Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World by Dan Koeppel

BananaThe banana is the perfect food! A snack with it’s own handle that comes in a biodegradable wrapper, it’s the ultimate convenience food. This unassuming, soft, sweet fruit has a fascinating and treacherous history. In Banana: the fate of the fruit that changed the world, Koeppel sets out to explore the scientific, economic, political, and historical aspects of the lowly banana. For good measure he even throws in a dose of banana humor.

While the history of how the banana spanned the globe makes for good reading, the real drama begins when the fruit was domesticated by shrewd American businessmen in the late 1800s. They realized the economic potential of the tropical fruit and set out to make it available to the masses. Through marketing and advertising, U.S. banana importers were able to make a product grown thousands of miles away cheap enough that it became a daily snack for many Americans. This was not without cost though to the fruit itself and those directly involved with production and harvest.

It’s not exaggeration to say that the banana has shaped and toppled nations. In Central and South America, workers who attempted to unionize were squelched by the influential banana industry which was backed by the U.S. government. Thousands of workers died in these insurrections.

The human toll in the banana industry parallels the destruction of the fruit itself. Only one variety of banana was commercially cultivated because it was transportable and long-lasting. This proved to be fatal when in the 1950s it was wiped out by a soil fungus. A replacement species was introduced, but it too is susceptible to the same fungus. Every banana we buy is a genetic duplicate of the next, and this lack of biodiversity is threatening to totally eradicate the fruit.

While the book can be very somber, it also provides many fun facts that you can use at your next party. Did you know:

  • some scholars believe the “forbidden fruit” in Genesis was a banana, not an apple?
  • the banana split MAY have been invented in Davenport, Iowa? (see page 65)?
  • the song “Yes, We Have No Bananas” originated in 1950 when Panama Disease wiped out an earlier variety of banana?
  • the first bananas sold in the U.S. came peeled, sliced, and wrapped in foil to prevent the fruit’s suggestive shape from offending Victorian sensibilities?

Davenport Library to Expand

Davenport Main LibraryToday it was announced that the Davenport Public Library will expand by adding two floors to the top of the existing Main Library building at 321 Main Street. These additional stories will allow for expansion of the library’s book collection as well as room for a full-service restaurant with banquet facilities, a therapeutic massage center (free massages for Davenport card holders) and a dog training facility. “We are excited to be able to offer expanded services to the citizens of Davenport” exclaimed LaWanda Roudebush, director of the Davenport Public Library. “Our goal is to make the library the best it can be and I believe we are doing just that.”

Construction is slated to begin in early 2009 with completion projected for late 2010.

April Fool! There are no plans to add floors to the Main Library building. However, the good news is, the Davenport Library is expanding with planning of the Eastern Avenue branch library in the final stages and groundbreaking expected sometime in 2009.

Working at the Ballpark by Tom Jones

Working at the BallparkAt last! Baseball season is here (does that mean spring is almost here too?) Baseball, the most American of games, has become entwined with our history, our memories, even our language. Most of us grew up playing it, either in organized leagues or with the kids in the neighborhood and even non-fans probably understand the basic rules (“three strikes and you’re out”) creating common ground for all of us.

Lots of kids fall in love with the sport and dream of growing up to be a baseball player. Of course, not many of us make it to the big leagues, but we remain fans. Even without a curve ball or a .300 hitting average, people have found a way to stay with the game. Working at the Ballpark by Tom Jones is the story of people who work in major league baseball, from the peanut vendor to the announcers to the ballplayers. 50 people are interviewed, each giving a unique view of national pastime, of what they do and why they love their job.

Sometimes dreams do come true.

A Librarian in the Land of Totem Poles

tlingit-totem-pole.jpgAs a librarian I always enjoy it when a patron asks a question about something that relates to my own personal interests. Recently I helped a patron with a question about totem poles. In 2004 I accepted a an interim library job at a small college in Sitka, located on the coast of Alaska, a decision that turned out to be a tremendous adventure. One unique Alaskan adventure I was able to experience was the placement of a new totem pole. Carved in Sitka National Park, the entire town was invited to the totem pole raising ceremony, where, after several ceremonial rites including a formal naming ceremony, adults manned the ropes on the sidelines which helped to guide the pole as children from the town tugged on the two long ropes which pulled it up and into place.

It is said that the most important person or object on a totem pole is the one that is at the base. This is an important distinction between Western and Native culture (since we usually think that “low man on the totem pole” designates a low status). There is a pole in a main square in downtown Sitka which illustrates this cultural difference. At the time this pole was constructed, the govenor insisted that he be placed at the top. Since the object of ridicule is always at the top the carvers were happy to grant the governor his wish!

The University of Alaska at Anchorage has an excellent website including an authoritative article on totem poles as well as a wealth of information about Alaskan history and culture. A trip to Alaska is always unforgettable; check the library for travel guides (917.98) and information on it’s colorful history (979.8) as well as the dvd aisle for a taste of the state’s spectacular beauty. And for more pictures of totem poles, look for The Most Striking of Objects: Totem Poles of Sitka National Park in our Government documents collection.

The Armchair Traveler – Life (and death) in the Twin Cities

Mary Richards

Minneapolis is the site of the Public Library Association’s national conference this week. Hope those librarians can stay out of trouble…

Pretty Girl Gone by David Housewright

Ex St. Paul cop Rushmore McKenzie spends time doing favors for friends and getting drawn into messy murder cases. In the third book in the series, he ventures into rural Minnesota. It’s a chilling look at small towns in the Midwest where racism and methamphetamine use are prevalent. McKenzie is a self-deprecating and funny narrator – often too out-spoken for his own good.

Snow-Blind by P.J. Tracy

The story begins in the Cities (with the murder of two policemen) It moves to a fictional northern Minnesota county, when two Minneapolis detectives help a newbie female sheriff with a murder that may be connected to their case. This is part of the Monkeewrench gang series which features a group of computer geeks for hire.

Eyes of Prey by John Sandford

IMHO, this is the best of the “Prey” series which star a tough, Porsche-driving Minneapolis cop. In this book, Lucas Davenport is suffering from depression brought on by a previous case, while he investigates the brutal murder of a doctor’s wife. The ending really was a surprise – to me, anyway.

Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen mysteries

These cozy mysteries always have excellent dessert recipes and a cast of wacky characters. The reader can exercise some wish fulfillment through Hannah and her coffee shop/bakery in small town Minnesota. Can you resist the Cherry Cheesecake, Fudge Cupcake, or Sugar Cookie Murders?

Auto Repair Reference Center

Auto Repair Reference DatabaseGot car troubles? Need to figure out the difference between fuel injection and the fuel pump? Need a wiring diagram for your 1992 Honda Civic? The library has a fabulous resource that can help you and you can access it from your home computer! It’s the Auto Repair Reference Center, a full-text database of all kinds of information on auto repair, covering cars from 1945 to present. The best part – it’s really easy to use!

Start at our homepage, then click on “Do Research Online”. This will bring you a page that lists all the online databases we offer (which, by the way, are worth taking a look at – there’s an amazing amount of information offered here). Scroll to the very bottom of the page; the next to last database listed is the Auto Repair Reference Center. Simply click on the link. You’ll be asked to enter your library card number (sorry, this database is available only to Davenport Library cardholders) Click on Login and the to gateway automobile reference is opened to you.

A word of caution: the earlier years listed have very limited car models and information available; you have to go to about 1962 before many models appear. The more recent entries have lots of information including wiring diagrams, service bulletins and recalls, repair procedures and specifications. The information is well illustrated and give detailed, step-by-step instructions.

Some cool extra features of the database include “Auto IQ” which gives detailed descriptions of various car parts, where they’re located in most cars and what their purpose is and is illustrated with diagrams, pictures and video clips. There is also a section of “Care and Repair Tips” so that you can avoid future car repairs and “Troubleshooting” to help you diagnose problems.

Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan’s LabyrinthVisually stunning, chillingly frightening yet finishing with a ray of hope, the memory of this Spanish foreign language film will linger with you long after you’ve seen it.

Set after the bloody Spanish Civil War in 1944, Spain is being decimated by Fascists who brutally crush the Resistance. A particularly cruel and ruthless General brings his heavily pregnant wife and step-daughter Ofelia to the countryside to await the birth of his son. Left on her own, Ofelia explores the area surrounding the old farmhouse and explores a walled garden where a labyrinth leads her to Pan. This mysterious figure promises her that if she completes three difficult tasks she will save her mother and her problems will end. Suddenly Ofelia is caught in a battle between good and evil and the line between reality and fantasy blurs.

Beautiful, horrific, brutal, sometimes terrifying, this is a fairytale for adults about the power of the imagination and hope for the hero in each of us.

The library has many foreign language films available for check-out as well as many “independent” films that may not have shown locally. Be sure to browse our collection for amazing films from around the world.

Flower Confidential by Amy Stewart

Flower ConfidentialFor all their beauty and association with romance, flowers are part of a huge business, generating world-wide sales of more than $40 billion yearly. Yet the industry barely registers with most consumers beyond picking up the occasional bouquet or arrangement. Stewart’s fascinating book takes a look at many aspects of the industry including:

-The quest for new and “improved” flowers that will last longer in the vase, or bloom in unusual colors or shapes. However, this has come at a cost as fragrance is often sacrificed (most notably in roses)

-How large quantities of flowers are grown in greenhouses which allow the grower to control weather, insects and diseases and stretch or completely alter the natural growing season. Many flowers never touch soil, but are grown hydroponically.

-How flowers are sold. The majority of flowers for sale in the United States are grown in South America and funneled through the Miami airport for inspection. Before a flower reaches your vase it may have been out of water and traveling for 5 to 7 days.

-The impact this industry has on countries such as Ecuador and Columbia. Rainforests have been destroyed to make room for greenhouses, pesticide regulations are lax and workers rarely have the same protections and benefits as in the United States.

-The emergence and growth of the organic flower market. Still relatively difficult to find, the popularity of organic flowers is increasing.

Filled with interesting stories and great insights, Stewart’s book will open your eyes to the work behind the beauty.

PrairieCat Catalog Has a New Look

PrairieCat catalogIn the last week or so, we’ve changed the color scheme and layout of our catalog. See if you think it has a more prairie feel. We’ve also made it easier to find movies, books-on-cd, etc. If you click on one of the new tabs on the home page (movies, for example) a search form will pop up. You can put in the title or actors or theme of a movie you are looking for.

You can also narrow your search – by libraries in the Quad-Cities or Iowa Quad-Cities – if you’re thinking of driving to get your materials.

Tell us what you think! (Leave a comment!)

Which Moon and Other Musings

easter-lily.jpgDid you know that Easter will be celebrated on April 14th this year? It will be by those who observe Eastern Orthodox Easter, but Western Christians will celebrate it on March 23rd. Why the difference? Most Orthodox congregations observe Easter according to the Julian calendar; all others observe it according to the Gregorian calendar.

Many of us have learned that Easter is the first Sunday after the full moon which occurs upon or after the vernal equinox. This was true when it was established by the Council of Nicea in 325; however, calendars and calculations have changed since then and so this is not technically correct.

First of all, it’s not the astronomical full moon that is used to calculate Easter, but rather, the fourteenth day of a lunar month, calculated by an ancient ecclesiastical computation, which gives us the Paschal Full Moon (which can vary as much as two days from the astronomical full moon).

Secondly, since 326 A.D., the Easter Sunday date for any given year has not been determined by the March Equinox date (which can be either the 20th or the 21st), but by March 20th only.

Each year it is the intention of Christian churches to celebrate Christ’s resurrection on a Sunday that would correlate with the exact day of the astronomical full moon on which his resurrection was said to have taken place; however, solar and lunar months don’t match, hence the development of a method of calculation and its various revisions which have taken it from its basis in the old Jewish calendar to the Julian, and then the Gregorian calendars.

Most Christian scholars have placed the Last Supper on Passover (the 14th day of Nisan), the crucifixion on the 15th, and the resurrection three days later on the 17th. Three days in the grave – from the 15th to the 17th appears to be a discrepancy until we take into consideration that WE count the days from midnight to midnight, but ancients considered the new day as beginning at sundown the day before; hence the day of what we consider to be the 15th was considered by them to be a continuation of the 14th.

Is your head spinning yet? There are ever so many more technicalities and intricacies to the method of calculating Easter, and those of you who enjoy debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin may enjoy pursuing more information about the Golden Number, the Metanomic Lunar Cycle, and the Epact on the Catholic Encyclopedia website.

And this site not only gives a great explanation of the calculation of Easter, but also provides information about Jewish, Islamic, Chinese and Indian calendars that are in use (and some others that are not)

So, how do we answer the question “how is Easter calculated?” As you can see, a technically correct answer could be incredibly complex; how about we all continue to say “it’s after the first full moon which occurs on or after the vernal equinox” and let’s just leave it at that!

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