Monday, July 3, 2006 | I’ve got a buddy, Travis, who is stationed on the USS Ronald Reagan, the newest of the nuclear-powered aircraft carriers this country owns. Sometime this week the Reagan should be pulling into San Diego Bay.

The ship, with Travis in its belly, has been gone since January, I think. I don’t know exactly. I could look, but the point is that I don’t remember. I’ve been so busy writing, trying to improve this site, trying to learn how to surf and trying to stay married the whole time, it feels like the Reagan has only been gone a week.

Of course, it doesn’t feel that way to Travis’ wife. Eating sand is more fun than waiting for your spouse to come home from deployment.

Travis is a special person: He can eat more chicken wings than anyone in the world. And although he has a unique talent for provoking people into arguments, he can make friends with just about anyone. He’s the kind of guy who has the brains and confidence to challenge his own assumptions. And when he figures something new out by doing that, he has the kind of charisma that makes teaching it to others incredibly easy.

I’ll look forward to seeing him soon. I just can’t wait to hear him tell the story of what it’s like snowboarding in Dubai.

And it will be too bad that he won’t be back quite in time for the Fourth of July. He’s the kind of guy for whom the Fourth of July barbecue was built – he can wear funny sunglasses and burn meat quite successfully.

A lot of corny things will take place Tuesday when everyone “celebrates” the Fourth of July. The mindless jingoism and the explosion of symbols and banners and colors will create – as it always does – an almost overwhelming sort of patriotic porn. In other countries, it would be strange to wear the nation’s flag on the front of a T-shirt. In this country, there are some who will not only have the flag on their T-shirts, but on their hats, socks, cars, plates, aprons, napkins and Frisbees.

You’d think we would use symbols to, you know, symbolize something. But here, patriotic symbols are part of the pattern and landscape – so ubiquitous, they’re unremarkable and uninteresting. It’s like the Pledge of Allegiance. Young kids will recite the Pledge of Allegiance for years without knowing what the words “allegiance” “Republic” and “indivisible” mean. You just have to recite it. The symbol of them saying it somehow overrides the thought that maybe they should know and truly believe something before they say they do.

That said, I love the Fourth of July. People have a special kind of fun on the Fourth.

But I realize it’s not just for fun – that holidays like this have a point. You are supposed to remember something. The holiday is meant to provoke expressions of that memory on a regular basis. And no matter how frustrated I may be with the way people have been expressing whatever it is they’re expressing, I should give it a go too.

And so I bring up my friend Travis and another friend, Ramsey Green. Unlike Travis, Ramsey is a bit of a liberal. Though he cautions he’s not “one of those liberals” and I somehow know exactly what he means. Ramsey writes for us occasionally. His analyses are powerful, well-written and substantiated.

A native San Diegan who went through Point Loma High School to NYU, Ramsey worked for John Kerry’s campaign in Iowa. Before that, he gave himself to the Teach for America program and spent two years with students in poor areas of Louisiana. He’s now going back to Louisiana to work for the agency in charge of helping that area recover from last year’s devastating hurricanes. He has a few months to figure out how to house the thousands of new teachers Louisiana needs before school starts.

He’s the kind of guy who will drive 300 miles out of his way on a long road trip to see a place of historical interest in a place like Arkansas that people usually try to get through as fast as possible. He loves this country in all its weirdness. He wants to make it a better place and he’s smart enough to do that. I only hope to be close enough to him to write about it when he does.

A guy wrote in a letter the other day to scold me about something and he claimed that I must be, “a 30-something.” That provoked a round of guffaws in the office. For the record, I’m not quite 30. And neither are my friends Travis and Ramsey.

A lot is said quite often about younger generations as if they are some kind of disappointment. But if it is indeed my responsibility to remember something beautiful about this country, I would point out that this country keeps producing people like these two guys. They would disagree on a number of important political issues, but both are strong enough to change their minds if the other’s argument proved to be better, more logical and more accurate. They are more interested in being correct than in sticking to an illogical position.

They both have a deep devotion to their country – but not one that manifests itself with bumper stickers and napkins. It’s a love that means that if they were asked to sacrifice something important to help the rest of us, they would do it without question.

Travis and Ramsey will both be leaders of this country in some capacity some day, I have no doubt. And they’ll take these traits with them to those posts. They’ll make the right decision when the time comes and they’ll have the best ideas of how to make this country better.

So when I think about our country on a holiday like the Fourth, there are a lot of things that can be frustrating if not totally disillusioning. We make mistakes and some do horrible things in our name, but the beauty of our Constitution is that it allows us to recognize our faults and make the country better.

That will be the case as long as we have people leading us who know how to recognize their own faults and make themselves better.

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