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.

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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.

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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

An Open Letter to LEAF: please help defeat Issue 64

The following is a letter which I recently addressed to the Lakewood Earth and Food Community (LEAF)

There is no more respected voice in Lakewood on issues of sustainability, health and local resilience than LEAF. The deal that closed Lakewood Hospital impacts all of these issues, in predominantly negative ways. I would like to ask LEAF’s members to consider joining opponents of this deal, which voters will confront in November as Issue 64.

Closing our hospital leaves Lakewood without many important health services. Worse, it leaves Lakewood without the control over local interests that our publicly owned hospital protected. As experience has demonstrated—in East Cleveland, in Sagamore Hills, and in Lakewood—a private multinational will pay lip-service to what’s best for communities even while transferring away resources that people depend on.

In Lakewood, this means not only lifesaving medical services, but a resource equally important to most people’s wellbeing: nearly 1,000 jobs. The reintroduction of those jobs at sites outside of Lakewood, meanwhile, only underscores this plan’s most serious harm to LEAF’s mission. As environmental sustainability inherently requires both local action and a holistic outlook, the deal that closed Lakewood Hospital must be considered within a regional context.

In this context, the deal has nothing to do with a changing need for hospital services, and everything to do with sequestering those services in the most affluent zip codes. Shutting down Lakewood’s publicly owned hospital and opening a private hospital in Avon cannot be judged separately in matters of sustainability. If we are to steer ourselves away from unhealthy and environmentally costly development and lifestyles, we need to promote compact, walkable cities like Lakewood. The efforts of LEAF exemplify this planning for tomorrow. In contrast, transferring hospital services to a car-dependent exurb exemplifies the worst features of failed models.

Even if part of this plan is outside the direct control of Lakewood, we can still pursue better options than simply conforming to a harmful trend. Our city and region need community leaders to step forward, today, and help make that choice clear. I hope the members of LEAF will respond to this need, and oppose the choice of sprawl and outsourcing by voting against Issue 64. Our committee will be pleased to answer questions at any time, and we thank you for your ongoing good work.

Sincerely,

Matt Kuhns
Sr. Editor, Save Lakewood Hospital Committee

The blur months

Perhaps, in some limited ways, a blog can say as much through the absence of posting as it can through actual posts.

It does seem fair to say that the absence of activity around here is in some sense a record of my life, lately, or at least of the disruption of my life’s former routine.

Seven months ago, I wrote

After weeks of dithering, our city council has confirmed the November general election as the date for our referendum on their vote to close our community hospital. So, just under 35 weeks to go. 😐 Then I can (maybe) have my life back!

We’re now down to just more than four weeks. And whatever I imagined was the case in March, in the past five or six weeks this campaign has really “just about maxed-out my personal energies,” in ways which challenge me to find a personal precedent.

I hardly know where to begin.

On a personal level, life has become so different. It has now been a bit more than a year since the last period of real, extended quiet like those which I experienced with some regularity during the past decade. Last September, e.g., with a seasonal slowdown in freelancing work, I had peace, quiet and even boredom.

Since then, no. Even when work has slowed down, this year, tranquility has remained a memory only. Always some new thing going on. Meetings… meetings… documents to write, documents to design… strategy to consider… e-mails… phone calls… reading, analysis and posting.

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The PowerBook 520c

PowerBook 520c icon

32×32 pixel icon for the PowerBook 520c

My first laptop computer was a PowerBook 520c. I purchased it in October 2003, eight years after Apple discontinued the product.

It was great.

I don’t remember why, exactly, I decided to get this. I think I was still fairly “into” the Macintosh at the time, and that the 520c had something of a reputation on the web as a very good Mac in its time. One of my friends in college had one at that time, I believe. Plus, its codename was “Blackbird” and that’s pretty cool.

I’m still can’t say, at this point, exactly what prompted me to buy an obviously obsolete laptop in the first place. But it was a ton of fun over the next few years.

It was a bit of a project. After buying the laptop, I had to buy a power adapter so I could charge it. Then either initially, or later on, I found that the screen’s backlight went bad. I ordered a new one, then for one reason or another it just proved unworkable to substitute for the old one. So, I ended up buying a whole new top half… But the total for all of this was slightly under $100, compared with an original retail price of nearly $3,000. “Y’know, depreciation.”

I think that I definitely got my money’s worth.

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Daria’s Inferno

This past week I enjoyed a little blast from the past: Daria’s Inferno, a 16-year-old video game based on my favorite TV series ever.

Yes, I really did this.

Daria's Inferno on CD-ROM

Somehow I wound up with, apparently, the game CD and case in original shrinkwrap

For what it’s worth, I found this product delightful. The key, here, is that I am a pretty big fan of the show. I have difficulty imagining many people who don’t fit that description giving any thought to this game, particularly long years after it was released. But just in case, well, I would agree with generally negative online reviews that the game doesn’t have much else going for it.

I didn’t care. This was a Daria video game… probably the only Daria video game that will ever exist… and in that regard I think it was mostly awesome.

In some ways I was reminded of one or more Sherlock Holmes video games I’ve played, in that I found a great deal of fun in merely exploring the character’s world. Finding everything in the Baker Street flat, exactly as it should be. Recruiting the services of the Irregulars, or Toby the sleuth-hound. Etc.

Much of the fun in Daria’s Inferno is like that, I submit, except taken even further. This basically was an interactive episode of the show, as much as probably any video game adaptation has ever been.

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First Seven Jobs

A #firstsevenjobs meme has been doing the rounds in the past week. I am participating here, rather than on Twitter, because…

  1. tele-fundraising
  2. cashier
  3. graphic designer for newspaper
  4. graphic designer for family planning organization
  5. graphic designer for private university
  6. graphic designer for boutique studio
  7. freelance graphic designer

It just seems to make a mockery of the concept. And not even in the intentional way of Warren Ellis’s list, which is otherwise an exemplar of the rubbish, low-level jobs that one is expected to show off.

I, on the other hand, have two mild offerings in that category, followed basically by the same near-profession over and over. The one for which I went to college, and from which I have earned my living, my entire adult life. In fact, in terms of a job meaning “on-staff employee” this is really my entire list at age 38, and even now I only achieve a first seven by cheating, in essence, and including self-employment as item seven. As my last traditional job, at item six, ended 10 years ago it seems fair to make an allowance for having supported myself somehow all this time since. But it still seems like I just don’t have a proper #firstsevenjobs list.

I don’t mind, really. I would say that I have been quite fortunate. I didn’t need to go looking for work in adolescence, which seems like a good thing for any number of reasons, not least being that I don’t think a part-time job really helps with the studies theoretically meant to open up broader horizons. I didn’t even have a summer job until after my freshman year of college, and the brief succession of these is basically my list: One crap job during first summer break from college, another crap job during second summer break, an excellent internship during my third summer break, and then consistent employment in my chosen field.

I sense that part of the #firstsevenjobs concept is that those odd, rubbish jobs build character or something. I can only say that I have my doubts, frankly. Boring list aside, I don’t feel like I missed out by not delivering newspapers or slinging french fries or detasseling.* Variety of life experience is not to be dismissed, by any means, but I’m just not sure how much truly life-enriching experience the typical #firstcrapjobs really provide. At best, I suspect that the point of diminishing returns arrives rapidly, and that menial jobs often take more away from the soul than they contribute before long. For this reason, I think there is a lot to be said against making people perform them in an age when lots of them probably make negligible contribution to any important goods or services.

Of course, since I failed the #firstsevenjobs game so completely, I may just be making excuses. Say, perhaps I can interest you in a #favsevengames list…?

* Here’s a brief explanation for anyone who didn’t grow up around this phenomenon, as was apparently the case for the editors of the dictionary which WordPress uses to spellcheck my posts.