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Picking Up the Pieces



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Saturday December 24, 2005 - Christmas Eve

It is early evening. Vehicles accumulate on the street like snowflakes on a windowsill. There are continuous footsteps on the front landing as the small house fills with extended family members. I reset the heat pump for summer as the oven emits hunger-invoking perfumes of chicken, yam and dressing.

Among the first to arrive are Devotion and Leena, with Jarrod and Eyleaha in tow. Then Lynn, Sabrine and LeAre; Yapper and Khaddi; Panela and Flounder with Mogwais I and II; Babir; Shyre; Jimber, Ronce and Tye; and finally Dugf with Grandma.

I scrounge additional seating as the meal is attacked in a nympholeptic frenzy. Plates and drinks are delicately balanced through the maze of levels, passageways and apertures that is our house, and on through the endless choreography of Musical Chairs set to the rhythm of the Oompa Loompa song as the recently released Charlie And The Chocolate Factory conquers what is left of the decibel range. Despite all of this, a dozen different conversations manage to survive the din.

"Have you tasted my applesauce?" It is Grandma. "I think Dugf left it in the car."

"No, but I'll get it."

I squirm through the crowd toward the door, tapping Dugf on the shoulder on my way there. He dutifully follows and we step out onto the landing. The silence outside seems almost deafening. I follow Dugf to the car, which is parked at the curb in front of a neighbor's house. He opens the trunk and retrieves the jar of applesauce as I pull a tiny flashlight from my pocket to examine the license plate.

"Grandma tells me she can't find the renewal stickers that she was supposed to put on her license plate," I explain to my son.

We study the plate. There are four year stickers placed in various corners -- '05, '03, '03, and '02 -- but no month sticker.

"She's had some confusion about this," I continue; "the year stickers are supposed to be placed over one another, but there is supposed to be a month sticker -- to tell what month the license expires. I plan on taking care of this next week, before the end of the year. I hope you don't get stopped by the police while driving her around."

"You're not going to leave it like that, are you?"

It is the neighbor lady addressing us from behind her front fence and No Trespassing sign.

"Oh," I respond; "if you're expecting company we can move the car."

"It's not that," she explains; "I just hope you're not going to leave it parked like that."

I look at the car. It appears to be parked with precision. Both front and rear wheels are standing on the asphalt equally spaced at about three inches from the edge of the concrete gutter.

"What do you mean?" I question.

"It's my grandmother's car," my son explains. "I parked it here."

"It would be better parked in front of her house," the lady states.

"She's visiting me tonight," I explain, "and there really isn't any room in front of my house -- too many cars already parked there. . .but if you're expecting company we'd be happy to move it."

"Well, you just can't leave it parked like that," she insists.

"It looks straight to me; what do you mean?" I counter.

"You're not going to leave it like that, are you?"

I consider hara-kiri for a moment, but I have no such knife available.

"You're right; we'll move it."

Dugf gets in and starts the engine, shifts into gear and pulls down the street, turns around, and returns to park in front of my own driveway as I return to my yard.

"Oh, you didn't need to do that," the neighbor lady calls after me.

"It's OK; have a nice evening."

We return to the house and the merriment. Although I cannot discern any change in the environment, it now seems quite orderly and manageable. We party hardy into the night, sit on the floor, open gifts, and continue devouring the culinary blessings to the tune of high-volume conversation as the members of our family catch up on each others' lives. When it finally ends, the remaining three-quarters of the food is hungrily divided up by those without a cook at home, stacked high on paper plates and summarily spirited away to their vehicles, right on down to the last box of cherry chocolates.

We say our goodbyes and watch our family of eight children, thirteen grandchildren, and a 92 year-old great grandmother disappear down the street. Then we return to our living room with a cocktail and turn off the TV, VCR, DVD, and yes, the radio. We sit there in each others arms without speaking -- surveying the strewn Christmas wrappings, food plates, drink cups, and other rubble -- completely immersed in the overpowering silence. Could life get any better?

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Thursday December 15, 2005 - Bah, Humbug

We've been hearing a lot in the news about a religious uprising against large retailers like Wal-Mart and Target for leaving Christmas out of their holiday merchandising campaigns.

"Seasons Greetings" and "Holiday Gift Specials," read the signs.

Boycotts are reportedly being organized by do-gooders in the name of Jesus Christ and all that is good and right in the world; yet, the idea that Jesus' birthday should be "honored" in this way is, to me, a curious proposition to be offered up by anyone who purports to be a true believer.

Only in the United States could such a reversal of religious belief take root. It is a sign of the times, I think -- times in which the accumulation of wealth is placed above all else. The making of money is, to most Americans today, a virtue held high above Godliness -- even to the point of increasing our discretionary wealth by reducing the survival chances of the most needy.

Should we really be trying to tie high-dollar merchandising to the birthday of our savior? Isn't such a practice more closely related to the money-changing activities that Jesus so clearly evicted from the temple?

Now, I like buying Christmas presents as much as the next person, but call it what it is -- a non-religious, out of control frenzy. Maybe a little frankincense or myrrh, but this modern exaggerated commercialism has nothing that I am aware of to do with any real Christian charity. That the Religious Right is behind the movement is obviously a gross misnomer; it sounds like something more attributable to the religious wrong.

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Sunday December 04, 2005 - Virtual Wilderness

There are few ways to get away from the throngs besides seeking wilderness; but one such method is our annual trek to Las Vegas.

Las Vegas, you ask? How can you get away from people by going to Las Vegas? No, you don't stay in your room; Las Vegas enables you to create your own wilderness right there on the gambling floor, on the street, or anywhere else on the strip. Well, it isn't actually wilderness; it's more like "virtual" wilderness -- you simply disappear among the throngs and become invisible. Try walking a few blocks up the strip and see how many people get in your face -- nobody. You're invisible and everyone around you is invisible, too. Now, try closing your eyes and listening closely. You can actually hear the clicking of tiny shrimp hiding in their holes on a remote and lonely playa1. So there you are -- a near-wilderness experience right there among the throngs. That's virtual wilderness.

It isn't that Las Vegas throngs are unfriendly; it's just that due to sheer numbers any attempt to communicate with any of these people results in immediate overload -- so no one tries. Everybody has an agenda of their own and too little time to pull it off. It's an optimum situation for a desert rat who unavoidably finds himself trapped among throngs of humanity.

The drive from Phoenix isn't bad at all: five hours. The two-lane highway is a bit narrow in spots, but it is improving by the month and will soon be a four-laner, divided most of the way. And it is an under-traveled highway where speed limits can be maintained or even exceeded in most places -- passing through several mountain ranges with scenery enviable even to mid-westerners.

The only slow-down is at Hoover dam; but Hoover is well worth the trouble -- in the spectacular descent, cross over the dam, and ascent on the other side. But even that is going away. Soon the new bridge will be completed, and the current grandeur will be replaced by an even more spectacular view. You'll be looking down from the sky -- literally, from a bridge well over a quarter mile above the river -- at the dam, Lake Mead, and the Colorado River bed below the dam. And you probably won't have to slow your speed below 55-65 mph.

But it's not about the dam or the trip. The mystique of Las Vegas starts as soon as you clear the Colorado River -- even before you climb the final grade. It's about getting away, and as soon as you see the first casino you know you're getting there.

The trick is to immerse yourself in your own bag, whatever that is. Ours is the Bandits -- the cheaper the better. Of course all Bandits are about the same except for the theme and the gimmicks that provide a platform for offering positive-looking odds for one combination while hiding the lower odds for other combinations to make up for it. We like the old-fashioned Bandits best -- with numbers, "bars", and gimmicks like cherries on three real wheels -- but they're growing fewer in number. Lately we find ourselves playing Bandits like Dolphins and Conchs, featuring a "Mrs. Packman" like girl dolphin with lipstick and a bow on her head, and a well-animated dolphin that laughs at us when we win a nickel. It is a good joke. Winning your nickel back is doing the best you can do on Dolphins and Conchs; otherwise it's straight losses.

Then there's Austin Powers. The previous version of the machine actually gave you a pretty good illusion that you were winning, the "I shall call him 'mini-me'" line repeating frequently in time with the Austin Powers theme song, which progressed with each play. This machine, however, was recently replaced by a hollow look-alike that does nothing either in the form of entertainment or imaginary payouts.

But we're not there to gamble. If we were we'd select a better means than one-armed Bandits. Through the automatic playing of these devices you achieve the other thing for which a desert rat seeks wilderness -- mentally ridding yourself of the daily disciplines required to survive an urban environment. Playing the Bandits you quickly wind up a mindless automaton. Except for sustenance and a periodic need to relieve oneself, hours can slip by on the nickel and penny Bandits with no thought of work, family, shopping, road rage, sleeping hours, or even financial matters.

And then it's time to count your $15-$20 in losses and go home. Our one gas stop outside the Phoenix metro area is the Flying J on Andy Devine Blvd in Kingman; gasoline there is usually at least ten cents lower than the better-known station next door. We usually hit it on the way up and then again on the way back. It's a full-fledged truck stop and offers almost anything you could possibly want as well as, unbelievably, almost everything you don't want.

This trip we made one extra stop on the way home and unfortunately left a bag in the Circle K on our way through Wickenburg. But they're good people in Wickenburg. An unknown visitor brought it from the restroom to the cashier, who promptly issued a message to our Desert Rat email address found inside. We were back for the bag within fifteen minutes and found the contents to be completely intact.

Thanks again, Circle K #01286.

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Saturday December 03, 2005 - Marital Bliss

"Wherefore they are no twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder."     Matthew 19:6

Leonard S. (Lenny) and Sabrina Jones - December 3, 2005


Leonard Jones and Sabrina Murry

December 3, 2005
Las Vegas, Nevada


The Wedding Party

Bride: Sabrina Murry
Parents: Lois and Johnny Murray
Maid of Honor: Charbina Williams

Groom: Leonard Jones
Parents: Yvette and Larry Fox

Anastasia Murray
Lianna (Murry) Jones

Special Guest:
Kay Ogbuchiekwe

The Reception

William H. Patterson Elks' Lodge
December 10, 2005, 4:00 PM


To Our Family and Friends
Thank you for sharing this special day with us
And offering your love and support.
May God Bless and Keep you always.

Leonard and Sabrina

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Wednesday November 30, 2005 - Take Me, Joe Arpaio

I'm sorry to report that we’re finished. Life is apparently over as we knew it, so if you don't hear from us anymore you'll know why. You see, the worst has happened.

We received this Nielsen Poll in the mail -- and several mail and telephone reminders ranging from before it came right up through today. I looked it over several times before we were to start, and it seemed simple enough: seven pages to be filled out with program detail in addition to the usual questions to help quantify the household.

Now, I know the good people of Nielson do important work; and I know their endeavor is blessed by God, both political parties, and the Religious Right; and I know it's very important to know which is more popular -- Jerry Springer or Crossfire -- but have you ever tried to fill out one of those forms?

The first time we sat down my wife wielded the remote while I managed the forms. In fifteen minutes I recorded 22 channels. Maybe that was a bit too granular; "write down any channel you stay on for more than ten minutes," the instructions admonished. So while continuing to record the larger blips in my soul mate's surfing I went back and crossed out everything in my list that was under ten minutes' duration. That was better. But now I had completely ruined the first page of the poll with cross-outs and overwriting.

I continued recording on separate paper for just over two hours, then began completing the information before copying it to a fresh sheet to tape over the ruined page.

"What program were we watching on channel 27?" I asked my wife.

"I don't know," she responded; "I don't recall seeing anything but advertisements."

"How about 61?"

"Didn't you write these down?"

"No, I didn't see anything; I was too busy writing," I admitted sheepishly.

After a few agonizing minutes we realized we had only three channels of over ten minutes each, and the longest of these, the TV Guide, we watched less than 14 minutes. We had no program names -- a poll requirement -- and we couldn't account for the remainder of the time.

"Note also which family members were watching each program, as well as the periods during which the TV was on but no one was watching," the instructions stated. This should be easy enough, I thought.

"All we have to do is see if we can determine which of us was watching each of these channels," I commented; ". . .but I was busy writing; I don't think I can honestly say I watched anything tonight."

"Me neither," my soul mate said; "I was just using the remote on your behalf. I was thinking about my Thanksgiving dinner shopping list."

So, for the first evening we had a two-hour period in which the TV stayed on three channels for just over ten minutes each, but no one in the household was watching. Great. At least the first night was done. We went to bed exhausted and slept fitfully. Is it any wonder we forgot to record anything over the next three days? Then when we got back to it there was that heavy mid-western bred guilt for the botched beginning and the missed days. We tried valiantly to save the poll by filling in the hours and channels by guess and by gosh, then we went shopping on the final night because Thanksgiving was the next day.

And now to compound the crime, we've lost the paperwork. We were supposed to send it in immediately after completing the poll, but it was apparently caught in Thanksgiving house cleaning. We've searched all over the house and found nothing.

This is worse than when we tore the labels off our mattresses -- you know, the ones that say "do not remove under penalty of law"? We didn't sleep for a week after that. They'll be coming for us. In the meantime I'm going to call Nielsen and turn ourselves in. It's too late to do anything else -- and we already spent the five bucks on Thanksgiving dinner.

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Wednesday November 23, 2005 - Where Are The Children?

Twelve weeks after the New Orleans disaster 6600 people are still missing. The good news is that all unaccompanied children who escaped the disaster have been identified and returned to their families. The bad news is that the missing still include 900 children.

Bodies are still being uncovered on a daily basis, and the search for the alive continues. We only hope that even small progress in recovering the infrastructure becomes visible soon.

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Tuesday October 25, 2005 - A Moment of Silence

Rosa Parks on the Bus, 1956 (Public Domain photo,

Today it seems particularly appropriate to pause in a moment of silence for yesterday's passing of Rosa Parks, at age 92 every bit the great humble, sweet lady that was arrested on December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama for refusing to move to the back of the bus to make room for a white man to sit down -- thus sparking a 381-day boycott of the Montgomery bus system that led to a 1956 Supreme Court decision banning segregation on public transportation.

And for the 2000th U.S. soldier and all our troops killed in Iraq. Our troops have done a remarkable job under the difficult circumstances, and we owe them a great deal for their willingness to put their lives on the line. So have a lot of civilian employees brought over on the promise of big bucks. And tens of thousands of Iraqi men, women, and children who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. And for exactly what political gain?

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the FoxPaw

Sunday October 23, 2005 - Site Renovation

A major renovation of the Cortez Chronicles and sister websites has been underway for a couple of months now, and has reached about 75 percent completion. Removal of frames, consolidation of palm and maxi-browser images into a single, more effective, more maintainable site have provided the major impetus for the effort, which also includes a few modest expansions such as the addition of the domain, letters from our readers, direct-access indexes to all of our major divisions, and correction of a couple of dozen other technical, developmental, and maintenance issues.

None of it will be visible until it is swung into place at completion of the project, but anyone interested in preliminary access to the updates is welcome to visit us at Remember, it's still in development.

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Sunday October 16, 2005 - Little Chicken Legs

On this day in the Valley of the Sun a new voice was heard -- in keeping with our Desert Rat theme, among the "writhing masses."

Tyler Edmund: 8 lbs; 19 1/4 inches

Dubbed Tye for tying mom to the bed the last few months, he opened his eyes wide and took a long, hard look at the world, then inhaled a deep breath and let out a healthy squall.  Me too, Tye.

Born at 3:05 in the morning, he weighed in at 8 lbs even and measured 19 1/4 inches long. Dad says he's awesome, with a big head, hands and feet, and little chicken legs. He has a very full head of wavy dark hair, a sweet little cooing voice and attentive big, deep blue eyes. Mom says he has a mouth like a turtle, so Squirt really is a good name for him.

Little Chicken legs? How could you, dad?

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Thursday October 13, 2005 - A Meager Response

In this day and age the primary venue for discussion of important national events in popular "news" media appears to be nothing more than the common knockdown, drag-out, here's mud in your eye argument. No more thoughtful discussion with different points of view represented in give-and-take dialog; nowadays it's red-necked shouting matches between ugly people who have long forgotten or never learned the usefulness of civility, compromise, and the search for common ground. Under such conditions, is anyone really surprised to find that Americans no longer know how to select a president capable of decision based on anything but personal opinion? Is anyone really surprised that single-minded confrontational dogma and personal attack are the only negotiating tools available to those we elect?

The world is a large place, fully capable of accommodating diverse opinions on many subjects, and that is what we were trying to do here back on September 2nd -- trying to engage our readers in an intelligent discussion. Sorry, if you were taken aback by my spirited delivery -- I was just hoping for a spirited response. But it didn't work; or rather, it didn't work well, with only two responses. I'm a little surprised to find that no one shares my feeling that we could have done better. Or maybe it's just that, like Rhett Butler, no one gives a damn. Whatever. It makes a clear statement, one that -- how can I put this delicately? -- a statement that validates, rather than refutes, what most of the world thinks of us Americans. Indifference always was the questionable part of valor.

And on this day Fox News Service and National Public Radio announce (individually) the statistics that have accumulated so far on the deaths brought about by Katrina in New Orleans:

40% African American -  Somewhat lower than yours truly expected.
60% Age 61 and older -  A firm testament to the idea that those in greatest need were somehow forgotten.

That 60% unfortunately does not include hospital and nursing home deaths; most of these people lived in the 9th Ward, where property ownership among residents runs 85%. While not a lot of an absolute nature can be gained from these early statistics, they do prove -- according to news media -- that most of the casualties were elderly, African American, or both -- that catastrophe disproportionately affects people of age, race, and economic class. These stats are based upon the first 500 deaths assessed. According to the media there are hundreds of bodies yet to be identified and included in the statistics.

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Monday October 10, 2005 - The Attack Goes On

Maybe it's a commie plot, something left over from the cold war. Whatever, the slaughter of the English language is gaining momentum and it isn't a pretty picture.

As an example, I offer you "oriented" versus "orientated"; "orient" versus "orientate". This particular butchery is mostly a matter of formal education. Once you have it you're ruined for speaking. Kids nowadays go through Elementary and High School having little difficulty with their English -- imitating usage displayed by various teachers in sentences such as:

"Rice grows well in Vietnam because it is oriented to a wet environment."

Then they go off to college and a lot of bad things happen -- drinking parties, coed dorms, and [shudder] the first semester Orientation classes. After that it's all down hill. Pretty soon they're using pot, having rampant sex, and spouting sentences like the following:

"Wait; before I try the browser I have to get orientated to your computer."

Or worse:

"First, let me orientate myself to your computer."

But it doesn't stop there. Celebrity seems to be another venue for disseminating horrific carnage in great volume, providing the ability to massacre the language with no visible embarrassment and with no criticism from listeners for even the worst offenses. Like the no visible means of support bra, these blatant examples of English deficiency stand right up there, free of any underlying basis.

We're all familiar with the quintessential presidential foibles of the past few years, but such abuses come from many other sources as well -- not the least of which is National Public Radio. Now, I'm not accusing any employees of NPR or their affiliate stations, but what about all those authors regularly interviewed on the various programs? If they're capable of authoring a best seller, shouldn't they be able to speak basic English? Repeat this sentence and see how bad it sounds coming from your own mouth:

"The amount of people killed in Iraq far surpasses the amount of people killed in the World Trade Center."

"Amount" is intended for use with mass or uncountable nouns like sunshine or pickle juice. Used as above it conjures up visions of people being poured from a container like so much milk or gasoline. How this is possible I do not know, unless they've been put through a blender first -- it adds a macabre tone to a thought that's already bad enough without it. Anyway, whatever happened to counting people by the each? You know:

"The number of people killed in Iraq the first year after the invasion exceeded by far the number that died in the Trade Center."

Then there's the time-abused "whenever" vs "when":

"New Orleans was hurt bad enough by Katrina, but it was injured worse whenever Hurricane Rita came through."

Wrong!  We know exactly when Rita came through! I'm becoming disorientated. If this doesn't stop sooner or later I'm going to blow a gasket.

Yeah, whenever. . .

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Wednesday September 28, 2005 - Renaissance

The soggy monsoon of 2005 has come and gone as we head into the renaissance of the year -- fall -- when temperatures moderate to an extreme that is rare anywhere else in the continental U.S. It is a time for those of us who made it through another summer in the Valley of the Sun to rejoice. A time for outdoor barbecues and lingering in the backyard pool. A gentler time for those of us far from the seacoasts of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. We heave a great bear sigh, recline in our lawn chairs and doze late into the afternoon.

I idly tune the radio to my favorite news program. The recent hurricanes have also come and gone -- apparently. We hold our collective breaths lightly, tentatively, as those caught in the maelstrom a month after Katrina continue to search frantically from state to state for loved ones last seen dangling from some rope or perched on some disintegrating rooftop -- parents looking for children, children looking for brothers or sisters, and both looking for parents. How did these families get separated? What catastrophe of nature or politics wrenched these survivors from a family nucleus surviving in the attic of a flooded house to a series of scattered safe houses or body bags spread across a dozen states?

To be sure, the death count appears not nearly so high as feared, and the rumors of horrific crime are turning out to be just that -- rumors; but that is the good news. The bad news is that it may be another month before the search for bodies can be completed.

While congress convenes yet another investigation, it appears that once again little besides posturing will come out of the witch-hunt that is just getting underway. With FEMA disabled by the Office of Homeland Security and headed by half a dozen direct imports from Comedy Central, politicians are backpedaling and finger-pointing their way around the frickus like a family of cats caught in the seasonal startup of a thrashing machine.

But not to worry; everything is under control since the president has transmogrified himself from a war general into a FEMA head, hopping from state to state in all appearances personally micro-managing the expenditure of billions of dollars on an invisible recovery effort without the benefit of audit. And with the proposal to finance the recovery on the backs of elderly too poor to afford their own prescription insurance, it's a perfect solution for both wealthy taxpayers and Halliburton.

But that's what life is all about, isn't it? Time moves on; the rich get richer; the poor get poorer; the wounded heal their own; and the rest of us sit back and enjoy the good life. Hey, you ready for another refill?

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Friday September 2, 2005 - Outrage In New Orleans

I am simply outraged at the lack of performance of our government -- all levels, leaders, and agencies -- in response to the emergency that continues to unfold in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

People are dying daily, and thousands wait to be rescued. But military and transportation services appear completely ineffective. No one can get through except the news media, snipers, and National Guardsmen with weapons to keep the thirsty and hungry crowds at the convention center surrounded.

News media cameras continue to cover the taking of water, groceries, baby formula and diapers from food stores -- items critical to survival -- as looting. How dare those people be denied such essentials? Yet, we hear many state and federal authorities stressing that no illegal activity will be tolerated. I am outraged.

And how about the snipers and real looters? There are no accounts of anything being done to control either of these -- but rescue units have pulled out to avoid being shot. Where is the military? If we can conquer an entire foreign country, why can't we bring in a swat unit and take out a few snipers? I think we need to turn rescue operations over to the news media, which has no trouble getting in.

And why did FEMA bar the Red Cross from entering New Orleans to bring food and water to the victims? Is it a matter of resolve? Is it because many of the people trapped there are of low economic status?

Whatever, it's an outrage.

New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin has publicly called for a moratorium on news conferences and other political posturing until all of the people have been saved; yet politicians continue to hold three or four per hour. The response is days late and dollars short -- another blatant example of the ever-present smoke and mirrors that have defined Washington over the last few years.

By George, people are likely to draw their own conclusions about compassionate conservatism and remember them at election time. They'll no doubt remember, too, that it takes a lot of congressmen of both parties to divert New Orleans flood control funds to the war on terrorism and bring a warped, defective agenda to fruition.


Register Your Outrage

All comments will be posted


I don't have the words; I am simply outraged.

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L. Fox



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1Or maybe that's the skin vendors along the sidewalk clicking their cards in your ears.



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Larry K. Fox

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