Mopping Up: 2014 in Review

So here we are, December 31, 2014, the last day of the final year of my first half-century. How did it go?

I documented my life in 2014 publicly via 55 blog posts here and at Indie Moines — which I shut down in September, considering it to be a successfully-executed endeavor with nothing more to justify it as a standalone writing outlet for me. I quit Facebook in 2014, and became more active on Twitter. I celebrated my 25th wedding anniversary in 2014, reaching a milestone where the days I have spent with Marcia in my life are now more numerous than the days I spent without her. I achieved the aggressive budget that I set for my work place, adding revenue, shrinking expenses, and expanding programs, all at the same time. I traveled to Europe, Florida, San Diego, Las Vegas, New York, Massachusetts, Death Valley, Missouri, Minnesota, Chicago, and Wisconsin, among other places, both within and beyond Iowa’s borders. I spent more time with Katelin in 2014 than in any recent year, too, which was delightful.

Big picture-wise, then, it was a pretty good year on a personal front. Great Jorb There, Universe! Much appreciated! But, of course, if you’re a regular reader of my various websites, then odds are that you’re not here for such macro, big picture stuff, but rather for the micro, list-making, obsessive, nerdy, spread-sheet fueled piffle and tripe in which I specialize. So let’s hurry up and get on with discussing that kind of stuff, shall we? Yes! Huttah!

There’s already been a good amount of list-nerding and spreadsheet-geekery going on here throughout 2014, as follows:

Goodness, that’s a lot of nerd stuff — and I didn’t even mention my large multi-attribute utility model designed to identify the best retirement city in America, or my two college basketball ranking models, or the analysis I used to win my second Fantasy Football title this year. Ahem.

Here, finally, are just a few more lists of the sorts of things I like to count, sort, and order as we prepare to greet 2015 on the morrow, hopefully without hangovers. Enjoy!

Favorite Books of 2014:

  • Annihilation, Authority and Acceptance (The Southern Reach Trilogy) by Jeff VanderMeer
  • The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert
  • The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
  • Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America by John Waters
  • Desperate Passage: The Donner Party’s Perilous Journey West by Ethan Rarick
  • The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry by Lance Dodes
  • Birdmen: The Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtiss, and the Battle to Control the Skies by Lawrence Goldstone
  • The Big Midweek: Life Inside the Fall by Steve Hanley
  • Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany by David Stubbs
  • I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling With Villains (Real and Imagined) by Chuck Klosterman

Favorite Movies of 2014:

  • Frank
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • The Imitation Game
  • Snowpiercer
  • Under the Skin
  • Birdman
  • Jodorowsky’s Dune
  • Only Lovers Left Alive
  • Interstellar
  • Bad Words

Favorite Blogs:

  • Fifty-Two Weeks of the Fall (I’m obsessive about Mark E. Smith and The Fall, I’m a big fan of pointlessly-masochistic writing projects, and I appreciate honest music criticism without commercial taint. This website delivered on all accounts from the first to the last day of 2014. Bravo!)
  • Figuring. Shit. Out. (Amy Biancolli may well be one of the best writers I’ve ever read in any format: she’s funny, wise, prolific, thoughtful and candid about experiences that most of us cannot imagine, plus she has excellent taste in music and movies, and knows when to cuss and when not to. What’s not to love?)
  • Reyna Eisenstark (The writer used to blog at a certain newspaper that I don’t mention by name anymore, but I liked her prose and content enough to hold my nose at her surroundings, and just focus on her words, while she was there. In 2014, thankfully, she finally moved to her own page. Hooray!)
  • Cumbrian Sky (I first got hooked on Mars Stu when he began documenting Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity’s adventures on The Road to Endeavour in 2008. His writing style, sense of wonder, eclectic interests, and passion for astronomy — amateur and professional alike — are all brilliant and inspiring).
  • XKCD (Again. Still. Of course. Duh. Randall Munroe’s live coverage of Philae’s landing on Comet Cherry-Gerry was a high-water mark in the ways that science and entertainment can collide online, and that was just one of dozens of sublime moments this year).

Iowa Car Shows: An Introduction

Iowans love just about any excuse for congregating into large crowds and milling about randomly, bumping into other people, looking at shiny things, and waving and smiling. It’s one of their most charming traits.

Farmers markets, county and state fairs, church services, Rotary meetings and state legislative sessions are all popular places for Iowans to bump into each other, wave, and smile — but if you really want to experience the pinnacle of human gridlock in pursuit of gawking, then go to an Iowa Car Show.

Seasoned Iowa Car Show veterans know that it’s not enough to just mill around randomly bumping into people and pointing at stuff. Nope, if you’re going to an Iowa Car Show, then you also need to carry a folding chair around with you, so you can randomly stop, sit, admire things, and obstruct the flow of human traffic like the true impediment you were born to be.

Another unique feature of Iowa Car Shows are barn finds, where people long ago bought cars and parked them in their barns — and then got so busy with farming and looking at things and waving and blocking traffic that they just plum forgot that they owned them! Then, as happens, one thing leads to another, and first it was the holidays, and then it was the Caucus, and then, wait, didn’t we used to own a barn? Oh well, no worries, look at the size of that acorn squash, will you?!

Fast forward a couple of generations, when the repossession company comes in, and you’ve got a barn find: an untouched classic car, just waiting for some fancy pants city person to swish in, buff its headlamps and speak French to it, while the descendants of the people who originally bought it wrestle through foreclosure proceedings brought on by 80 years of back taxes and penalties due on that stupid old barn and back acreage that everyone forgot about.

If you attend an Iowa Car Show in the year ahead, it’s always good to know the names of a few great cars that have emerged from recent Iowa barn finds, so you can plop down in your folding chair, and wax loudly and semi-knowledgeably while you point and smile at things. Here’s a list of some popular Iowa Car Show cars to get you started, grouped into the classes in which they are usually exhibited:

MUSCLE CAR CLASS:

1970 Plymouth Testicula
1969 Chevrolet Mullet ZL-1
1967 Ford Chokehold 500
1967 Plymouth Mustache GTX
1971 Chevrolet Forcible Entry Convertible
1967 Chevrolet BAC .24
1964 Oldsmobile Area 51 Hemi
1967 Pontiac Grand Jury
1969 AMC $20 Hooker
1969 Ford Mongol Horde GTX

CLASSY CAR CLASS:

1943 DeSoto Douche Phaeton
1936 Hudson Harrumph
1967 Peugeot Pigpoker
1944 Nash Rash Sedan
1937 Studebaker Muffinstuffer
1943 Tucker Tuckus V-12
1964 Plymouth Plower
1910 Ford Model “A” Assmunch
1947 Packard Pucker
1951 Stutz-Bearcat Furrburger DeLuxe

CLOWN CAR CLASS:

1975 Oldsmobile Pratfall
1991 Dodge Punchline
1984 Honda Pupu Platter
1987 Pontiac Queef
1955 Ford Skidmark XL
1981 Renault Jerry Lewis
1969 Chrysler Heckle
1979 Volkswagon Pfehrt Diesel
1988 Yugo Yuk
1998 Toyota Tercel

LADY’S CHOICE CLASS:

1987 Yugo Hugo
1974 Saab Caak Turbo
1988 Pontiac GTO’Donnell
1977 Peugeot Spanx Hatchback
1991 Chevellen DiGenerous
1965 Volvo Monocoque
1963 Opel Cleavage 500
1974 Chevrolet Burt Convertible
1994 Pontiac Trans Ann Heche
1961 Cadillac Prince Rainier

Iowa Year in Review: Ranking Roundup

One of the most popular events in the Iowa Olympics is the “Mondo Modesty” portion of the Hawkeye Decathlon, where contestants compete to see who can shout “Iowans are humble and don’t like attention!” the loudest in a public place. The end of the calendar year is always a great time to be training for that Iowa Mondo Modesty competition, since websites and magazines and newspapers from around the country almost always include Iowa in their year-end “Best Of” lists for one thing or another. Not that we’re keeping track, mind you, since we’re modest, and we don’t like attention. But, still, here are some of the accolades that Iowa earned in 2015, just in case you’re interested. Not that we’re bragging or anything, because we don’t do that. It’s not nice.

  • Pitchfork ranks Des Moines the #1 music city in the country in its year-end “Places Where People Still Think That David Byrne Matters” report.
  • Forbes ranks Iowa #3 among “States Whose Names Begin with Vowels,” and #4 among “States Whose Names End With Vowels;” only Ohio, Alabama, Idaho, Oklahoma and Alaska score higher consolidated scores in both categories.
  • Gastronomica ranks Des Moines the #2 city in the U.S.A. for “Most Inexplicable or Inappropriate Things Served on Pizzas and Hamburgers.”
  • Iowa finishes #3 in Weather Channel’s annual “Most Grotesque Climates in America” contest.
  • The Atlantic ranks Cedar Rapids #3 on its “Cities Most Often Confused with Other Cities” Survey. No, wait, that was actually Cedar Falls. We think.
  • Big Think ranks Iowa #4 in its “Best Sort-of-Square-Shaped States” List.
  • United Airlines names Mason City “America’s Most Flown Over Holiday Destination.”
  • Buzzfeed features Iowa State University in its annual “You Won’t Believe What These Colleges Do On A Football Field!” report.
  • Penthouse ranks Iowa #1 in the U.S.A. in its “States That Will Do Anything at a Caucus” analysis.
  • Congressional Report ranks Iowa #3 in its “Most Embarrassing Congressional Delegation” report (up 15 spots since 2010!)
  • Huffington Post ranks Iowa #2 in their annual “Top Ten States for Looking at Corn While Driving Through on Interstate Highways to Somewhere Else” list.
  • The Economist ranks Iowa #2 in the Nation on its “Craziest Ways to Spend a Budget Surplus” report.
  • Des Moines once again finishes #1 in the U.S.A. in Forbes‘ “Most Counter-Intuitive Non-Scientific Polls That Don’t Tell The Whole Story” list. That’s five years in a row, and counting!

Iowa New Year’s Resolutions for 2015

Iowans are nice, yes. Just ask them. They’ll tell you all about it, at length, then explain how Iowans are also modest, and don’t like people to notice them, even if they are the nicest people in the country. And the most modest. They’ve got lists to back it up, from magazines. And websites. Nice!

But even for the nicest, most modest Iowans, there’s always room for self-improvement, right? Right.

So here are some suggested resolutions that self-aware Iowans might adopt in 2015 to make our shared State an even nicer, and more modest place. In fact, if enough Iowans adopt them, we might even finish #1 on Forbes’ 2015 “You Won’t Believe Which States Really Stick to Their New Year’s Resolutions!” list, and that will give us something else to be modest about next year. Let’s do this!

Top Twelve Iowa New Year’s Resolutions for 2015

I will develop some perspective on the relative importance of the Cyclone-Hawkeye rivalry.

I will respect our elected officials by calling them “Senator Ernst” and “President Obama,” instead of “Joni” and “That Damned Muslim Socialist.”

I will greet my kissing cousins with only handshakes from now on. Even the cute ones. Especially the cute ones.

I will give money to real established charities meeting real community needs, and not to the self-promoting hipsters behind the latest half-baked arts project in town.

I will not wait in line for bad service at crappy restaurants just because they’re new. Even if everyone else is doing it. Even if “Juice” tells me to.

I will not base all of my political beliefs on teaser commercials for “Fox & Friends” that air during football games, no matter how pretty the women in the commercials are.

I will not go to the hardware store and buy something I don’t need just to get some free popcorn.

I will not wear Ugg Boots with short shorts to the Mall, even if both are cute.

I already know that I don’t like Iowa wine, so I will not take numerous free samples of it every time I go to the Farmers Market.

I will replace the bald tires on my car before I get stuck on an exit ramp in half-an-inch of snow, causing a miles-long traffic stoppage on I-235 West during rush hour. Again.

I will stop quoting pseudo-scientific, click-bait Forbes or USA Today Top Ten Lists to justify why I live in Iowa.

I will not feel compelled to support things I don’t actually like, just because they come from Iowa. Sorry, Slipknot.

Iowa Film Festival

Oh sure, someone says “Iowa Movies” and you think Field of Dreams (yuck) or The Music Man (snore) or The Bridges of Madison County (barf).  Believe it or not, though, there’s much more to Iowa’s great film heritage, if you know where to look at the discount video store. Here are a collection of classic Iowa film titles for your viewing pleasure, if you need a distraction to while away the days with your family and friends before the Hawkeyes’ big game in the Also-Has-A-Football-Team Bowl:

Days of Wine and Soybeans: Two average Iowans descend into the abyss after a weekend binge sampling spree at the Farmers Market.

Des Moines Alexanderplatz: A small-town petty thief is drawn into the seedy underworld of caucus politics in Iowa, where one plus one equals Romney, until it doesn’t.

Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control: The parking lot turns fast and furious as gas prices drop below $2.00 per gallon at Kum & Go. Grab a Dutch letter, while you can!

Gone With the Wind: Gritty documentary about Iowa’s turbine energy market after federal subsidies expire. In the end, no one gives a damn.

Hoop Dreams: Fran McCaffery tries to meet his potential as a big-time college coach, despite being severely temperamentally handicapped.

Iowapocalypse Now: Soldiers seek Colonel Ernst up-river after a Tea Party-fueled war on federal subsidies destroys Iowa’s economy.

The King of Comedy: Rupert Pupkin kidnaps a nutty Northwest Iowa Congressman to learn his kooky secrets and becomes a big FOX News star.

Loess Hills Cop: Axel Foley moves from Woodbine to Council Bluffs to solve the mysterious disappearance of his farm’s value.

Mean Streets: Johnny Boy has to navigate his way around the tough roads of Clive while the green belt bike path is closed.

My Left Feet: A tragicomedy about Iowa Democrats bumbling to overcome their incredible handicaps during the 2014 elections.

The Postman Always Rings Twice: Cora Smith almost misses her “TV Guide” delivery, but her diligent mail carrier saves the day.

She’s Gotta Have It: Nola Darling goes to the Iowa State Fair to find hot romance, then settles for a red velvet funnel cake on a stick instead.

The Taking of Earlham One Two Three: Ruffians hijack a combine in Madison County and threaten to knock down a silo.

Groundhog Confinement Day: Terry Branstad re-lives the same day as Iowa’s Governor over and over and over and over again until he gets it right.

Back to the Future VI: Marty McFlyover and Doc Browncamplofts drive a souped-up Chevy Tahoe to 1982 (again) to find a new/old governor (again). Again.

Bang the Drum Slowly: Surrealist gem about the Iowa State Cyclone marching band learning victory songs, which they never quite get to play.

Chuck & Terry & Steve & Joni: A comedic romp about a hip GOP foursome’s attempts to embrace truth, candor, and transparency. Hilarity ensues.

The Day the Earth Stood Still: Aliens invade Iowa demanding peace. The state forms several community task forces to evaluate options. Nothing happens.

Driving Mister Terry: Poignant tale about a patient state trooper tasked with transporting the Governor around the state at high speed.

Pigmalion: Henry Piggins turns Eliza Dubuquelittle into a real Iowa lady by teaching her how to castrate and slaughter her own hogs.

Quadrophenia: It’s casino workers vs Alcoa factory-hands in the Battle for Bettendorf, while Jimmy is stranded in Rock Island, reminiscing about Davenport.

The Thirty-Nine Steps: The power’s out at the Des Moines Civic Center. Will theater goers be able to make it back into the Skywalk alive?

Trainspotting: Des Moines young professionals attempt to make it from their lofts to the Court Avenue bars before their path is block by the daily freight train.

The Year of Living Dangerously: Guy Hamilton and Billy Kwan are trapped in the Des Moines Marriott bar without pretzels as the city descends into disarray on caucus day.

Yellow Subaru: Four mop-top musicians take a hallucinatory road trip around Des Moines’ East Village, with a stop at Zombie Burger for a Blue Meanie Martini.

The Twelve Days of Iowa Christmas

Christmas in Iowa is different from Christmas in other places, as best evidenced by the local version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” transcribed below. If you start singing it early on Christmas morning (well, after everybody’s hangovers wear off, anyway), then you might just finish it by the time the Figgy Pudding (With Maytag Blue Cheese Crumbles) is done:

The Twelve Days of Iowa Christmas

On the first day of Iowa Christmas, my true love gave to me:
A Simon Estes Opera CD.

On the second day of Iowa Christmas, my true love gave to me:
Two lead-shot doves, and a Simon Estes Opera CD.

On the third day of Iowa Christmas, my true love gave to me:
Three tenderloins, two lead-shot doves, and a Simon Estes Opera CD.

On the fourth day of Iowa Christmas, my true love gave to me:
Four Hawkeye t-shirts, three tenderloins, two lead-shot doves, and a Simon Estes Opera CD.

On the fifth day of Iowa Christmas, my true love gave to me:
Five carbine slings!
Four Hawkeye t-shirts, three tenderloins, two lead-shot doves, and a Simon Estes Opera CD.

On the sixth day of Iowa Christmas, my true love gave to me:
Six YP’s drinking, five carbine slings!
Four Hawkeye t-shirts, three tenderloins, two lead-shot doves, and a Simon Estes Opera CD.

On the seventh day of Iowa Christmas, my true love gave to me:
Seven turbines turning, six YP’s drinking, five carbine slings!
Four Hawkeye t-shirts, three tenderloins, two lead-shot doves, and a Simon Estes Opera CD.

On the eighth day of Iowa Christmas, my true love gave to me:
Eight rivers flooding, seven turbines turning, six YP’s drinking, five carbine slings!
Four Hawkeye t-shirts, three tenderloins, two lead-shot doves, and a Simon Estes Opera CD.

On the ninth day of Iowa Christmas, my true love gave to me:
Nine huge tornadoes, eight rivers flooding, seven turbines turning, six YP’s drinking, five carbine slings!
Four Hawkeye t-shirts, three tenderloins, two lead-shot doves, and a Simon Estes Opera CD.

On the tenth day of Iowa Christmas, my true love gave to me:
Ten terms of Terry, nine huge tornadoes, eight rivers flooding, seven turbines turning, six YP’s drinking, five carbine slings!
Four Hawkeye t-shirts, three tenderloins, two lead-shot doves, and a Simon Estes Opera CD.

On the eleventh day of Iowa Christmas, my true love gave to me:
Eleven FOX New features, ten terms of Terry, nine huge tornadoes, eight rivers flooding, seven turbines turning, six YP’s drinking, five carbine slings!
Four Hawkeye t-shirts, three tenderloins, two lead-shot doves, and a Simon Estes Opera CD.

On the twelfth day of Iowa Christmas, my true love gave to me:
Twelve hog confinements, eleven FOX New features, ten terms of Terry, nine huge tornadoes, eight rivers flooding, seven turbines turning, six YP’s drinking, five carbine slings!
Four Hawkeye t-shirts, three tenderloins, two lead-shot doves, and a Simon Estes Opera CD.