More on the Great Recession: Foreclosures, Jobs & Financial Reform

I’m one of those lucky people who is still employed and just bought a condo, taking advantage of the up to $8,000 tax credit that was part of the stimulus legislation crafted by the Obama Administration and Congress earlier this year.

So, I’ve just been through a move from my old apartment — of fifteen years — where most of the residents are college students, with perhaps a few little old ladies here and there, as well as a sprinkling of grisly hermits like myself who have always been content to avoid the responsibilities of home ownership.

But anyway, as I was moving I took notice of something unusual at my apartment complex — the appearance of a family of four in one of the units across the street.  I don’t think I’d seen that once in all my fifteen years at the apartments.

I never spoke with them in order to ascertain whether they were victims of the foreclosure crisis, but when I saw a pile of toys in the yard behind their unit, I thought they sure looked like they belonged in the backyard of a single family home.

Though I suppose people aren’t losing their homes around here at the same pace they are elsewhere — such as Florida or out west — I’d be willing to bet this scenario is something being repeated quite a lot around Greensboro these days.  In fact, just since I’ve moved into my condo (less than a month), I’ve seen a unit foreclosed.               

If you’re in trouble, Greensboro Public Library has some books which can help you with foreclosure, including The Foreclosure Survival Guide:  Keep Your House or Walk Away with Money in Your Pocket by Stephen Elias, and Stop Foreclosure Now:  The Complete Guide to Saving Your Home and Your Credit by Lloyd Segal.

Of course, some families aren’t so lucky as to be able to afford an apartment when they lose their homes.  This past week, one of my colleagues at another branch sent me a link to a New York Times article on how foreclosures are forcing families into homeless shelters — on average, it’s estimated that 10% of homeless families receiving help from social service agencies are folks who have lost their homes.

In other late economic news, the Employment Security Commission released county unemployment data on Friday, and things are looking a tad better, as Guilford County’s rate for September dropped .4% from the previous month to 11.0%.

We’re still in a world of hurt on the jobs front though, for this article by MSNBC’s John Schoen suggests the “real” unemployment rate nationally — when you throw in discouraged workers and part-timers who want full-time jobs — may actually be as high as 20%, or around double the official rate (currently 9.8%). 

If we extrapolate Guilford’s “real” rate in the same way, then we also would be at around 20%.

As we’ve said many times in our posts, the Library has plenty of resources for job seekers.  Check out our Job and Career Information page. 

We’ve also seen reports of some movement on financial reform in the last week or so, though it seems unlikely that Congress will have the stomach for bold action

One of the most troubling areas continues to be “too big to fail” — i.e., the likelihood of government bailouts for huge financial institutions like AIG or Citigroup in the event of future crises.  

On Friday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress it “must set up a mechanism . . . to safely wind down big financial firms whose failure could endanger the entire financial system,” suggesting an assessment collected from the financial industry — rather than taxpayer dollars — could be used for this purpose.

If you’re interested in some of the Library’s most recent titles on the financial crisis, take a look at the reading list here.

More Halloween Season Goodies: Bats, Bram Stoker, Telescopes & Poe

Bram Stoker

Stephanie Meyer and the Twilight series may well be more popular these days, but check this out:  the great grand-nephew of Bram Stoker (1874-1912), author of Dracula, the greatest vampire novel of them all, has come out with a sequel to his famous ancestor’s book.

Titled Dracula:  The Un-dead, and written by Canadian Dacre Stoker in collaboration with a New York screenwriter named Ian Holt, the plot of the new novel involves a hunt for a murderous vampire, set against late Edwardian Europe.  Interestingly, Bram Stoker is actually a character in the new book.    

Greensboro Public Library has copies on order, so I imagine we’ll have Dacre Stoker’s new novel soon.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in Bram Stoker, we do have a couple of recent titles, including Bram Stoker’s Dracula:  A Documentary Journey into Vampire Country and the Dracula Phenomenon, edited by Elizabeth Miller, and The New Annotated Dracula.   

We’ve also plenty of other books on vampires.  Just a few of our 2009 titles make a long list:  Blood Promise:  A Vampire Academy Novel by Richelle Mead; The Vampire Archives, edited by Otto Penzler (on order); City of Glass by Cassandra Clare; Night Pleasures by Sherrilyn Kenyon; Bone Crossed by Patricia Briggs; The Thirteenth by L.A. Banks; Must Love Hellhounds by Charlaine Harris; Dark Road Rising by P.N. Elrod; and Club Dead by Charlaine Harris.  Search the library’s catalog here for many, many more.

A Vampire Bat

Speaking of vampires, it’s well-known that they occasionally transmogrify into bats.  And, if you’re like me and fascinated by bats (I love to watch them flit around at dusk, and one of my favorite books is Randall Jarrell’s The Bat Poet), you won’t want to miss our program on bats at the Kathleen Clay Edwards Family Branch on Monday night, October 19th, at 6:30 PM.

This program will also include a telescope viewing, provided skies are clear, and, though there’s no connection to our Kathleen Clay program, it’s nonetheless a fact that our master weaver of the horror tale, Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), was also an astronomy enthusiast.  As a boy, Poe enjoyed using a telescope to study the stars and planets, and one of the last books he published before his tragic death was Eureka (1848), in which he attempted to explain the origins of the universe.

Edgar A. Poe

Lastly, thoughts of Poe and the Fall season always remind me of my favorite of his poems, Ulalume, which begins: 

The skies they were ashen and sober;
The leaves they were crisped and sere –
The leaves they were withering and sere;
It was night in the lonesome October
Of my most immemorial year.

The library, of course, has books on bats, astronomy, and Edgar A. Poe.  Let us know if we can help you find something.

North Carolina’s Jobless Rate Holds Steady at 10.8%

There was no increase in North Carolina’s month-to-month unemployment rate in September, the News and Record reported today.  The article also points out some “hopeful signs,” such as a slight decline in initial filings for unemployment insurance.

On the national scene, economist Paul Krugman also sounded “a smidgen of optimism” on his blog today, siting a steep rise in industrial production — a good sign for GDP during the 3rd quarter and hopes that the recession may finally be coming to an end.

As always, if you’re in the job hunt, please check out Greensboro Public Library’s Job and Career Information page.

Newly Discovered Amphitheatre at Roman Port City Described as “Mini Coliseum”

Marble Head Discovered at Portus

Marble Head Discovered at Portus

Do you remember the scene from the movie Gladiator when Maximus and his fellow gladiatori enter Rome and first lay eyes upon the Coliseum?  “Have you ever seen anything like that before?,” says one.  “I didn’t know men could build such things,” says another.

Well, apparently archaeologists working on the University of Southampton’s dig at the site of the former Roman city of Portus are similarly awestruck by remains they have uncovered this summer — which include those of an amphitheatre they are describing as a sort of miniature Coliseum.

Portus was the chief port of imperial Rome.  Besides the amphitheatre, findings have also included a remarkable marble head, thought possibly to be a representation of Ulysses, and the ruins of an imperial palace.  Ground penetrating radar and other technologies have been used to probe the site and produce a “virtual reconstruction.”

You can read more details on the excavations at the University of Southampton’s Portus Project webpage, and you’ll find additional links which may be of interest here and here

If you’d like to read more about the ancient Romans, try some of these titles from Greensboro Public Library:  Cleopatra and Antony:  Power, Love, and Politics in the Ancient World by Diana Preston; A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome by Alberto Angela; Working IX to V:  Orgy Planners, Funeral Clowns, and Other Prized Professions of the Ancient World by Vicki Leon; Rome and Jerusalem:  The Clash of Ancient Civilizations by Martin Goodman; Greece and Rome at War by Peter Connolly; The Assassination of Julius Caesar:  A People’s History of Ancient Rome by Michael Parenti; The Romans:  From Village to Empire by Mary T. Boatwright, Daniel J. Gargola, and Richard J.A. Talbert; The Gladiator:  The Secret History of Rome’s Warrior Slaves by Alan Baker; Ancient Rome by Timothy R. Roberts; Ghosts of Vesuvius:  A New Look at the Last Days of Pompeii, How Towers Fall, and Other Strange Connections by Charles Pellegrino; Pompeii:  The Living City by Alex Butterworth and Ray Laurence; and The Visible Past:  Greek and Roman History from Archaeology, 1960-1990 by Michael Grant.

Things to Do for Halloween in Greensboro

Well, it’s ghosts and goblins time here in Greensboro, and lots of folks will be looking for something special to do — especially for the kids.

Here are some local Halloween activities I found during a quick web search:  

Greensboro Public Library has some programs on Halloween too, including tales from master story teller Terry Bane.  Join us if you can.

There must be plenty I have missed.  If you know of any other Halloween events which should be added to the list, please comment.

Discovery of Bluestonehenge, a “Mini-Stonehenge”


This past week, archaeologists announced the discovery of a miniature version of England’s Stonehenge, and located just a mile or so from the latter, which is of course the most famous megalithic stone circle in the world.   

The new discovery is called “Bluestonehenge,” owing to the color of the stones used to build it — though the stones were actually removed around 2,500 BC and incorporated into Stonehenge, leaving only traces at the old site.

The actual purpose of Stonehenge still remains a matter of considerable debate.  Gerald Hawkins’ argument that it served as an ancient astronomical observatory caused quite a stir when he first published his ideas in the 1960s (see his Stonehenge Decoded in the reading list below).  Hawkins described the monument as a sort of “neolithic computer,” designed to predict eclipses, among other things.

The discovery of Bluestonehenge comes thanks to the University of Sheffield’s Stonehenge Riverside Project, which has been involved in fieldwork at the site since 2003.  Archaeologists with the Riverside project have concluded “that burials were a major component of Stonehenge in all its main stages.”     

Occult, New Age and counter-cultural interest in Stonehenge continues, and in recent years modern-day Druids have regained access to the monument for solstice ceremonies and the like (which had been denied for some years).          

If you’re interested in reading further, Greensboro Public Library has a number of books on Stonehenge and other stone circles, though some of them are a tad dated.  These include:  Stonehenge by Rosemary Hill; Stonehenge by Catherine M. Petrini (juvenile); Great Stone Circles:  Fables, Fictions, Facts by Aubrey Burl; Rings of Stone:  The Prehistoric Stone Circles of Britain and Ireland by Aubrey Burl; Stonehenge Complete by Christopher Chippindale; The Enigma of Stonehenge by John Fowles & Barry Brukoff; Stonehenge and its Mysteries by Michael Balfour; Stonehenge:  The Indo-European Heritage by Leon E. Stover & Bruce Kraig; The Pattern of the Past by Guy Underwood; and Stonehenge Decoded by Gerald S. Hawkins in collaboration with John B. White.

Michelle Obama’s Slave Roots Traced

First Lady Michelle Obama

Research conducted by a genealogist named Megan Smolenyak and the New York Times has succeeded in tracing First Lady Michelle Obama’s lineage back to her slave ancestors, it was announced this week.

On her mother’s side of the family, researchers were able to identify a number of ex-slaves in the First Lady’s past, including one of her third great grandparents, Melvinia Shields, who was born a slave in South Carolina in the 1840s.

Shields had a son named Dolphus (one of Ms. Obama’s second great grandfathers), allegedly by an unknown white man, thus suggesting the First Lady has a mixed racial heritage.  Ms. Obama is also thought to have some Native American ancestry.

Edward Ball, whose memoir Slaves in the Family is highly regarded, suggests the First Lady’s multi-racial ancestry is probably more common than we realize.  “We are not separate tribes of Latinos and whites and blacks in America,” he states.  “We’ve all mingled, and we have done so for generations.”

If you’re an African American interested in tracing your ancestry, Greensboro Public Library has lots of resources which can help.

First of all, we have a full-time genealogy specialist, Mr. Arthur Erickson, who will be happy to meet with you, assist you in planning your research, and tell you all about the Library’s genealogy collection.

If your roots are in Greensboro, you may also want to take a look at some of our webpages on African American genealogy.  These include a list of African American households in Greensboro when the 1880 Census was compiled, a long article on the Warnersville community, and headstone transcriptions for Union Cemetery.

Other resources we have specific to African American research include the Freedman’s Bank records in Heritage Quest, and the 1850 and 1860 slave schedules from the U.S. Census. 

You will also no doubt find the population schedules from the U.S. Census, especially those from 1870-1930, particularly useful.  You can access these through Ancestry (in-library use only), as well as Heritage Quest, though you will find the Ancestry database to be more complete and easier to use.

Lots of other records in our collection, such as marriages, wills, and deeds, will no doubt prove useful in your search. 

Last but not least, if your focus is local you may want to try contacting the Piedmont-Triad Chapter of the Afro-American Historical Society.

The “Quiet Desperation” in Our Libraries as the Great Recession Settles In

Henry David Thoreau

Though plenty of pundits and politicians have recently echoed the refrain that “the Great Recession” has hit bottom, hopes for a strong recovery — especially for employment — hit another snag last week when the Labor Department reported higher than expected job losses for September (263,000) and a national unemployment rate of 9.8%.

Another article I came across predicted national unemployment could reach as high as 10.5% before peaking next year.  

More than 15 million Americans are jobless now, and if those who have given up looking or settled for part-time employment are counted, the national unemployment rate has actually reached the stunningly high figure of 17%.

Closer to home, the Triad was shocked this week by the announcement that Forsyth County’s much heralded Dell plant will be closing next year.  Over 900 jobs will be lost.  

The grim jobs outlook is one of the reasons why many economists — Meredith Whitney, Nouriel Roubini, Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, and others — continue to voice so much pessimism.  Spending is necessary for our consumer-driven economy to recover, but high unemployment means less spending, and, without jobs, the bad times will string out for years to come.

We see the effects of the hard times at Greensboro Public Library too, for every day I work with anxious folks who are searching for jobs, but who lack the information literacy skills to fill out their own on-line applications or search for jobs on computers.

Even when folks know how to use a computer to fill out an application, they can face tremendous challenges.  The other day, for instance, an unemployed lady waiting for a computer here at the Library confessed to me she just had $3.43 left in her bank account.  Stuff like this just breaks your heart sometimes.   

Public libraries are of course supposed to be quiet places for study and research, but it seems more and more they are becoming places of “quiet desperation” (to borrow from Henry David Thoreau’s famous quote), a sort of final refuge for people desperate to restart a stalled career or simply find any job to carry them through.

This by no means circumscribes all of the public library’s mission, but the longer America’s economy continues to downshift or remains stuck in neutral, the more folks will depend upon us.  And with an estimated six job seekers out there competing for each available job these days, just finding anything can be a tall order.

As we’ve indicated repeatedly in our posts, Greensboro Public Library wants to do all it can to help.  If you’re looking for work, please check out our links on the Job & Career Information page

The Library has all kinds of resources to help you find a job:  resume tools, a large collection of books on job-seeking and careers, a full-time Career Counselor (Ms. Doris Jessup), a collection of useful web links, and lots, lots more.  Please let us know if we can help you.

Greensboro Public Library wants to do all it can to help turn economic desperation into hope.

Greensboro City Council Primary

The Greensboro City Council primary is Tuesday, October 6.  Polls will open at 6:30 a. m. and close at 7:30 p. m.  If you want to see a sample ballot based on where you live and vote, you can go to the Guilford County Board of Elections website and click on Voter Information Lookup and Sample Ballot.  Next, click on My Election Information and put in your first name, last name, birth date, and county.  Then, click on Submit.  Please be sure to vote on Tuesday, because every vote counts!

Scientists to Publish Findings on World’s Oldest Hominid Skeleton

On Friday, a special edition of the journal Science will publish findings from an international group of paleontologists and geologists on our earliest human ancestor.

Discovered in Ethiopia’s Afar Rift in 1994, Ardipithecus ramidus lived some 4.4 million years ago.  

“Ardi,” as the skeleton has been nick-named, roamed Africa over one million years before the famous “Lucy” (Australopithecus afarensis) which was found in 1974, also in Ethiopia, and is said to “support beliefs that humans and chimpanzees evolved separately from a common ancestor.”

This is not that common ancestor,” says Tim White of UC-Berkeley, “but it’s the closest we have ever been able to come.”

The research was conducted by 47 scientists from 10 countries and will include 11 research papers.  Non-subscribers to Science are allowed free access if they’re willing to fill out a registration form.

If you’re interested in reading some of Greensboro Public Library’s recent books on human evolution, check out this previous post

You’ll also find information about human evolution in the library’s database Science Online, and you can likely find some interesting articles on the same topic in NCLive.