Tuesday, September 03, 2002

It should be an optimistic story, really: in a remote, arid, poverty-stricken frontier region where the traditional livestock-herding lifestyle is no longer economically viable, modern agricultural techniques make it possible for the natives to sell their land to farmers for productive use and move on to literally greener pastures elsewhere, or to the more prosperous cities for a taste of modern life. The American journalist sees it differently, though; he bemoans the declining population (!) in a place "so rich in warmth, community spirit, and old-fashioned friendliness"--despite the openly professed eagerness of the locals to leave their godforsaken backwater and begin anew in a more hospitable environment. He decries the favoring of "crop farmers" over "livestock owners". (When, I wonder, did a Times writer last take the side of the meat industry against vegetarian farming?) And he applauds schemes to keep the old ways alive--such as a recently-opened resort where tourists on the lookout for fresh exotica can experience the picturesque local practices first-hand.

Not that it's the slightest bit unusual or shocking, of course, to find a journalist waxing condescendingly sentimental about the charms of a quaint, out-of-the-way culture and habitat that he personally would find utterly intolerable to live in. This time, however, the writer is New York Times columnist Nick Kristof, and the vanishing tribe consists of....ranchers in rural Nebraska.

Now, given the absence of language or citizenship barriers and the power of modern communications technology, there's absolutely nothing--not even the need to find a suitable new job--that keeps Mr. Kristof himself from ditching Manhattan and relocating to this threatened paradise, if he considers it so worth saving. My guess, though, is that he would never in a million years consider living amongst a bunch of small-town cowpoke yahoos desperate to escape their miserably desolate patch of prairie emptiness. No, he'd surely much rather plead tearfully for the preservation of their precious heritage from the comfortable bustle of his big-city newsroom.

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