Friday, August 21, 2009

Is "Jug Boy" Cursed? Welcoming a Creepy Statue to the Garden

Ever since we began working on our garden, Beth and I have been in search of some really creepy statuary to add to the atmosphere: things like cemetery angels with pupil-less eyes and twisted garden gnomes. The fountain sculpture we found the other day meets that description almost flawlessly, I must say. Welcome "Jug Boy" to our garden... and pray he isn't cursed!

Creepy Jug BoyLast Friday, I got a last-minute call to go to Saint Louis for work, and on Monday before my flight out, I passed by Sam's Farms garden center in Falls Church. What caught my eye was their vast statuary collection. Yesterday afternoon, Beth and I paid them a visit and found quite a spectacular group of garden statues, all cast in concrete or metal (not cheap resin like many places), and quite a good number of them creepy indeed.

We saw a Medusa-headed wall fountain tile (well, her hair was probably grape vines instead of snakes... but she sure looked evil nonetheless), several fantastically frightening (but expensive) gargoyles, all manner of typical children, angels, monks, and animals... and even some gnomes I'd swear were inappropriately touching themselves--and you can just imagine where the fountain hook-up was on those last few.

But what really caught our eye was this fountain statue tagged "Jug Boy." The garden center actually had three or four of this same piece, but the one pictured somehow had a just-slightly-different expression than the others--and a clearly twisted and evil one at that. Combine the effects of weather with the leering face, and you can easily imagine this little imp pouring buckets of blood or coming to life beneath the light of a bad moon to set forth on some murderous rampage, collecting souls to be dragged back to hell.

So now Jug Boy has a new home; he joins the creepy naked cherub fountain Beth found tossed to the curb and a demented little gnome we found on clearance at Home Depot and awaits the coming of a fallen angel or perhaps a sacrificial altar.

We're working on a small pond; I picked up a decent pump (to replace the one in the flowerpot fountain I made for Beth a couple of anniversaries back) so we can plumb the ewer held in the demonspawn child's hands, and now we've got another project, and another creepy member of the backyard.

Chateau Papillon Bird #52: Yellow-billed Cuckoo

After a brief yet incredibly intense rainstorm this afternoon, I heard the 52nd confirmed bird species for Chateau Papillon: the Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

I'd opened my office window to shush the Papillons who'd gone out to do business when I heard the unmistakable call from the trees somewhere overhead. The cuckoo wasn't an unexpected bird, but at the same time, not one we got in our rental home's yard in Vienna, either, and thus made for a nice addition to the list.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Renovating an Antique, Part I: Reupholstering a Chair for the Library

Growing up, one of my vivid memories was of the furniture in my grandmother's upstairs sitting room, which had arms that looked like they ended in hands--something that creeped me out to no end; amidst the quiet clicking of the grandfather clock and the ticking floor register of the gas furnace, I imagined turning my back for just a moment and then finding the antique chair had come up to grab me from behind.

Mr. Parker poses on the chair, before our work beganSeveral years ago, my aunt Mae had taken the sitting room furniture off when my aunt Marian wanted to redo the room; Aunt Mae never got around to having the chair and couch reupholstered, though, and recently, she offered them to Beth and me. As the wood itself was in great shape (particularly given the furniture is at least 100 years old), we decided to do the upholstery ourselves. Above, you can see the "before" shot, with Mr. Parker, enjoying the ratty old fabric. Aunt Mae must have tossed the cushions at some point (probably just as well, given the state of the fabric underneath).

Didi is impressed by the new foundation for the chair's seat.After a lengthy, hot afternoon pulling out dozens of upholstery tacks, Beth and I finally got all the old fabric off, and the springs removed. To make things simpler, I used the table saw to cut a base platform to replace the springs; above, you can see that Didi quite approves of the chair which will soon be added to our library.

The chair's new cushion: 3 inches of standard foam plus 1 inch of memory foamA couple of years ago, I repaired one of our antique kitchen chairs after its seat broke; in the process, I removed the old cushioning and replaced it with memory foam, making it the envy of the dining room table. Taking similar inspiration for the antique claw-armed chair, Beth and I cut a block of 3" thick standard foam, topped with an inch of memory foam padding from an old bed pillow top we'd quit using; a bit of foam glue pieced the layers together nicely.

I covered the cushion with the same velvet I used on our repaired dining room chair (we'd bought the entire bolt of the stuff when the Vienna location of Hancock Fabrics went out of business a couple of years back). Now, we need to sew the back cushion and do a bit of trim work to finish things off; more on that when we're done.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Is There Always a "Middle Ground?"

I frequently hear statements to the effect that "extremists" or their views are dangerous and harmful regardless of the source. We've come to the point where to sit toward any pole is seen as a fault, that the "middle ground" (however artificial it may be) is the path to take.

But are some extremes actually manufactured? Is there in fact any value in embracing the "middle road" of the "moderate" view when a particular extreme position is in fact not representative of reality? If I'm a savvy PR spinmeister looking to steer an issue, couldn't I just craft a position which is such an extreme that it moves the middle ground toward the side of the issue I want--or in so doing create a "debate" where none really exists?

Suppose, for example, we take the "view" that the sky is blue and construct an opposing view that it is in fact "red," and that everyone who insists otherwise is wrong, and furthermore either is in on or has been duped by a vast conspiracy. There is no real middle ground here; those who dogmatically insist the sky is indeed blue and that anyone thinking otherwise is delusional are correct, no matter how "extreme" their view lies on the spectrum (no pun intended!) of the sky hue "debate."

While my example above is a bit silly and simplistic, it directly parallels the masterfully-successful efforts of those with a vested interest in doing nothing about global warming.

Conservatives have, to a largely successful degree, continued (if not outright manufactured) the "debate" about mankind's role global climate change--at least amongst policymakers and the general public. While one or two dissenting scientists are paraded out by the scions of James Watt (incidentally, has Wyoming ever contributed a good politician to the national scene?) as "proof" of a controversy, the vast majority of professionals who study climate change for a living agree that there is really no debate to be had. Yet those "tree-hugging, granola-eating, America-hating leftist environmentalists" somehow "need to compromise" based on this non-existent, manufactured middle ground. The PR men in the employ of the carbon industry have successfully crafted a "controversy" and "debate" by simply staking out the opposite (and often extreme) position--without a lick of real climate science on their side!

Likewise, creationists (and their monkeys-in-tuxedos cousins the (un)intelligent designers) have tried for years to cast the scientists and "believers" of evolutionary theory as extremists in opposition to their own lunatic fringe position. If you categorically rule out creationism and stick dogmatically to the well-supported (and all-but-proven) "theory" of evolution, you're an "extremist"; as such, they've created a false-moderate position of "teaching the controversy" or "including all the alternatives." Yet this middle ground is anything but; conceding ground from science to accept that there is even a serious debate at all is to play right into the creationists' hands.

Then there's the notion of the "extremes" of science and religion--which although neither science nor religion are "artificial" are not truly endpoints of a linear spectrum, but perhaps rather nearly orthogonal lines in a plane. Based on the incorrect assumption of setting the two on a single line, we're treated to another false middle ground.

I'm generally a fan of Chris Mooney's work, but in his collaborative effort Unscientific America, he makes a case that scientists need to do more to embrace that middle ground (particularly in the area of the science/religion debate), condemning as hurtful to the cause of science the so-called "new atheists" (folks like biologist Richard Dawkins, philosopher and social scientist Daniel Dennett, etc.). In addition to the fact that science and religion are not diametrical, exclusionary extremes on a single linear scale, I think that here Mooney and his coauthor Sheril Kirshenbaum are erring in letting PR and the "spin" of a publicly controversial issue redefine the legitimately moderate position.

The notion that there must be some middle ground between theists and atheists--not so much on the notion of theism itself, mind you, but on how the two frame their debate--is not really compatible with either side of the debate at hand, nor, I would argue, does it significantly play a role in issues of science, like global warming and evolutionary theory. I suppose these issues are "atheistic" in that neither invokes nor requires a notion of the divine--but that's science. that god (or God, if you wish) is left out of the equation is not creating an extreme position at all, nor is there a need for some middle ground which incorporates theism in science simply for the sake of appeasement.

However, the converse is not necessarily true, as the Mooney-lamented Dan Dennett points out very well in Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon: there are indeed aspects of religion which are quite suitable for scientific inquiry--this largely contradicts the "separate magisteria" overture of palms by the late Stephen Jay Gould to theists, where the much-derided-by-creationists biologist claimed science has nothing to say about religion and vice-versa. (I agree with him on the latter, but that's a point for a different blog post and certainly violates the spirit of his gesture.) I suppose this is one case where there is indeed a real middle ground, in that science can certainly make scientific claims about aspects of religion, which Gould held out as untouchable in a failed attempt at (and inspiration for) Mooney's suggestion that scientists come across as not threatening religion.