Guilford Unemployment Down in April, But Have We Really Beaten the Recession?

More evidence that the effects of the recession may have peaked came on Friday with release of the State’s county jobless data for April.  Guilford’s unemployment had dropped .3% percent versus the previous month to 10.5%.  Over eighty counties in North Carolina saw their jobless rates go down.

Once again, if you’re looking for work, be sure to try some of Greensboro Public Library’s JobSkills offerings.  

Also this week, a survey of leading economists by the National Association for Business Economics Outlook showed that nearly three out of four think economic growth will be positive the second half of 2009. 

Skeptics remain, however, such as Nouriel Roubini (who accurately predicted last year’s financial meltdown).  He doesn’t think we’ll see positive growth before the first quarter of 2010, and in an article in Forbes last week he warned of a possible “double dip recession” during 2010-11, owing to “a perfect storm” of factors such as high oil prices, inflation, and increases in public debt.

The Library’s most recent holdings on the financial crisis include:  The Great Financial Crisis:  Causes and Consequences by John Bellamy Foster and Fred Magdoff; The Gods That Failed:  How Blind Faith in Markets Has Cost Us Our Future by Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson; Meltdown:  The End of the Age of Greed by Paul Mason; and The World is Curved:  Hidden Dangers to the Global Economy by David M. Smick. 

More works on this topic can be found at this previous post.

North Korean Nuclear Test Causes International Concern

Monumental Bronze Statue of Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang

Monumental Bronze Statue of Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang

North Korea has provoked the international community once again with an underground test of a powerful nuclear weapon, carried out on Monday.  Two days later, they renounced the armistice which halted the Korean War in 1953 (the war really never officially ended).  In response, as this article from MSNBC relates, U.S. and South Korean forces are on their highest level of alert since 2006.

The situation with North Korea is quickly emerging as a major foreign policy challenge for the Obama Administration, and we can expect U.S. reaction to be very closely scrutinized both here and abroad.  At stake is the stability of the Pacific region, efforts to stop nuclear proliferation, and possibly an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe.  Indeed, the threat is extremely serious:  even in the event of mere conventional warfare, the North Koreans have one of the largest standing armies in the world, and the South Korean capital, Seoul, is within range of North Korean artillery and rocket launchers. 

Needless to say, the actions of the North Koreans and their leader, Kim Jong Il, remain as baffling as ever. 

If you would like to learn more about North Korea, and especially the nuclear threat they present, try some of these books from Greensboro Public Library’s collection:  Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick (on order); The Reluctant Communist:  My Desertion, Court-martial, and Forty-year Imprisonment in North Korea by Charles Robert Jenkins; Meltdown:  The Inside Story of the North Korean Nuclear Crisis by Mike Chinoy; North Korea by Tara Walters (juvenile); Kim Jong Il’s North Korea by Alison Behnke (juvenile); Failed Diplomacy:  The Tragic Story of How North Korea Got the Bomb by Charles L. Pritchard; Crisis on the Korean Peninsula:  How to Deal with a Nuclear North Korea by Michael O’Hanlon and Mike Mochizuki; North Korea:  Another Country by Bruce Cumings; Nuclear Showdown:  North Korea Takes on the World by Gordon G. Chang; Pyongyang:  A Journey Through North Korea by Guy Delisle; Rogue Regime:  Kim Jong Il and the Looming Threat of North Korea by Jasper Becker; and Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader:  North Korea and the Kim Dynasty by Bradley K. Martin.    

You can also read articles about North Korea in Facts on File’s World News Digest.

Chocolate on Display at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences

With the recession worrying us these days, it’s nice to treat oneself to a little piece of chocolate now and then.  Today, I really enjoyed some Cadbury chocolates that a friend and former co-worker here at Central Library brought us from her new home in England.

Undoubtedly there are also lots of folks who would enjoy not just eating chocolate but learning more about it too.  At least that’s the way the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh sees it, as they rolled out their latest exhibit a couple of weeks ago (on loan from the Field Museum of Chicago).

As their description of the exhibition states:

You’ll begin in the rainforest with the unique cacao tree whose seeds started it all.  Visit the ancient Maya civilization of Central America and discover what chocolate meant nearly 1,500 years ago.  Then travel forward in time and northward to the Aztec civilization of 16th-century Mexico, where cacao seeds were so valuable they were used as money.  Discover chocolate’s introduction into the upper classes of European society and its transformation into a mass-produced world commodity.

Sounds like a chocolate lover’s fantasy come true!  In addition, the exhibit will be accompanied by plenty of special events, including wine and chocolate tasting.  If you’re a big chocolate fan, you really must plan on a trip to Raleigh before the exhibition closes on September 7th.   

Greensboro Public Library has got some books on chocolate just waiting to be checked out, if you’re so inclined.  Try some of these:  Discover Chocolate:  The Ultimate Guide to Buying, Tasting, and Enjoying Fine Chocolates by Clay Gordon; Chicken Soup for the Chocolate Lover’s Soul: Indulging in Our Sweetest Moments, compiled by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, and Patricia Lorenz; Chocolate:  Riches from the Rainforest by Robert Burleigh (juvenile); The Chocolate Connoisseur:  For Everyone With a Passion for Chocolate by Chloé Doutre-Roussel; Death by Chocolate:  The Last Word on a Consuming Passion by Marcel Desaulniers; Heavenly Chocolate by Linda Collister; and Chocolate:  From Simple Cookies to Extravagant Showstoppers by Nick Malgieri.

Jobless Numbers Looking a Little Better

This is just a quick post acknowledging the latest release of unemployment data.

It looks like we may have  finally turned the corner on layoffs.  Nationally, 539,000 jobs were cut in April — still a high number, but the lowest we’ve seem since October; North Carolina’s April unemployment rate remained unchanged from the previous month, at 10.8%.

If you’re looking for work, be sure and check out some of our JobSkills offerings here at Greensboro Public Library.  I hear the JobTalk and Java meetings are really going great guns!

Possible Missing Link in Human Evolution Found

Human origins is a very exciting field of study.  New discoveries are being made all the time, and, of course, anyone who has followed developments over the last couple of decades knows that the introduction of DNA evidence has dramatically affected the debate over where and when Homo sapiens originated, with most scientists now supporting an African origin of perhaps 300,000 years ago.     

Anyway, taking things back quite a bit further in the evolutionary chain, here’s a neat article about a 47,000,000 year old primate fossil, introduced in New York earlier this week, which may “be a transitional animal that gave rise to the anthropoids and, ultimately, to us.”  However, some scientists remain skeptical about its status as a possible “missing link” and think the find is overhyped, as this piece from MSNBC explains.  If you don’t mind the jargon, the online journal PLoS One has a really wonkish article on the skeleton.

Found in Germany in 1983 but only recently brought to the attention of paleontologists, the skeleton is if nothing else an extraordinary fossil, so well preserved in fact that even its fur and last meal can be seen.  It has been nick-named “Ida” after the daughter of an Oslo University paleontologist who has studied the specimen, but its scientific name is Darwinius masillae.

If you’re interested in reading more about primates and the study of human origins, try some of these books from Greensboro Public Library’s collection:  The Primate Family Tree:  The Amazing Diversity of Our Closest Relatives by Ian Redmond; Jane Goodall:  The Woman Who Redefined Man by Dale Peterson; Primates and Philosophers:  How Morality Evolved by Frans de Waal, edited and introduced by Stephen Macedo and Josiah Ober; Parenting for Primates by Harriet J. Smith; The Hunt for the Dawn Monkey:  Unearthing the Origins of Monkeys, Apes, and Humans by Chris Beard; The Human Odyssey:  Four Million Years of Human Evolution by Ian Tattersall; The 10,000 Year Explosion:  How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution by Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending; The First Human:  The Race to Discover our Earliest Ancestors by Ann Gibbons; Adam’s Tongue:  How Humans Made Language, How Language Made Humans by Derek Bickerton; The World from Beginnings to 4000 BCE by Ian Tattersall; Seven Million Years:  The Story of Human Evolution by Douglas Palmer; Deep Ancestry: Inside the Genographic Project by Spencer Wells; The Real Eve:  Modern Man’s Journey Out of Africa by Stephen Oppenheimer; Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors by Nicholas Wade; The Complete World of Human Evolution by Chris Stringer and Peter Andrews; Y: The Descent of Men by Steve Jones; and Smithsonian Intimate Guide to Human Origins by Carl Zimmer.

As China Goes Up, Detroit Goes Down

With all the concern being manifested over the decline of the domestic automobile industry, I thought this article’s global take on the issue well worth pondering.  

China is projected to soon be the world’s top auto producer; and, as GM seems likely to soon follow Chrysler into bankruptcy, we can expect these Chinese companies to be lining up to bid on select GM brands like Hummer and Saturn.

So much for what was once one of the great bulwarks of America’s economy and its epicenter, Detroit, Michigan.  

Compounding the Motor City’s auto industry woes is its shocking urban decay.  This late 2008 article estimated that 67,000 homes had gone into foreclosure there since 2005 and that of these 44,000 stood vacant.  Many other buildings in Detroit, such as schools and public housing projects, have also been abandoned, as I learned about recently on Dick Gordon’s WUNC radio show “The Story,” when he interviewed Jim Griffioen, who has been exploring and making a photographic record of these buildings as a hobby.  

In addition, Detroit’s jobless rate is better than 20%, among the worst in the country.  Some are so desperate that they commit crimes to go to jail, where they at least have a place to sleep and can count on three hot meals a day.  As one beleaguered resident put it, for Detroit the current economic crisis is “‘a depression — not a recession.'”

Among Greensboro Public Library’s recent books on Detroit and/or the automobile industry you can find:  Getting Ghost:  Two Young Lives and the Struggle for the Soul of an American City by Luke Bergmann; Zoom: The Global Race to Fuel the Car of the Future by Iain Carson and Vijay V. Vaitheeswaran; Made in Detroit:  A South of 8 Mile Memoir by Paul Clemens; Someone Else’s House:  America’s Unfinished Struggle for Integration by Tamar Jacoby; Why GM Matters: Inside the Race to Transform an American Icon by William J. Holstein; Managing the Dragon:  How I’m Building a Billion-dollar Business in China by Jack Perkowski; Billy, Alfred, and General Motors:  The Story of Two Unique Men, a Legendary Company, and a Remarkable Time in American History by William Pelfrey; and The People’s Tycoon:  Henry Ford and the American Century by Steven Watts.

Wal-Mart Supercenter to Go Up on Site of Famous Battle?

Check out this news item from the Civil War Preservation Trust on efforts to stop construction of a proposed 52 acre Wal-Mart retail center in Virginia, which would be located just across from the entrance to the national park commemorating the Battle of the Wilderness, fought there on May 5-6, 1864.

According to the Preservation Trust, “only approximately 21 percent of the historic landscape at the Wilderness is currently preserved,” and the new retail center (anchored by a 138,000 square foot Wal-Mart Supercenter) would go up within an area considered to comprise part of the “historic footprint” of the battlefield site.  

On the anniversary of the battle this year, the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition held an event to protest the Wal-Mart retail center’s construction.  Speakers included a descendant of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, actor Robert Duvall, who actually played the part of the general in the 2003 movie, Gods and Generals

As for the Battle of the Wilderness, this was one of the bloodiest and most important engagements of the Civil War.  It was the first confrontation between Lee and Union Gen. Ulysses Grant, and it was also the first of a decisive series of battles — taking place over the course of a month — which culminated in the siege of Petersburg and the beginning of the last phase of the Civil War in Northern Virginia.  Combined Union-Confederate casualties here numbered somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000.

Greensboro Public Library of course has lots of books on the Civil War, including some which focus upon the Battle of the Wilderness.  These include:  Bloody Roads South: the Wilderness to Cold Harbor, May-June 1864 by Noah Andre Trudeau; The Killing Ground:  Wilderness to Cold Harbor by Gregory Jaynes; The Wilderness Campaign by Edward Steere; and On Fields of Fury:  From the Wilderness to the Crater, An Eyewitness History by Richard Wheeler.

Archaeologists to Investigate Pavlopetri, An Underwater Mycenaean City

Submerged off the southern coast of Greece, just a few feet below the surface, is an ancient city called Pavlopetri which it is believed was an important port during the Mycenaean age, ca. 1600-1100 BC.  This month, archaeologists will begin surveying the site with a new technology they hope will provide “major new insights into the workings of Mycenaean society.”

The Mycenaean world of over 3000 years ago was described by the legendary Greek poet Homer in the Iliad and the Odyssey.  It was an age so long ago that weapons were made of bronze rather than iron.

The name Mycenaean is derived from Mycenae, a city of stupendous walls, strange beehive-shaped tombs, and the famous Lion Gate; some speculate it was the chief city of a sort of empire which eventually included present-day Greece, the Cyclades, Crete and parts of western Turkey.  It seems probable that the Mycenaeans numbered among the great powers of their day, along with others such as the Hittites and Egyptians. 

We know that they were Greek, for the decipherment of the Mycenaean script Linear B by Michael Ventris in 1952 proved that they spoke an archaic form of Greek.  Though the Mycenaean palace culture began to disappear more than seven centuries before the Periclean Golden Age of 5th century Athens, their story survived the interregnum of the Greek Dark Ages (ca. 1100-800 BC), passed down through a bardic tradition in which singing poets regaled their audiences with tales of Mycenaean heroism from the misty past.           

Returning to the sunken city of Pavlopetri, it seems likely that it may hold important clues as to trade contacts, as well as the extent of Mycenaean sea power.  Since most previous work has focused on inland sites, there is potential for startling discoveries.       

If you’re interested in the archaeology of Mycenaean Greece or the Greek Bronze Age, try some of these books from Greensboro Public Library:  The Mycenaeans by Lord William Taylour; The Tomb of Agamemnon by Cathy Gere; Greece in the Bronze Age by Emily Vermeule; Memoirs of Heinrich Schliemann:  A Documentary Portrait Drawn from His Autobiographical Writings, Letters, and Excavation Reports by Leo Deuel; and The Greek Stones Speak:  The Story of Archaeology in Greek Lands by Paul MacKendrick.

You can also try a keyword search for “Mycenae” or “Mycenaean” in the Gale Virtual Reference Library via NC Live.  All you need is a library card number to use this resource.

Mental Illness and Homelessness

In a twist on identity politics (or diversity), this article describes a developing movement among the mentally ill to assert their right to be mad.  They call it “mad pride.”  As Newsweek reporter Alissa Quart puts it, these activists want to embrace their mental diversity by “refram[ing] their conditions and celebrat[ing] unusual (some call them ‘spectacular’) ways of processing information and emotion.”

Though not really a topic of the Newsweek article (which focused more upon madness as a sort of civil right), the story nonetheless reminded me of the continuing problem of the mentally ill homeless and two factors which have shaped the treatment of mental illness during my lifetime:  deinstitutionalization and the anti-psychiatry movement

In the years after the introduction of the antipsychotic drug thorazine in the 1950s, psychiatrists began warming to the idea that many if not most of the chronic mentally ill could be effectively treated with drugs, community mental health services, or some combination thereof.  As a consequence, many state mental hospitals were closed and dramatically fewer patients are hospitalized in these institutions today than was the case fifty years ago.*  This is known as deinstitutionalization.    

About the same time deinstitutionalization began gathering momentum, the anti-psychiatry movement led by figures such as Thomas Szasz and R.D. Laing also became influential.  Hostile to many of the assumptions of establishment psychiatry, the movement took the view that much of accepted psychiatric treatment was ineffective and even harmful.

The extent to which deinstitutionalization and the anti-psychiatry movement are associated with the problem of the homeless mentally ill is debatable.  Decline in the availability of affordable housing is also an important factor in the homelessness of the mentally ill; and anti-psychiatry is motivated by a humanistic perspective which seems at odds with disregard for the plight of the homeless.  Moreover, we would never wish to return to the snake pit mental hospitals of years past.  Yet, there can be little doubt that the anti-psychiatry movement helped to sustain deinsitutionalization; and that the latter has turned many thousands of the mentally ill out into the streets.      

In effect, states and communities have used deinstitutionalization to abdicate from much of their responsibility for the mentally ill.  Though this was undoubtedly an unintended consequence, the long ledger of tragic tales which have resulted — if it could be compiled — would surely astound us.     

I can speak from my own experience here, for I once had a friend named Jack who suffered from schizophrenia following a breakdown about 1970 — he was then in his twenties.  Though he was not homeless, and had access to treatment and medicine, left to his own devices he frequently attempted to self-medicate himself, experimenting with vitamins, alcohol, and who knows what.  I even remember he looked to the rebel anti-psychiatrist R.D. Laing as a sort of a hero for his analysis which implicated families and environmental factors in schizophrenia.  

But eventually, Jack’s self-medicating took a sad turn:  he poisoned himself with rubbing alcohol and died.  It is hard for me to imagine that this could have happened in a hospital; or that Jack’s death could not have been prevented in a community where there was adequate support for the mentally ill.      

I’m sure many of you could share similar stories of families and friends; I think especially of how destructive mental illnesses can be for families. 

At any rate, and getting back to the Newsweek article with which I began, before we follow the “prideful mad” down the road to their delusional rights (which sounds much like anti-psychiatry to me), should we not first focus upon building an infrastructure — both on the state and community level — which can adequately support quality care (whatever that may mean), both for the homeless mentally ill as well as the merely mentally ill?    

If you would like to learn more about the homeless and mental illness, probably the most prolific writer on the subject is the controversial E. Fuller Torrey.  Works of Torrey’s owned by Greensboro Public Library which are in whole or part concerned with this topic include:   Nowhere to Go:  The Tragic Odyssey of the Homeless Mentally Ill (1988); The Insanity Offense:  How America’s Failure to Treat the Seriously Mentally Ill Endangers Its Citizens (2008); and Out of the Shadows:  Confronting America’s Mental Illness Crisis (1997).

Some other recent books we have on homelessness and/or mental illness which may be of interest include:  Homelessness in the United States, edited by Jamshid A. Momeni; Land of the Lost Souls:  My Life on the Streets by Cadillac Man; The Soloist:  A Lost Dream, An Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music by Steve Lopez; Breakfast at Sally’s:  One Homeless Man’s Inspirational Journey by Richard LeMieux; Scratch Beginnings:  Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream by Adam Shepard; Have You Found Her:   A Memoir by Janice Erlbaum; Mad in America:  Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill by Robert Whitaker; Girlbomb:  A Halfway Homeless Memoir by Janice Erlbaum; The Glass Castle:  A Memoir by Jeannette Walls; and Without a Net:  Middle Class and Homeless (with Kids) in America:  My Story by Michelle Kennedy.

*According to E. Fuller Torrey, the population of public mental hospitals in the U.S. in 1955 was 558,000; by 2006, it was about 40,000 (The Insanity Offense, p.2).

U.S. Unemployment Rate at 8.9%, But Layoffs Show Signs of Easing

This is just a brief post acknowledging release of the national unemployment rate for April, which stood at 8.9%.  North Carolina’s state data will be released on May 22nd and the county data will follow on May 29th.

Though preliminary estimates indicate 539,000 jobs were lost in April, officials are taking heart from the fact that this is down from a revised 699,000 in March.   

Please remember the Library’s JobSkills offerings, such as our new Job Talk and Java sessions.