Memo to David Brooks

steinbergnewyorkermapoftheworldOn a day when President Barack Obama is once again returning to Denver, as a public service announcement I’d like to make it clear that he is not visiting a foreign country.  The West is America, and Americans live in the American West.  So, please David Brooks, drop sentence constructions like these:

  • “Americans still want to go west.  The researchers at Pew asked Americans what metro areas they would like to live in.  Seven of the top ten were in the West:  Denver, San Diego, Seattle, San Francisco, Phoenix, Portland, and Sacramento.”
  • “Americans may indeed be gloomy and hunkered down. But they’re still Americans. They are still drawn to virgin ground, still restless against limits.”

Metro areas as virgin ground?  Creepy and just plain wrong.

0 thoughts on “Memo to David Brooks

  1. Wow. “Going west” hasn’t been the same interesting, dangerous, risky yet romantic venture for — well, what, 100 years? Anyone attracted to (ugh) “virgin ground” is going to be heading for true wilderness, not San Francisco. But even visiting the raw, undeveloped countryside that can be found in state or national parks, you can get an idea of how awestruck pioneers would have been at the strange and extreme landscapes, but at the end of the day you leave in your automobile and drive along nicely paved streets and sleep in a comfy bed.

    “restless against limits”… geez.


  2. So anyone on the Pacific Coast had better catch a flight to Hawaii or drive up to Alaska? While those Americans in the last two states are SOL! Better start them on plans to take over Asia, I guess. (Whatever they all do, tell them not to look north. It’s too damned cold and snowy here to make it worthwhile.)

    (On another note, it’s amusing to see how deeply entrenched the frontier thesis remains in American culture, eh?)


  3. Did he have no advice on how to protect yourself from “savages” while traveling in your Conestoga wagon? Once more, a conservative causes me to ask, “what century is this?” You could almost make a game out of it.


  4. David Brooks’ disregard for reality in his writing is well established. What he writes is “bullshit,” in Perry’s technical sense: “To discourse upon the contexts, frames of reference and points of observation which would determine the origin, nature, and meaning of data if one had any. To present evidence of an understanding of form in the hope that the reader may be deceived into supposing a familiarity with content.” Wikipedia further comments: “The ‘bullshitter’ generally either knows the statements are likely false, exaggerated, and in other ways misleading or has no interest in their factual accuracy one way or the other.” David Brooks is squarely in the “has no interest” category—something which, when pressed, he sometimes doesn’t even bother to deny.


  5. To my mind, the flocking of Americans to that “virgin ground” (?!) is an environmental disaster that should be discouraged. Desert cities like Phoenix (current pop 1.5 million) and Las Vegas (current pop 600,000) simply should not exist at all. Albuquerque’s unrestrained growth recently depleted its underground water source, forcing it draw water from the already over extended Colorado river. Stay East, young man, Stay East.


  6. @GayProf — There are some parts of the West which can support their population. But I agree — it WOULD be nice if the residents of THE FREAKIN’ DESERT realized that swimming pools and lush green lawns of Eastern environs simply aren’t feasible out there.


  7. Can I still tie my steers up in the lobby of the Brown Palace? We still have a lot of pretty virginal-looking ground here in Pennsylvania, which anyone will notice on their eight or nine-hundredth cross-state trip. Someone recently said (citation missing) that it looks more like it did in the seventeenth century than any state on the east coast. Also some sprawl issues, to be sure. The New Urbanism is where you find it, I think. All of the lumens escaping into the night sky between Boston and Washington have to offset any energy saved by in-town pedestrian commuters and things like the Amtrak Decella.


  8. The idea is valid even if the phrasing is stupid… At my college in the 90s, there were people who didn’t know what to do, and said, hey, let’s move to California and look for a job (just like my parents did in the 70s)

    However, I can’t believe Sacramento hit that list. I grew up there. We always looked at Stockton and Fresno and thought “there but for the grace of the Capitol goes Sacramento.”


  9. Uh, I’m an American (passport, birth certificate, yup, it’s official), but if I go 21 blocks due west right now, I’ll get mighty wet and salty, what with the Pacific Ocean and all. And such a manifestation of “restlessness” wouldn’t be good for my laptop at all. Californians may be unusual in many ways, but many of us are still fully qualified American citizens, no kidding, Brooks. And that’s been true since, what, 1849?

    But I agree, dance; Sacramento?!?!


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