Did Commander Schnozz and the Nostril Brigade celebrate Independence Day? Oh, you bet they did.

On Saturday, the Nose piled the ball and chain, the rugrats, and his buddy Irv into the van and set a course for the 'Couv, where they stocked up on illegal-in-Oregon fireworks. On the Fourth, the posse sat on the front stoop with the Nasal dog, Ida Lou, a shortcase of Bud and a Costco-size bag of Cheez Doodles. And for the climax of celebrating the birthday of the best freakin' civilization in the history of the planet, the Nose let loose a few Roman candles over his neighbor's house.

All in the name of Patriotism, don't ya know.

And yet as the beer started taking effect (and the return fire from his neighbor forced a hasty retreat), the Schnozz began to question the very spirit of the Holiday.

Is it possible we Americans are less "independent" today than we were in Seventeen Hundred and Seventy Six?

Could it just be that Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings would flip-flop in their graves if they saw how dependent we've all become?

True, we don't have those goatish British royals breathing down our necks. But aren't we just as cowed now by the House of Saud-a misogynist, homophobic, dress-wearing cabal of gas wholesalers who control the supply for America's biggest addiction: the dual exhaust of a Dodge Hemi?

Yeah, the Nose knows we've rid ourselves of that taxation-without-representation crap.

But are we really in any better shape when three-fourths of the gobs of debt this spendthrift nation assumes is bought by foreigners-namely the Chinese, who, last the Nose looked, didn't exactly have a Bill of Rights on their agenda?

Sure, we're free of the church-state merger that held sway under the Crown and the Anglican Church back in the bad old days. But haven't we've just replaced it with an administration that's just as religiously rank and abusive of rights?

These days, the Bushies sincerely think that if you stare long enough at Old Glory, the stars will take the shape of the crucifix, just like those Magic Eye posters the Nose used to zone out in front of at mall kiosks. (Meanwhile, the hardcore Jesus-freaks are pillorying gays, some of whom are Anglican bishops. Weird.)

And how independent are we really when our untangling from the most beef-witted military intervention since that thing in Southeast Asia depends on the skill and fortitude of the Iraqi armed forces?

For that matter, how free can we be when the Nose has to get approval from some humorless lump in Bangalore to fix an error on his Mastercard bill?

How independent is an America that gets its "fair and balanced'' news from a gazillioniare Aussie with the social conscience of a tire iron? Or when we have to rely on Canadians for cheap pharmaceuticals?

The Nose is no nativist. Some of his best friends- including Yuri, the Belarusian salvage-yard operator-speak English as a second language.

But his sober-up point is simply this: Have we not surrendered the independence we won from the British in exchange for cheap gas, cheap debt, cheap spirituality, cheap journalism and cheap excuses?

Bottoms up.