I’m back!

I spent the weekend at Gateway to Reason in St Louis, and I’m sorry, Iowans, but the worst part of the event was Iowa. I had to drive through it.

It was like Minnesota, only worse. Long drives from nowhere to nowhere through endless tunnels of corn, decorated with anti-choice signs, anti-government signs (Iowa farmers really, really hate the government — they must not get any subsidies at all), pro-Jesus signs, and nothing but Christian/far right talk radio being broadcast. It’s bizarre that this place is the first stop on the presidential campaign trail, and it’s no wonder we’re screwed up if this is the atmosphere of our politics.

It’s a bad sign when you feel relief the instant you cross the border into Missouri.

The conference was excellent. It was very well attended — they filled a large auditorium on the Washington University campus. The talks were diverse, and everything moved smoothly.

The press coverage was surprisingly good, too. That’s a substantial article in the Post Dispatch, and I read the comments: of course there’s the usual small group of know-nothings babbling about atheism being a religion, and of course a few of my chronic harassers show up, but for the most part there are a fair number of commenters being open-minded and expressing an interest in finding out what these atheists are all about.

That’s a good result.


  1. Reginald Selkirk says

    It’s a bad sign when you feel relief the instant you cross the border into Missouri.

    That’s pronounced “Misery.”

  2. The Other Lance says

    Q: An Iowan throws a grenade across the border into Minnesota. What does the Minnesotan do?

    A: Pulls the pin and tosses it back

  3. phein39 says

    We drive several times a year from Champaign-Urbana, IL, to Mankato, a route which takes us through the Quad Cities, up the Avenue of the Saints through Waterloo, then up I-35 into Minnesota. Been making the trip since 1990. The rest stop below Albert Lea, or the I-80 bridge over the Mississippi going the other way, are signs that The Worst Is Over, even if there is still another hour or three to go.

    It is painful to drive through Iowa because of the dullness. A lot like Indiana or Ohio (or large parts of Illinois, for that matter), relieved only by the fact that Iowans recognize the passing lane is for passing, unlike in Indiana or Ohio.

    At least the state troopers let folks do close to 80 mph without getting pulled over. They, too, must recognize drivers need to get the heck out of there as quickly as possible.

  4. says

    There are some great audiobooks available.

    I used to not be a fan of audiobooks until I got one of plato’s dialogues done with full cast; suddenly I heard the depth and wit to them that I’d been missing. Now I travel with an iPhone full of audiobooks at any given time; I don’t have to grovel around the radio dial trying to find local NPR affiliates in the desert of bible thumping tribalism, or ads, or … ugh. (Not that I like NPR but it’s better than bible thumping and slightly better than white noise)

  5. says

    Meanwhile, the google news headline:
    Severe Weather: Tornado Damage in Iowa

    sounds like god’s aim is still shitty even after all these aeons of smiting practice!

  6. machintelligence says

    As a child back in the 1950’s I used to think that Iowa was the biggest state in the union. Our Summer family vacations involved driving from Chicago to Sioux Falls and in those pre-interstate days most of the trip was through Iowa. I guess things haven’t changed all that much.

  7. says

    It was like Minnesota, only worse. Long drives from nowhere to nowhere through endless tunnels of corn, decorated with anti-choice signs, anti-government signs (Iowa farmers really, really hate the government

    Did you by chance pass through my neighborhood of Cedar Rapids along I-380? Our city is rather liberal, but…yeah, you get to the outskirts and the crazy really starts showing up.

    (Iowa farmers really, really hate the government — they must not get any subsidies at all)

    Except, as you probably know, as I’m sure MN is similar, they love their corn subsidies.

    But…uh…I’m really surprised you’d feel relief going into Missouri. Those parts of Missouri are worse. Maybe they don’t feel the need to put up billboards because everyone else already agrees with them. I suggest at least considering that hypothesis.

  8. says

    The Other Lance @ 2:

    Q: An Iowan throws a grenade across the border into Minnesota. What does the Minnesotan do?

    A: Pulls the pin and tosses it back

    steve1 @ 10:

    I heard that Iowa stands for idiots out wandering around.

    Well, you both have successfully illustrated that stupidity is not at all confined to Iowa.

  9. anteprepro says

    You can’t really judge a state based on signs you see in low population areas. I could judge Massachusetts and New York as conservative using that methodology.

    Some data here: http://www.gallup.com/poll/125066/state-states.aspx

    Iowa is damn close to the nation’s averages on political related metrics. It differs in respect to Obama approval (5 percentage points less), percent conservative (2.5 percentage points more), and percent liberal (3 percentage points less). Contrast with Missouri, which has 8 percentage points less for Obama approval, a one percentage point higher Republican party affiliation, 3.5 percentage points more conservatives than average, and 4 percentage points less liberals. In addition, it has 2 percentage points more “very religious” people.

    Additionally: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iowa#Law_and_government

    Since the 1980s, it has become more of a swing state in national politics. As of 2012 the state leans Democratic; it has supported a Democratic candidate in all but one presidential election since 1988. The Cook Partisan Voting Index gives Iowa a score of D+1.[citation needed] The state is far from homogeneous in its political leanings. Generally, eastern Iowa leans Democratic while western Iowa leans Republican. Central Iowa is more split, though Des Moines tends Democratic. Cook found that Iowa’s five former congressional districts ranged in political orientation. Iowa’s 2nd congressional district, in the Eastern/Southeastern part of the state, leaned Democratic, with a D+7 (strong Democratic) score, Iowa’s 5th congressional district, which covers most of Western Iowa, leaned Republican, scoring R+9

    For presidential elections recently, they voted for Gore in 2000, and then Obama for the last two elections.

    In addition, Iowa was the fourth state to legalize gay marriage, 6 years ago.

    Iowa: It’s not that bad.

  10. anteprepro says

    Interestingly, looking up that info, I found that Missouri actually isn’t quite as bad as I assumed either. It has a Partisan Voting Index of R +5, vs. Iowa’s of D +1.

    Ranked from most Democratic lean to least, Hawaii is 1st, California is 7th, Iowa is 21st on the list (though technically tied with Pennsylvania, Colorado, and New Hampshire), while Missouri is the 29th, tied with Indiana, while the most Republican states Idaho, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming, in that order.

    It is surprising. You don’t often hear about the Republican-ness of Wyoming. But they really fucking are.
    Check this out:

    The chart is a wall of red. Aside from a Democratic governor from 2003-2010, it is a massive majority of Republicans in state house and senate, Republican Senators all the way back to the 70’s, same for their one House member (including once having put forth a Representative Dick Cheney), and voting Republican for president since the 60’s.

    And back to State of the States: Lowest Obama approval rating, 16 percentage points more than average for Republican party affiliation, the lowest Democratic party affiliation of any state (23.1%), 5 percentage points more conservatives than the national average, the nation’s lowest percent of liberals (12.8%) (and yet 6 percentage LESS “very religious” people than average, and many more political moderates than average).

    Wyoming seems like it really is the most conservative state around. How has it been flying under the radar?

  11. Crimson Clupeidae says

    Wyoming has a low population (relatively) and there fore few electoral votes. That’s probably the main reason it ‘flies under the radar’. Also, if it’s solidly R, it will be mostly ignored by both parties, ironically enough.

  12. Tethys says

    It is surprising. You don’t often hear about the Republican-ness of Wyoming. But they really fucking are.

    Dick Cheney. Oil. It seems to me that all of the states with oil and natural gas natural resources are pretty much controlled by rich white Republican oilmen. Texas. Alaska. North Dakota.

  13. joel says

    I grew up in IA and must speak in defense of my home state:

    1) As noted above, IA went for the D candidate in six of the last seven presidential elections.
    2) IA was the fourth state in the nation, and the first in the Midwest, to legalize same-sex marriage.
    3) Recently the IA Supreme Court ruled that people have the right to be drunk on their front porch. Seriously! In IA, you can’t be arrested for public intox on your own porch.

    Granted, I live in CA now and have no desire to go back to IA. But when a blogger compares IA unfavorable to friggin’ MO, well, that requires correction.

  14. anchor says

    It’s bizarre that this place is the first stop on the presidential campaign trail, and it’s no wonder we’re screwed up if this is the atmosphere of our politics.

    Should it be any wonder if that the area has been so politically preconditioned through vast sums of moolah? PZ: methinks you missed the chance to observe a bit of cultural evolution there…spurred on by a constant input of intentional selection. ;)

  15. Johnny Vector says

    Iowa also has, if you believe the pfffft of all knowledge, the highest spatial density of wind power in the US, with 35.8 nameplate kW/sq km. Total generation last year was 16,295 GWh, 25% of the state total. So yay for that!

    Plus, inspiration for Barry Privett, which is always a good thing.

    She has the mane of a lion,
    Husky eyes that are framed
    In cheekbones sculpted by the wind
    Of I-O-double-you-A

  16. says

    #20, Johnny Vector:

    Yes! That was noticeable: there were huge windfarms all over the place, and everywhere on the roads there were long trailers hauling windmill components somewhere.

  17. anteprepro says

    I’m rather envious. Right-wingers often talk about how Ugly windmills are, when trying to do whatever they can to defend the oil industry and bash alternative energy, yet I love windmills. Maybe I am weird that way, but even the sterile plain white windmills that look like nothing more than propellers still have an elegant beauty to them, in my view. Maybe it is the same reason I love wind chimes: I love it simply because it helps you Feel the wind more.

  18. consciousness razor says


    A big chunk of MO’s population is in STL, KC, and Springfield (see below). Springfield’s deep in Bible-thumping country (on the other hand, it’s also sort of a college town), but otherwise, they do something to balance out the conservative effect of the small towns and rural areas.

    So, like Iowa, it’s a swing state (and a bellwether, at least until Obama) as far as national politics is concerned (which makes it solidly conservative, for anyone outside the US wondering what that really means). Mostly Republican politicians, and most of its Democrats aren’t terribly liberal — that’s more or less what the country is like but of course that’s not something PZ should be especially happy about.

    The wiki article linked above notes this:

    Also, the 21st century Missouri electorate is also much less big-city urban than that of the 20th century. In 1900, the combined population of St. Louis (575,238) and Kansas City (163,752) was 24% of the population of Missouri (3,106,665), while by 1950 the combined population of St. Louis (856,796) and Kansas City (456,622) had actually grown to 33% of the population of Missouri (3,954,653). But shortly thereafter the population of St. Louis began a sharp decline, while that of Kansas City remained nearly static, so that the state is now much more dominated by rural, suburban, and small-city voters, who are generally more conservative: by 2000 the combined populations of St. Louis (348,189) and Kansas City (441,545) had declined to 14% of the population of Missouri (5,595,211).

    I would count growth/decline in outlying areas around STL and KC too (haven’t checked what areas those numbers include), since they generally have more in common with heavily urban areas than rural ones. But if that’s expected to continue, all else being equal, I’d expect MO will generally move further to the right.

  19. anchor says

    yes. “inspiration….which is always a good thing.”

    Yet there are some residual problems that need addressing that have been widely documented…

    Like the alleged ‘chopping up’ of a significant number of migratory birds.

    Therefore, NOT ‘always’ such a good thing, on the way to learning how to better mitigate problems whenever introducing an alternative means. Instead of fixing an industry in place that isn’t flexible enough to handle tweaks.

    Just saying.

  20. Knabb says

    @14 Anteprepro

    You don’t hear about how deeply republican Wyoming is in national news and the like, but for those of us in nearby states it’s extremely well known. I live in Colorado, and there are a handful of Wyoming comments that have wide circulation. A few have to do with the extremely low population density (e.g. “Both of Wyoming’s citizens…”), but there’s a lot about just how right wing it is, the preponderance of guns, how extremely religious it is, and similar.

    I’m honestly surprised that Idaho, Oklahoma, and Utah lean more republican than Wyoming. That states in the south consistently don’t isn’t surprising at all. After all, the republican party is a blatantly white supremacist organization, and while the south isn’t anywhere near monolithically white, Wyoming (and for that matter Idaho, Oklahoma, and Utah) are.

  21. Knabb says

    Also, for that matter the data I’m looking at suggests that Wyoming is worse than Idaho and Oklahoma, and roughly equivalent to Utah.

  22. steve1 says

    I was corrected by a friend in the industry that they are not windmills they are wind turbines.

  23. Al Dente says

    Knabb @25

    I’m honestly surprised that Idaho, Oklahoma, and Utah lean more republican than Wyoming.

    While I don’t know about Oklahoma, Idaho and especially Utah are heavily Mormon. The LDS Church is very conservative and quite authoritarian. A past Mormon President and Prophet, Ezra Taft Benson, was a founder of the John Birch Society. Anti-communist fanatic Willard Cleon Skousen was a Mormon. Benson’s successor, David McKay, recommended that all Mormon Church members read Skousen’s The Naked Communist, a book published by Publisher’s Press, which was then run by Thomas Monson, the Church’s current President and Prophet.

  24. says

    PZ @ 21:

    and everywhere on the roads there were long trailers hauling windmill components somewhere.

    I see that here in ND, more and more over the last couple of years.

  25. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    …weird. I remember driving through Iowa years ago and the only thing that jumped out me was that upon crossing the border from Nebraska, not a single fucking thing changed about the road, but the speed limit dropped by 10 mph. And then that the state’s highway signs look almost exactly like national standard speed limit signs.

  26. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    …or I guess, a “FUCTD” campaign. (Fear, Uncertainty, Crocodile Tears, and Doubt).

  27. epikt says

    @6, Just an Organic Regular Expression:

    The question of subsidies is easy to answer (specifically see http://farm.ewg.org/region.php?fips=19000). Iowa has received $24.9 billion in the span 1995-2012, and only 19% of farms received none at all.

    So they are ingrates, as well.

    From “Catch-22:”

    “Major Major’s father was a sober God-fearing man whose idea of a good joke was to lie about his age. He was a longlimbed farmer, a God-fearing, freedom-loving, law-abiding rugged individualist who held that federal aid to anyone but farmers was creeping socialism. He advocated thrift and hard work and disapproved of loose women who turned him down. His specialty was alfalfa, and he made a good thing out of not growing any. The government paid him well for every bushel of alfalfa he did not grow. The more alfalfa he did not grow, the more money the government gave him, and he spent every penny he didn’t earn on new land to increase the amount of alfalfa he did not produce. Major Major’s father worked without rest at not growing alfalfa. On long winter evenings he remained indoors and did not mend harness, and he sprang out of bed at the crack of noon every day just to make certain that the chores would not be done. He invested in land wisely and soon was not growing more alfalfa than any other man in the county. Neighbors sought him out for advice on all subjects, for he had made much money and was therefore wise. “As ye sow, so shall ye reap,” he counseled one and all, and everyone said, ‘Amen.’“

  28. raven says

    The question of subsidies is easy to answer …

    Like the county my relatives are from in the upper Midwest.

    1. They get a lot of crop subsidies. Subsidized crop insurance. The Conservation Reserve Program which is a great place to put untillable acres. A huge number of rural subsidies, hospital, infrastructure, internet etc..

    I’d estimate that half of the county income is federal transfer payments of one sort or another. AFAICT, the feds are paying people to live out there to keep it from looking deserted. And oh yeah, they don’t much like the federal government either.

    2. from!!! None of my relatives live there any more. There is and has been a movement from the boonies AKA Rural Flight for decades.

    The whole county has slowly been losing population for decades. It’s a large county with 3,000 people. Some of the small towns are now half ghost towns, half the people are gone. They tear down abandoned houses and buildings every year to keep the places from looking like complete ghost towns. The average age of the population is over 60.

    3. The myth of small town America is just that. The USA is the most heavily urbanized country on the planet at 84% and going up still.

    And a lot of rural areas are full of crime, drugs, unemployment, social problems, poverty, and hopelessness. Not all, but many. My relatives former home at least still has an intact economy and society.

  29. shadow says

    @32 Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y:

    That is why our quasi-domesticated nocturnally adapted feline predator was an indoor-only kitty. Spouse brought her outside to get her paws in the snow, and the look on the cat’s face was “Why do you hate me?”

    Of course, Shadow-ling’s friends referred to the cat as the Devil-cat (after they had put her in a shoe cabinet, thereby making a lifelong enemy). She would lie in wait for the kid’s friends in the house and hunt them.