January 31, 2013


Volume 7, Issue 20 – January 31, 2013


Fire and Ice

The weather has been crazy lately, culminating in an ALC meeting Wednesday in which Chief Bauer came into discuss the upcoming tornado drill, just as we were having a real tornado warning and sheltering in place.  The temperature fluctuating from 70°C to 20°C doesn’t help either.  It keeps reminding me of Robert Frost’s poem, Fire and Ice:

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.


Future Cities Report

Last Saturday, SPSU hosted Future Cities on our campus.  For those who don’t know, it’s a competition among middle school students (grades 6-8) to design a city of the future.  The students have to design their city, and the design has to address certain specific engineering issues—storm water runoff was this year’s issue.  I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a bunch of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders discussing permeable asphalt, but it’s quite the experience.

My day as a judge started at 9:30 AM when the first school presented its model and gave a talk about their city.  Each team has only so long to speak and then the judges ask questions for a fixed length of time.  There are two mandatory questions (if the team hasn’t already addressed them), but the judges can ask anything they like beyond that.  Afterwards, the teams are scored according to the quality of the models (and how well they addressed various criteria) and as to the quality of their presentation.  Earlier in the week, each team was required to turn in an essay and design a virtual city, all of which count in the final score.  The judging round was over at about noon.

In the afternoon, I got a chance to play emcee and the five finalists presented once again before the whole crowd and the finalist judges.  After a little microphone trouble, all went well and the students did a fabulous job.  I don’t envy the finalist judges, because all the teams were good, so choosing a winner must have been really difficult.  After the announcements of the various specialty awards (and there are lots of them!), we counted down the five finalists.  Fifth place went to a city named “Area 61”, designed by students from Double Churches Middle School in Columbus.  Fourth went to “Team Monsoon” from East Cobb Middle School.  Third went to “Stad Van die Water” from Arlington Christian School.  Second place went to Aqua Lush from St. Jude the Apostle Catholic School in Atlanta.  The winner was Aqua Serenity, from Queen of Angels Catholic School in Roswell, who get to go to Washington DC to compete in the national championship.

It obviously takes an army of people to coordinate the effort.  There were 120 teams that registered and 79 of them competed at our regional event, constituting 475 participants.  There were more than 90 staff volunteers, plus 60 model and presentation judges (I was one of them), 63 society awards judges (who decided which team won an award for a particular aspect of the competition, each sponsored by a professional society or SPSU), 19 essay judges, 28 virtual city judges, 5 finalist judges, and 3 speakers.  This mega-effort was ably led by Tony Rizzuto (Architecture), who was assisted by a whole bunch of faculty and staff from the school of ACM and many others.  I can’t thank all the volunteers enough, and especially Tony, for the fine work that they did.  After the competition, a bunch of us went out for a few beers.  There, a few deep breaths were taken, and then the planning started again for next year.


The Great Migration

On Tuesday night, I had the great pleasure of seeing Isabel Wilkerson speak on our campus.  Ms. Wilkerson is a journalist who formerly worked as the Chicago bureau chief of the New York Times.  She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1994, the first African-American woman to do so for individual reporting.  She is also the author of “The Warmth of Other Suns”, a book about the great migration of African-Americans from the South to the North between 1915 and 1970—people who left the harsh Jim Crow reality in search of a better life.

Our own Jill Forest (Counseling Center) had suggested that we bring Ms. Wilkerson in as part of our Cross-Cultural Conversations Series and our committee quickly agreed that she would be a wonderful choice.  Jill did most of the logistics of hosting her, and I very much appreciate the efforts involved.

The evening began with a reception at 5:00, with Ms. Wilkerson arriving a little late due to getting caught in traffic on I-75.  The food from Chartwell’s was great as always, with the key lime pie a special favorite.  About 40 people were at the reception and got a chance to meet her one-on-one.

At 6:00, we moved to the student auditorium.  About 300 people were there, and we all heard Ms. Wilkerson give an absolutely riveting talk after a lovely and personal introduction from Jill.  I had been aware of the broader aspect of the history of the migration, but Wilkerson put it into a context I’d never considered before: Everyone in this country has a history that takes them back to ancestors that had to migrate to America in search of freedom and a better life.  Some of us have ancestors that came over from Europe, others Asia, and still others from Latin America.  The difference was, this particular migration was internal—not from another country like all the others, but from one part of America to another.  Imagine—in order to have a chance at what the rest of us came to America for, six million African-Americans had to leave their homes, and this happened in the South, in the United States.  For many years, Wilkerson said, the South’s chief export was black people.

The hardest audience to explain this to, she said, was high school students.  The whole idea of Jim Crow and the indignities that African-Americans had to live under is alien territory to them—they just can’t wrap their minds around it.  She recalled a high school in Hawaii where she had spoken, where she told the students that there were places in the South that a black person could have been arrested for passing a white person while driving.  “I would have just honked,” said one student.  Wilkerson had to explain that if you could be arrested for just passing the car, you would also have been arrested for honking.  “I would have tailgated until they sped up,” said another student.  Wilkerson had to explain yet again.  Finally, a third student said: “If I couldn’t have done anything, then I would have left.”  Point finally made.

While there was a lynching every several days in the South (and no one knows the true total number of lynchings, since so many were done in the dead of night), the full terror came from the knowledge that you could be killed for any one of hundreds of minor infractions of the legal or social code—each designed to separate the races and keep African-Americans in their place.  The agricultural South needed a large population without better choices in order to cheaply plant and harvest tobacco, cotton, rice, and the other crops.

She talked about the huge loss of potential this system caused: people who otherwise would have been judges and teachers and musicians and scientists were legally kept from pursuing their talents.  She told about how Jesse Owens, the great Olympian athlete, was small and wiry when he was little.  His parents were afraid of how someone with his build would fare as a sharecropper.  When he was born, his parents named him James Cleveland Owens, the “Cleveland” after the almost mythic city in the north that they had heard offered more opportunities, but that none of them had ever been to.  After the family actually moved to Cleveland, when his schoolteacher asked his name, he replied “J.C.” which is what his parents called him.  Unused to his Southern drawl, the teacher thought he had said “Jesse”.  When he told his parents that night, they thought it might be the custom up North to rename the children when they went to school, so Jesse he remained.

She ended her talk by reminding the audience that the Jim Crow laws were harmful to black and white alike—both lost out from not utilizing all citizens to their full potential, and in order to hold black people down in the ditch, the white people had to get into the ditch with them.

A question and answer session followed, and as we exited the student theatre at about 7:10 to go to the ballroom for the book signing, I was amazed to see the huge line of people waiting to get their books autographed—there were over 100 people in line.  I’ve been to book signings before, where the author will ask your name, write “To Ralph”, and then sign their name.  That’s not what happened here—Ms. Wilkerson wanted to talk to each and every person, hear their own family’s story of migration, and she then wrote several sentences of personalized message to each one.  It was fascinating to hear so many people thanking her for having told their story and wanting to hold her hand.  The autograph session went on until after 9:00 PM, when Jill and I were the last to get our books signed and have a brief personal chat with her.  What a fantastic evening and what a fantastic author and speaker.

DSC_0367Picture by Kevin Van DerHorn

I’m looking forward to reading my copy, the inscription in which reads:

“To Zvi,

Warmest wishes and God Bless a son of survivors!

Gratitude for the lovely welcome.

The story of all of us…

–Isabel Wilkerson.”

Last Week’s Trivia Contest

Questions last week focused on the word “cold”, and our winner was Kathryn Morgan, one of our instructional designers in the Office of Faculty Support and Development.  Kathryn got a fabulous five correct in the fastest time, and wins the usual jazz CD.  Here are the correct answers:

  1. Alligators are, kangaroos aren’t.  Cold blooded.
  2. Coldest possible temperature, in degrees Celsius.  -273°C or 0 K.
  3. 1977 hit by the rock group Foreigner.  (You’re As) Cold as Ice.
  4. World War II German high-security prison camp. Colditz
  5. 1971 movie starring Dick van Dyke, also a 1969 Plastic Ono Band single.  Cold Turkey.


This Week’s Trivia Challenge

To prove that the BLAB is always fair and balanced, this week’s quiz centers around the word “hot”.  As usual, the first with the most takes the prize.  No looking up the answers now!  SEND ALL ENTRIES BY EMAIL TO zszafran@spsu.edu, since if you put them as a response on the BLOG, everyone will be able to see them!

  1. Someone who brags a lot is full of it.
  2. Current show starring Betty White.
  3. Pastry traditionally eaten on Good Friday.
  4. Like a brand new newspaper or news item.
  5. Song by one-hit wonder Nick Gilder.  Pat Benatar sang it later.


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