Saturday, June 30, 2007

Park As Metro Bling

WSJ (subscription required):

There's a new status symbol for American cities and it's not a soaring office tower or retro stadium. To many civic leaders, nothing says progressiveness and prosperity like an elaborate urban park.

On a scale not seen since the "City Beautiful" movement of the late 19th century, public green spaces are proliferating...

But even grass and trees can be complicated. Citizens and planners across the country are getting tied up in a larger debate about what a park should be -- one that often pits people who believe in peace and quiet and the soulful contemplation of nature against those who prefer zip lines, Frisbee golf and hang-gliding.
We've seen a little of that here in Greensboro, as not everybody finds our new Center City Park to their taste.

Maybe the park-as-status-symbol trend is what's behind city leaders' eagerness to acquire more park property just a few blocks from the new park.

But the NYT finds another common park problem:
“Parks in poorer neighborhoods are more likely to be in worse condition than parks in wealthier neighborhoods.”
I't's worth a vigorous public discussion here in Greensboro about whether public funds should be spent for another downtown park without a comprehensive look at the amenities and maintenance of parks all over the city.

As I've said before, I don't think the case for another "passive park" downtown is very strong.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Like Father, Like Son

Sam tells some scary stories to kids in his cabin at camp.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Restoring Lost Tree Canopy

Jason Hardin wrote today's front-pager on Greensboro's loss of tree canopy over the past several years:

In a recent 16-year stretch, the tree canopy in and around Greensboro shrank by nearly a fifth as houses, roads, shopping centers, ice storms, disease, insects and other threats decimated the urban forest that graces the Piedmont.
It's a good, well-researched story.

It's too bad he didn't mention the Neighborwoods (PDF) program, a public-private partnership to help replace lost trees. Last year, the Westerwood neighborhood won the grant, and this year, my own neighborhood put in an application. If we're successful, we'll be working with the city and Greensboro Beautiful to plant hundreds of trees this fall.

Maybe Jason didn't mention Neighborwoods because it's not certain that it will be included in next year's budget.

One more thought: established canopy trees in Greensboro's historic districts are protected by the historic district design guidelines (PDF), which is one reason why those neighborhoods are so leafy. I was on the 18th floor of the Wachovia tower a while back, and you can't see a single house in Fisher Park from there, though it's right nearby -- the whole neighborhood is hidden by trees.

I [heart] Diane Jakubsen

In the past I've been pretty critical of the TriadHomes page (the N&R's real estate advertising supplement) for giving "free advertising" to real estate developers.

But now, in a shameless display of self-interest and hypocrisy, I'm going to reverse my position (maybe I should run for office?).

Diane Jakubsen in today's TriadHomes writes about Greensboro's historic neighborhoods, and I think she really nails why people love living in them. Thanks for getting the word out, Diane.

There's also a photo gallery, and historic home-buying tips.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Planner vs. Planner: Smart Growth vs. Sprawl

Transit oriented development advocate Gloria Ohland of Reconnecting America takes on sprawl apologist Robert Bruegmann in the LA Times.


Reconnecting America released a market study in late 2004 that found that because of regional growth trends and demographic changes in this country (older, smaller, more diverse households with singles becoming the new majority, as I wrote yesterday), demand for higher density housing near transit is likely to more than double by 2030. That means nearly a quarter of all households entering the market to rent or to buy are likely to be looking for higher density housing near transit.
Despite over 50 years of campaigning by planners and others to stop sprawl, the overwhelming amount of new housing both in this country and in every urban area in the affluent world continues to be in the suburbs at some of the lowest densities ever seen in urban history.
Read the whole thing.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

I'll Do It For $30, Too

Dog runner: it's New York City's hottest part-time job for aspiring artists. But really,

If you’re too busy to spend time with a dog and give it the exercise it needs, maybe you shouldn’t have it in the first place.

Enjoy your dog!

Viva La Revolution!

Jim Schlosser covers the adaptive re-use of Greensboro's Revolution Mill that Jim Peeples is working on:

"These mills were really significant to the history of Greensboro and southern textiles ... They are to Greensboro what tobacco plants were to Durham."
Yes indeed. And from a transplanted midwesterner's point of view, it seems odd to me that city leaders aren't trumpeting projects like this for the purposes of city identity-building and "branding." Not to mention that it's a class-A, mixed-use infilll project that city leaders say they favor. (Remember the Comprehensive Plan?)

This report from Preservation North Carolina says that the city has been very cooperative on the project in the areas of zoning and building inspections, and that the value of the property has quadrupled since the project started.

But there's a problem that Hoggard says has been underreported: the city is redoing sewage lines nearby, and will be dynamite-blasting eight feet from one of historic structures. The city will accept no liability for any damage, and is deaf to Peeple's warnings of danger.

It's time to get the water and sewer department on the same page with planning, zoning, and inspections. I'm going to call my councilwoman right now.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Carolina Bank: Downtown Design Disaster

A commenter on an earlier post intimated that the proposed siting of the new Carolina Bank building in downtown Greensboro had problems, but I hadn't anticipated anything quite like this:

This plan is an insult and an open affront to all those who have worked mightily to make downtown Greensboro an attractive, walkable, and vital urban center.

What's wrong with it?

  • It fronts ALL -- not just some, but ALL four streets surrounding the site -- with parking. The standard in urban design is to build to the the sidewalk.
  • It has a huge number of parking spaces, although the central business district has NO minimum parking requirements. Even Carolina Bank's suburban parking lot on Lawndale is almost always mostly empty. Why?
  • Because its parking lot is entirely configured to accommodate drive-through banking, even though good downtown design should not promote cars to the detriment of pedestrians.
  • The site thus has has NO good pedestrian access.
  • The plan proposes a 5 foot chain link fence along Cedar Street, in full view of drivers coming downtown on West Market. (Nothing says "welcome!" like a 5 foot chain link fence!).

This site plan is unabashedly suburban, which may be fine for a suburban location. But none of this is appropriate for a downtown site.

And compared to the architectural efforts of bankers past (noted in my previous post), this proposal is simply pathetic. One would hope that the capitalists of today would try to emulate the cultural achievements of their forebears. Apparently not.

Architects, designers, and planners: I invite you to weigh in, anonymously or otherwise, in the comments. And to contact Carolina Bank and members of City Council to register your opinions.

Update: An emailer reminds me that Carolina Bank is a good corporate citizen, and I know that's true. I'm a customer of Carolina Bank because of their good service. But none of that means that we should give them a pass when they are proposing a very inappropriate project that will be harmful to downtown.

Here is an exerpt from a draft of Greensboro's downtown design guidelines, which have been worked up by downtown boosters, developers, ordinary Joes and Janes, and city staff for "main street" downtown locations like this one:

Orientation to the street - [buildings should have] street presence (corner locations especially) to maintain or establish an urban street wall.

Entrance location [should be] easily identifiable, human scaled and oriented to the street.

Rhythm -- maintain or create a building rhythm- articulation every 25-30’.

Vehicular & pedestrian access - [use] pedestrian friendly parking ideas.

I think the Carolina Bank site plan fails on every one of these guidelines.

Apologies to friends of mine at Carolina Bank if you think this post is intemperate; please remember that the objection is to the plan, not the people.

Old Downtown Bank

When I was in Davenport, IA last week, I took these photos of the entrance to the old US Bank, because I think the artwork there tells us a lot about bankers' attitudes in the early 20th century.

The arched entry is lavishly decorated with cast bronze and carved stone. The bronze sculpture in the entry's tympanum appears to depict (top, from left) workers at a forge, a workshop scene, a place of business, and an agricultural tableau in which farmers are supplicating Mercury (god of trade).

Beneath these, on either side of the clock, appear (I think) Triptolemus and Ceres, both associated in ancient Greek mythology with agriculture. This seem appropriate for a bank in Iowa. (Click images to enlarge.)

In the jambs are relief sculptures of various idealized figures. There's Labor with a large hammer and anvil,

Agriculture with a sheaf of grain,

Industry, for some reason holding an Ionic temple and some papers (but note the smokestacks in the upper left),

Commerce holding a ship in his left hand and a caduceus in his right. Although the caduceus is now typically associated with medicine, it is also appropriate here because it belongs to Mercury (Hermes in Greek) who is the patron god of commerce.

Next comes Law, looking a bit like Princess Leia, holding the Ten Commandments and a sword and scales of Justice.

Then there's Philosophy, holding a book, with a skull at his feet. He's looking pretty grim.

Here's Security, with an eagle at his feet (or maybe a griffin). He looks like a mixture of a Roman centurion and a WWI dough boy.

And let's not forget Banking, with a cornucopia leaking coins (I love that!) and a big key. I think that's a treasure chest at his feet.

Even though I got there after closing, a bank worker coming out was nice enough to let me in to photograph the ceiling inside the main lobby. Exquisite.

Anyone who's been to Europe will recognize immediately what the architects here were up to on the exterior. The entry of the bank is obviously modeled after that of a Gothic cathedral like Chartres (below), where entrants are greeted by sculptures of the saints:

The builders of this bank clearly wanted to communicate to passers-by their view of how banking fits into the bigger scheme of civic, moral, and intellectual life, and they cared enough about this to lavish considerable expense on public art that we can enjoy decades later.

The neo-marxists among you will probably say that this is just capitalist self-promotion and propaganda. Whatever. At least these bankers spent some of their high profit margins on art that the public can enjoy and discuss.

Do you know of a modern bank building that displays this degree of knowledge about the mythological and artistic traditions of antiquity and the middle ages?

Monday, June 18, 2007

OK, That's Pretty Urban. But It's Ugly.

Architect Patrick Deaton called me out for calling the proposed design of Murrow Station "urban" when it wasn't, very. Several knowledgeable people have commented to me that Greensboro just doesn't know how to build real urban buildings any more.

What does real urban architecture look like? It can look like this project in NYC. But the neighbors don't like it:

Developers are just going out of control. They are trying to build anywhere and everywhere, whether it makes sense or not, whether it’s contextual or not, whether it has structural integrity or not.” (Read the whole thing.)

Greensboro is working on a set of downtown design guidelines to avoid infill projects like this one. Many cities of Greensboro's size have them: the trick is to make them strong enough to weed out inappropriate development but not so rigid as to deaden architectural innovation and investment.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Mike Clark's Column (Again)

Let me stipulate that I'm sure Mike Clark is a nice, good, smart man.

I just don't understand why he writes a column about language for the N&R, because he doesn't seem at all interested in knowing much about his usual topic, which is language variation.

That's too bad, because it's a fascinating field that has been intensely studied. The literature on it, both popular and academic, is rich and wonderful, but Mike never points us to it, or even seems aware of it.

In today's column (not posted) Mike starts out relating some amusing variations of a Texas greeting -- "hattie" and "hidy" -- only to disparage both of them in favor of "hello."

He then records another typical southernism, "won't no," as in "that won't no surprise" (= "that wasn't a surprise"), content merely to call "won't" a "misuse" and the double negation "incorrect."

Granted, this isn't a variety of English you'd want to use if you were interviewing to work for a hedge fund Morgan Stanley*. But you probably should use it if it's your native dialect and you're talking to friends and family at home.

Clark's easy labels ("misuse" and "incorrect") gloss over complicated issues. If there is a standard of correct speech, who sets it? If Mike thinks "won't" shouldn't be used for the past tense, but only for the future (as in, "I won't be going to the office today"), will he object to a Brit using "shan't" instead? But if he grants the validity of variants between American and British usage, why should he not grant them regionally in the US?

Mike also repeats the canard that two negatives ("won't no") make a positive, deaf to the fact that double negation is a standard feature, not only of many varieties of American and British speech (surely he's heard "Satisfaction" a few times?), but also of many of the world's languages. Double negation is standard (sometimes obligatory) in French, Catalan, Afrikaans, Russian, Serbian, Hebrew, and Greek, just to name a few. Chaucer frequently used double negation.

[True story: A linguistics professor J. L. Austin was lecturing: "In some languages, two negatives make a positive, and in others, two negatives make a negative. But in no languages do two positives make a negative." From the back row, philosopher Sidney Morganbesser responded: "yeah, right." Hat tip to Timothy for the provenance of this story.]

Anyhow, hiring someone like Mike Clark to write a column about language variation is like hiring a Baptist preacher to write a wine column. You don't learn anything about wine except that the preacher thinks it's bad and you should avoid it.

I recommend instead Walt Wolfram's American English, or stop in at Wolfram's North Carolina Language and Life project. You'll learn something.


*Percy Walker, Greensboro's hedge fund wunderkind, tells me that his people do say "won't no." Good for them.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Why Not St. Benedict, Too?

The NYT reports that public schools in Oakland, CA and Lancaster, PA are bringing Buddhist meditative techniques and traditions into the classroom:

The lesson began with the striking of a Tibetan singing bowl to induce mindful awareness...

As summer looms, students at dozens of schools across the country are trying hard to be in the present moment. This is what is known as mindfulness training, in which stress-reducing techniques drawn from Buddhist meditation are wedged between reading and spelling tests...

Practitioners tend to use sticky-mat buzzwords like “being present” and “cultivating compassion,” while avoiding anything spiritual.

Hmm. "Being present," "mindfulness," and "cultivating compassion" are important parts of the Buddhist spiritual tradition. Just ask the Dalai Lama: he talks about this stuff all the time. Why would the Times say otherwise?

Throughout the Times story, there isn't a whisper of a suggestion that importing customs, practices, and teachings of Buddhism breaches the Great Wall of Separation of Church and State.

I wonder: if someone were to introduce a meditative program based on the Liturgy of the Hours or meditation techniques developed by Christian monks in the tradition of St. Benedict, would it get a similarly positive reception from school administrators, the Times, or the ACLU?

Update: Sue e-mails, In a word? "God." Buddhism doesn't say "God." That's the difference.

That's got something to do with it. But even if Buddhism denies the existence of God as conceived in the Jewish-Christian-Islamic tradition, that doesn't mean it's not a religion, which should be excluded from public school according to a secular-fundamentalist reading of the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law regarding an establisment of religion." (Nothing about God there.)

Imagine a meditation program (that didn't mention God) in the schools that included the lighting of candles or the ringing of bells to begin the meditation, silent contemplation of the Golden Rule, the admonition to love your neighbor as yourself, and to forgive others' sins.

Would the Times characterize all this as "secular"?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Walkable Neighborhoods Keep You Young?

Seattle Times:

... studies are starting to show a neighborhood's walkability — how well its streets connect and whether it has sidewalks, nearby shopping and welcoming public places — helps or hinders how well its residents age...
Anecdotal confirmation: my wife's parents (aged 82 and 77) live in Florence, Italy, and walk several miles a day to do nearly all their errands because they don't own a car, and don't need or want one. Nor do they need a health club membership, because their normal activities keep them very healthy. They also have a network of neighbors who they can rely on to help them out.

It's a great lifestyle: I hope I can afford to retire to such a place.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Greensboro's Architectural Drought

Davenport, Iowa, by any standard a backwater burg, recently added a world-class piece of modern architecture to its downtown, the Figge Museum, designed by David Chipperfield.

I wasn't able to go in when I visited earlier this week, but its translucent exterior and unashamed modernism make a huge impression from the street. This building exudes architectural sophistication; whether you like the style or not, the building demands your attention. It is a piece of architecture that matters.

Chipperfield is working in cities all across the midwest -- Davenport, Des Moines, St. Louis -- where city leaders are angling for downtown investment through ambitious aesthetic achievements.

This is typical of the midwestern attitude of cultural striving that can be traced to the first prairie settlers, who were aways eager to bring east-coast sophistication to their little towns. If you've ever seen The Music Man, you know what that's all about.

But what about Greensboro? When was the last time we built an artistically ambitious building?

We recently tore down our only prominent piece of modernism, which has been replaced by a lackluster quasi-lifestyle center, whose style can only be described as derivative and faddish.

The new Center Pointe, important as it is for downtown redevelopment, is a step backwards in architecture. The original Wachovia building's exterior, unloved as it was, was at least a clear and harmonious expression of the aesthetic of its day. The architectural style of the new exterior has its cultural analog in the "e" at the end of "Pointe" and in the smooth jazz that plays on Center Pointe's website.

Greensboro hasn't produced an interesting building since the 1980s. How long will we continue to get our architectural lunch eaten by places like Davenport, Iowa?

[Note: I grew up in Davenport, and love it there.]

Update: Here is a positive review of the Figge Art Museum. The only criticism is that the building sits on a plinth wall, which makes for a bad pedestrian experience. This unfortunate feature is a result of the fact that the building is in the floodplain of the Mississippi river, and is required by the federal government to be protected by the wall from flooding.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Midwest Travelogue

I've been away on a road trip in the midwest, to drop Sam off at Camp Highlands in Sayner, WI, where he is spending the summer as a counselor-in-training.

I stopped in my hometown of Davenport, Iowa on the way back to visit some old haunts and see some old friends.

For your pleasure, I've compressed all 2,600 miles of the trip into 3 1/2 minutes of panoramic video.

Watch for some special, father-son moments in the car, an exciting light-saber duel in McFarland, WI, and a very quick visit to the Creation Museum. The video soundtrack is whatever happened to be playing on the car stereo.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Biker Faculty

My employer's in-house newsletter has a story about faculty bicycle commuters in its latest issue.

Most of them do it for the same reasons I do: it's fun, it's good exercise, it saves money, and you can park near your building.

It's interesting that none of them said that they're doing it to cut greenhouse gasses and save the earth.

My friend and biology prof Mark Hens says, "It's easy ... I've been using a bike a long time -- I didn't have a car till I graduated from college."

He also points out that when he (and I) were in college, most students didn't have a car.

I think they were thinner then, too.

I know I was.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Downtown's Next (Pretty) Big Thing

It may not be the huge, $200 million-plus project that's all the buzz in Greensboro these days, but Brown Investment Properties and Kavanagh Homes are moving toward building Murrow Station, a residential/office project in the northeast corner of the downtown business district, about 200 yards from my house. It's a $42 million development, and that's nothing to sneeze at.

It looks like it will have about 132 condominiums and townhouses, along with office or retail on the first floor along Lindsay and Murrow, and (I hope) Summit Avenue.

Chester Brown III was kind enough to e-mail me these preliminary architectural sketches and a proposed site plan, and he asked me to circulate it among my neighbors; he also said it was fine with him if I posted it on my blog, so here it is.

I showed it to some planner friends, and they dubbed it a "pretty good" project, which lines up with what I thought of it. The architecture is urban-looking, with flat roofs, brick facing, and metal details. The siting is pretty urban, too, with the larger, mixed-use buildings fronting the major streets without much of a setback. Parking is in the rear or beneath the buildings, which makes for a better pedestrian experience.

I had some concerns that the sidewalk connectivity wasn't very good from the inside of the complex to the major thoroughfares, and also that the large building facing Summit should have some kind of entrances -- either offices, storefronts, or residential -- to the sidewalk, and not just first-floor parking. Without that, the building would just be like a big battleship next to Summit, rather than a real building that has a relationship to its environment.

Chester was receptive to all these ideas, and to a few more that came from my neighborhood association board. He and the Kavanaghs have done a good job of letting the neighborhood know what they're planning. I hope this project succeeds; it's very similar what our neighborhood's recent corridor study called for.

The only downside is that the old Pet Dairy and the Peacemaker building will be demolished. Those are both good buildings, and the Pet Dairy is one of the few remaining Art Deco buildings left in Greensboro. It's not the most beautiful building of its kind, but it's hard for me to feel good about a demolition.

But you have to pick your battles.

Update: An astute reader asked whether there's a market for these new units, since there's been so much development downtown, and not all of it is selling quickly. Chester Brown told me that Murrow Station will be considerably lower-priced than what's on the market now, with the target demographic being young professionals and empty-nesters.

Update II: Kim asks the price range. I'm not sure, but I think they'd be starting at about $120k. You can see the townhouse floor plans if you click here and increase the PDF doc to about 200%.

Historic Preservation on Channel 13!

The city of Greensboro has produced a 30-minute video about Greensboro's historic district program. I watched it this morning, and it's absolutely wonderful.* Kudos to Ike Quigley, who directed. It's the best short introduction I can imagine to what the Greensboro's preservation program is all about.

Hoggard and Billy are in it too (fixing old windows), but I think the greatest contribution is by Benjamin Briggs of Preservation Greensboro, Inc., who does a great job of telling the basics of historic architecture, and telling us why it matters. Mike Cowhig, who directs the city's preservation program, tells us how it works in his calm and reassuring way.

Try to catch it in June at these times:

Wednesdays at 2:30 pm
Thursdays at 8:00 am
Fridays at 10:30 pm
Saturdays at 10 pm
Sundays at 11 am & 6 pm
(City Council replay will preempt the video today)
I've mentioned to city staff that we need to get this on web video so that the historic neighborhoods can link to it from their websites. Hope that can happen.

*(Except for the parts that show some balding, goateed, middle-aged guy rambling on. )

Monday, June 4, 2007


So four of us are sitting on the front porch with the dogs and surviving cats, talking about the future and enjoying a cool breeze from a light rain shower. There's a little distant thunder.

In a matter of 2 or 3 seconds, the treetops start whipping around, and rain is flying across the porch nearly horizontally. We rush inside to shut windows; kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom have pools of water on the floor.

I recheck the front sidewalk:

Time for a new chainsaw.

Update: So I call BellSouth for repair this morning because the branch is resting on the phone line and I don't want to bring it down. I think I should be able to call the BellSouth service number in my phone book, because I keep getting phone calls telling me "BellSouth is the new AT&T!" But after going through one of those voice menus where the robot lady keeps checking my responses ("I think you said, 'bite me, robot lady!' Is that right?"), it turns out that BellSouth is not the new AT&T. Robot lady eventually says, "I'm sorry, our latest records show that 336-370-XXXX is not serviced by BellSouth."

So I call AT&T, which is not the same as BellSouth, where a new robot lady tells me "BellSouth is the new AT&T" (no it isn't!!), but eventually I talk so a real lady halfway around the world who tells me that they'll get someone to get the tree off my line by 6 p.m.

Blogging the Neighborhood

My neighborhood association has started a blog to help disseminate information more quickly and easily than can be done by means of the printed newsletter (though we're not giving up the newsletter).

I like this post about the congruence between historic preservation and "green" building. Key quote:

Rehabilitating existing buildings is almost always more environmentally efficient than tearing down and building anew. Maintaining and improving historic buildings and the neighborhoods in which they stand allows for the continued use of valuable infrastructure.
Paula Patch is running the blog on behalf of the neighborhood association.

Springdale Springs Back

Contrary to any previous impressions I might have given, I don't hate parks. To prove it, I voted for the proposal to re-vamp Springdale Park in College Hill when it came to the Historic Preservation Commission. With pleasure.

But Jim Schlosser's story in the N&R about the park does give some weight to the idea that parks can become a problem* if not carefully managed, which a commenter scoffed at in a previous post.

Transients, no doubt drawn by the railroad two blocks away, have made a bunking place of one of the city's oldest municipal parks — and probably its smallest.
One of the many good things about this revival is that the neighborhood is helping to do it with money from its Municipal Service District tax. College Hill and Aycock both volunteer to tax themselves at a $0.05 higher rate, and that extra revenue goes into a city fund that is used for improvements in public spaces in the neighborhood.

*Note to Cara Michele: I'm not saying that the homeless shouldn't use parks. But when lots of them use the park as a place to sleep off a drunk or a high, it's a problem. It keeps a lot of people from feeling safe there.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Did the Ancient Romans Know About Colony Collapse Disorder?

Glenn Reynolds links to this post on the much-discussed colony collapse disorder, which involves the sudden dissapearance of entire colonies of bees. The Straight Dope says the disorder has been known for a century, but it occurred to me that knowledge might go back a lot further.

Vergil, in the 1st Century BC, wrote a long poem about farming, and its fourth book is devoted to beekeeping. A couple of passages seem tantalizing:

But when the bees fly aimlessly and play listlessly in the sky,
And they abandon their hives and leave their homes cold,
You should keep their changeable minds from this empty game.
Nor is it hard to stop them: rip the wings off the kings*.
(*Vergil, along with the rest of the Romans, thought that the queen bees were male.)

At cum incerta volant caeloque examina ludunt
contemnuntque favos et frigida tecta relinquunt,
instabiles animos ludo prohibebis inani.
Nec magnus prohibere labor: tu regibus alas
eripe ...
He also wrote,
But if the whole colony suddenly should fail,
And it doesn't have a breeding stock from which a new one might be recalled ...

Sed siquem proles subito defecerit omnis,
nec genus unde novae stirpis revocetur habebit ...
Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

Vergil also recommends a remedy, called bugonia, which is the creation of new bees in an interesting way. Vergil's near contemporary M. Terentius Varro summed up Roman thought on the matter thus:
Apes nascuntur partim ex apibus, partim ex bubulo corpore putrefacto.

Some bees come from other bees, some from the rotting corpse of an ox.
I wouldn't recommend their cure, but it seems like the ancients might have been familiar with the disease.

Small Pleasures (Cycling Department)

I like to cycle up Elm St. on my way home from work, even though it's a little out of my way, just because I like to check out the scene on Greensboro's best downtown street. South Elm usually has a lot of street life at that time of day, and I like to be a part of it.

Drivers on Elm usually give me plenty of room, and most of the time I'm able to pedal with the flow of traffic since it's pretty stop-and-go at that hour. I've found that most drivers are very polite to me on my bike.

But yesterday I heard a rumble of knobby tires behind me, and a big red Hummer blew by; his right side mirror felt like it was about 6 inches from my ear, and I got a little wobbly in his Hummer-wash. Clearly he wasn't going to give any quarter to a mere cyclist.

But about 30 seconds later he came to a dead stop in traffic, so I blew right by him and kept on going; two blocks later I looked back, and he was still creeping along. He never caught up.