State by State

Apparently there is an entire country between Boston and San Francisco.


by Natalia

All the states that we have crossed so far have sections that are uninhabited. Mountains, forests, deserts and other natural obstacles stand in the way of human conquest. Not so in Iowa. Incredible 99% of land is put to a productive use. With the exception of a few cities this means agriculture. Specifically, fields of corn.

In a 100 years of settlement Iowa was so successful in cultivating prairie that at the turn of the 20th century there was none left for the federal government to put its paws on and convert into a national park as it was tempted to do in other states.

While some bleeding hearts mourn demise of the original prairie, it is inevitable. We have to use absolutely all the land available to provide the much needed corn. And there is always need for more corn. If there isn't we'll pay our scientists to create new applications. We are after all avid corn eaters. We consume corn directly, that is after a chemical plant converts it into our beloved high fructose corn syrup and other substances with such exotic names as citrus cloud emulsion or hydroxypropyl methylcellulose pthalate. We also eat corn indirectly after it has been fed to livestock. Stupid cows do get rather sick on a corn feed, but that's what antibiotics are for. If you want more details on how you can help your country and ingest even more corn read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. But only the first part. Later he is ineptly trying to suggest alternatives to the corn-based diet.

Cheap steaks for the people is the name of the game after all. And while those city sissies object to cloning animals no-one really cares about cloning corn. Just look how beautiful it is: plant after plant all exact copies of each other. Plastic plaques with corporate logos on the side of the road. Nothing but corn can survive on the corn field. It's less biological diversity here than in an operating room. We don't even have to use insecticides any more. Our corn is genetically engineered to produce protein that is deadly to insects. And whatever gets washed out into streams and rivers will kill your insects in your state so you don't even have to grow corn. Pure genius. No need to thank corn growers: it's gratis.

If not for corn our gas would be more expensive: 10% addition of ethanol distilled from corn drops the price of fuel by approximately 10 cents per gallon. 10 cents! At least in Iowa. And without distilleries the air wouldn't provide an olfactory reminder of the glorious days of college parties. You get all that for only slightly over 70 billion of federal subsidies since 1995. I call it a bargain. What else are you going to do with your tax dollars: bailout banks?

Corn doesn't even have to be converted into ethanol to serve as fuel. While kernel powered car hasn't left the drawing board yet, corn-burning heaters are widely available. So if you have leftover corn you can simply drop it in the hopper and light away.

For those worried about environmental impact of disposable packaging corn provides an answer: compostable plastics. True, they don't break down any better than conventional plastics in a backyard compost pile and they interfere with traditional recycling but what a great PR effect when Walmart can slap biodegradable on their packaging.

We shouldn't forget about exports: we have a duty to provide corn to the rest of the world. Mexico is an important country. By exporting corn there we free up local peasantry from having to work on their fields. They can cross the border and start on their American dream as illegal workers here.

And yet there are holdouts. Even in Iowa. At one point we spot Czipar's Apple Orchard. The owner confirms my observations: nobody grows apples in Iowa. Despite favorable climate, it's too much work for young people nowadays, according to her. Of course it is. Compared to corn growing apples require more work and attention. And also it's unpatriotic. After all the federal government, in its wisdom, promotes corn not apples. Imagine what would happen if that changed: a state full of orchards. Dreadful vision.


Poles - among other things - gave the world praxiology: a science of efficient action. For Americans it's not a science. They are just pragmatic. That does not go well with Poles. Or the majority of other nations. I am reminded about the pragmatism when reading about how North and South Dakota got into the union. Both at the same time when population swelled temporarily as result of gold discovery. One Benjamin Harrison who happened to be an American president at that time decided to shuffle the papers to obscure which state got created first. Simple solution to a potentially annoying problem. Maybe too simple.


Do you want me to take a photo of you two?, she asks. No, thank you., I shake my head. She must be blind and deaf because she yells: is it a yes or a no? Yet she is ready to jump out of her car and walk 20 yards just to take our picture. How rude of us to decline. I am getting tired of the aggressive politeness and hospitality offered here. I don't like to trust my camera to strangers. I don't need a proof I visited various attractions together with Damian. And, more importantly, I am used to a different protocol: it's the people who intend to have their pictures taken that initiate the conversation. And they apologize profusely for invading privacy first.