Month: March 2013

Extreme Weather Is Horse Feathers!

I could have said something else, but lest you didn’t get the message, extreme weather events are not getting more numerous do to climate change, or any other change. Most people don’t like technical subjects like this, and that’s why they believe the politicians and news media that we, humans, are causing the weather to get worse. We can change local climates, but the hypothesis that weather is getting more extreme is easily falsifiable.

Here are the facts:

  • There is no discernible trend in the number of strong tornadoes in the continental US over the last half-century.
  • There is no discernible trend in the number of hurricanes in the last century. Yep. Katrina was a big one, but there have been very few hurricanes since.

Here are a couple of graphs drawn with data from NOAA that demonstrate that there is no increase in either of these extreme weather events.

Tornado Activity
Tornado Activity
Hurricane History
Hurricane History

There are no trends no matter what the media says, and there is no scientific consensus for that hypothesis.


Downton Abbey And Asheville’s Biltmore Estate

Highclere Castle - Television's Downton Abbey
Highclere Castle – Television’s Downton Abbey

My wife and I are currently enthralled with the PBS television series, Downtown Abbey. It is a series about an extremely rich English family at the turn of the century. We are currently watching Season 3.

The story is multi-generational, but centers on the Earl of Downton, his wife and mother, and their three daughters. Of course, the entire servant staffs’ stories are intertwined with the upper class, and one daughter even runs away with the chauffeur. The stories about the daughters are not those of a randy bunch of girls, but are told in a realistic and sensitive way.

You get into the whole turn-of-the-century English Lord and Lady thing. It is very entertaining.

The unspoken star of the series is the house, itself. The actual structure used is Highclere Castle, a famous and picturesque castle in its own right.

Picture of Biltmore House
The Biltmore Estate – Ashville, NC

This last week, we made the trip to Asheville, North Carolina and visited the Biltmore House. This is the house built by George Washington Vanderbilt II, grand-son of the fabulously wealthy shipping magnate, Cornelius Vanderbilt. G W received about $2 million after granddad’s death in 1877, equivalent to almost $40 million in today’s dollars.

The Biltmore estate was originally composed of 125,000 acres in the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina. It is only about 8,000 acres today. There is the Biltmore House itself, a winery, several gardens, and other attractions on the grounds. Having consumed a couple of bottles of their house brand of wine since the visit, I can say that the wine is generally good. Specifically, the Pinot Grigi0 and Cabernet Blanc are good, and the Cabernet Sauvignon is drinkable. The prices ran about $15 to $20 per bottle, which was a bit high for the quality received.

On the other hand, what do you expect from a tourist operation like the Biltmore House? Certainly, many of the visitors know about wines, but I have a suspicion that many do not. It certainly seems to me that they could profitably operate a whiskey distillery, or at least a brew pub. The laws in North Carolina may prohibit those activities, though.

The Biltmore house contains 175,000 square feet, divided into 250 rooms. Thirty-five are guest rooms and forty-three are bathrooms. When visiting, you must use public restrooms in another structure. So, take care of details before entering the house.

We didn’t allow time to get down to the basement which houses the servants quarters, the swimming pool and the engineering spaces. When the house was constructed, the electric power world had not matured, with Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse fighting for supremacy between Edison’s Direct Current standard, and Westinghouse and Tesla’s Alternating Current. The Biltmore House was therefore wired for AC and DC. The first electric service was a DC generator in the basement. When an AC generating plant was built in Asheville, the Biltmore’s DC generator was changed out for a bank of mercury vapor rectifiers to change the city’s AC to DC for the house.

When you tour the extravagant rooms of the Biltmore House, you cannot but help to compare it to the house in Downton Abbey. George Vanderbilt had provided not only comfortable rooms for guests, but he also provided three kitchens to feed them, libraries for reading and intellectual pursuits, stables to care for polo and carriage horses, an indoor swimming pool, and numerous gardens and walking paths to keep those guests entertained. The house itself is a beautiful structure, and from almost any part of the house you have breathtaking views of the North Carolina mountains.

The designer of the house was Richard Morris Hunt, an architect of note who had designed several of the Vanderbilt houses. The grounds were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted who numbered the landscape design of New York City’s Central Park among his successes.

Similar to the story in Downton Abbey, I could not help but be struck by the sheer extravagance of the two houses, and the wastefulness represented by those estates of the very rich. Indeed, the Vanderbilt houses in America represent what has become known as the guilded age. We may think that the American guilded age and the lavish British Victorian age are long gone, but the very rich are still with us.

Similar to lottery winners, even the Vanderbilts ran the risk of running out of wealth because of their extravagant ways. The estate is still owned by the family, but is operated as a business. Since it is in private hands, I don’t know how well the business performs, but you can see everything for about $50.00, US currency. Or, you can buy a pass good for one year and unlimited visits for $130.00. Equestrian activities cost more.

What Should I Have Said?

Governor McCrory Chats With Constituent
Governor McCrory Chats With Constituent

Everybody remembers when they were the target of an off-color remark, or on the defensive in an argument with a friend or neighbor. It is always five minutes later, or even the next day when we finally think of the reply we should have made, but missed a great opportunity to settle things. Well, I had a similar feeling this weekend after visiting  friends in the North Carolina town of Black Mountain. The governor of the state made a drive-by visit, glad-handing folks and offering himself for photo opportunities.

My host and I were in two of the stores in downtown Black Mountain that the governor visited. It was interesting to watch the process unfold. It was just like what we see on tv, the state executive greeting people, and pausing for pictures. It was tempting to get into one of the lines to chat with the gentleman.

Hardware Store In Downtown Black Mountain, NC
Hardware Store In Downtown Black Mountain, NC

No, I did not moon the governor. I didn’t even approach the good man to introduce myself. Since I am from Georgia, and he is the governor of North Carolina, I felt the best use of his time was schmoozing local voters. I am sorry I did not take the opportunity. He had no way of knowing where I was from, and he would not have questioned me on that score.

Right after the governor left one store, I did introduce myself to some of the local store employees as the Governor of Georgia. I think one lady believed me.

My retrospective intent is not honorable, either. Looking back, I wonder just what statement or question I could have made that would totally surprise His Honor. He is such a nice looking guy, energetic and caring for the populace. What could I have said, or asked, that would have ruined his day?

My first thought was the following contemporary subject: “What is your position on medical marijuana?” Now, this is not as contentious as it used to be, but the follow-up question could bring things into sharp focus, as “So, you are for legalizing all drugs?

If you are in a liberal town like the one I was visiting, you would think that the governor would be expecting something like the marijuana gambit. You could use the more risky opener, “What is your position on legalizing prostitution?” Some of us guys might think that funny, but one should be careful when asking the governor a question such as this. Television cameras could capture you in the act of being pummeled by the governor’s security detail. Things could get messy.

Of course, there is always the old, “Your fly is open.” line. It works every time.

I would like to hear other off-the-wall questions or comments for politicians. What are your favorites?