Playhouse mansions

As the real estate market for adults is in shambles, the market for playhouses is booming.  Some of them cost as much as a real house:

APART from the open bar by the swimming pool, the main attraction at parties held at the Houston home of John Schiller, an oil company executive, and his wife, Kristi, a Playboy model turned blogger, is the $50,000 playhouse the couple had custom-built two years ago for their daughter, Sinclair, now 4.

Cocktails in hand, guests duck to enter through the 4 ½-foot door. Once inside, they could be forgiven for feeling as if they’ve fallen down the rabbit hole.

Built in the same Cape Cod style as the Schillers’ expansive main house, the two-story 170-square-foot playhouse has vaulted ceilings that rise from five to eight feet tall, furnishings scaled down to two-thirds of normal size, hardwood floors and a faux fireplace with a fanciful mosaic mantel.

The little stainless-steel sink in the kitchen has running water, and the matching stainless-steel mini fridge and freezer are stocked with juice boxes and Popsicles. Upstairs is a sitting area with a child-size sofa and chairs for watching DVDs on the 32-inch flat-screen TV. The windows, which all open, have screens to keep out mosquitoes, and there are begonias in the window boxes. And, of course, the playhouse is air-conditioned. This is Texas, after all.

“I think of it as bling for the yard,” said Ms. Schiller, 40.

Some people might consider it “obnoxious” for a child to have a playhouse that costs more and has more amenities than some real houses, she conceded. But she sees it as an extension of the family home. “My daughter loves it,” she said. “And it’s certainly a conversation piece.”

Even in a troubled economy, it seems, some parents of means are willing to spend significant (if not eye-popping) sums on playhouses for their children that also function as a kind of backyard installation art.

There are a number of companies and independent craftsmen that make high-end playhouses, which can cost as much as $200,000, and come in a variety of styles, including replicas of real houses, like the Schillers’, and more-fantastical creations like pirate ships, treetop hideouts and fairy tale cottages. And many of these manufacturers report that despite the economic downturn, they are as busy as ever.

Barbara Butler, an artist and playhouse builder in San Francisco, said her sales are up 40 percent this year, and she has twice as many future commissions lined up as she did this time last year. Not only that, but the average price of the structures she is being hired to build has more than doubled, from $26,000 to $54,000.

“Childhood is a precious and finite thing,” Ms. Butler said. “And a special playhouse is not the sort of thing you can put off until the economy gets better.”

via Playhouses – Child’s Play, Grown-Up Cash – NYTimes.com.

An interesting example of over-the-top parenting.   How does this manifest itself among us less affluent family-values types?

You have already been judged

Our pastor, Rev. James Douthwaite, is on vacation, so my son-in-law from Australia, Rev. Adam Hensley, preached the sermon last Sunday.  It was an amazing exposition of the Gospel.  His text was  Romans 8:28–39, focusing on  verse 3:

God for us. It is no overstatement to claim that these three little words make all the difference to everything! They change the very landscape of your life! Indeed, they allow St Paul to say just a few verses before, “for those who love God all things work together for goodFor, because of Christ, God our Father—the Judge and Creator of all–has already judged in our favor!

Already this morning you have heard Him speak his final judgment upon you, when you heard me declare to you in His stead and by His command: “I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” You do not have to wait until Judgment Day to know His verdict—He has already given it: He has forgiven you for Christ’s sake! . . . .

Now a good judge prizes himself or herself on being neutral. A good judge shows no favoritism, but executes justice without regard for status, fame, prestige, wealth, or appearance. A good judge does not regard the face,but is fair and even, rewarding, justifyingthe righteous and punishing the wicked.

Here we may think of Lady Justice, that statue inspired by the Roman goddess Iustitia, as the epitome of this ideal. She stands blindfolded, indicating that she does not judge by appearances or what she sees. In one hand she holds a sword, symbolizing authority, and in the other a balanced scales, symbolizing equity and fairness. Indeed, Lady Justice is the ideal model for the office of judge in the courts; in God’s left hand Kingdom, as we say.

But Lady Justice is no model for our Eternal Judge, who judges us in Christ!

Our Judge is anything but neutral! He acquits the guilty! He cancels debts! He justifies sinners and transgressors!

He shows favoritism! He shows His favor to you for Christ’s sake. . . .

Now some people talk about the justice of God, or about God as Judge and for all intents and purposes leave Christ out of it. They get into discussions about God’s sovereign right to condemn some and save others in general. . . .But God does not deal with us in the abstract. He deals with us in Christ! He always points us to Christ, and says of Him, “Here is my justice for you! Here I justify you! . . .

God loving is still ―God punishing sin with death, but it is God Himself taking on our human flesh and bearing the punishment—our death sentence—for us.

And so justice is done. Sin and guilt are punished. God’s wrath is exhausted.

Not blindly though, but with both eyes open! For the Father knew what He was doing. The Son knew what He would endure and why: the Innocent would die for the guilty.

And yes, this is a miscarriage of justice to our way of thinking: Christ was no blasphemer as He was accused of being. But it is God’s miscarriage of justice. It was God’s plan that Christ, the Son of God, become the Blasphemer, the Murderer, the Adulterer, the Sinner. And we have become the “called,” “justified,” “glorified” children of the Heavenly Father.

And He who was born of a virgin, talking upon Himself our human flesh and all our sin and guilty, who then died and rose again… He now intercedes for you and me! Both His eyes are open, looking upon you with compassion; looking to the Heavenly Father and pleading the perfect plea for our forgiveness: His wounds that testify that all sin has been punished by death; all our debt paid in full.

So, the eternal Judge and the eternal Defense Attorney is for us! And not only that: He is also the one who chose to endure your sentence for you!

The two debt-reduction plans

So House Majority Leader John Boehner has a debt reduction plan on the table.  It is competing with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s plan.  (Notice how both sides are cutting President Obama out of the discussion.)  Both plans cut spending by $1.2 trillion.  Neither plan involves a tax increase.  In fact, the two plans are extremely similar.  Philip Klein gives us a useful comparison:

Similarities:

– Both plans claim to reduce discretionary spending by $1.2 trillion.

–Both plans create a joint, bipartisan, Congressional committee to find future savings.

– Neither plan includes specific entitlement reform.

–Neither plan includes specific tax increases.

Differences:

– Reid’s plan wants to raise the debt ceiling all in one chunk (and boosts the claimed deficit reduction number by relying on savings from the expected wind down of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan), but Boehner it raised in two parts.

– While both plans endorse a joint committee, the Boehner plan makes the second debt limit increase contingent on Congress passing $1.8 trillion in additional deficit-reduction based on its recommendations.

– Boehner plan would ensure a vote in both chambers on a Balanced Budget Amendment.

– Boehner proposes caps to future spending.

Possibilities for compromise:

– It would be easy for Reid to allow a vote on the Balanced Budget Amendment.

– The differences over whether the debt limit increase should be short-term or last through the 2012 election is not an ideological-based disagreement, so it seems either side could give way on that one.

– Depending on the level of the spending cap, there may be some compromise there.

via Boehner and Reid plans aren’t that different: a comparison | Philip Klein | Beltway Confidential | Washington Examiner.

And yet, for all of the similarities, both sides are still at each other’s throats. Not only that, Boehner’s own party is in revolt against his plan.   I’m not sure why.  Surely the Republicans are getting what they want, over a trillion dollars in cuts and no new taxes.  The main issue now is political:   Reid is proposing a two year package, tiding things over until after the 2012 elections, while Boehner wants to go through all of this again in a year.

Meanwhile, the country faces default and probably worldwide economic collapse if the debt ceiling isn’t raised by August 2.

Under President Clinton, the ascendant Republicans  in Congress shut down the government, sparking a popular backlash that re-elected the unpopular president.  I suspect the same thing will happen again:  Today’s ascendant Republicans, giddy with having taken the House of Representatives, will show themselves willing to shut down the economy, sparking a popular backlash that will re-elect President Obama.

Church camp for atheists

Atheists are seemingly doing everything they can to organize themselves into a religion.  Apparently they just don’t believe in the content of religion but are fine with the rituals, culture, and institutions of religion and want versions for themselves.   Remember church camp, where children go off into the semi-wild for fun, crafts, fellowship, and above all religious instruction and experience?  Well, the atheists now have the exact same thing for their kids:

Camp Quest Chesapeake is a summer camp for atheists. Or the children of atheists. Plus: agnostics, secular humanists, freethinkers and other self-identified members of the non-religious community. This summer is the camp’s first appearance in the Mid-Atlantic — the second-largest launch in Camp Quest history.

The first Camp Quest opened in the Cincinnati area in 1996, founded by Edwin Kagin, a former Eagle Scout who was annoyed with the religious overtones in modern Boy Scouting. Camp Quest had about 20 campers. In 2002, it incorporated, launching a branch in Tennessee. A few years ago the organization hired its first paid employee. There are now 10 Camp Quests in North America and a few more in Europe. . . .

“Think of how many hundreds of religious camps there are in this country,” Kagin says. (The Christian Camp and Conference Association alone has 865 members, and there are many more who don’t belong to the organization.) “Camp Quest is a night light in a dark and scary room for children of freethinking parents.”The site for Camp Chesapeake was the group’s second choice. They originally tried to rent from a Methodist camp, but the Methodists edged away when they learned whom they were renting to. One religious blog has dubbed Camp Quest a “Re-Education camp.”

“We want kids to know what critical thinking is, and how to use it,” says Menon, whose day job is with the federal government. “And there’s an ethics component. We want kids to know that they should do the right thing” even if they don’t believe in heaven.

Which some might. Camp Quest offers daily lectures on world religions from an informational perspective. Also, lectures about famous freethinkers such as iconic physicist Richard Feynman and “Harry Potter” star Daniel Radcliffe.

Other atheist camp activities include atheist swimming, atheist nature hikes and atheist stargazing.

via Camp Quest is atheists’ answer to Bible school – The Washington Post.

Christians are generally criticized when they attempt to baptize every little thing so that there is a Christian version, as opposed to a non-Christian version of secular activities.  But I’ve never heard of Christian swimming.  But there is atheist swimming.

I wonder if there are some atheists who say things like, “I don’t believe in organized atheism, but I am a very materialistic person.”

Introducing the guest blogger, my brother

This blog is subtitled “the blog of Veith.”  It doesn’t say which Veith.  So I feel no qualms about letting my brother Jimmy do some guest blogging.  He has started reading this blog and you may recall some of his comments, some of which I have turned into regular posts.  So I think he will be a good blogger.

In many ways, we are polar opposites:   I am conservative; he is  liberal.  I am Lutheran; he is Baptist.  I am a professor; he is a lawyer.  I am a writer; he is a musician.  How much more different can anyone be?

And yet, we are also very similar:  We look exactly alike.  We have the same tastes.  We have identical senses of humor.  I would say we have the same sensibility.

So let’s see how he does.  Please welcome him.  You can argue with him, like I do, but don’t be insulting or snide or generally mean.  Part of the vocation of being a big brother is defending the little brother from people who pick on him.   The big brother can pick on him, but no one else can.  So I’ll zap comments that might hurt his feelings.  He is doing me a favor in these busy times, which I appreciate.   I hope you do too.

The Devil’s interval

by Jimmy Veith

Have you ever been freaked out by a piece of music that sounded evil? Have you heard combinations of notes that were so dissonant that it made you tense and restless, but yet was strangely alluring? Well, you may have been placed under the spell of the Devil’s interval, known in music theory as the augmented 4th or flatted 5th.

Let me explain. Remember when Maria, the good Nun from “The Sound of Music”, taught the children how to sing, with the Do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do song? That was the major scale on which most Western music is based. In the key of C, it would be all the white keys on the piano; ie, C, D, E, F, G, A B and C. Each note of the scale is assigned a number. In the key of C, C is 1, D is 2, E is 3, F is 4, G is 5, A is 6 and B is 7.

For some mysterious reason, the major scale is not symmetrical in its intervals. There are whole steps between C, D, and E, but a half step from E to F. There are whole steps between F, G, A and B, but a half step from B to C. Now, let’s create a more sinister sounding scale by eliminating the half steps and playing only whole steps. If you start with middle C, you would play C, D, E, F# (G flat), G# (A flat), A# (B flat), then C again. You have just played a scale based on the tri-tones, which is a scale of six different notes in equal intervals as opposed to seven notes found in the major scale.

Now this is where it gets freaky. Play the C and F# (or G flat) together. This is the interval known as the augmented 4th or flatted 5th. Play this over and over again. How does it make you feel? Now play C and G flat in alternating order, over and over again, one second apart. Do you recognize the opening guitar riff in Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze”? Play it some more. Have you summoned the devil yet? Ok, that’s enough, Quit Now! Quit Now! Quit Now I say, before it’s too late!

OK. I may be exaggerating. However, this interval has been used by composers when they want to create an atmosphere of evil or dread. It is used extensively by heavy metal groups such as Black Sabbath, and classical compositions such as Wagner’s Gotterdammerung, Beethoven’s Fidelio. Also, it is found in modern compositions such as West Side Story, and the theme song of the Simpson’s.

It has been said that this interval was banned in the middle ages by the clergy. This may be more mythology than fact. Are there any musicologists out there who could shed some light on this issue?

I don’t mean to suggest that artists that use this interval are by any means evil. Great music involves interplay between tension and release, and the use of this interval is one of many tools that a skillful composer can and should use to create tension.

Now here is something for you Lutherans. Consider the great hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” by Martin Luther himself. The third line of the first verse reads: “For still our ancient foe, doth seek to work us woe.” The third line of the third verse reads: “The Prince of Darkness grim,
we tremble not for him. ” The two lines where Luther refers to the Devil in the text of the hymn, also happens to be when the “devil’s interval” is found in the melody line. Just a coincidence? Or genius?

Big Brother Butts In:  I would add one more thing that Jimmy pointed out to me when he was explaining all of this over the piano.  I had always wondered why it is that musical scales have to have those half-steps.  Wouldn’t it be easier and more consistent and more orderly for a scale to have all whole steps? It would, but now I know that a scale with all whole steps is actually discordant.  Not only that, it has the Devil’s Interval!   Which teaches us that perfect regularity is neither beautiful nor good.   True beauty–whether of music or art or literature or a person–needs its quirks, its inconsistencies, its surprises, even its flaws. Philosophies and ideologies that demand utterly consistent regularity–think of Marxism–become inhuman, tyrannical, and demonic.  As do people when they try to fit their neighbors into some regular pattern of whole notes.  And God, who Himself is unutterably complex and confounding to human reason, designed things this way.  (And if you think such connection between music and other kinds of cosmic order is just made up, the old music theorists, such as Bach–anyone know if he used the Devil’s Interval?–thought and made music in these terms.


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