounds that they were "German dogs." You notice people like that never go around kicking German shepherds.

John Henry Faulk's late Cousin Eddie was an unreconstructed reactionary. He had a sign over his mantel that said, "Robert E. Lee Might've Give Up, But I Ain't." When Johnny challenged Eddie during Vietnam, saying dissent was part of patriotism, Eddie replied, "Dis-sent? Hell, yes, I believe in the right to dis-sent! H'it's in the Constitution! What I can't stand is all this criticism! Criticize, criticize, criticize. Why don't they just leave Lyndon alone and let him fight his war in peace?"

The current situation in Iraq reminds me of yet another of Cousin Eddie's immortal observations, "If them Veetnamese don't like what we're doin' for 'em, why don't they just go back where they come from?"

On the whole, I prefer not to be lectured on patriotism by those who keep offshore maildrops in order to avoid paying their taxes.

But let's leave contention aside for a day and celebrate us. Among my favorite harmless passions is birdwatching, and I recently had the opportunity to bird (it is a verb in those circles) a bit in Idaho. Naturally, I had no idea what I was doing -- wound up admiring a yellow leaf for several minutes under the impression it was an oriole, missed several eagles and would have ignored a burrowing owl had it not swooped in front of my face.

At one point, as were looking into the Snake Canyon, a flock of something startled out from just underneath us. "What the hell was that?" I cried. I cannot tell you the perfect courtesy with which the closest birder turned, utterly deadpan, and replied, "Pigeons." Don't tell me Americans have no manners.

I'd like to salute Bubba for the usual number of flat tires he has stopped to help people with this year. This reminds me to salute the weekly, half-hour cable TV program dedicated solely to extra stuff you can buy for your pick-up. Also a perennial fave, the cable show "Working Out for Jesus With Beverly," about Christian fitness. I suspect Ken Starr, who reports singing hymns while he jogs, is a devotee.

A special salute to dog-lovers, cat-lovers, bird-lovers and animal-lovers generally. Bridge-players, golfers, people who have their palms read, Jennie Craig dieters, quilters, self-improvers everywhere, people who take salsa and line-dancing classes, home-tomato-growers, everybody whose garden produces too much zucchini (something to knit us together in this variegated nation) and those who are found at the Jiffy Mart at 2 a.m., buying stuff that is bad for their health. I love you all. It is, still, a great nation.

Molly Ivins is a syndicated columnist who lives in Texas.

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