With recent coverage by MSNBC and the Huffington Post, sun storms are making a scene. According to the Huffington Post, a strong sun storm caused a solar flare on March 6, 2012, that was strong enough to cause earthly damage — with more such storms likely to come.
But what is a sun storm?
What damage can one do?
And what are scientists doing to study and predict these events?
Find the answers to these questions and more in “Sun Storm!” as Richard Fisher ’61, one of the world’s most foremost authorities on the study of the sun, explains. “Sun Storm!” is one of many interesting articles in the spring 2012 issue of The Grinnell Magazine.
In July 2011, as he concluded his first year at Grinnell, President Raynard S. Kington charted a 31-city regional alumni event schedule — starting in London in July 2011 and concluding in late-May 2012 in Seoul, Korea. At each stop, Kington delivered his “Choosing Grinnell’s Future” message, plus current news from campus.
Grinnellians seemed to appreciate the outreach. “Please convey to Dr. Kington my thanks for his trip to Denver to meet with Colorado Grinnellians. Although I read his remarks in a recent issue of Grinnell Magazine, it stimulated more thought on my part regarding how (and why!) I support Grinnell,” wrote Nancy Gallagher Mendenhall ’64 from Denver.
“This was such an inspiring event. I think alums, overall, feel that President Kington is making an effort to reach out, and that in turn creates a desire for alums to give back,” Margaret Higginson ’01 said about the Seattle event.
“This was an excellent way to meet alums in the area; I had no idea there were so many! Dr. Kington’s speech also made me feel more connected to what’s going on at Grinnell currently,” said Laura Wilson ’10, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Most cities on the alumni event schedule bested both 10-year average attendance and historical event records.
Details of next year’s tour will be posted on the Loggia soon.
Zoe Schein ’12 created "If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want Your Chocolate Chip Cookies" for one of her favorite classes — a six-week radio essay course taught last fall by visiting professor Jeff Porter, author of the memoir Oppenheimer Is Watching Me.
(“The Night That Goldman Spoke,” from the musical Ragtime plays)
Emma Goldman: I have just returned from Lawrence, Massachusetts, where eight weeks ago, the workers there went on strike. They are starving, their children are dying, but they are holding firm. And we must support them!
(Song continues, quietly.)
Narration, read by Schein:
I know, logically speaking, that Emma Goldman is not my grandmother. But the night I first saw the musicalRagtime, and the fictional Emma Goldman moved a crowd of chorus boys dressed as union workers to a rousing critique of Capitalism, a strange association took hold. I looked up at the stage, wide-eyed, as Goldman curled her fist into the air, seeming to command the soot-covered laborers to throw their arms skyward and jazz-hand in unison. As her voice rang out into the audience, commanded us to leave our little backyards and find a cause to die for, it sent chills through my eleven-year-old body. At that moment, my father leaned to my ear and whispered, “She’s buried next to your grandma Tobey, you know.”
(“The Night That Goldman Spoke” rises again)
Goldman: “You!: He thought he heard her say, “What brings you here today? Poor young rich boy, masturbates for a Vaudeville tart, what a waste of a fiery heart, dear,” he thought she said…
The key change, the sudden chill, the image of the figure above me. She stood in a single shaft of yellow light, feet planted in a heavenly cloud of fog-machine smoke. Some might say the three-part harmony caused a synapse in my young brain to misfire, but people usually talk about science when they want to deny a good old-fashioned divine intervention. All I know for sure is that at that moment, the thought was planted.
Emma Goldman is my grandmother.
(“The Night That Goldman Spoke” rises)
Mother’s Younger Brother: In the arms of fallen women, in the thought of suicide!
Mother’s Younger Brother: Like a firework! Unexploded! Wanting life but never knowing how…
Goldman: My brother, life has meaning, I’ll show you how!
Mother’s Younger Brother: ‘Till now…
Goldman: My brother, you are with us now!
A few years after Ragtime, my family took a trip to Chicago to illegally spread Tobey’s ashes along a beach in Roger’s Park, one that she’d helped rescue from privatization. In the spirit of the weekend, we also swung by her grave.
(Ragtime piano plays.)
It’s true, both Emma Goldman and my grandmother, Tobey Silbert, are buried in the Forest Home Cemetery, the last stop for a number of notable communist, socialist, and anarchist activists. Most of them, like my Grandma Tobey, were active mainly in the Chicago area, but Forest Home houses a few more widely known remains. The Google keywords “communist cemetery Chicago” transported me to the “Find-A-Grave.com” site for Forest Home, which boasts a list of over twenty notables, including three congressmen, a dozen labor leaders, and, of course, Goldman. A disclaimer at the top of the page reads, “You are browsing famousburial locations. If you are looking for a non-famous grave, please start from our homepage.”
Goldman’s glamour was intoxicating. As my dad and his brother stood quietly, shoulders touching, by Tobey’snon-famous grave, I itched to examine the much larger tombstone a few feet down the row, bearing a relief sculpture of Goldman’s profile in withered bronze.
(Ella Fitzgerald’s “Dream a Little Dream of Me” begins to play.)
I could see from the corner of my eye that there was an inscription below the death date. And like a fan waiting for the announcement of the American Idol winner, I crossed my fingers anxiously. I was hoping for my favorite quote, the only quote I knew. “If I can’t dance, I don’t want your revolution.” This single, clichéd statement summarized all of Goldman’s grandmotherly potential. She and I would dance our way to justice, or maybe just in the kitchen while we baked chocolate chip cookies. Over the speakers, Kelly Clarkson would belt “A Moment Like This,” or maybe “Miss Independent” if we were feeling sassy. Grandma Goldman would light a cigarillo, pat me on the head, and say, in the thick Lithuanian accent I knew from hundreds of plays on the Original Broadway Cast recording, “I’ve been waiting for you.”
(“Dream a Little Dream of Me” continues.)
Everyone would be jealous of my Grandma Goldman, the musical anarchist. The famous grave. I knew nothing about her politics, but I knew that Grandma Goldman was hip. She was edgy. And by association, I would be too.
(“Dream a Little Dream of Me” rises, then fades.)
I can’t say exactly when or why the shift occurred, but recently I’ve found myself thinking more and more about my actual grandma, Tobey. Maybe it’s because I’m at a liberal arts college where her radical politics are suddenly cool and interesting. Maybe it’s my feminism, which sprouted late in high school, that compels me to shimmy back up the family tree towards my grandmother. Maybe it’s because she changed her name from Flora to Tobey, and for that reason I always suspected that she might have been a bit of a lesbian. We’d have something special to bond over, something to mark me as different, better, than the othergranddaughters.
(Joe Purdy’s “Wash away” begins to play.)
Purdy: I got troubles, oh, but not today. ‘Cause they’re gonna wash away.
Or maybe I’m just at that age when I’m realizing that my own memory might one day be lost beneath the persona of a flashier, more famous, adjacent gravestone. That I, too, might one day stand on the edge of being forgotten. I feel responsible, in some ways, for remembering her.
(“Wash Away” fades.)
I never met Tobey. She died before I was born, before my parents were married, even. So I only know her through stories—my dad’s, my Uncle Fred’s, or, more recently, the FBI’s. Their thoughts on my Grandma Tobey are preserved in the four-hundred page thick surveillance file that arrived one day on our doorstep, courtesy of Fed-Ex and the Freedom of Information Act.
Despite their diversity, there’s one thing each of my sources agrees on: Tobey was a badass communist.
(Kelly Clarkson’s “Miss Independent” begins to play.)
She built coalitions from the ground up, she spoke passionately at community meetings, and she never allowed her forty-year membership in the Party to erode her principles. Even as a leader, my dad told me, Tobey continued to pound the pavement, to knock on doors, to organize tenant unions and canvass for political candidates with her feet firmly planted on the sidewalks of Roger’s Park. While I have to note the bias inherent in her sons’ accounts of her, you just have to look at their birth certificates to realize that they spoke the truth about her devotion to the cause. While their last names belonged to Tobey’s husband, Lester Schein, her sons belonged to Communism first:
Clarkson: What is this feeling taking over? Thinking no one could open the door…
Howard Karl—that’s Karl with a “K”—and Frederick, were named for Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. Even the FBI file can’t help but give her kudos.
“The source,” the file reads, referring to the neighborhood dry-cleaner who supplemented his income by snitching for the Feds, “The source described Silbert as one of the hardest working Communists in the Communist Political Association. She devoted nearly all her time to Communist Work.” Tobey was the monster of one thousand McCarthyite nightmares. I half-expected the Bureau’s exhaustive and unflattering physical description to include scales or claws. Instead, they noted her unusually “thick” ankles.
(“Miss Independent” rises, then fades.)
I’m proud that my grandmother was the hardest working Communist in Chicago. But I am the baby of a Capitalist era.
(Old-timey ragtime music plays.)
I type papers on my MacBook Pro. I have monogrammed Nike high tops. Almost everything I own has Batman on it. I recognize the absurdity of the things I surround myself with. Sometimes I even feel guilty. But because of my laptop, and my high tops, and my Bat Signal beach towel, the question keeps returning: If Tobey were alive, would she even like me?
(Ragtime music rises, then finishes.)
A while back I had a bit of a depressive spell. My dad did everything he could think of to cheer me up. In the car on the way to the sneaker store he cut through my melancholy. “Did I ever tell you about when I got Moy pregnant?” he asked, referring to the Chinese woman he had been involved with before he met my mom. I could tell from his tone that we were having one of those Mature Adult Conversations, and that I should suppress my reflex to respond with disgust.
“No, you didn’t,” I said.
“Well it was unplanned,” my dad said. “And so she was going to get an abortion.”
I felt more mature by the minute.
He continued, “But Tobey was pissed.”
This news came as a shock; it did not go with my image of Tobey, the benevolent activist, the progressive community leader. I felt as though he’d built up an idol, and was now poised to tear her down into humanity. “You’re kidding me. Tobey was against abortion?”
At this my father let out a giggle. “Tobey? Of course not! She just wanted an interracial granddaughter.”
(“Dream a Little Dream of Me” returns.)
Fitzgerald: … dream a little dream of me. Stars fading, but I linger on, dear, still craving your kiss…
In the midst of my fantasies about my Musical Grandma Goldman, I’d never stopped to think that Tobey might have had her own fantastical ideas of what her grandchildren would be like. I imagine Tobey’s vision: walking to a Party meeting with a small, half-Chinese girl gripping her hand. On the way home, carrying this alternate-universe me on her hip, she’d pass a dark sedan with tinted windows and say, “That’s your Nana’s federal agent! Can you say ‘Nana’s federal
“Na-na!” The girl would say.
Fitzgerald: But in your dreams, whatever they be, dream a little dream of me….
Sarah Casson ’11 has spent her year after graduation on a study-abroad experience of her own design. She’s researching the effects of climate change on food production, but is learning that and so much more.
To date she has traveled to India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Cambodia interning with nongovernment organizations and universities. Currently, she is on an archaeological dig in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
I must come across as a bit odd. With my trendy turquoise Vibram five-finger [shoes] on, I am mumbling to myself the Hindi equivalent of “big cake, BIG cake, good spoon, GOOD spoon … ” More often than not, I am not the only tourist (foreign or Indian) walking around at 6 a.m. Like I said, sometimes I get looks not just because I’m white female with blond-ish hair. Sometimes it’s the mumbling to myself a constant stream of nouns and adjectives while sporting stylish footwear.
In both villages, I tried to explain what I wanted and why, but perhaps language or cultural barriers prevented me from properly getting my point understood. I may not have learned much about many people’s perspectives on agriculture, water, and livestock in relation to a variable monsoon. I have, however, learned a lot about data collection, different cultural perspectives on what is important, and that I really, truly hate being force-fed multiple servings of various dairy products.
The walk to Bina’s village, according to Mezan, was “pretty flat.” After just 10 minutes into our walk, I was questioning his definition of flat. Iowa flat (or even New York flat) is not the same concept as Himalayan foothills flat. Going to Bina’s village we probably went down 1,000 feet in elevation.
The first night I arrived [in Chiang Mai], a bunch of us went to a lantern festival. It began with about an hour and half of monks chanting as the sun set. The chanting went along with a melody of stringed instruments, giving a surreal, beautiful feel to the field where 200 people sat quietly and listened. As the chanting ended, people working the festival walked around lighting the top of the poles. Then, at the exact moment [as] everyone else, we held our white cylinder lantern (same size as everyone else) above the flame. We let the flame catch the wick on the bottom of the lantern, which filled up with hot air. Then, when we couldn’t hold it down anymore against the power of the hot air pushing up, we let go. Slowly, it floated up, joining the others to become a small yellow dot in a cloudy sky filled with slowly moving yellow starlike objects. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.
This was originally published as an article in The Grinnell Magazine, Spring 2012.
J.R. Osborn ’97 recently edited and produced the documentary feature film Glitter Dust: Finding Art in Dubai. It combines animation and video to explore artistic creation in a city that combines artificiality (indoor ski slopes in the desert!) with brutal reality (massive unemployment!).
Osborn taught Visual Communications at American University in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; he now teaches media production at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
Trailer for the feature documentary Glitter Dust: Finding Art in Dubai courtesy of J.R. Osborn ’97
During the summer of 1970, I was a member of the construction crew that built the Physical Education Complex, or PEC. It was a hot job during a hot summer during a hot time. As I watched the building come down during 2010–11 while visiting my son, C.J. Erickson ’11, I began to remember.
A bit of perspective is in order. Spring 1970 was tumultuous in America. Between April 13 and May 13, 1970:
Apollo 13 miraculously returned.
The Beatles’ “Let it Be” and The Jackson 5’s “ABC” topped the pop charts.
The first Earth Day was celebrated.
U.S. forces invaded Cambodia, followed by protests in the United States. Nixon was less popular than ever.
Four student protesters were killed and 9 wounded by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University, where students were protesting the U.S. invasion in Vietnam.
Two student protesters were killed and 12 wounded when police opened fire on a protest at Jackson State College.
Meanwhile, in Grinnell:
The College’s buildings and grounds workers went on strike. Students and faculty were mostly supportive.
Some Grinnell students walked to Des Moines, Iowa, to protest the Vietnam War and Vice President Spiro Agnew’s appearance at a Republican fundraiser. Phil Sasich ’72 achieved celebrity status when he was kicked out of the Agnew dinner for protesting.
A dozen students “returned” thousands of cans to beverage distributors, declaring “disposable cans and bottles are an ecological disaster.” Not only did they somehow escape arrest, the story made the Des Moines Register!
The College celebrated Earth Day with an environmental teach-in, trash pickup, a research project on solid waste volume and an organic picnic in central campus.
Crosses appeared on the central campus lawn; the ROTC was occupied; classes were suspended.
There were ongoing protests, meetings, angst, and fasting.
Grinnell officially closed for the spring semester without finals and without graduation for the Class of ’70; Freedom School classes continued throughout the summer.
After the College closed, I cast around for summer employment. My parents were in Topeka, Kan., an inhospitable place, so I decided not to go home for a summer job. I got along fine with my family and was not avoiding them, but I had grown away from high school friends and Topeka was just too Bob Dole-ish. I walked over to the PEC construction site, asked for a job, and was told when to start.
I had worked construction in prior summers, so I knew the drill: hard work, hot days, rednecks, colorful language, and limited achievement goals. Gilbert Construction, the low bidder, was really too small and too inexperienced for the job. They struggled with the complexities of the project. Before it was torn down, I could point to walls where we had not poured concrete properly, leaving voids that needed to be patched.
I could also point to the ramp that came up from the locker-room area toward Mac Field. When you pour concrete, you float the surface to make it smooth. For small surfaces, you use a hand float. Larger surfaces demand bigger tools, including a rotary float that looked something like a floor waxer. The wavy concrete on that ramp was caused by the assistant foreman, who had a big ego and thus had to do this plum job himself, even though he lacked the experience and skills to operate the rotary float on a slope. The best concrete finisher was black, but he was muscled aside for this key job. Once concrete sets, you get what you get. For 40 years, the waves were a reminder to me (and probably nobody else on earth) of hubris, racism, and incompetence.
The big event of the summer was setting the big, laminated wood beams over the pool. (Grinnell should have exploited “Largest Laminated Beams West of the Mississippi.”) Setting them on the concrete pillars required two cranes and steady nerves. The foreman and other skilled senior guys perched high on the pillars to seat the beams and bolt them in place. We laborers mostly observed. Somehow the beams got where they belonged and nobody got hurt.
The assistant foreman mentioned above did have one “skill” that I observed with bemusement. Clearly, he had taken Slacker 101 and always looked busy. He had a fast gait and would go around the site clockwise carrying a two-by-four, then come counterclockwise with a saw, then go clockwise with a level. He was always going from here to there, but never actually doing anything. It takes a lot of energy to not do any work!
I cut my hair for the job, but it was still longer than the crew cuts of the rest of the crew, who hailed from Searsboro, Lynnville, Sully, Montezuma, and other nearby towns. So, I became “Gorgeous George” (after a flamboyant professional wrestler whose signature was his long blonde hair) or just “George” for the summer. It was a form of endearment as we all tried to figure each other out and reconcile hippie/straight prejudices with the face of the likeable co-worker in front of you who pulled his weight in spite of his hairstyle.
Construction workers have a certain camaraderie — there are jokes, pranks, and tall stories over lunch. On payday, everyone tossed a dollar into a pot. The winner was the best poker hand you could make out of the last 5 digits of the check number on your paycheck. Pretty silly, but a little team-builder. I remember one particularly hot day when the temperature peaked at 103 degrees. We were all suffering and woozy, so the foreman knocked off work. As we were leaving the site, the big-boss superintendent drove in and started to get irate. The foreman simply said: “Sorry, boss, too f***in’ hot to work.” I just kept walking.
I made $1,156 that summer, or $6,495 in today’s dollars.
Summer 1970 in Grinnell
After work, I walked back to 1227 Park St., where I was living with Jim Dix ’71, Roger Franz ’71, and Shri Venkatesan ’74 and flipped over to the Grinnell hippie life. We were four guys house-sitting for a professor’s family. We cooked together — my first experience with keeping my own house. I laundered dirty construction clothes. We partied at our place and at other student apartments. We sat on the front porch during the “thunderstorm of the millennium” and enjoyed the show. We shopped at McNally’s. A woman visitor to our house critiqued our housekeeping because a picture was askew. We responded by putting every picture in the place catawampus. Hippies crashed with us for a night on their way from here to there. I had a bicycle and got all over town faster than those with cars.
That summer’s student community was definitely colored by the tumultuous spring events. Among other things, the Freedom School continued into the summer and I went to several classes/meetings at a house on Broad Street. While my friends did research or formed a commune, I was a proletarian worker. But we all converged on various partying opportunities, such as a Saturday at Rock Creek State Park, several miles west of campus.
On Memorial Day weekend, Dix, Franz, and I among others drove over to join 60,000 hippies at the Kickapoo Creek Rock Festival in central Illinois to hear 30 rock, blues, and folk bands. We camped out, which meant sleeping on the hillside, periodically waking up to hear bits of an act before crashing again. I remember the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Canned Heat, B.B. King, and Country Joe and the Fish (“Gimme an F!”) It was a mini-Woodstock: “Cornstock.”
One party we missed that summer was “The Animals at Merrill Park.” Eric Burdon and The Animals” were a British psychedelic rock band best known for such hits as “The House of the Rising Sun,” “We Gotta Get Out of this Place,” and “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” We saw the poster in town and dismissed it as some sort of poseur group. Later we heard that it had been the real thing. Bummer.
As classes started in the fall of 1970, we went back to our student routines. But the hulking construction zone just invited late-night exploration. We sat in the stands of the swimming pool and had bottle-rocket fights across the abyss. I had the insider knowledge of the place, having seen every inch of it as a construction worker.
In November, 1971, the PEC opened. We had had a long tradition of late-night swims in the old pool — four 20-yard lanes and a single one-meter diving board — and quickly transferred the party to the new, deluxe accommodations. We swam, we used the sauna, we used the steam room. This lasted for a couple months or so until the College’s buildings and grounds department, now known as facilities management, found out and re-engineered the doors so we could not open them with a coat hanger. It sure was fun while it lasted.
By 1971–72, my senior year, Grinnell had eliminated distribution requirements, so I no longer had to take physical education. Yet, I signed up for squash and swam in “my” pool regularly.
The PEC was designed and built before Title IX, so the focus was on athletics for men. As Title IX (passed in June, 1972) was implemented, the women’s side of the PEC rapidly grew busier and then overcrowded. The poured-concrete walls did not lend themselves to rearrangement, so the next four decades saw gross inequity in the accommodations for women. Further, the explosion of exercise and fitness among the students, faculty, staff, and townspeople further stressed the facility.
At reunions and other visits to campus, I have walked the halls of the Physical Education Complex, flashing back to memories of the summer of 1970 and my little contribution to Grinnell’s infrastructure.
The PEC is all memories, now. Good memories.
Mitchell D. Erickson ’72 is a chemist by training. He’s currently a senior adviser, Northeast regions, for the Department of Homeland Security in New York City.