Kort Mengeling

1. My longest internet loyalty has unquestionably been to Yahoo, which I have been regularly browsing for 20+ years. My first online experiences (other than pre-Internet work communications through ARPANet and other early precursors) were through the moderated portals at CompuServe in 1993, but when I ventured forth on my own into the wild and wooly early World Wide Web in 1994, Yahoo was my portal of choice. My first personal e-mail address was “gnhn@yahoo.com,” and that’s still my Yahoo ID for fantasy sports and other such log-in required activities. I also viewed the Yahoo Sports Portal as the greatest evolution in the genre since the early days of the USA Today Sports Page, and it has been my go-to site for basketball scores, hockey standings, football stats and other jock-related nerd stuff since the mid-1990s. But this is all over now: in recent years, I’ve grown increasingly sick of having to wade through endless meaningless articles and photos and click bait pieces about Kardashians and Miley Cyrus and the like, but the clincher for me has been Yahoo’s more recent (and disturbing) practice of putting fake science news into the mix of idiocy, which I cannot abide. I’ve used LeechBlock to put all Yahoo domains on 24/7/365 shutdown on all my computers, and have sought alternatives for the things I really need and want to see. The last time I did this was for a major commercial site was for the Weather Channel’s awful portal, which also combines pop culture nonsense, bad science and click bait with a dangerous proclivity for generating weather-related hysteria — and that decision led me to regularly use the far superior, “just the facts, ma’am” National Weather Service site at weather.gov. I look forward to finding similar new and high-quality portals for sports, entertainment, political and science news in the months ahead, as I am no longer distracted by Yahoo’s rampant idiocy. Farewell, old friend. You betrayed us all for money.

2. The weather has been generally hideous out here in the heartland of late, but just before we went to Florida, I did get the chance to take a long drive out to Iowa’s northwest corner. As has been my practice for the three-plus years we’ve lived in Iowa, I always look for new ways to get to old places, as I continue trying to experience and see the state at the most granular level possible. And as also been my practice, I notate the roads I’ve driven on the increasingly battered paper map that I purchased when I first crossed the Mississippi River at the Quad Cities with two angry cats in November 2011. Here’s what it looks like these days. I’m pretty sure that 99% of native Iowans haven’t driven as much of the State as I have at this point.

Vroom! Vroom! (Click to Enlarge).

Vroom! Vroom! (Click to Enlarge).

3. And, of course, it’s really not an Iowa road trip unless there are dirt roads involved, so I enjoyed roaring down this one just east of Beebeetown for a half hour or so, generating towering plumes of dust in my wake. It’s hard to believe how different this and so many similar Iowa scenes look in summertime when the crops are tall and green, or in autumn when tall brown husks define the horizon as far as the eye can see, or in spring, when tilling reveals the rich, dark soil that lies beneath these quiescent winter fields. I’m ready for the dead season to end.

Winter driving, east of Beebeetown, Iowa.

Winter driving, east of Beebeetown, Iowa.

4. Speaking of quiescent winter states, I recently made one final set of updates and put Indie Moines into permanent sleep mode. The end.

5. And which Napalm Death should you listen to first? Why, their extraordinary new album, Apex Predator — Easy Meat. I think it’s one of the best albums ever, with the usual grindcore elements being leavened by the increasingly frequent and effective use of massed vocals, slower tempos, and early Swans-like sludge. The title and opening track of the album is one of the most harrowing songs in their catalog in this regard, a roaring, clanking dirge about the emotional and social perils of human debasement. “Heirarchies,” “Cesspits” and “Dear Slum Landlord” stand as equal highlights, with the blastbeats anchoring some really innovative modern metal arrangements. I think it’s one of their best albums ever — but, of course, I probably would, because I count Napalm Death as my favorite band, and hardcore fans aren’t usually self-aware enough to be disappointed by their faves. So I’m pleased to see that the response to album has pretty much been one of universal praise in the print and digital musical communities as well. I’ll be driving down to Lawrence, Kansas next week to see them live, though I was sorry to see that stalwart guitarist-singer-songwriter Mitch Harris is taking time away from the band for family reasons, so I will miss seeing and hearing him. I hope whatever life is throwing at him is resolvable, and that he returns to the fold soon. Both singer Mark “Barney” Harris and bassist Shane Embury took sabbaticals in years past and returned stronger than ever, so maybe that’s what will happen here. Fingers crossed.

On Returning

Marcia and I returned home yesterday after two weeks spent in Fort Lauderdale. We rented a great house there, so we could cook at home for most meals, and also have extra rooms for visitors. Katelin, my mother, and two of Marcia’s sisters joined us there at various times throughout our vacation. Marcia was actually working for a good chunk of our time away, so I did a lot of day trips (Miami, Cape Canaveral, the Everglades), and she and I walked a lot and had a some wonderful meals together. Click the image of me making my Space Nerd Pilgrimage to Kennedy Space Center below for the full photo gallery, if you’re so inclined. We will resume our regular pace of piffle and tripe here on the blog soon, after I dig out from being away for so long!

Me and the business end of a Saturn V rocket.

Me and the business end of a Saturn V rocket.

Interactive Audience Audit Report

Note: I recently commissioned and funded an audit of various Iowa websites’ marketing and audience engagement practices on behalf of some secretive nonprofit partners who engage in such webby endeavors, but don’t have a lot of scratch. Here’s what they sent me when it was done, by way of thanks.

The audit was conducted by Fonda Blencoe, who is a Social Media Coach and Interactive Audience Strategist with Golden Meaning Marketing Consultants in Bettendorf, Iowa.

One of our work colleagues told us that Golden Meaning is the best interactive audience consultant in the state, and their promotional materials promised us that they could synthesize, optimize, maximize and super-size all of our digital doodads for full technical chubbiness. How could we resist that come on, right?

Fonda Blencoe and her team spent two weeks scouring our Internet pipes and rummaging through our drawers, and in the spirit of diaphanous transparency that she encourages us to embrace, we share the “Top Five Best Recommendations Ever!!!” executive summary from her report below, while wearing our see-through nightgowns. Who knew that being web mavens was so hottt, ZOMFG?!?

1. You guys write on your blog too often, but you don’t Tweet enough!!! Iowans have lots of things they want to read about all the time — sports, farming, insurance, etc. — so if you write a long blog post about other stuff every day, they just can’t keep up! Space it out more, okay? Maybe only three posts each week? Use the leftover time to write more tweets, and spread them out through the day, instead of doing them in the morning before you go to work. Your bosses won’t mind, ’cause everybody does it, ha ha!!!

2. You should shorten your blog posts, too, okay? Iowans have short attention spans, sorry to say. What was that? Ha ha! If you write more than three paragraphs, they are likely to go read something else instead. You should be able to read your blog posts out loud in two minutes or less. That’s as much as they will read before clicking to something else more interestingly short!

3. What’s up with all of the anonymity, guys??? People want to know your names and see your faces!! Konrad is a handsome guy, so why do you use that pretend Wild West photo of him? Girls would click on his posts if they knew what he really looked like!!! And one of you is a girl already (!!!), so you should really milk that, too. Make her the Official Face of Your Twitter Feed and I guarantee you that your traffic will increase! I know a stylist who could work with her to sexy her look up a lot, since she is a little too business formal for the Internet. Let me know if you want that contact number!!!

4. You really need to get over your Facebook Fobia!!! It’s not that bad, really. Just make sure you don’t use it on any computer where you ever log in for your e-mail, your bank, your credit cards, your Twitter account, your blog, or anything else, and all will be fine!!! You can really get some great traffic from Facebook, you know. Lots of quality social media interactions there!!!

5. You need to “endumben” (ha ha!) things a little bit on your blog. Hawkeyes and Cyclones aren’t Harvard people, you know, so when you write a post like “Danny Allamakee’s Iowanferno (Cliff Notes Version),” it would help if you would explain things a little, so that people know that Danny Allamakee’s Iowanferno is making fun of Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, which is a book. Also, not everyone knows that “Allamakee” is a county in Iowa, so they might not get why it’s funny, sort of (ha ha!) without that kind of help. People like the stuff about dating and farm animals and Blue Cheese and the State Fair better anyway. Jokes about food on sticks and bacon are always winners!!!

Needless to say, our Golden Meaning Marketing audit has given us a lot to think about, so we’re grateful to Fonda Blencoe and her team for that. We’re going to take some time off to tweak some things behind the scenes, but we will return soon, hopefully with some click bait tweets and posts that will make Iowan heads spin with wonder and amazement. Plus more exclamation points!!! Wow!!!

Also, since Fonda says we need to be less mysterious — and since one of us is, well, yes, a girl — we’ll take Golden Meaning Marketing’s advice and end today’s post by providing you, for the first time ever, our real names, plus a recent photo of us. Sexy, huh?

Chelsea Doon, Galt Keswick, Mingo Osterdock: The Des Mean Editorial Board.

Our Editorial Board: Chelsea Doon, Galt Keswick and Mingo Osterdock.

A Modest Proposal: Halve the Full Grassley

Iowa has an absurd number of counties for its size and population — and I say this as a person who has visited all 99 of them by car, completing what political candidates here know as a “Full Grassley”.

Iowa is the 26th largest State in the country by land area, and the 30th largest State in the country by population. Our 99 counties, however, rank us ninth in the United States in number of county and county equivalents — and we would actually be eighth if Virginia didn’t uniquely count its 38 independent cities as county-equivalent governmental entities.IowaCounty

Iowa also has fewer counties defined by natural boundaries (rivers, coastlines, mountain ranges, etc.) than any other State, giving us the greatest percentage of “box counties” — formed only by surveyors’ lines — in the Nation. And we don’t even follow our own law when it comes to tiny counties: the Iowa State Constitution says no county should be smaller than 432 square miles, but ten counties are below that threshold today.

The super-abundance of neat little map boxes puts Iowa in the Nation’s bottom 20% in both average county land area and average county population. This needless plethora of counties then feeds into the “Full Grassley” phenomena, where it is viewed as a brag-worthy achievement of note to visit all 99 Iowa counties in a single year or campaign, per our senior citizen senior Senator’s loudly-proclaimed proclivity.

But really now: is that how we want our elected officials (and our visiting Presidential candidates) spending their time and money? And do we really need to financially support 100 county seats (Lee County has two) with all of the attendant layers of bureaucracy and all of the physical infrastructure associated with our profligate love of mid-level governmental institutions?

I respectfully and emphatically vote “No!”

I would rather see our citizens supported by meaningful regional governance, rather than antiquated political structures. I also find it mildly insulting that a “check off the county box” approach passes as proof that our State’s residents are being equitably seen and heard.

So consolidation makes obvious sense, but how to go about reducing Iowa’s over-abundance of counties? With apologies to Mister Swift, I offer the following modest proposal.

First, it would not make sense to eradicate county administrations that are already effectively serving sizable population centers, since that would be needlessly reinventing the wheel and/or throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

As it turns out, when you rank Iowa counties by population, there is a significant natural gap between number 10 (Dallas County) and number 11 (Clinton County), with all of the top ten counties having over 60,000 citizens — a good functional benchmark for a State with about 3,000,000 people, based on national county averages. I would, therefore, keep the following ten counties intact, based on their current populations:

  1. Polk County
  2. Linn County
  3. Scott County
  4. Black Hawk County
  5. Johnson County
  6. Woodbury County
  7. Dubuque County
  8. Pottawattamie County
  9. Story County
  10. Dallas County

Next, there are also some existing counties that should remain intact because they are “double wides” (e.g. they break the usual grid pattern), because they have already done their part historically to eliminate county glut, or because they are uniquely formed by geography or culture. I would keep the following counties intact under these special provisions:

  1. Kossuth County (largest in State geographically today, and incorporated former Bancroft and Crocker Counties historically)
  2. Pottawattamie County (second largest in State geographically today, already preserved due to population)
  3. Plymouth County (third largest in State geographically today)
  4. Clayton County (fourth largest in State geographically today)
  5. Sioux County (fifth largest in State geographically today)
  6. Webster County (incorporated former Risley and Yell Counties historically)
  7. Muscatine County (incorporated Cook County historically, and geographically unique)
  8. Lee County (geographically and culturally unique former “Half Breed Tract”)

So there are 17 counties that would remain as they exist today under this model: ten for population plus eight for geography, with one (Pottawattamie) on both lists. Subtract those from the current 99 and that leaves 82 counties that should be consolidated, most sensibly by doubling up the “box counties” in grids across the State.

Mills County, meet your new partner: Fremont County. Montgomery County, say hello to Page County. Please decide which of your current county seats will represent you both, and develop a plan to eliminate overlaps in your respective administrations. And so on and so on, back and forth across the State.

Take these resulting 41 new “double wide” counties, add the 17 that remain from the current map, and you’ve got a manageable 58 Iowa Counties — very commensurate with Iowa’s standing as a middle of the pack State, size-wise and people-wise.

Senator Grassley would still have enough counties to visit to keep him out of trouble every year, and we could nearly halve county infrastructure and bureaucracy expenses. In a world of high speed road travel, cell phones, and the internet, it seems inconceivable that citizens would experience any loss of service, and municipal spaces formerly dedicated to housing county governments could be reallocated to meet real community needs: education, healthcare, libraries, whatever the region’s residents needed.

What do you think? I would love to see someone with better map skills than me take a crack at demonstrating how to best double up those 82 box counties, so if you think like I do, how about getting out your colored pencils and sharing what a new and improved Iowa County Map can and should look like in the 21st Century and beyond?

Getting Drunk in Iowa (An Oral History)

Early Lytton (73 years old, Retired Senior Vice President of a Certain Bank in Des Moines): Well, the worst approach to being a serious drinker is to consume cheap beer. You just have to drink so much liquid at so little benefit. I used to golf with a guy who would drink a case of Budweiser every day. I just can’t imagine that. My tolerance is higher than average, I’d say, but if I drink six or seven cheap beers I always feel like crap the next day. Not because of the alcohol, mind you, but because of all the junk they put in cheap beer. I can never drink enough cheap beer to get to a happy spot before I just get puffy and tired of drinking. What’s the point?

Miles Packwood (77 years old, Retired Managing Partner of a Certain Law Firm in Des Moines): What junk in cheap beer do you mean, Lytton? Like rice? That’s one I’ve heard. Is there other junk in there?

Ollie Primghar (80 years old, Former Gas Station Owner in Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, Who Retired to Iowa in 1995 for the Nicer Weather): Did you know they fortify Canadian beer with pure black Canadian shale, eh? It tastes like metamorphosis!

Early Lytton: Well that explains a lot then, Ollie. But here in America, the cheap beers contain rice, like Miles there said, and also all sorts of chemical sweeteners, monosodium glutamate, dyes, antifreeze, horse hoof jellies and who knows what else.

Ollie Primghar: Well, you can’t make a Jell-O fruit mold without horse hooves, so don’t knock them, eh?

Roland Le Grand (71 years old, Retired Chief Information Officer for a Certain Insurance Company): I’ll admit that I was a 12-pack of cheap beer a day guy for years, and I got fat and felt awful all the time. Now, I drink expensive liquor with thirty to forty percent alcohol in it, and I swear my total expenses are lower, since it lasts longer, kicks you faster, and you don’t have to buy as much Tums and aspirin the next day. I always counsel young folks at the club to just switch to vodka. It’s got to be better for you than beer. Or if not vodka, then Scotch. That won’t give you a hangover, and it tastes mighty fine. Try it on ice, if it’s not too expensive, or with a splash of water. It’ll love you like nobody’s business.

Ollie Primghar: I like my Scotch with a donut. They need Tim Horton’s in Iowa.

Early Lytton: I used to drink Scotch, until it became the choice drink for all those punk young bankers who argue about their fantasy football teams while moving small amounts of money from gold to rhodium to palladium and back, before going off to buy expensive cigars that they chew on for awhile then leave all over the golf course. I wouldn’t be seen dead in public anymore with a Scotch in my hand. bilde

Miles Packwood: On a crisp summer day, I’m partial to a nice gin and tonic. Gin just tastes good.

Early Lytton: Oh come on, gin doesn’t taste good, Miles! It just tastes different.

Miles Packwood: No, Lytton, I’m going to stand up for myself here: gin tastes good, sir! It does! Brown liquors, on the other hand, are just awful, no matter what. Scotch. Whiskey. Bourbon. Yuck! Even more so when ice melts in them. I start gagging just thinking about them. Ugh!

Roland Le Grand: You’re just soft, Miles. I slurp down Johnny Walker Blacks one after the other. They taste great, and I feel good. I will back you up, though, regarding your position on gin. I’m an eight or nine gin and tonics guy a day during the summer. That is delicious. I recommend Gilby’s. It’s the best for the buck, in my humble opinion.

Ollie Primghar: When you mix them tall, like I do, the quality of the gin isn’t all that important, eh? So I say go Gordon’s for that kind of mix. You can get it cheap. Also, Gordon is a popular men’s name in Canada, so it reminds me of home.

Roland Le Grand: I like to take a pint glass and mix up a big gin and tonic, with a slice of lime, adding ice and limes as the day goes on. I leave the limes in there, partly to give me a rough estimate of how many I’ve had, but also because it just keeps it fresh and flowing. I’ve sort of got a system.

Early Lytton: I’m ashamed of all three of you. Gin and tonics are for girls, not men.

Roland Le Grand: Well, maybe so, but I read online that gin and vodka produce the least intense hangovers and bourbon produces the worst hangovers, due to some chemical byproducts when they’re fermented. However, I can tell you from experience that if you mix varieties and types, or drink mixed drinks, then all bets are off, since the different types of impurities and the sugar in mixed drinks will all interact in random, vomit-producing ways.

Ollie Primghar: I always try to remember that “Chug the Merlot, Hug the Terlot,” and “Mix your Liquor, Get much Sicker,” eh?

Early Lytton: Who would chug Merlot anyway, Ollie? That’s just terrible wine. No character.

Ollie Primghar: Well, okay then, fancy pants, you’ve been sitting here telling us all night about what not to drink and arguing with our tastes, so how about you enlighten us all instead and tell us what your perfect drinking experience would be, eh?

Early Lytton: Well, that’s a good question there, Ollie. So let’s see: first, I’d go down to my cellar and pull out three bottles of Prairie Moon Marechel Foch 2004 Reserve. It’s the best wine ever produced in Iowa, and I bought up most of the stock several years ago. It’s hearty without being truculent, plays well with all foods, has a nice nose and a truly fine ass – or whatever the right term is for that sweet taste you get at the end. Next, I would put some great old jazz on the stereo by Enoch Light or Stan Getz or Herb Albert, just stack up the records and let them drop and play. I don’t use any of those compact diskettes or iPod boxes in my den. They’re nothing compared to good old pliable vintage vinyl albums, ripe with pops, redolent with warps, rich with character. Now, then, with the stage all set, late at night, while my lovely family is sleeping in the safe confines of my stately manse out in West Des Moines, I would turn on the giant plasma screen TV, mute the sound, and guzzle the wine straight out of the bottles while watching video-taped episodes of my favorite daytime talk shows. And then I would just laugh and laugh and laugh . . .

Young Professionals’ Bill of Rights

As you no doubt recall from Iowa History 101, Governor Torbent Bronistodd signed a proclamation in 1863 that formally re-designated Iowa’s indentured servants as “young professionals” (YPs).

Six years later, the Transcontinental Railroad was completed, and 1.3 million insurance executives relocated to Iowa by 1870 — drawn here, in large part, by Iowa’s vast pool of emancipated YPs who were willing to sit in cubicles doing grueling actuarial work all day, while their corporate overlords hogged all the gourmet cupcakes and good Scotch at their companies’ canteens.yppix

Fast forward a century and a half, when Des Moines routinely rates as one of America’s best cities for Young Professionals. This widely-touted distinction leads ever-growing flocks of fresh-faced college graduates to migrate to Central Iowa, where they nest communally in a networked hive of lofts near Des Moines’ city center, happily buzzing and bumbling about their daily business downtown.

But are things really all that grand in Yupville DSM? Or are the “Old Professionals” continuing to line their personal coffers on the sweat equity of YPs as they’ve always done, without fairly sharing the corporate spoils with those who truly deserve them the most? And if those treacherous old people are still abusing their idealistic professional heirs, then who will notice and respond, given the lack of organized representation for Des Moines’ disenfranchised young MBAs, disempowered Writers Institute alums, dispossessed Social Media gurus, and otherwise disassociated office and information workers?

A mysterious vigilante group calling itself “Young Professionals Correction” has apparently risen to the challenge, recently staging a series of Tweet-friendly flash mob protests in a variety of art spaces, boutique doughnut shops, and life coaching centers hidden deep within the uncharted bowels of the ever-expanding YP Ghetto downtown. Young Professionals Correction organizers have also drafted a “Young Professionals’ Bill of Rights” which has been widely distributed downtown through an appropriated network of empty Juice display stands.

I salute the brave urban guerrillas spearheading Young Professionals Correction, and in a spirit of solidarity, we reprint their “Young Professionals’ Bill of Rights” below — having nabbed a copy after wandering into an isolated branch of the Skywalk while trying to avoid eye contact with a busker.

YOUNG PROFESSIONALS’ BILL OF RIGHTS

Because we prize our liberties, Young Professionals Correction demands that the following rights be maintained for all the hard working college graduates in Iowa between the ages of 25 and 35, upon whose broad shoulders, trim waists, and shapely calves rests Iowa’s future:

1. By virtue of having bachelors’ degrees, Young Professionals must always be hired at an “Assistant Vice President” level or higher.

2. All bars and restaurants in Iowa must offer unique signature cocktails that reflect their special characters and feature top shelf liquors; Young Professionals must receive one such cocktail free with each visit, upon presentation of a pre-printed voucher.

3. Every fundraising gala must have a Young Professional ticket price of no more than 25% of the price that the old people pay, so we can properly support important causes by drinking signature cocktails and being photographed by Juice.

4. Young Professionals’ names have great civic value, so when we agree to let charities list us on their planning committees, that is sufficient justification for us to count such service on our “Young Professional of the Year” resumes, whether we contribute further or not.

5. Juice must print enough color society pages in each issue to guarantee that every active Young Professional in Central Iowa can be featured in at least one group shot per month; failure to appear in at least one Juice photo per month is justification for shunning by peers.

6. Young Professionals can still get social credit for serving Templeton Rye-based drinks until all existing stock is depleted, since we hoarded it at great personal cost while it was still considered cool and collectable.

7. After two months residency in Iowa, all Young Professionals are entitled to found a nonprofit of their own choosing in any field (charitable or otherwise), and to receive whatever State and City funding is required for them to hire themselves as founding Executive Directors; failure to found a nonprofit after two years residency in Iowa is justification for shunning by peers.

8. All bars and restaurants in Iowa must offer trivia nights at least once per month, and old people must be segregated from the Young Professionals who participate, since their knowledge of olden times before the Internet gives them unfair advantage; failure to form or join a trivia team with a clever name involving an alcoholic beverage or sexual position is justification for shunning by peers.

9. Being a “Young Professional of the Year” finalist or winner is a great, lasting, fully professional honor that will be recognized and valued for the rest of our lives by everybody around us, giving us automatic preferential treatment in job searches, ticket lines, restaurant reservations, and other similar situations; this honor will never, ever, ever be compared to being a prom queen or catching a winning touchdown in high school.

10. Young Professionals reserve the right to act grown up and professional when we feel like it, and to act young and stupid when we don’t; lapses in the latter regard will be forgiven until our 35th birthdays or until we’re no longer cute, whichever comes first.