State by State

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


by Damian

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.

In case you didn’t notice, being pragmatic makes you look stupid. A country of idiots with a microscopic but best in the world elite my high school friend wrote in response to my innocuous Facebook comment. That stung. Are there more idiots in America than in any other place? Really? I am guessing he would not call Kazakhstan or Burkina Faso a country of idiots despite the fact that given a choice he probably would not want to live in either. Being offend-able is a privilege of the prosperous.

Besides, why would anyone else dare to criticize the country I am ridiculing in my own personal blog. I don’t have a patent or a trademark, or a monopoly but I would think that out of respect people refrain from passing judgement I am more than ready to pass. Let me do all the joking.

Sadly I am no longer allowed to have an opinion on either Poland or United States. You’ve been too long abroad, my Polish friends say if I dare to tell them what I think about Polish politics. You do these things differently in Europe, is the reaction of my American friends when I talk about healthcare, gun rights or pension benefits. But I like being an outsider. You notice more that way.

So back to the country of idiots. I am sorry: country of people who think that problems have solutions and when these solutions are found they should be codified and re-applied. Country of folks who are not afraid to admit that sometimes one needs a reminder that hiking after dark is hazardous or that drinking hot coffee can be dangerous. Country of sliced bread, fast food and moon landings. Country of the worst TV and the best public radio, the silliest glossy magazines and the best journalism. Country where the highest number of Noble prize laureates comes from. Oops. Sorry - I veered over to the microscopic elite side. Microscopic as in 10% of population who are NPR listeners.

What do you even talk about with them? asked another Polish friend. She just recently published a book of poetry in Poland. Why would anyone feel it’s OK to ask such questions. Aren’t Americans entitled to opinions on art, politics, religion, history and the such that can be discussed?. Don’t they have New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly or New York Review of Books? Sure I survived many a baseball conversation, during which I ingested beer and nodded thinking of England. I didn’t do it to fit in, but because I genuinely cared about folks who did the talking. Besides, beer here can be really good.

American society for a casual observer looks more down to Earth than European. Anglos were a low context culture to begin with. The melting pot and never ending immigration waves did a lot to simplify the local customs.Poles of my generation were inoculated against an official propaganda long before the fall of the communist empire. As a result the in-your-face rhetoric of Bush’s and Obama’s speeches makes us queasy, and electoral conventions seem not that different from the televised conferences of the communist party we vaguely remember from childhood.

Here it’s not impolite to say what you mean or to ask for what you need, although doing it without offending people is not as easy as many foreigners imagine. In the States the messenger is responsible for the message: if you don’t understand something it’s not automatically assumed you are stupid. Poles would use difficult words when talking about complicated problems. In comparison Americans seem direct and blunt and not afraid to cater to the lowest common denominator. Both approaches are just conventions and have little to do with average intelligence of the respective audiences.

So life is unfair. My Polish friends judge Americans by their TV exports. And when they come and stay here they have more immediate problems than noticing fascinating interactions of a vibrant culture. That’s not much different from Americans assuming Poles have no sense of humor because they don’t smile on their Facebook photos. I am full of stories from two sides of the pond but by telling them I just make the stereotypes more prevalent. Most of the time that does not stop me from enjoying myself. I still think I have the best of both words.


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.


Contrary to the popular opinion American Midwest is a great place to live if you are looking for an urban environment: Omaha in Nebraska, Sioux City and Dubuque in Iowa, Madison and Milwaukee in Wisconsin to name just a few that we’ve passed. Even Chicago - although The Windy City is obviously in a league of its own. Incidents of history made them busy industrial towns at the time when brick was the nonflammable material of choice. The warehouses and factories had to be built near city centers. Transportation was either slow, by horse drawn wagons, or inflexible by rivers and trains. Just-in-time production has been a thing of the future missing the crucial component: a real-time inventory tracking. One needs computers for that and Victorian inventors somehow have not progressed from theory to practice. Hence the need for large space devoted to storing raw materials, components and finished products around factories. What results are solemn permanent structures: large enough to impress and provide some backbone to the city grid. Small enough not to intimidate unsuspecting pedestrians.