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October 18, 2003

Iowa Now Checked Off and Appreciated

Another blank spot on my mental map of the U.S. was filled in last weekend when I keynoted at the ITEC (Iowa Technology and Education Conference) in Des Moines. I can't really say that I've seen Iowa, but I stayed overnight and that's the rule in my state-counting. Only five more states to go: South Dakota, Minnesota, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

Now that I've spent some time this year hobnobbing with people in Iowa, North Dakota and Wisconsin, I'm trying to put my finger on what I like about them. Garrison Keillor's depiction of Midwestern personality may be close, but I think he overstates the dour, unmoveable aspects and doesn't give enough credit to the good stuff. My sense of Midwesterners is that they're clear-headed, hospitable, down to earth, reliable, peaceful and considerate. I Googled for "midwestern personality" and "midwestern character" and found most of what's on my personal list but a whole load of different things, too... not all corroborated by multiple mentions. I guess it's a loose stereotype.

That got me curious about regional differences in personality, and I came upon Homicide and U.S. Regional Culture (PDF). One of the interesting conclusions is that the rate of homicide by Caucasian males in various parts of the country is correlated with the Southern-ness of the place.

The explanation offered for that is that the South was settled by people who were herders (Scotch-Irish) and that peoples whose livelihood is based on herding are threatened by theft and develop a culture of honor rooted in responding fiercely to threats. Hmmmm... that might shed light on our Texan foreign policy.

The other interesting thing about Des Moines was the system of walkways connecting a lot of the buildings downtown at the 2nd floor level. You could walk for dozens of blocks without ever stepping outside. Biting cold wasn't part of my image of Iowa, but clearly those walkways are there for a reason.