Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Not Persuasive

David Hoggard yesterday called out Greensboro News & Record editorial page editor Allen Johnson regarding the the paper's refusal to endorse the World War Memorial Stadium bond issue. David wrote on his blog,

During the baseball debates of 2003, you, collectively, were of the opinion that WMS should be and would be taken care of once the new downtown stadium was built. You, collectively, supported the new stadium factions who said the old stadium will be preserved and improved to become “N.C.’s premier amateur baseball venue” and intimated that opinions and fears to the contrary were unfounded.

Now, after a group of citizens (from both sides of the 2003 stadium debate) got together at the behest of city council and developed a renovation plan for WMS and got the measure placed on the ballot, you are
urging voters to reject the measure.

What changed your minds?
Allen has now responded on his own blog.

He notes that in a May 7, 2006, editorial, the N&R sort of endorsed the $5.5 million bond proposal with the words, "if the stadium is worth renovating, it's worth doing right," followed by, "as for the bigger question of whether the stadium ultimately deserves voter approval, it's premature to say right now."

I guess that adds up to, "You can't tag us for changing our mind, because we really hadn't made it up before, because even though we said the renovation should be on a bond referendum, we never said we would actually endorse the bond."

I'm going to resist the temptation to mock that kind of vacillation, and move on to more substantive issues.

Allen asks what happened to the idea of using federal tax credits. Too bad he didn't ask sooner. He would have found out that that idea had been thoroughly explored by the city, and is a non-starter. The dollars just aren't there.

Allen also seems unaware of the amount of citizen effort and city expense that went into the current bond proposal.

Former city manager Ed Kitchen assembled a task force of citizens and city staff who met frequently over a period of about two years. I was a member: we solicited public opinion and produced a recommendation for the best uses of the stadium. Then we vetted, interviewed, hired, and worked closely with an architectural consulting firm to come up with three scenarios for renovation. It was a toilsome process. I don't know how much the architects were paid, but I don't think they worked cheap.

In sum, the current proposal is the result of a planned, concerted, comprehensive, and strenuous effort by the city and by Greensboro citizens, one that the consultants involved, and the state and national preservation community, saw as an extraordinary example of citizen advocacy. It is extremely unlikely that it will be repeated.

There will be no other such initiatives to save this last-surviving world war memorial.

Back in 2003, when the city was openly debating whether to renovate WWMS or to build a new stadium, the N&R rather condescendingly scolded those of us who thought that the survival of the war memorial was at stake, and assured us that its future was secure.

Thus I find it personally galling that, when a modicum of grit was required to back up that assertion, to help make it come true, the N&R not only shilly-shallied, but now trots out a tired nostrum in its defense: "sometimes you have to make tough choices."
And as to Allen's feckless talk about a "facelift" for a structure sporting exposed, rusting rebar and whose concrete is delaminating in sheets ...

Not persuasive, Allen, to say the least. You didn't do your homework on this one, and you made a bad call.

* * *

I'd like to mention the names of some people who worked very hard to bring this bond issue forward, but who are not publicity seekers: Greg Woodard of the VFW, Benjamin Briggs of Preservation Greensboro, Marc Bush of the Greensboro Sports Commission, Willie Brown of NCA&T University, Kim Strable of Greensboro College, and Betsey Baun and Tracy Lamothe from Aycock. Most of them never missed a meeting and showed up on time. These people -- along Mark Bush, John Hughes, Stefan-leih Geary, Butch Schumate, Bob Morgan, and Richard Wagner, of the city of Greensboro, and Rence Callahan and Steve Barnes of WRCP -- did a tremendous amount of grunt work to bring forward the bond proposal, even though you haven't heard their names.

I've never worked with a nicer group of people.
Update: Here's a post from about a year ago that summarizes the history of work on the stadium up to that point. And here's a letter i wrote to the Rhinoceros Times in response to their faulty reporting on the stadium renovation planning.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Keeping Faith

The column below appeared in this morning's News & Record; I wrote it in collaboration with Benjamin Briggs, Executive Director of Preservation Greensboro, Tracy Lamothe, a preservationist, entrepreneur, and stay-at-home mom of 3, and Greg Woodard, a retired Navy veteran and captain of VFW post 2087.


Keeping Faith

In declining to endorse the War Memorial baseball stadium bond, The News & Record wrote that replacing it with a monument of another kind would "serve the purpose [of memorializing World War I veterans] just as well."

That's not what the veterans thought.

At the stadium's dedication in 1926, mayor Edwin Jeffress said, "The soldier boys said they wanted no hollow granite, no useless monument to decorate our street corners, even no statuary or brass to remind us of those who have passed along after doing life’s full duty. But they wanted something that would be useful; that would help develop mind and body; that would in this way be a perpetual memorial to those who have passed."

In other words, the News & Record proposes that we replace the stadium with exactly the kind of "useless monument" that the veterans said that they did not want.

The 200 games a year that the stadium currently hosts assure that a renovated stadium will be well used, in the way it was intended to be used, for the forseeable future. The proposed improvements -- new locker rooms, indoor batting facilities, restrooms, and concessions -- will only make the stadium more attractive for regional tournaments.

The News & Record also suggested that a less-expensive option for repairing the stadium is preferable to the one that is on the bond referendum.

But that option was woefully inadequate. It included no seating whatsoever on the third base side of home plate, and proposed to leave the now-deteriorated 3rd-baseline seating in place, cordoned off, just rotting away. How could a partial ruin with bad seating be a fitting war memorial or even a decent sports venue?

Finally, the News & Record wrote that this isn't the "ninth inning" for the old stadium. Really? The stadium is now very seriously deteriorated, and repairs are not going to get less expensive. If this bond fails, there is no reasonable likelihood that adequate funds can be raised for repairs.

For about the cost of single a loaf of bread bought annally for 15 years, the average Greensboro voter can keep faith with the 80 Guilford County citizens who gave their lives for their country, and preserve North Carolina's last living and active World War I memorial.

Or voters can break that faith, and pay later to have the memorial demolished and hauled to the landfill.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Fall Foliage

Insult and Humiliation

My department hosted a lecture this week, and it put me in mind of Mr. Sun. I wish I had invited him to come.

The subject of the lecture was "Insult and Humiliation in Ancient Athens," and it was learned, amusing, and illustrated with the kind of ancient art that seems lately to be fascinating my friend Helios (if I may call him by his Greek name).

I can't link to most of the images from the lecture, though, because they're not "family friendly." I've put up a picture of Socrates because he was a master of insult.

"Feminize, infantilize, bestialize" are the three keys to successful insults in ancient Greece, and things haven't changed at all since then. As in,

"You're a bunch of girly men," or, "Waah, waah, waah, you crybabys," or, "Dog breath!"

So that's why I wasn't blogging much this week -- I was attending to work matters.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Radio Blogger

I'm going to be on Dusty Dunn's show (WGOS, 1070 AM) Wednesday morning at 8:30 a.m. with Diane Davis, to talk about the Word War Memorial Stadium bond. Thanks, Diane, for the invitation.

I'll be writing more about the bonds soon.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Another Look at Lex's Numbers in Today's N&R

Lex Alexander reported on the front page of today's N&R that median household income has dropped almost 21% in Greensboro in the years 1999-2005.

I, like Doug Clark, was skeptical of Lex's numbers, so I did a little digging.

I noticed that Lex used two different data sources: one was the Decennial Census, which is very thorough, and the other is the American Community Survey, also done by the Census Bureau, and is more like a snapshot. The ACS only has complete data since 2003, but a Census Bureaucrat I emailed said it was OK to compare the two data sets.

But first I checked the ACS data on Guilford County from 2003-2005, and found that the median household income in Guilford has dropped (in 2005 dollars) from $43,682 to $42,320, a drop of 3% over the last two years for which there are datsa. Not good, but not horrible.

Then, comparing the Decennial Census to the ACS data, I found that the median household income in Guilford had dropped from $48,606 (in 2005 dollars) to $42,320, a drop of 13%.

Bad. But not 21% bad ... closer to half that bad.

Notice that I looked at all Guilford County data, whereas Lex looked at the city of Greensboro.

It looks to me like people with high incomes are still moving out to the exurbs, and that probably accounts for a lot of the precipitous drop in Greensboro's median household income. I woudn't be surprised, if we separated the city data out of the county, to find that incomes out in places like Summerfield and Oak Ridge were actually rising.

But that's not exactly great news if city incomes are crashing.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Get Your Neighborhood Viagra Here

I maintain my neighborhood's website, but only occasionally check the site statistics. It's usually a pretty sleepy corner of the web, getting a few hits per day.

Imagine my surprise and delight when I checked the stats last night and saw that in September it was getting hundreds, sometimes thousands of hits per day. Interest in historic neighborhoods must be growing!

Uh, no. Some sleazy spam peddler had hacked our site and posted hundreds of Viagra ads in one of our folders.

Hmmm ... maybe I'll just put "Viagra" in the tags at the neighborhood site ... and now I wonder how many Google hits this post is going to generate.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Office Depot Exposes Its Rear to Wendover Avenue

Mr. Sun has noticed that the new Target in his area flunks the good urban design test -- it's set way back behind a big parking lot.

But I think he's lucky to live near something that's even that well-designed.

Office Depot is building a new store just a few blocks from me. Good news, I thought when I first heard it. Now I can walk to get all that junk I always buy at Office Depot.

I was hoping they'd build something like they did near the historic Dilworth neighborhood in Charlotte, pictured here:

This is a great corner building: it's built right up to the sidewalk, it has a corner entrance, with windows on all the street elevations; nice use of brick, steel, and glass. The parking is in the rear. It's David Sucher's dream store.

Since the one they're building in Greensboro is also on a corner -- Wendover and Church -- and is also contiguous to two historic neighborhoods -- Fisher Park and Aycock --, I figured they'd do the same thing.

Silly me.

Here's what they're building in Greensboro, as seen from Wendover Avenue:


Yes, you see that right. Office Depot is sticking its rear toward Wendover, in the architectural equivalent of a mooning.

The elevation on Church Street is equally bleak:

No openings of any kind (except for a fire door) on either of the main street elevations. Just blank walls of nasty concrete block. It's the New Brutalism sans social ideology: they're just building it that way because it's cheap.

Just a block away, my neighborhood installed an maintains a nice garden area around the Max Thompson Bridge, to help beautify Church street.

What a shame that Office Depot has deposited its architectural ordure so nearby.

And what a shame that Greensboro is not able to attract or compel good architectural design on its major thoroughfares.

Anyhow, I'm not shopping at Office Depot anymore.

Hit and Run

I was parked at the Greensboro Police Southern Operations Center yesterday, attending a meeting of the LDO rewrite team, and when I came out, I found that someone had crunched my bumper and driven away.

What a creep. It takes some nerve to do a hit-and-run at the police station.

Probably was talking on his cell phone, too.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Hang Up And Drive

Maybe it's observational bias caused by fear or prejudice, but it sure seems to me lately that most of the inattentive drivers who terrify me when I'm riding on two wheels are talking on their cell phones.

The most common behavior I see is braking late at stoplights and consequently nosing one's car right up to, or into, the perpendicular lane. Maybe that's not so spooky if you're driving an SUV, but I'm hypersensitive to it when I'm scootering, because if I'm not watching out for them, and they for me, ouch. Big ouch.

Next most common is cellphone-talkers turning right directly into me when I'm walking or jogging in the crosswalk, with the light. Often they don't even bother to look.

I yelled at a lady who did this to me downtown, but she didn't take it well, and didn't even bother to stop talking on her phone.

I have a "Hang Up And Drive" bumper sticker on my minivan. Some people wave when they see it, and others wave with just one finger.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Who Is the 300,000,000th American:? NPR vs NPR

At 7:46 this morning NPR aired an interview with Carl Haub, a Census Bureau Population Reference Bureau demographer, about who might be the 300 millionth American. 7:46 was the exact time at which the USA was predicted to pass that population mark.

Haub said that, given the current makeup of the US population, it was most likely that the 300 millionth American was a "white, non-Hispanic baby, probably male" because whites make up more than 70% of the population.

About a half hour later, NPR reporter Maura Liasson, in a different story about the future ethnica make-up of the USA, reported that "chances are good" that the 300 millionth American was a Hispanic person who walked across the border.

I love the news.

Update: Liasson seems to be taking her cue from a NY Times story which says, "This year, there's a good chance the 300 millionth American has already walked across the border from Mexico."

But the Times goes on to quote the left-leaning Brookings Institution demographer William Frey as asserting that "the 300 millionth American -- born months ago or on Tuesday -- is probably Hispanic because they are the fastest growing demographic group in the U.S."

Do I need to point out the fallacy in that? The fastest-growing group is not necessarily likliest to produce a baby at moment x if the absolute size of that group is small. And Hispanics make up about 14% of the U.S. population.

It seems pretty clear that Liasson, the Times, and the Brookings Institution want the 300,000,000th American to be Hispanic.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Future Blogger Unconference Desiderata

After the success of Ed, Sue, and Ben's ConvergeSouth, I -- like TheShu -- have been having a few thoughts about what I would really like to see in future unconferences, if we're lucky enough to get them. (See Lenslinger's nice roundup of this year's event.)

At this year's unconference, Jim Rosenberg's insistence that session participants have a "take-away" set the bar high for future sessions. But it's a good high.

Based on that premise, and TheShus's questions, here's a fantasy program of some sessions I would like to attend.

Choosing Blog Software

Blogger, Typepad, WordPress, Moveable Type: which to choose? Bloggers experienced with these programs will demonstrate their pros and cons in terms of functionality, ease of use, service, and cost. Bring a laptop with a wireless card so you can experiment with sample templates.

Effective Videoblogging

An overview of what's new in videoblogging, with discussion of cameras, Windows & Mac hardware and software video editing, using YouTube and other free video posting sites, and video hosting. Tips on making the most effective videos with low-tech equipment. Session participants will produce a 2-minute video all the way from camera to blog.

Effective Blogpostwriting

What makes an effective blog post? Recognized bloggers will analyze their favorite posts as well as egregiously bad ones, and offer tips on good writing. The session cover a variety of posting styles, from the one-line linker to the mini-essay. Participants will come away with useful tips for better blog writing.

Blog Photography

Simple and basic photography techniques and digital photoprocessing for effective blog presentation. Learn how to choose a subject, shoot, and edit the photographs that will make your blog more appealing and more fun for you. Participants will shoot, upload, edit, and post photographs during the session.

Maybe these sessions will seem too basic for some, but I think part of the future of blogging lies in more people learning how to do the basics well.

The urge to blog arises from the fundamental urges to communicate and to express ourselves, and I am always interested in learning how to do those things better.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Mounting Inequities

Downtown Greensboro boosters (among which I count myself) are surely happy to hear that the city council is responding to their requests for a stronger police presence in the center city on those crowded weekend nights.

According to the News & Record,

"We have been screaming for more security since 2000," John Lomax, who lives in and co-owns the Kress Building on South Elm Street, told city leaders in a recent meeting on the topic. "It's running away our customers. I would like to see some action."

Starting this weekend, police say, as many as 10 off-duty officers will be paid overtime to work the night shift downtown. Previously, only two or three officers might be patrolling the 20-block area on a given night."
Some councilmembers have endorsed horse-mounted patrols.

Sounds good to me. Every business should be able to operate without fear of crime. And the downtown merchants are afraid that one serious crime -- a stabbing, shooting, or just a fight -- might drive away their business.

But I doubt that they're as afraid as the business owners and residents of Phillips Avenue area, who are not just afraid that a shooting, stabbing, or fight might happen. They're afraid because they happen all the time.

Ben Holder has been on this for a long time, -- read it all -- but here's a summary of crimes at only two addresses in the past year according to Ben's investigation:
Assaults: 5
Auto thefts: 7
Burglaries: 18
Fights: 26
Narcotics arrests: 52
Robberies: 3
Suicides: 1
No business can thrive, no person can lead a decent life, under such conditions.

So why is no one calling for mounted police on Phillips Avenue?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

ConvergeSouth Video Scrapbook

Sam and I spent Friday evening and Saturday hanging with the ConvergeSouth-ers.

David Hoggard's BBQ on Friday night was as good as it ever was, and the company was even better.

The Saturday conference was very well run and all the sessions I attended were informative and interesting. Even Fec agrees!

Here's a little video postcard to our blogging friends.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Three Hundred Ancient Long-Hairs Coming to a Theater Near You

In 480 BC, three hundred Spartans fought thousands of Persians to the death at the battle of Thermopylae in Greece , and now it's coming to the silver screen.

I hope the movie will be good, but you can also read Stephen Pressfield's Gates of Fire, or better yet, read Herodotus's nearly contemporaneous, 5th-century account.

One bad sign from the movie trailer: Gerard Butler (playing King Leonidas) has short hair. Oops. The Spartans gloried in their long hair. From Herodotus's account of the day before the great battle:

At this time the Spartans were keeping watch near the edge of the perimeter, and they were seen by a Persian spy. Some of them were working out, others were combing their long hair. The spy was completely amazed at this, but he counted the Spartans, and when he had gathered accurate information, he rode back quietly. None of the Spartans pursued him or even paid any attention to him at all, though they saw him.
Another bad sign from the trailer: Butler yells a lot. The Spartans (also called Laconians) were famous for their gift for compact and witty understatement. (Hence the term "laconic.") A typical Laconian bon mot: when the Persian despot Xerxes demanded the arms of the Spartans through his emissary, Leonidas replied, molon labe ("come and get them"). I'm sure he said it very quietly.

Still, I'm going to see the movie.

Monk's

When I lived in Lancaster, PA in the early 80's, the cheese steak sandwich was a regular part of my diet. My friends and I would walk down to Mama Mia's on James St., put a quarter in the jukebox to hear Rush's "Tom Sawyer," and stuff our faces with the east-coast classic.

I haven't had a real cheese steak in years; people around here just don't know how to make them (don't bother with the Subway version). But I had one yesterday.

Monk's Cheese Steaks and Cheeseburgers in the Northeast Shopping Center knows exactly how to make them. Visiting Monk's is like taking a little trip to an everyday New York eatery, complete with an airbrushed mural on the wall featuring the Twin Towers. The staff is friendly in that New York kind of way, the place is immaculate, and the cheese steaks ... oh, yes.

The meat comes handsomely piled on the soft bun, laced with just the right amount of gooey cheese, onions, peppers, and seasoning. The fries were hot and delicious and the service was fast. The only complaint comes from my cardiologist.

East coasters, if you've been missing your cheese steaks, you now have a place to go to calm your cravings.

Monk's Cheese Steaks and Cheeseburgers
1030 Summit Avenue
275-1105

Update: Ed Cone reminds me that Beth has also reviewed Monk's cheesesteaks, also fulsomely.

Update II: Ed likes Monk's cheese steaks too, and found out that our blog reviews are bringing Monk (aka Tito Rogriguez) some customers.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

NYT to Streisand: Shut Up And Sing

The subhead on the Times' online review of Barbra Streisand's concert last night at Madison Square Garden read, "When she stopped talking and started singing, she was her old self."

The concert also featured, apparently, a Simon Cowell-produced boy band that the reviewer called "robotic," a conversation and duet with a Bush impersonator, and a "useless" question-and-answer period period during which Streisand cursed at a heckler.

Wrote the Times,

A Barbra Streisand concert should be about singing. That’s what people really want. The rest they tolerate out of respect for her gigantic talent. And when she stuck to music, there were many magnificent moments.
I'll bet there were. But it's kind of weird when the Times and Laura Ingraham agree.

Monday, October 9, 2006

Packing Heat

I spent my Monday of fall break on the business end of a heat gun, which is one of the most useful, most economical, and least pleasant of the do-it-yourselfer's historic preservation tools.

I can't tell you how many hours I've logged with a heat gun in my left hand, a 5-in-1 glazier's knife in my right, and a respirator on my face, slowly scraping off 90 years of other people's accumulated taste in window and door casing colors. But it's a lot.

The gun works best when the woodwork was originally varnished, because the heat gun softens the paint but boils the varnish, and often great fillets of paint will slip off like one of those masks from a Mission Impossible agent.

But it still leaves a lot of paint gunk on the wood, and it takes more sanding and priming to achieve the magic transformation:



I take a lot of precautions to avoid lead contamination. I use a window fan and plastic sheeting to make sure that the fumes and dust don't spread to to other rooms of the house, and sweep and mop up afterwards to avoid spreading any dust.

It's a lot of work, and even then, the woodwork doesn't look new.

But every little nick and divot is an artifact of the people who lived here before I did. I like living with them.

Sunday, October 8, 2006

Every Professor's Fantasy

It isn't what you think:

Friday, October 6, 2006

Masters of the McMansion

I've always wondered who designed houses for the nationally-known developers like Centex and Hovnanian. They're important people, because their designs are going to populate our suburban landscapes, and shape the way we live, for generations.

Today's WSJ calls them "production architects" in an interesting article about four of the superstars and the new trends that they'll be bringing to us soon.

Some of it seems like welcome news to me:

Now, with downsizing boomers and first-time home buyers poised to dominate the housing market for the next decade, [Chris Lessard] is looking for ways to eliminate wasted space. "I want to make houses that are as efficient as a boat," he says.

That means getting rid of two-story foyers and vaulted ceilings and resurrecting ideas from small, efficient homes from the '20s through the '50s, like pop-out dormers, galley-style pantries, built-in bookcases and closets tucked under the eaves.

Those are some of the features found in his Craftsman-style "1920s" collection currently for sale in the community of Brambleton in Ashburn, Va. The 2,500- to 3,400-square-foot homes with detached garages in the rear are being built by Miller & Smith Homes, McLean, Va.

But not everything these guys do is all that great:
If Southern California sometimes looks like Tuscany, that's partly because of Aram Bassenian. In his 36 years as a production architect, Mr. Bassenian has borrowed plenty from that rural Italian style, inspired by frequent trips overseas, and has popularized stacked stone turrets ...
... and the Tuscan style is here, too. I like turrets and towers as much as the next guy, but does every building have to have one? By my reckoning, we've got new Tuscan towers on Elizabeth's Pizza, towers at the Shops and Friendly, towers at the Village at North Elm, and more to come?

This is Greensboro, friends, not Tuscany. Let Greensboro be Greensboro, and Tuscany be Tuscany.

Thursday, October 5, 2006

Witold Bialokur is My New Hero

He's 71 years old and still runs 10k's faster than I ever did. He's in a NY Times story about the causes of frailty in aging adults.

One of the main causes may be undetcted cardiovascular disease, but I'm more excited about a second cause they may have discovered:

A second finding is just as surprising to skeptical scientists because it seemed to many like a wrongheaded cliché — you’re only as old as you think you are. Rigorous studies are now showing that seeing, or hearing, gloomy nostrums about what it is like to be old can make people walk more slowly, hear and remember less well, and even affect their cardiovascular systems. Positive images of aging have the opposite effects. The constant message that old people are expected to be slow and weak and forgetful is not a reason for the full-blown frailty syndrome. But it may help push people along that path.
Read the story, and be sure to watch the video of Witold. He'll make you feel young, and want to run.

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

lonelymals15

I'm testing my new video technology, an Aiptek DZ0-VT3 digital video camera that I got at Target as a quasi-impulse purchase (I've been thinking about it for months).

For the price, I think it does quite well. Here's some video: love me, love my dogs.

Monday, October 2, 2006

Rocket Boomlet

When my brother and I were kids in the late 60s, we went through a phase of building Estes rockets.

Some of the things we did were a little unorthodox, such as using a cherry bomb instead of a nose cone. It was a lot of fun when the rocket did a horizontal swerve and exploded on a neighbor's roof.

Last weekend, we did a little nostalgic rocketry, courtesy of my brother (without the cherry bombs). It was a blast! (listen for the ejection charge at the end of the launch).

Res Rusticae

A few classical thoughts about the Goat Lady ...

The people who were selling their stuff yesterday are very knowledgeable not only about res rusticae ("country things"), but also about city slickers.

The pig guy at the pigsty was talking about the "omega three" fats in the whey-fed pigs; the organic gardeners were talking about sustainable agriculture; the family that owns the farm has sold an agricultural easement on it to the Nature Conservancy; many of the cheeses they sell have French names ... I could go on.

Let's just say that their product and lifestyle they're selling seems aimed to appeal to a very specific urban demographic.

It might appear that this situation -- with savvy, entrepreneurial rural folk highly attuned to the culinary and lifestyle preferences of an urban elite -- is a thoroughly modern affair. But it isn't.

The Roman writers Varro and Columella both wrote (highly entertaining) agricultural handbooks* whose target audience was gentleman farmers, owners of beautiful country villas, who were raising and selling luxury foods to the Roman upper class: exotic fowl, fish, honey, wine, and olive oil, along with such delicacies as snails and dormice.

The more things change ...

*Cato the Elder also wrote one, but he didn't approve of luxury.