Big Emerald

As a sometime rockhound, this CNN article on a huge cluster of emeralds worth millions of dollars caught my eye.  Most collectors can only dream of finding a gemstone this large and beautiful.

Though this specimen is from Brazil, emeralds have also been found in North Carolina, the best known location probably being Hiddenite, in Alexander County, which I visited a time or two as a boy.  The place is named after William Hidden, a geologist who was there ca. 1880 and found not only emeralds — which the natives of that period, unaware of their value, referred to simply as “green bolts” — but also a rare green form of the mineral spodumene, subsequently called “hiddenite.”    

You can still prospect for emeralds there, as well as at the Crabtree Emerald Mine, located in the mountains near Little Switzerland, North Carolina.

If you’re interested in gem and mineral collecting in North Carolina, the library may have some resources you’ll find helpful.  Rock, Gem, and Mineral Collecting Sites in Western North Carolina by Rick James Jacquot, Jr., is an excellent book which can provide you with information about how to find some of the best locations in the State, fees, restrictions, maps, etc.  Also, check out Jacquot’s Mountain Area Gem & Mineral Association (M.A.G.M.A.) website for loads of information on collecting in this region.  M.A.G.M.A. conducts a tremendous number of field trips each year and free memberships are available.  Some of the M.A.G.M.A. field trip reports are for visits to the Crabtree Emerald Mine, mentioned above.

Another good book on this topic is A Rockhounding Guide to North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains by Michael Streeter.  Streeter is a professional geologist with North Carolina’s Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources. 

Let me also note that our North Carolina Collection (which is a reference collection, meaning it has to be used at the library) includes a number of out-of-print resources on gem and mineral collecting, gold prospecting, etc., which may prove useful to those doing research on older collecting locations and mines.                  

Lastly, if you’re interested in gem and mineral collecting elsewhere in the country, try Treasure Hunter’s Gem & Mineral Guides to the U.S.A.:  Where & How to Dig, Pan, and Mine Your Own Gems & Minerals by Kathy J. Rygle and Stephen F. Pedersen.

Layoffs in the “Slump Belt”

In his blog today, Paul Krugman linked to a story from the New York Times about the sad economic plight of Columbia, South Carolina.  Krugman uses the term “Slump Belt” to describe the region of high unemployment (7.0% or above) extending through states from the Midwest to the South, and including North Carolina.

North Carolina’s unemployment rate has risen dramatically in the last six months, increasing from 5.9% in June to 7.9% in November.  The November figure is the highest since 1983.

But while layoffs remain the way most employers respond to financial pressures, some are actually beginning to resist layoffs and look to other ways to trim their budgets.  This article, also from today’s New York Times, describes alternatives such as four-day work weeks, unpaid vacations, wage cuts, and so on.

Greensboro Public Library has a variety of books which deal with the topic of unemployment — everything from how economists view job losses as an economic indicator to books which describe your rights when misfortune strikes.

Here are just a few titles:   Fired!:  Tales of the Canned, Cancelled, Downsized, and Dismissed by Annabelle Gurwitch; Fired, Laid Off or Forced Out!:  A Complete Guide to Severance, Benefits, and Your Rights When You’re Starting Over by Richard C. Busse; Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream by Barbara Ehrenreich; You’ve Been Fired: Your Rights and Remedies by Margaret C. Jasper;  The Economist Guide to Economic Indicators:  Making Sense of Economics; Landing on the Right Side of Your Ass:  A Survival Guide for the Recently Unemployed by Michael B. Laskoff; and The Effects of Job Loss on the Family by Michele Alpern.

Please also keep in mind that we have plenty of resources to help you hunt for another job.  Check out this Greensboro Public Library blog post from December 8th.

Quadrantids Meteor Shower

According to this MSNBC article, amateur astronomers on the East Coast may be in for a treat during the early morning hours of Saturday, January 3rd, when the peak intensity of the annual Quadrantids Meteor Shower could produce as many as 30-60 meteors per hour.  Moonlight, which sometimes spoils celestial events like these, should not be a problem.  If only the weather will hold up!

If you want to find out more about this topic, Falling Stars:  A Guide to Meteors and Meteorites, by Mike D. Reynolds, is probably the best book we have on meteor showers in our adult collections.  But we also have some juvenile titles which may prove useful, including:  Meteors, Meteorites, and Meteoroids by Ray Spangenburg and Kit Moser; Asteroids, Comets, and Meteors by Robin Kerrod; and Comets and Meteor Showers by Paul P. Sipiera.

You really don’t need optical aid to view a meteor shower, just favorable weather conditions, the absence of moonlight, and, preferably, a dark-sky location (i.e., somewhere out in the country away from city lights), though brighter meteors will no doubt be visible even in the city.    

If you have a general interest in astronomy, please note that Greensboro Public Library’s Kathleen Clay Edwards Family Branch has a telescope (I believe it’s an 8 inch reflector) and they sometimes have public viewings, as well as astronomy-related programming.  If you have any questions about viewing nights for the telescope and programming, please call 373-2923.


Here’s Yahoo’s movie page on Milk, which is getting rave reviews from the critics. 

The film portrays the rise of the gay political movement in San Francisco during the 1970s, led by Harvey Milk (1930-1978), who was elected city supervisor there in 1977.  Milk also includes a very frank depiction of gay life and culture in the city’s Castro District during this period.  The gay rights movement in San Francisco is set against Anita Bryant’s national campaign opposing gay rights and the film is peppered with documentary footage of Ms. Bryant throughout.  

Sean Penn’s inspiring performance as Harvey Milk is a shoe-in for an Academy Award nomination for best actor.  Josh Brolin is also convincing as the troubled city supervisor, Dan White, who assassinated Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone on 27 November 1978. 

If you’re interested in learning more about Harvey Milk, the library has Randy Shilts’ The Mayor of Castro Street:  The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, originally published in 1979 but recently reprinted.  We’ve also got a DVD called The Times of Harvey Milk

Milk concludes with the assassinations of Milk and Moscone, but the subsequent trial of Dan White attracted considerable media attention and Facts on File includes quite a few articles on this topic.  White’s trial is famous for the so-called “Twinkie Defense,” whereby it was argued that a junk food diet had diminished White’s mental capacity and he was therefore not responsible for his actions.  The defense was successful, and White was acquitted of murder, though he was found guilty on a lesser charge of manslaughter.  White was released from prison in 1984 and committed suicide in 1985.

Rev. Rick Warren to Give Invocation at Obama Inauguration

Check out this MSNBC article which discusses President-elect Barack Obama’s choice of Rev. Richard “Rick” Warren to give the invocation at the inauguration on January 20th. 

The choice is seen as controversial owing to Warren’s oppostion to issues dear to many Obama supporters, such as same sex marriage and abortion rights, but, as the article states, “Warren has also been one of the most prominent evangelical leaders calling for Christians to expand their agenda and confront global problems like poverty, AIDS, climate change and genocide in Darfur.”  

Warren is author of the popular book, The Purpose-driven Life:  What on Earth Am I Here For?, and Greensboro Public Library also has his latest, The Purpose of Christmas.

The Housing Bubble and Foreclosure Crisis

CNN reports today that as the subprime mortgage mess has unfolded, American home values have declined by a total of more than $2 trillion dollars.  And CBS’s 60 Minutes reported last night that significantly larger numbers of other mortgage loans, known as “Alt-As” and “option ARMs,” which attracted home buyers with low initial interest rates, will soon reset at higher rates.   

Investment fund manager Whitney Tilson, who was interviewed by Scott Pelley on 60 Minutes, thinks we’ve only worked our way through about 50% of the housing bubble as yet and that, over the next few years, resetting Alt-As and option ARMS may bring a repeat of the subprime fiasco, with many more Americans suffering the trauma of foreclosure.  Let’s hope Mr. Tilson is wrong. 

If you’re facing foreclosure and looking at your options, try this page on the Federal Government’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) website.  It’s got loads of information about steps you can take to avoid losing your home. 

In the upper right hand corner of the HUD page, you’ll see a link to information by state.  Click on the link to North Carolina and you’ll find a variety of other links, including how to contact HUD’s North Carolina office, which happens to be here in Greensboro at 1500 Pinecroft Road, Suite 401.  Their phone number is (336) 547-4000.   

The HUD website also includes a page on the Bush Administration’s recently unveiled program for assistance to those facing mortgage problems called Hope for Homeowners.           

Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae also have pages on how to avoid foreclosure.  Both of these companies, which as mortgage lenders had sort of quasi-governmental status as government sponsored enterprises (GSEs) and are now, owing to the fallout over the mortgage mess, under Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) conservatorship, have recently anounced they will temporarily suspend foreclosures

The FHFA website, by the way, is a great place to follow trends in housing prices as the bubble bursts.  They also have a house price calculator which you can use to figure out what your home is now worth.

How is the mortgage crisis effecting North Carolina?  According to this Greensboro News and Record article, in October North Carolina ranked 29th in home foreclosures nationally.  So, things are not yet as serious here as they are in hard-hit states like California and Florida.  Nonetheless, all Americans have to be concerned.     

The mortgage mess has manifested itself so quickly that the Library has relatively few print resources on how to cope with home foreclosure (most are in fact on how to make money on the foreclosure woes of others).  But this book, published in 2008, called The Foreclosure Survival Guide:  Keep Your House or Walk Away with Money in Your Pocket by Stephen Elias, is definitely on point.  We also have a couple of works which should help with legal issues relating to foreclosure.  These are Buying and Selling Your Home and Real Estate Law for the Homeowner & Broker, both by Margaret C. Jasper and located in our reference collection at Central Library. 

Also, please remember that you can continue to find loads of articles about the mortgage crisis in NC Live and Facts on File.

Cholera Epidemic in Zimbabwe

As if Zimbabwe didn’t have enough trouble with their food crisis, hyperinflation (there are now plans to issue $1 million dollar banknotes), a broken health care system, and the corrupt political leadership of their president, Robert Mugabe, now a cholera epidemic has broken out and the country has neither the will nor the wherewithal to contain it.

U.S. President George Bush has recently joined a chorus of world leaders, including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicholas Sarkozy, in calling for an end to Mugabe’s rule.  The Zimbabwean government has countered by blaming the outbreak on a “biological chemical war” — yes, that’s right, “biological chemical” — being waged against them by Western governments bent on the ouster of Mugabe. 

Check out these articles from MSNBC and the London Times online.

If you’re interested in Zimbabwe, the library may have some books for you.  Try some of the following:  House of Stone:  The True Story of a Family Divided in War-torn Zimbabwe by Christina Lamb; When a Crocodile Eats the Sun:  A Memoir of Africa by Peter Godwin; Casting with a Fragile Thread:  A Story of Sisters and Africa by Wendy Kann; and Scribbling the Cat:  Travels with an African Soldier and Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight:  An African Childhood, both by Alexandra Fuller. 

These titles should provide some contextual background for Zimbabwe’s many years of oppressive colonial rule, context that helps to explain events there in more recent years, such as Mugabe’s harsh land reform measures, which have in turn been blamed for the country’s food crisis.

Please remember that you can also search Facts on File for stories about Zimbabwe.  All you need is the barcode number from your Greensboro Public Library card.

Auto Industry Bailout

The question of the moment on Capital Hill is of course whether or not Congress will succeed in passing a bailout of the big three automakers — General Motors, Chrysler and Ford.  The latest news is that there aren’t enough Republicans on board to pass the $14 billion bill fashioned by Senate Democrats.  There’s now talk of a compromise bill authored by Tennessee Republican Bob Corker, but with painful wage concessions from the United Auto Workers, cuts in retiree benefits, and debt restructuring requirements — the latter of which will no doubt mean a great deal of downsizing and lost jobs.

Once again, and much as with the banks during the last few months, there are fears about possible ripple effects across the economy if one or more of the automakers are allowed to fail.

If you’re interested in the auto industry, the following titles at Greensboro Public Library should shed some light upon the history of one of America’s most storied industries and where it’s headed.  Try some of these recent titles:  How Toyota Became #1: Leadership Lessons from the World’s Greatest Car Company by David Magee; Zoom:  The Global Race to Fuel the Car of the Future by Iain Carson and Vijay V. Vaitheeswaran; Billy, Alfred, and General Motors:  The Story of Two Unique Men, a Legendary Company, and a Remarkable Time in American History by William Pelfrey; The People’s Tycoon:  Henry Ford and the American Century by Steven Watts; The Ford Century: Ford Motor Company and the Innovations that Shaped the World by Russ Banham; Taken for a Ride:  Detroit’s Big Three and the Politics of Pollution by Jack Doyle; and The Car and Its Future, edited by Kaitlen Jay Exum and Lynn M. Messina.

African-Americans & the White House

The highly anticipated inauguration of America’s first black president, Mr. Barack Obama, will no doubt be accompanied by a tremendous amount of media coverage from a whole host of perspectives.      

This very good article, from MSNBC, traces the long historical association of African-Americans and the White House, recalling that “slaves not only helped build the White House, but also for decades men and women in bondage served America’s presidents and first families as butlers, cooks and maids.”

I especially liked the fact that the MSNBC article linked to an electronic edition of  A Colored Man’s Reminisences, written by Paul Jennings, a slave of our fourth president, James Madison, and available through Documenting the American South, a project sponsored by the Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  UNC-CH is one of America’s most important repositories of rare and valuable imprints — books, pamphlets, broadsides, etc.  — associated with the American South.  Through this project, literally 100s of titles from the University’s North Carolina Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Rare Book Collection and Davis Library, all associated with various themes of Southern history, are now available for free on the web.  If you’re not familiar with Documenting the American South, check it out sometime.

The MSNBC article also mentions that an African-American baby was born in the White House in 1806, daughter of two slaves of then president Thomas Jefferson. 

This reminded me of the Sally Hemings controversy — the theory, now born out by DNA evidence, that Thomas Jefferson or a close relative fathered children by Jefferson’s slave Sally Hemings.  The library has several books on this subject, as well Thomas Jefferson’s slaves in general, which would no doubt shed light upon the domestic relations of slaves and our presidents.  These include:  The Hemingses of Monticello:  An American Family by Annette Gordon-Reed; The Jefferson-Hemings Myth:  An American Travesty, presented by the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society and edited by Eyler Robert Coates, Sr.; Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings:  An American Controversy by Annette Gordon-Reed; The Slave Families of Thomas Jefferson:  A Pictorial Study Book with an Interpretation of His Farm Book in Genealogy Charts, in 2 vols., written and compiled by B. Bernetiae Reed. 

The author of the last mentioned work is a native of Greensboro.  It is a sumptuously illustrated and painstaking study of over 600 of Jefferson’s slaves.

When in Rome . . . (Archaeology)

Here’s a neat article from MSNBC on the recent discovery at Modena, Italy, of what appears to be the center of the Roman Empire’s lamp manufacturing. 

The article also included links to other similar ones on Roman archaeology, including the unearthing of the so-called “Gladiator Tomb” — actually, the tomb of a Roman general named Marcus Nonius Macrinus, upon whom Russell Crowe’s character in the film Gladiator is very loosely based. 

And here’s yet another about the discovery of a lost treasure trove of ancient Celtic coins, announced last month in Holland.

If you like archaeology and antiquities, Greensboro Public Library has a lot of recent books that may be of interest — though, as you might guess, our collection tends to focus more on general surveys or lay/popular works.

Some of our recent titles include:  Pompeii:  The Living City by Alex Butterworth and Ray Laurence (DVD);  The Cave of John the Baptist:  The Stunning Archaeological Discovery That Has Redefined Christian History by Shimon Gibson; Ghosts of Vesuvius:  A New Look at the Last Days of Pompeii, How Towers Fall, and Other Strange Connections by Charles Pellegrino; Titanic’s Last Secrets:  The Further Adventures of Shadow Divers John Chatterton and Richie Kohler by Brad Matsen; The Terra Cotta Army:  China’s First Emperor and the Birth of a Nation by John Man; Unholy Business:  A True Tale of Faith, Greed, and Forgery in the Holy Land by Nina Burleigh; The World Encyclopedia of Archaeology, chief consultant, Aedeen Cremin; The Invisible Sex:  Uncovering the True Roles of Women in Prehistory by J.M. Adovasio, Olga Soffer & Jake Page; Discovery!:  Unearthing the New Treasures of Archaeology, edited by Brian M. Fagan; The Horse, the Wheel, and Language:  How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World by David W. Anthony; Jamestown, the Buried Truth by William M. Kelso; The Tomb of Agamemnon by Cathy Gere; Britain in the Middle Ages:  An Archaeological History by Francis Pryor; and The Archaeology of Ancient Judea and Palestine by Ariel Lewin.