Saturday, January 17, 2009

Dear Al Gore

Dear Mr. Al Gore

I wish to thank you for your response to my previous letter. I realize that it is stressful to wake yourself from your annual winter hibernation, which is why you are scarcely to be found on the lecture circut during the winter months. Nonetheless, you took the effort to send some warmer air our way, and because of that we here in North Idaho have many reasons to rejoice since now our temperatures have returned to something resembling seasonal normality. I am especially thankful for not having to put out the extra expense of having my roof shoveled off twice within a single winter. So far once has been sufficient, although I hear that they had to call out the National Guard to help shovel off the schools because of the danger of roofs collapsing. As far as I know, we broke all previous records for snowfall, and if this doesn't cause them to pack up and leave, the Californians who have come here with their bad driving habits, then nothing will ever make them go. But please keep up the good work, Mr. Gore. As you can see in the above picture, our streets are now much more passable, although there there is still an enormous amount of snow on the ground. I also hear that our unfortunate, frost-bitten fellow Americans back east are experiencing some horrific sub-zero weather. Perhaps you can send them a blast of hot air to help them out?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Court of Astor

Book Review

Title: Season of Splender—The Court of Mrs. Astor in Gilded Age New York
Author: Greg King

Thorstein Veblen once talked about the conspicuous consumption of the leisure class. He wasn't kidding.

I found this out reading Greg King's well researched book on the heyday of the ultra-rich and their social lives in New York city, back in the late 19th Century. I've heard the names of Astor and Vanderbilt before, but King's book added color and substance to those names, along with information about other families of the ultra-rich of the Gilded Age. And in fact, my eyes bugged out in astonishment at the opulence these people bestowed upon themselves and how much money they threw around. If you're interested in architecture, King lavishes plenty of detail when describing the mansions they built, and in several chapters he splurges on seldom-used architectural vocabulary, so it's a good idea to have a dictionary handy while you're reading his book. For example, I now know what a mansard roof is. But one thing is for sure: the ultra-rich didn't just build large mansions on 5th Avenue, they built insanely magnificent palaces for themselves, much with the aim of impressing other people. Furthermore, their social lives were so far removed from anything in my experience and so foreign that it was like reading about some strange tribe hidden in a muddy jungle somewhere in faraway New Guinea. The luxury was just unbelievable.

King's book ends very appropriately with the sinking of the Titanic. I recommend the book.