Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Really Big Show

Friday: Phiance continues to do the 6-8 a.m. Fridays show on WRIR. Sometimes I am awake for it. We enjoyed Lee Harris and Country Sunshine.

Saturday: Phiance and I painted the kitchen ceiling and the bits of wall effected by the recent repairs. Later, we wished Star Wars a happy 30th by watching the first movie with some Mary Angela's pizza.

Sunday: Memorial Day pow-wow with T. She totally knew someone there, even though she acted like she wouldn't.

Monday: birdwatching along the James:
great blue heron
canada goose
mourning dove
belted kingfisher
red-bellied woodpecker
downy woodpecker
hairy woodpecker
red-eyed vireo
blue jay
carolina chickadee
tufted titmouse
carolina wren
blue-grey gnatcatcher
american robin
gray catbird
northern mockingbird
cedar waxwing
european starling
prothonotary warbler
indigo bunting
northern cardinal
song sparrow
red-winged blackbird
common grackle
brown-headed cowbird
american goldfinch

That's more species that the week before, when we went upstream and saw dozens of blackpoll warblers and even a redstart. On Monday, a man out with his wife and small daughter told us he had just seen a great-crested flycatcher, and I was annoyed to have missed it since they are cool-looking birds. It reminds me, though, that we saw an eastern kingbird in Byrd Park last week. Right now, our back alley and yard are full of baby (teen, really) bird action: lots of full-sized, fluffy young robins and grackles demanding to be fed. We saw some of that behavior while hiking yesterday, too, notably downy woodpecker and titmouse babies.

Also, we went to the Memorial Day program at the Carillon. They seated people inside this year, so we didn't hear the speechifying or much of the singing; just the honorary gunshots and the bells.

Read: I finished The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, by Dinaw Mengestu. The story and characters are very interesting: African immegrants and gentrification and memory and getting by in D.C. Yet it was a little short of comletely captivating.

It certainly makes me reflect on my neighborhood, in which flippers are gobbling up houses and spitting them back out in such numbers that most of them become rentals with large packs of noisy 20-somethings and several cars per home. The neighborhood is getting worse, in a way, even while values go up. I get furious when I see the flippers two doors down, then I think of the "gentry" character Judith in the book and how unwelcome she was at the nighborhood meeting. Am I being one of Them, the kind of Them who wants it to stay like it was when I moved in, with little note of what the neighborhood was like just before that?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Book Club

Our book club's discussion of The Wal-Mart Effect was good -- lively. How could it not be? The author himself has noted, "Ordinary Americans have strong feelings about Wal-Mart, that’s clear from all the reaction I’ve gotten." (source) I must have 3 dozen post-it flags in the book, and I went back to refer to maybe two of those highlighted items!

Some quick notes, before I check it back in:

The Wal-mart effect is

- that "Wal-Mart's low prices routinely reset out expectations about what all kinds of things should cost. . . ." (p. 5)
- the squeezing a company to sell to Wal-Mart as the lowest possible price (and then do better next year)
- goods so cheap you throw out the pickles that go bad because you bought the gallon jar
- goods so cheap, you consider a lawnmower a disposable product: if you can't start it in the spring, don't drag it to the shop, buy another -- it was only $99.96. (Wal-Mart effect: repair businesses close.)
- a gallon jar of uncut pickles on the shelf
- a miserable time had by customers (and employees) in the store
- extreme efficiency in warehousing, shipping, and displaying products
- many factories go overseas; conditions in them are poor
- at least on factory finds staying here the best way to satisfy Wal-Mart's need for a product, which is called the Makin Bacon (Family becomes successful off product. Effect of book: Lib. patron purchases Makin Bacon and loves it.)
- the ruination of ecosystems in the quest for farm-raised salmon: a former luxury selling for less than 5 bucks a pound
- can save "enough plastic to account for the lifetime consumption of hundreds of Americans." (p. 278)
- not included in many tabulations that are supposed to reflect the state of the economy
- "strangl[ing]" the market economy (p. 234)


His thesis statement: "Wal-Mart isn't just a store, or a huge company, or a phenomenon anymore. Wal-Mart shapes where we shop, the products we buy, and the prices we pay -- even for those of us who never shop there." (p. 5)

"Ninety percent of Americans live within fifteen miles of a Wal-Mart." (p. 5)

"Wal-Mart's price pressure can leave so little profit that there is little left for innovation." (p. 89) Little left, in other words, for research and development of new products.

"[D]uring the last seven years, a remarkable milestone has passed all but unnoticed: In 2003, for the first time in modern U.S. history, the number of Americans working in retail (14.9 million) was greater than the number of Americans working in factories (14.5 million). We have more people working in stores than we do making the merchandise to put in them." (p. 108)

A study found that "'..the presence of Wal-Mart unequivocally raised family poverty rates in U.S. counties during the 1990s.'" (p. 165)

"But Americans are clearly close to Wal-mart saturation, not culturally or politically or morally, but literally. The nation simply doesn't need to buy much more from Wal-Mart than it already does." (p. 213)

A study of shoppers in Oklahoma City labeled shoppers as champions, enthusiasts, conflicted, and rejectors. "Conflicted shoppers . . . are the second most frequent shoppers at the store. . . ." (p. 220)

Freakin' Awesome
The New Yorker's librarians blog!

Annals of Home Maintenance
Get out the ladder - grab a step stool - and check out the top of your kitchen cabinets. No, this isn't about cleaning all that greasy dust: this is about workmanship. I couldn't figure out how such big pieces of grit got into my cabinets during recent plumbing repairs until I went up there today. (I'm sanding and repainting the repaired ceiling and walls myself. Slowly.) There's a gap where the end cap meets the "ceiling" of the cabinet, and the doors are not really . . . is plumb the word when the line is parallel to ground (or only perpendicular?)? It's just not sealed up there. Good grief.

Something's up with the Byrd. In a C'town shop yesterday, clerks were gossiping about stuff taken out, perhaps not illegally, but (in the speaker's view) mean-spiritedly the last time it changed hands. Then I read this in Style and got fretful. Mostly my fears are along the lines of "they won't screw it up will they?" and "it won't cost $10 to see a movie, now, will it?"

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Bookmobile Man!
You Are a Chocolate Cake

Fun, comforting, and friendly.
You are a true classic, and while you're not super cutting edge, you're high quality.
People love your company - and have even been known to get addicted to you.

Duh. (Via Bibliodiva.)

Friday, May 18, 2007

I'll Show You "Yelling"

Not long ago, co-worker B and I were talking about a county customer service class she'd just taken -- I think it's the one with the title "It's Not What You Said, It's How You Said It." Instead of remembering the gist of what she told me she learned, I remember that I shared with her that I had lately noticed myself saying, "I'm sorry, we ask that you use your cell phone outside." I have nothing to be sorry about: it's the rule; it's posted on the door, and in about four places inside the building; and it's good manners. Why start off in such a naby-pamby way?

On the one hand, opening with "I'm sorry," is weak; might it be better to open with more authority and avoid weakness? On the other, I guess "I'm sorry" stands in for "Excuse me for interrupting your conversation." More importantly, I find that saying nearly exactly that, to every single person, every time means that grouchy patrons can't accuse me of being rude, singling them out -- or "yelling."

From the ref desk yesterday, I heard sustained conversation from 2/3 of the way across the building. I went to investigate and found a 60-something year old man chatting away on the phone. I said in a quiet voice, "I'm sorry, we ask...." He glanced at me, said into the phone "I'm in the library. And the other thing about blah, blah, blah," and kept browsing DVDs. Maybe he's hard of hearing? "Sir," I began again, "please use your phone outside." "Hold on," he said into phone, "I'm in the library and she's yelling at me."

"Thank you," I said, walking away.

Yelling?! I'll give you yelling: "Outlook! Time to line up," so that it can be heard at tent 6. "Good morning, Pine Ridge!" loud enough that 2 out of 8 teens lift their heads off the pillow. Then there was a classic shouting fit between me and my freshman year roommate at MHC. . . . Buddy, if I "yell" at you, your friend on the other end of the line will know it, not need to be told.

Capital City weather: rainy

Monday, May 14, 2007


The next book club book for the Lib. is The Wal-Mart Effect.... Based on the way the group went after The Tipping Point, it's going to be quite a discussion! Here's a bit I like:

Although Wal-Mart has stayed true to its original core value -- always low prices -- the company has now grown so large, and evolved in so many ways, that it no longer truly understands its own culture clearly or effectively -- or understands how it is perceived by the rest of us. The mascot of the company is the bouncing yellow smiley-faced price chopper. But while the prices at Wal-Mart may make us smile, Wal-Mart itself almost never does. This, too is part of the Wal-Mart effect. . . . (p. 13)

And another:

(In general, when a Wal-Mart can't keep the letters in its lit, the store is a mess.)

(p. 17)

Now that is a good tip -- and easy to check up on.

Oh, dear, knowing that some of our folks take exception to everything in every book, I better start researching that one if I plan to used it in discussion!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

400 Years Ago this weekend some dudes from England sailed up the Powhatan River (now the James), said this is out of the sight of those dangerous Spaniards: let's set up here. James Fort saw some terrible times, sprouted New Town to the west, and faded as the capital of the royal colony moved to Williamsburg.

Today, Phiance and I scurried east on I-64 bright and early -- well, overcast and early -- and stepped out of all the PBS specials and books into live-action history.

Curiously, the satellite parking lot we chose ("Yellow") turned out in fact to be Eastern State. But our timing was great and there was no wait to pay or to board a school bus for a ride to Jamestown Settlement. As dedicated history nerds, from there we got ourselves on the next school bus to "The Island" -- i.e., Historic Jamestowne. At the site of the 1607 fort, we heard archaeologists speak on the ongoing work uncovering the fort than generations of us learned was lost to the River. "I loved your book," Phiance said to Dr. Kelso himself slipped out of the current dig after a quick look at an area that might be the site of a 1609 well. We saw a bits of a sword and bones from a meal sticking out of the ground. By the River workers doing inital sifting showed us a faceted green bead and brass(?) aglets. Awesome.

The new Archaearium, a striking copper-clad building that floats above the ground, houses the infamous ear picker, a replica of the skeleton found with a bullet in the leg, a bit of a shoe, buttons, ceramics, beads brought for trade, and all the other wonderful finds. We also some cool interactive viewers, where Phiance befriended a couple from Gloucester, with whom we later shared a river-side picnic table. Visitors point the view camera out the window and are offered choices of videos on the thing in the viewfinder.

Noon found the sun fully out and us in the shade of a holly tree to listen to Martin Gallivan, the archaeologist on the Werowocomoco project. I've been following the story of the work to uncover Powhatan's town since my friend was asked to join the Indian Advisory Board. With his back to the James, Dr. Gallivan outlined the project clearly and with enthusiasm. His computer slides appeared on a jumbotron kind of thing to his left. We had a great view of him, as nearly no one sat in the sun-warmed seats in front of us, and I enjoyed gazing off towards the River or into the trees as he spoke. I started to feel badly that so few people came to hear him, but as I gazed round behind me, I could see dozens more people in the shade.

Dr. Gallivan was followed by the Indian drum Four Rivers. Voices joined the beat as I was again looking to the River, and that was the most moving moment of the day.

The Island has been transformed since we visited two years ago, so as we ascended to the obelisk erected in 1907, I paused once more to take in the look of 2007. It remains bizarrely park-like, but the layers of history felt clear to me. The crowds were modest.

At "Jamestown Settlement" visitors find a Powhatan village, a reconstruction of Jamestown, and some replica ships. Oh, and a huge new visitor center, and a cool International-style brick tower from celebrations in 1957. And very large crowds, whether for our timing, or for other reasons. We breezed through, traipsing aboard the stuffy Susan Constant and then climbing back uphill.

We crossed the road to what I am rather sure is a campground, known to a generation or so of CK biking unit alumnae from their big trip. Today, it was covered with the sort of stages and demonstrations and food that I know from the Smithsonian's Folklife Festival, the Atlanta Olympics, or the Folk Festival. At this point, I was getting hot and cranky, then we missed the performance of fellow Richmonders the Indigenous Gourd Orchestra, so we called it a day. Phiance did schmooze with the Gourd's CD-sellers about getting them on WRIR, so I guess that's good.

To make it home, a fast food milkshake seemed in order, and then as long as we were on Route 60, we took it most of the way home.


Carbone, Elisa. Blood on the River: James Town 1607. Viking, 2006.

Custalow, Linwood. The True Story of Pocahontas: The Other Side of History, From the Sacred History of the Mattaponi Reservation People. Golden, CO. : Fulcrum Publising, 2007.

Dean, Catherine. Historic Jamestowne: America's Birthplace: Commemorating 400 Years, 1697-2007. Lawrenceburg, IN : Creative Company, 2006.


Lange, Karen. "What Would You Take to the New World?" National Geographic 211, no 5 (May 2007): 56-67.

Mann, Charles C. "America, Found & Lost." National Geographic 211, no 5 (May 2007): 32-55.

Webliography by a colleage; print sources are those PDFs at the top, one for adults, one for kids.

Kelso, William M. Jamestown, the Buried Truth. Charlottesville : University of Virginia Press, 2006.

Go to Henricus this coming weekend, or participate in events in Capital City.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


Didn't you always admire the big puzzle piece maps on campers? You know, the ones where the family put in each state-shaped piece as they visited. I also like good old fashioned paper maps with pins stuck in them. If you enjoy these things, too, check out Google Maps; here's one I made. Via Sheree's friend (who I met once or twice) Bibliodiva.


Last week, I rescued a skink. This one had gotten all the way into Children's, over by the magazines. That makes me three for three: three springs at my Lib., three small reptiles rescued. See item two, here; and I guess I didn't write about the other one.

Capital City weather: cloudy, 50
Reading: The Wal-Mart Effect, Charles Fishman.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Thursday, May 03, 2007


The British Are Coming to Capital City. Good thing the Capitol rennovation is done.

Saturday my Lib celebrates Free Comic Book Day.

I'm three or four New Yorkers behind, as always. The April 16 issue was full of good stuff, including:

  • Nick Paumgarten on commuting. The longest commute submitted to a recent muffler company's contest was 7 hours; 372 miles. "Roughly one out of every six American workers commutes more than forty-five minutes, each way." He also examines the implications of this. Zoning and suburban planning both create and worsen commuting problems. Paumgarten also cites the study of two economists; one of whom explained, "'People with long journeys to and from work are systematically worse off and report significantly lower subjective well-being.'" Gee, I love my 12-15 minute commute.
  • John Colapinto on the work of a linguist (and some colleagues) with the Piraha, a people whose language is an exception to many of the fundamental rules of language.
Watching: the second season of The Venture Brothers and liking Dr. Orpheus more and more.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Having trouble explaining the internets and its applications to patrons and colleagues? Try this.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Spam fossil, if you will.

"Ref Grunt" writes his blog in list form. Last night's shift felt like that:

no cell phone
books on Jamestown, here
stop rolling on the floor, preschooler
stop talking so loud
quieter please
no cell phone
no, we don't seem to have the movie "Gladiator"
here's how to book a study room
no, seriously, don't bellyflop onto our cushy chairs, 6 year old
I can kinda help you with the scanner
here's some summer reading info
I can hear the music in your headphones across the building; turn it down
Closing in 15 minutes, people.

Reading: The True Story of Pocahontas: The Other Side of History, From the Sacred History of the Mattaponi Reservation People, Linwood Custalow and Angela Daniel.
On the Muzak at Ukrop's: Abba, "Dancing Queen"