Sunday, May 21, 2017

Congratulations To The Red Fez!

Congratulations to The Red Fez!  Websites, especially literary ones, can often be ephemeral, but The Fez has managed to publish 100 issues.  They publish one a month generally, almost working like a print publication.  I'm not quite sure why they opted for that approach considering they are an online publication and could publish continually, but it's their shtick and it seems to be working for them.  They have published a few poems by me over the years, and if they keep going, perhaps they will publish a few more!  Congratulations on a milestone, Fezzers!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

May 4th Report

Every year when I can, I travel to Kent, Ohio USA for the May 4, 1970 commemorations.  For those of you unfamiliar with the event, basically the military occupied a college campus and shot and killed some students during a protest against the Vietnam War.  It's a bizarre tale, best told by James Michener in his book about the incident (not the most factual of the Kent State books but the one that is best written).  This year was a rainy day, so instead of the commemoration being held outside, it was held inside at the student center.  It was the usual gathering of old hippies and curious students.  The speeches were well-meaning and boring, but that's ok, as the point of remembering the event is to put pressure, however small, on authority figures not to repeat it.  The students killed that day would be retiring from the careers they never had and probably be grandparents.  Instead, they were killed, some just walking by and having nothing to do with the protest.  You can see pictures of the four students who were killed above (I like how Jeff Miller's cleancut picture from high school has been taped over with his rock and roll drummer picture, which is closer to how he looked when he died).  Other students were shot as well; one was paralyzed.  It was as if the senselessness of the Vietnam War (or, as the Vietnamese call it, the American War) came to the homeland for a day.  It's sad how much life was stolen that day.  People should stop shooting people.

So not as good a commemoration when it's outside and the daffodils are blooming on the hill.  The last one I went to, which had Dick Gregory as a speaker, was much better.  Kent the city seems to be growing more corporate with every visit; it also looks as if the university is eating the town.  It extends much further into downtown than it used to with the result that downtown Kent feels a bit more like a fake town shopping mall than a real downtown.   It isn't all bad though.  I parked on one of the old streets I used to live in and walked to campus.  The city has made a nice walkway along the river, and even if Starbucks has replaced the grungy coffee shop called Brady's Cafe, the town still has its charming quirks such as the sign I saw advising dogs to make sure their owners were attached to the leash.

Now if the citizens of this country could keep powermad politicians on their leashes stuff like May 4, 1970 wouldn't happen.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Students First

Apparently, higher education has rediscovered that it is involved with students.  The result has been a new mantra of "students first".  On first glance, this seems like a sensible enough if banal strategy, but it likely leads to trouble.

Here's why.  Treating students first inevitable means catering to their desires and some of those desires such as getting an easy A and not having to work hard are not desirable.  Already, an A is the most common grade on campus.  Despite the Flynn effect, which suggests that as a result of living in a more complex society people today have higher I.Q.s than people had in the past, it is unlikely that today's American college students are so much smarter than past generations of college students that they earn more As than their forerunners.

What likely has happened is that As have become easier to get for a variety of reasons.  To cite one cause, if an instructor is an adjunct instructor, getting rehired from semester to semester is often dependent on getting good student evaluations.  What's an easy way to get student evaluations?  Give out As like candy.

Grades are sort of stupid anyway, but they can certainly can serve as a spur for learning for those less inclined to view learning as intrinsically valuable.  Not surprisingly, the result of catering to students has been that fewer students seem to get much out of college.  They view it as jumping through hoops to get their ticket punched, so they can get a college degree and become eligible for middle-class jobs.  The diploma is what is valuable; the knowledge and skills the diploma is a symbol of is viewed as less relevant.

Obviously, this is a backwards approach.  Let us hope that colleges rediscover learning and make that first.  A learning first approach would avoid many of the problems that come when students, ultimately the products of a university and not its customers (society is the customer, which is why higher education is subsidized in so many ways by the larger society), are placed at the center of education instead of placing at the center what the enterprise is all about:  learning.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Temperature Rising To War Fever

Anyone getting fired up about how the U.S.A. needs to waste tax money bombing peasants in some foreign land should think back to Iraq and Vietnam.  Neither war likely seems like a good idea to most Americans today, yet early on both wars were greeted with enthusiasm and much support.  Both North Korea and Syria seem to have pretty awful governments, which not many would be sad to see go, but the question is what is it worth?  How many civilian casualties?  How much destruction?  How many negative unintended consequences?  How much money, energy, blood, and lives wasted that could have been saved and utilized elsewhere?

As always, it boils down to this.  Some people make money from wars.  They'll tell the rest of us any old line of crap to get us to go along.  Some times they even believe their own nonsense.  But it's always nonsense.  There are people I know whom I don't like.  I still don't kill them.  I'm not going to go kill someone I don't know just because I don't like their government.

Mucking around with wars wasn't a good idea a hundred years ago during "the war to end all wars".  Today, with nuclear weapons, civilization and life as we know it on Earth could be destroyed.  The U.S. is already spending about 21 cents of every tax dollar on some aspect of the military.  Throw in another 6 cents per dollar for net interest on the national debt, and there's over a quarter of all tax dollars being spent foolishly.  We need some money spent on the military obviously as the world isn't likely to suddenly become peaceful and loving overnight, but we only need to be able to blow up the world once and not ten times over.     

Sunday, April 16, 2017

What Wred's Reading: Superman: The High-Flying History Of America's Most Enduring Hero

I just started reading this book by Larry Tye.  My buddy Brent sent it to me since he knows I dig comics and super-heroes.  It looks to be a good read, and Tye seems to be fairly on target with his research.  He's even careful about it.  For example, on page 5, writing of Superman's co-creator Jerry Siegel, Tye writes that Siegel's writing appeared in "his own Cosmic Stories, America's first science fiction magazine produced by and for fans."

That may be true.  I am glad that Tye doesn't claim that Cosmic Stories is the first fanzine because it probably wasn't.  But "first science fiction magazine produced by and for fans" . . . hmm, maybe.  The distinction between that and the first fanzine is thin but notable, so ok.

This could be a superread.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

In April, I'd Vote For A Flat Tax

I just got done filling out my yearly tax forms.  This year might have set a record with 8 different forms for the federal taxes alone, and my financial situation is not particularly complex nor do I make a lot of money.

It's just the goofy tax system of the USA.

Filled with handouts to special interests and well-meaning attempts to modify individual behavior through punishments and rewards of the tax system, the federal tax code has probably grown so large that no one, not even those who work for the Internal Revenue Service, fully understand it.

By the time I'm done filling out my forms, I'm ready to vote for the most regressive flat tax possible just so I could have a simpler tax system and wouldn't have to spend my time next year filling out so many tax forms.  If general elections were held in the spring, there would be more Libertarians in public office just from votes from people such as me sick of filling out tax form after tax form.

Interestingly enough, I noticed Ohio is halfway there to a Libertarian taxfree paradise, which, despite my frustration with a needlessly complex tax system, is probably not desirable given that government services in Ohio already seem to run in a degraded mode (lack of funding may not be the only reason, but it's probably one of them).  Check this out:

Basically, from what I can tell, if you're self-employed, you pretty much don't have to pay state taxes in Ohio (only if you make over $125,000, and given how much the self-employed don't declare in the first place and write off as business expenses, there probably aren't too many above that any way).

Though I personally appreciate the state of Ohio letting me not pay taxes on some of my income, this is absurd.  Income is income, regardless of how it is earned.  It ought to be taxed at the same rate (ditto for the federal level where stock market income gets taxed at lower rates than labor income).

You can tell that Republicans have been running Ohio . . . into the ground.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Mickey The Moose!

I wandered into Comics Are Go the other day to discover that my buddy Scott had sold the store.  It seems to be in good hands with the new owner, who informed me that Scott was now making comics and not just selling them.  His latest is some sort of tie-in for a convenience store chain called Mickey Mart.  I've never been to one, but they must be cool places if they have their own comic book and were smart enough to hire Scott to do it!  I liked issue #2 even more than issue #1 because it was full of clever bits such as having the characters from The Big Lebowski be in the background when Mickey The Moose and his friends were in a bowling alley.  You can find out more of what Scott is up to at