I talk with KWIT about my book

A few weeks ago I had a delightful conversation with Mary Hartnett of Sioux City, Iowa’s public radio station KWIT. She read my book Hancher vs. Hilton and reached out to interview me.

Well yes, of course. And thank you.

Our conversation aired on KWIT at some point, but Ms. Hartnett also kindly provided me with a recording of the interview. The file begins without any preamble, but it probably requires little more than “I’m talking with Matt Kuhns, about his book Hancher vs. Hilton: Iowa’s Rival University Presidents. Matt, tell us a little about Virgil Hancher…”

Activism and Organizing

People ask me if I’m working on another book. I suppose that this is natural enough, after I have written three within barely five years.

It’s nice also, certainly, that these seem to be inquiries of real interest, which presumably means that people enjoyed one or more of my books.

At the moment, though, I’m afraid that Book Four isn’t even on my long-version to-do list.

Our society being, in my estimate, in the midst of an ongoing emergency, I’m focusing a lot of my time and energy on activism and organizing. After last fall’s election, many people said “organize!” After the Women’s March, people said “take the next step and organize.” Well, I’m working on that.

I’m co-chairing communications for Lakewood’s Democrats, performing  various advisory and communications roles for a city council campaign, and playing smaller roles in a handful of other groups and campaigns. Plus trying to do my bit to support local citizen journalism. Ongoing phone calls, letter-writing, demonstrations and other activities fill in most of whatever gaps might be left.

I feel like I can manage this, but it’s definitely a life rather than some kind of sideline at this point. I don’t have any specific ideas for a next book pulling at me anyway, so far, but I have no idea when I might pursue one should it occur to me.

So, thanks everyone who asks. For the time being, it’s kind of like this:

Sorry for the inconvenience, we are trying to save the world

I would say that this suggestion has now expanded well beyond TTIP or CETA to a general-purpose context.

David Frum and Finest Hours

The fact that I now follow David Frum on Twitter, little more than a year after writing an entire post of condescending sighing about one of his articles, has demanded a bit of reflection.

Granted, we live in a time of strange portents. Still, I wondered whether or not I was too unfair. Frum is now one of a small number of prominent Republican critics of the Trump presidency, and seems to be doing a fine job of it. Certainly I appreciate that. But does it suggest that I was unfair to judge him so harshly before, especially as it seems like only integrity can motivate his current defiance of partisanship?

I don’t know. I can’t really see much fault in my assessment of his November 2015 article. Re-reading my post, meanwhile, I find that I did characterize him as a consistent and sincere critic of party dogma, overall, and allowed that even the article in question began with an unusually thoughtful basic idea (for either major party).

So, perhaps I wasn’t entirely unfair; if it was still a bit unbalanced for my only mention of the man to be in so negative a context, I can correct that now. Though massively long, Frum’s recent essay “How to Build an Autocracy” is lucid, somewhat frightening and perhaps just a little bit inspiring.

From a practical standpoint, I was particularly interested by a conservative Republican’s version of the “resistance checklist” which has appeared so often from the left these past few months:

  • Get into the habit of telephoning your senators and House member at their local offices, especially if you live in a red state.
  • Press your senators to ensure that prosecutors and judges are chosen for their independence—and that their independence is protected.
  • Support laws to require the Treasury to release presidential tax returns if the president fails to do so voluntarily.
  • Urge new laws to clarify that the Emoluments Clause applies to the president’s immediate family, and that it refers not merely to direct gifts from governments but to payments from government-affiliated enterprises as well.
  • Demand an independent investigation by qualified professionals of the role of foreign intelligence services in the 2016 election—and the contacts, if any, between those services and American citizens.
  • Express your support and sympathy for journalists attacked by social-media trolls, especially women in journalism, so often the preferred targets.
  • Honor civil servants who are fired or forced to resign because they defied improper orders.
  • Keep close watch for signs of the rise of a culture of official impunity, in which friends and supporters of power-holders are allowed to flout rules that bind everyone else.

Read More →

Danger Man

A lot of people know, or know of, exceptionally weird TV series The Prisoner. “I am not a number. I am a free man!” etc. But before Patrick McGoohan gave the world Number Six, he spent a few years in the lesser known role of secret operative John Drake (who may or may not have been the same character).

Titled Danger Man during the British-only first outing, Drake’s adventures later continued in the United States, as Secret Agent. Lakewood Public Library has most of the show’s run on DVD, and over the past year I have grown rather fond of it.

Streamlined storytelling. Danger Man is, in a lot of ways, elegantly simple. Beyond “John Drake is a Western-powers secret operative,” it scarcely has any kind of premise or continuity. (Drake’s employer, his formal role, and his nationality are all questionable.) Every episode seems to work on its own. Characters are built-up afresh in each story, including Drake to a great extent; his is nearly the only recurring character, and even he goes through little in terms of episode-to-episode character building.

For me, this stripped-down approach is part of the show’s fascination. It comes across as almost an exercise in short-story elegance: a demonstration of how good writing can deliver interest again and again, without employing soap-opera story arcs or world-building. (Possibly this is why I enjoy the initial half-hour episodes most of all, and feel that the longer subsequent episodes are good but stray just a bit from this minimalist charm.)

Read More →

Status in summary

Details aside, this is it exactly right now.

2016 Year in Review

My experience of this year mostly lends itself to sorting into two, very different, categories: political, and other.

Except that politics isn’t really something separable from other areas of life, however much one may wish or believe that to be so.

Once again, I confront election results that are not only distasteful, but could very realistically make me a healthcare refugee in the foreseeable future. I’m self-employed, I have an expensive preexisting condition, I’m ineligible for Medicaid and a long way from Medicare (both of which will also come under fire anyway). If a Republican federal government junks the Affordable Care Act (and rules out substitutes which feature either redistribution or heavy-handed regulation, which are the only real ways to make private health insurers cover someone like me), I’ll have to look for other governments that might be more helpful. Which, right now, probably won’t include Ohio.

Meanwhile, even in my own life this year, “political” bled substantially into “other,” although this was admittedly voluntary to a great degree.

I really feel that, looking back, I actively “volunteered” for very few of the political activities in which I found myself immersed in 2016. But if I was recruited over and over, I rarely said “no,” and perhaps after a time that amounts to volunteering.

Oh, Lakewood politics, you’re crazy but maybe that makes us a match.

Read More →

Marvel Holiday Special 1991

I’m sure that there are a variety of ways to measure the outsize place of Christmas among contemporary American holidays. Spending, obviously. TV specials perhaps. Holiday-specific music.

Personally, at least, I could also add the amount of once-per-year paraphernalia that I pull out of storage for a while, then put back away for 11 months before repeating the process, year upon year. The lights. The little tree. Christmas music CDs. Santa hat.

And Christmas comics.

This may be the least typical of my various personal Christmas traditions. I have as many as two dozen Christmas-related comics, either as individual floppies or as part of collected editions. It seems like I may as well pull them off the shelf at Christmastime, if ever. In recent years it has begun to feel a bit like I’m doing so mainly for that reason, more than for enthusiasm to read the stories again; I have read most of them so many times, and Christmas seems to roll around again a little bit sooner each year at this point.

Still, like the little tree, like my 20-year-old string of colored lights, it’s now part of Christmas to bring them out. Perhaps especially in the case of one Christmas comic, which I have had even longer than those lights… I realized this year that the first of several Marvel Holiday Specials released in the 1990s is now a full quarter-century old.

Cover of 1991 Marvel Holiday Special

Wraparound cover art by Art Adams. Purely decorative; no such scene appears in any interior story.

Good lord.

Read More →

Five things you may not know about the ISU-Iowa rivalry

As this year’s Cy-Hawk series continues in a string of December games, here are five things you may not have known about the long rivalry between Iowa State and the University of Iowa. It has been about a lot more than sports over the years:

  1. Iowa’s original “State University” was in Iowa City, and remains there today; State University of Iowa informally shortened its name to resolve confusion after Iowa State College became a university.
  2. Iowa president Virgil Hancher not only objected to a university in Ames, he argued vocally against Iowa State introducing a major in English.
  3. During the same period, James Hilton’s Iowa State lobbied the NCAA to shut down local telecasts of Hawkeye football games when they took place at the same time as the Cyclones’ games.
  4. Half a century before the recent controversy over performance-based funding, a split over funding formulas nearly paralyzed the entire Board of Regents system for three years.
  5. The University of Iowa once ran its own extension service, and both it and Iowa State fought to resist proposals that one school take over the other’s program.

Hancher vs. Hilton: Iowa’s Rival University Presidents has plenty more where this came from. Check out an excerpt!

Hancher vs. Hilton: now on sale

The lost chapter in the history of Iowa State and the University of Iowa is complete, and awaiting your discovery. Meet the men behind the campus landmarks, and read about the feud which shaped Iowa’s universities for generations.

Read more about Hancher vs. Hilton, or order a copy and dive in. Available now in hardcover, paperback, and ebook editions.

Sample copies of Hancher vs. Hilton

Please check out this book!

10 years without Dad

It is a super-busy day, here, with the culmination of that campaign I have been working on in one form or another for nearly two years.

But I’m not letting the day pass without some remembrance of my father, who left us exactly 10 years ago.

Dad, my brother and me

Before the illnesses, in 2003

My upcoming book is dedicated to him. I like to think he would have enjoyed it.

John Kevin Kuhns, 1948-2006