December 27th, 2017

Pocket’s got my number: the reluctant patriot

When I updated to the new Firefox, a bunch of things came with it. On my home page there was a sampler of websites I’d recently visited, and searches I’d done. I got rid of that almost immediately; I don’t want to be reminded of the fruits of my wanderings.

But there was also a feature that I kept, something called “Recommended by Pocket.” Since my browser knows everything about me (probably more than I know myself), it shows me articles it thinks I would like to read. And sure enough, it often seduces me into reading them, because Pocket is just that smart about people.

So that’s how I ended up back at the New York Times (well you might say oh no, not again!), having clicked on an article called, “Letter of Recommendation: Passport to Your National Parks.” (I actually read it on Chrome, by the way, since I’ve used up my allotment of NY Times articles on Firefox already and I refuse to pay for access.)

The topic seemed innocuous enough, and I like national parks. But this is the Times, and this is the year 2017, so I should not have been surprised that the article (by someone named Jamie Lauren Keiles) began, “I cringe at the thought that I might be patriotic, but the next thing I know, I’m…”

Now, I don’t want to be too hard on Jamie. Seriously, I don’t. She’s young, and that intro is almost obligatory if she wants to remain in any sort of good graces with her peers. After all, she’s writing a piece in praise of—or sort of in praise of—visits to National Park Service sites as listed in a booklet. So her article must begin with the sort of hat in hand, shuffle-shuffle disclaimer that says in effect, Don’t hate me! I’m one of you. I’m not one of them, not one of those troglodyte knee-jerk America-First Trump-loving uneducated bigoted….

It’s hard to be a young person these days, and although I may sound sarcastic I’m actually not meaning to be. Thought-crime is very real and the punishment is swift and cruel, particularly among the young.

The article continues, and the first paragraph expands on the apologia for what she’s about to write:

…I like to think of America [as] less a set of monolithic ideals than a junk drawer full of halftime shows, regional-style pizzas, feuds over what exactly to call “soda” and snippets of marches by John Philip Sousa. But that sort of patriotism, while good enough as entertainment, offers little comfort when I’m up late at night consuming my 25th hour of news. Lately, my America has felt too vast and fragmented, and fixating on regional curiosities like state-fair butter sculptures and St. Paul sandwiches only exacerbates this crisis of faith. I’ve been searching for new ways to keep liking this country, meaningful ways that don’t feel like work.

Once she’s gotten that out of the way, most of the rest of the article is straightforward. But every now and then there’s that little hiccup to let us know Jamie’s on the side of the good.

For example, I find the following to be a fascinating example of the push/pull back-and-forth feelings the author experiences when she comes face-to-face with the grandeur that is one of the greatest sites on earth:

Standing at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, I imagined what it must have been like to ride a horse through unfamiliar land and come face to face with this immense hole in the ground. I found myself drawn, if only for a moment, to the tantalizing myth of European “discovery.”

She’s drawn—but only for a moment. This myth to which she’s drawn simply must be put in scare quotes to even be uttered (or in this case written). Well, Jamie, I suggest you look at it this way: although the Native Americans were definitely there first—some even lived there—in 1540 they showed it to the Spaniards, and the rest, as they say, is history. You can think of this “discovery” as the canyon’s reveal to the rest of the world of one of the wonders of that world. And thanks to a bunch of dead white guys, we can all stand and see approximately what they all saw that day when it really was an amazing “discovery”—without the scare quotes.

In fact, I’d say it’s still a discovery for anyone who goes there for the first time.

There’s more in the essay, but I’ll tiptoe away now with a request (almost certain to go unheeded) that travel articles could just be written without the political overlay that doesn’t belong there and doesn’t enhance a thing.

7 Responses to “Pocket’s got my number: the reluctant patriot”

  1. Mr Oblivious Says:

    Neo, there is an easy way to get around New York Times and Washington Post paywalls. Open a separate private browser session in Firefox or Chrome, it gets you five articles. Close the browser, open it again and open another private tab, start your limit of five over again. A few newspaper sites have figured out how to prevent this, but it works with most.

  2. Oldflyer Says:

    Wonder how she would have reacted to the Christmas* parade in Placerville, Ca. Yes, in California, with many American flags flying from fire engines, pick up trucks, and tractors; and even carried by horsemen. (I don’t recall any of the pet goats dressed in a patriotic theme, but several were outfitted in holiday regalia.)

    To the best of my knowledge no one protested the themes; in fact there were many smiles and cheers. True, the most enthusiastic cheers were for the folks with over sized dust pans and shovels who followed the equestrian groups.

    I suspect that someone writing for the NYT readers would have something a bit snarky to say about this decidedly unsophisticated event, attended by a large, enthusiastic crowd. Worse yet, in a town that prides itself on its “gold rush” origins that brought hordes of European invaders to a previously pristine area, where indigenous people allegedly lived in harmony with nature and each other. I also imagine that she might have developed a case of the “vapors” at the sight of the parade Marshals patrolling the streets in 19th century era western wear, including very large six shooters on their belts.

    This was yet another reminder that there are many facets to California. Some are just largely ignored by the media and the beautiful people.

    *The asterisk because I cannot say with certainty that it was officially a Christmas parade; and I cannot recall any religious themed entries. Still, it trampled on political correctness on many levels.

  3. Gringo Says:

    When I was in my twenties I wasn’t particularly patriotic. After working in Latin America, I became a flag-waver. While our government isn’t perfect, it is much more competent and much less corrupt than government in Latin America

    I went to the capitol in Buenos Aires to renew my recently expired passport. Once I had the properly sized photograph, I got a new passport in 15 minutes. Since I was in the capitol, I decided to investigate progress on my National Identity Document (DNI). I had initiated the paperwork a year earlier in the town where I worked. I had been granted a permanent work visa before entering the country, so there was no paperwork impediment for getting the DNI. The same Monday I got my passport, I went to the appropriate office to inquire about my DNI. By Friday afternoon, there was still no DNI for me. I informed the office that as I needed to get back, they could simply mail the DNI to me.

    “But it will get lost!” came the reply. Within 30 minutes I finally had my DNI. They weren’t joking about losing it. I knew an American from New Hampshire who was married to a psych professor from Peru. She said it took them 20 years to get Argentine documents- lost how many times- and her husband was a government employee!

    For corruption, I will simply state that in my first meeting with management in Venezuela, I was instructed how to finesse bribes to traffic cops, a.k.a.gifts given of one’s free will, on expense reports. And I did.

    In addition, I saw that the common man had a much better chance with government in the US than in Latin America.

    Time in the Third World will turn most progressives of the left into flag-waving right wingers. It did for me.

  4. Julia Says:

    How terribly sad that a normal feeling of loving your country has become looked up as suspect. Luckily, it’s not like that everywhere in the country.

  5. chuck Says:

    Poor gal, she’s been educated. That is a terrible disability to deal with these days.

  6. Ray Says:

    Gringo,
    I spent 8 months working in Brazil in 1961. At first I was astonished at the poverty and corruption but I got used to it. There was a big scandal with the Rio de Janero police. They were trying to get all the beggars off the streets for a big international event so they moved them outside of Rio to a new housing area. Next day the beggars were back in Rio so the police rounded them up again and moved them out again. The next day, repeat. The day after that the beggars were back so the police rounded them up, loaded them on barges, took them out into Guanabara bay and threw them overboard. The war on poverty was dead serious in Brazil. I was really happy when I returned to the USA.

  7. Ymar Sakar Says:

    The algorithms they have are a second rank behind Google and NSA web crawlers. Facebook brought in a lot of HVT (High Value Target) or VIP information to be accessible, but finding enough humans to read through it and parse it was impossible. Hence search algorithms came to the rescue, but they were dependent on linear or logical coding and CPU speed limits.

    With quantum Qubits created by D wave, and second gen quantum computers by IBM, the hardware issue will be removed, leaving coding itself.

    The humans are now parsing computer algorithm search results, to see if it is accurate or not. Humans used to debug programs by running them and checking for errors. Now computers run searches on facial recognition and other profiling methods, while checking to see if humans recognize the errors.

    (I actually read it on Chrome, by the way, since I’ve used up my allotment of NY Times articles on Firefox already and I refuse to pay for access.)

    It would be better for humans to say they read the NyTimes but avoid the hassle of actually reading it.

    Propaganda is not rated on negative or positive reactions, as so long as there as a population that “knows about it”, it is working.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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