Socialists In The Midst

Over the weekend Kish and I went for a walk.  About a block from our house, near St. Mary, we found a poster encouraging people to attend the “launch meeting” for a new group called the Central Ohio Revolutionary Socialists (“CORS”).

The CORS recruiting sign reminded me of the signs that were posted around the Ohio State campus by the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade back in the ’70s.  Like those placards from decades ago, the CORS poster complains about bosses and landlords, “racist cops brutalizing our communities,” “imperialist wars,” and “poverty and powerlessness.”  There are some new parts to the revolutionary agenda, too — like concerns about “the threat of climate catastrophe” and attacks on immigrants and refugees — but the bottom line is pretty similar:  fighting against “the exploitation and oppression we face everyday under capitalism” by forming an organization to “fight for the end of the current system and the creation of one run by and for the working class!”  About the only thing missing from the signs I remember from my college days was a reference to “the masses.”

There’s one other difference between the RCYB of days gone by and CORS — like everybody else these days, CORS has a Facebook page, where a group of what apparently are CORS’ founding members — one of whom is wearing an Ohio State Buckeyes shirt — are shown giving the revolutionary fist sign.

The revolutionary socialist agenda went underground during the Reagan era, but socialism has now emerged from behind closed doors and is back in the American political mix these days, with candidates for the Democratic Party nomination in 2020 and some of the new members of the Party in Congress identifying as socialists.  It will be interesting to see how much traction the socialist agenda gets in the United States — particularly when some countries that adopted what were advertised as socialist systems, like Venezuela, have become train wrecks where the ordinary people live in poverty and misery.

It’s also interesting that the agendas and terminology of the revolutionary groups are so similar to what we’ve seen before.  Facebook page or not, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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The Car As Terrorist Weapon

Yesterday’s brutal terrorist attack in London, England — in which a terrorist drove a car into innocent people walking on the Westminster Bridge near the Houses of Parliament, then jumped out of the car armed with knives and stabbed and killed a police officer before being shot by police — is just the latest terrorist attack in which the principal deadly weapon has been an automobile.

terror-attack-london-876957Not a car filled with explosives and fitted out to be a bomb — just an everyday car that becomes weaponized because it is driven by a fanatic who thinks that plowing into random people, leaving some dead and others grievously injured, somehow advances their twisted agenda.  Yesterday the everyday car that was turned into an instrument of evil was a grey Hyundai sedan.  How many grey Hyundai sedans do you see every day in your town?

Security experts call it “low-tech terror,” in which terrorists use common devices like cars and turn them into weapons capable of mass murder.  Terrorist attacks involving vehicles have happened elsewhere in Europe, but don’t think you can protect yourself simply by avoiding places like London, Berlin, Milan, or Nice, where those attacks have occurred — the terrorist attack on the Ohio State University campus, here in our heartland town of Columbus, Ohio, involved a car intentionally driven into a crowd that was created by the driver pulling a fire alarm that caused people to leave a building and congregate outside, where they became an inviting target.

So how do you protect yourself from an attack when any car that you see during your day conceivably could have become weaponized by a nut behind the wheel?  Security experts say you should exercise extra caution when you do anything that brings you into close proximity to lots of other people, like going to a baseball game or a concert or a busy shopping area.  Of course, the Ohio State attack did not involve any of those things — so perhaps we all need to keep our eyes open during the next fire drill, or when noon rolls around and workers leave their buildings to go somewhere for lunch, or family members gather for a high school graduation ceremony, or any of the other countless occasions that cause Americans to gather together.

It’s a new frontier in terror, and we’re just going to have to pay more attention when we’re out and about.  But I’m not going to avoid football games or musical performances or other events where people congregate just because some disturbed lunatic might drive a car into the people who are there, any more than I avoided such events because there was a chance that a nut in an explosive vest might be there, too.  The terrorists aren’t going to beat us or cow us into submission that easily.

The Incredible Shrinking Lantern

I was in the OSU campus area yesterday, and the security desk for the building I was in had a small stack of papers on it.  I glanced at them and saw that the flag on the front page said “The Lantern.”

Wait a second . . . this is now the Lantern, the Ohio State University newspaper?

When I attended the OSU School of Journalism in the late ’70s, the Lantern was a full-sized, broadsheet newspaper published five days a week.  It carried pages of national and campus news, had an editorial and op-ed page, and multi-page sports and arts sections.  The paper was chock full of display ads and had a lengthy classified ad section, too.

The current edition of the Lantern is far removed from those days of yore.  It’s now the same size as those free shopper publications that people are always annoyingly leaving on your doorstep, and the copy I picked up was only 8 pages long.  Eight pages!  There was no editorial page, only a handful of display ads, and all of five classified ads.  The guy who was the business manager of the Lantern in the old days, whose sales force kept the paper filled with ads and classifieds, must be shaking his head in disbelief.

I know many newspapers have fallen on tough times, but I had no idea how significantly the Lantern had been affected — and diminished.  It made me wistful and sad.

Long’s Gone

When you get older, you come to accept the inevitability that things you remember from your youth — whether it is TV shows, favorite athletes, failed breakfast cereals, or brands of beer — will vanish into the mists of time.

mt_long_book_demo_fs_3Still, it was weird to see recent photos of demolition equipment tearing down Long’s college bookstore, across the street from the OSU campus.  When I attended Ohio State back in the ’70s, Long’s was as much a part of the University as the Orton Hall chimes.

Everyone who went to Ohio State — and that covers a lot of people — stopped into Long’s, or its nearby competitor, SBX, to buy their textbooks.  Students would take their course syllabi, scan for the required texts, and then head to Long’s to get the books.  It was a crammed yet sprawling, ramshackle store that also sold OSU fan gear and therefore attracted a good crowd of Buckeye fans, which just added to the hustle and bustle of the place.

At Long’s you would learn that your college professors often wrote the textbooks for the courses they taught . . . and that the texts seemed to carry an awfully high price tag compared to some of the other books available.  But, what could you do?  It was a required text, and how in the world could you expect to pass the course if you didn’t have one?  Experienced students learned that it paid to get to the bookstores early, because with luck you could find a reasonably used copy of the text at a much lower price.  And then, at the end of the quarter — for it was quarters, not semesters, back in those days — you would resell your books to Long’s or SBX for pennies on the dollar.  Why?  Because it was a buyer’s market, and no college student wanted their apartment cluttered with texts from Philosophy 101 or Poli Sci 265, and you’d rather get a few bucks that you could spend on beer and pizza.  It’s not like you were ever going to read a textbook again, anyway.

In this simple way, Long’s taught naive OSU students some valuable lessons.  Buy low, sell high.  Brace yourself for a gouging.  And understand that the world isn’t fair.

Those are some pretty enduring life lessons, when you think about it.

Political Neutrality In The Classroom

In a heated presidential election campaign, are college classrooms becoming improperly political?  Two recent news reports address the issue.

At The Ohio State University, a professor notified fellow professors that the Obama campaign was willing to send a volunteer to classrooms to encourage students to register, a pitch that would take about five minutes of class time.  The message also said the staffer could talk to students about volunteering with the Obama campaign, but if professors “weren’t comfortable” with that, the presentation would be limited to voter registration.  A report about the message appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and the OSU administration reacted promptly.  The University Provost sent a message to faculty stating that “we must make absolutely certain that Ohio State does not engage in partisan political activities,” which includes “inviting political organizers into our classrooms.”  The message added that national elections are important and exciting, but the OSU faculty and administration needed to ensure that “Ohio State will be seen as a base for impartial discourse.”

More recently, a professor at a Florida college is reported to have handed out pledges to vote for President Obama to her students during a math class; when the reports came to light, the school commenced an investigation to determine if its policies had been violated and the professor went on a leave of absence.

Do these reports show that our colleges and universities are being vigilant in ensuring that classrooms aren’t used as political indoctrination sessions?  Or, as some conservatives claim, are such reports merely addressing the tip of the iceberg of partisan political discourse — discourse that conservatives suspect is overwhelmingly liberal in orientation?

Colleges always will be hotbeds of political discussion among students, but I think most colleges and universities are legitimately trying to avoid partisan hackery by faculty members.  I was encouraged by the Lantern article which quoted OSU students as saying that professors weren’t expressing their personal political views in the classroom or pressuring students to vote one way or another.

This is an election where there is heated feeling on both sides.  Under such circumstances, you’d expect a professor to cross the line now and then.  The important thing is for school administrations to keep an eye our for such policy violations, respond to any reports with appropriate investigations, and remind faculty and staff of the rules.  American institutions of higher education should strive to achieve a neutral setting where students feel free to discuss and debate all political viewpoints — which is a lot of what college should be about.

That $88,000,000 Apartment

An “apartment” located on Central Park West in New York City has sold for its asking price — $88 million.  It was bought by a fabulously wealthy Russian fertilizer czar whose 22-year-old daughter apparently will live there.  (I hope she at least said, “Spasiba!”)

Of course, calling it an “apartment” is kind of silly.  It’s the penthouse of an apartment building that occupies an entire block.  The apartment encompasses 6,784 square feet — which is significantly larger than our home — and includes a library, four bedrooms, a den, a gallery, and three large terraces overlooking Central Park and the surrounding neighborhood.  You’d have to sell a lot of fertilizer to afford such luxury.

My first apartment, a two-bedroom job located just off the Ohio State campus that I rented in 1976, cost $150 a month.  It had a cheap stucco exterior, ultra-thin walls, puke green carpeting, and a complete lack of any security devices.  It was humble, but I called it home.

The Blizzard Of ’78 At Ohio State

I was reminded today of the Great Blizzard of 1978.  It was a devastating Storm of the Century, but I remember it fondly — and, I suspect, other Ohio State students of that era do as well.

A photo of an Ohio house during the Blizzard of '78

The Great Blizzard struck on January 26 and 27, 1978.  It blanketed Ohio with huge amounts of snow, followed by fierce winds and enormous drifts.  Fifty-one people died during the storm.  Traffic was paralyzed.  The National Guard was called out.  Businesses closed down, and people were stranded for days.

None of that mattered one bit to me.  I was a student at Ohio State University, and what I recall is that the Great Blizzard resulted in the ultimate of “snow days” for all OSU students.  The storm hit on a Thursday, and classes were promptly canceled for Thursday and Friday.  A four-day weekend, with no new assignments, at the start of a quarter!  We bundled up, bought all the beer and chips and snacks from all of the convenience stores in the campus area that were open, and settled down for a very long party.  There were colossal snowball fights just about everywhere.  People in my apartment complex who barely knew each other hung out listening to music, drinking whatever there was to drink, and then moving to another apartment for more.

When OSU finally opened again, and we trudged across the snowbound campus, I remember one of my friends saying he was glad that school was back in session because his liver needed a rest.