Sam Singleton in Philadelphia October 3rd September 30, 2012Posted by shaunphilly in Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: atheist evangelist, Sam Singleton
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My friend, Brother Sam Singleton, will be bringing his revival tent (metaphorically speaking) to Philadelphia this week. So, this Wednesday, at 8pm on North Second Street (near the bars of the trendy Northern Liberties neighborhood of Philly), I should be seeing you!
If you don’t know about Sam, you should. He has a wonderful show, and is always up for a beer or two after the show, so you don’t want to miss this. He does two kinds of shows, one which is called Patriarchs and Penises (which I have seen and is hilarious) and his mock revival, which has the look and feel of an old time Christian revival, only funnier and with more “God damns” thrown in for the sake of making baby Jesus cry.
I already have my tickets, and so I will certainly be there. I hope we get a full house, so bring all your friends!
For more information about Sam and his upcoming tour schedule, check out SamSingleton.com.
Here’s a bit of Sam to chew on in the meantime.
Where in the world is Shaun McGonigal this evening? September 28, 2012Posted by shaunphilly in Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: Candidate Without Prayer, Ethical Society of Philadelphia, Herb Silverman, politics, religion
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Seeing Herb Silverman speak in Philadelphia, of course!
Herb has a new book out called Candidate Without a Prayer, and he will be speaking about it this evening in Philadelphia at the Ethical Humanist Society at Rittenhouse Square at 7:00, as well as at the PA atheist conference this weekend in Harrisburg.
Since I am unable to make the conference this weekend, I wanted to at least get a chance to partake in some of the weekend fun by hopping on PATCO and strolling over to Rittenhouse Square (a place I like to sit and read anyway) and catch Herb Silverman speak with some like-minded people.
If you are in the Philadelphia area this evening and want to stop in as well, then I may see you.
If you don’t live in the area or you have other plans (what else could you be doing on a Friday evening?), then you could at least check out the new book, about his life, including an unsuccessful run for office in South Carolina. Here’s the blurb from Amazon:
In this deeply revealing and engaging autobiography, Herb Silverman tells his iconoclastic life story. He takes the reader from his childhood as an Orthodox Jew in Philadelphia, where he stopped fasting on Yom Kippur to test God’s existence, to his adult life in the heart of the Bible Belt, where he became a legendary figure within America’s secular activist community and remains one of its most beloved leaders. Never one to shy from controversy, Silverman relates many of his high-profile battles with the Religious Right, including his decision to run for governor of South Carolina to challenge the state’s constitutional provision that prohibited atheists from holding public office. Candidate Without a Prayer offers an intimate portrait of a central player in today’s increasingly heated culture wars. It will be sure to charm both believers and nonbelievers alike, and will lead all those who care about the separation of church and state to give thanks.
I hope to see some of my atheist friends tonight, and I hope that everyone enjoys their weekend!
Provisionality, Offense, and Conviction September 27, 2012Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: blasphemy, Islam, mockery, offense, politics, sacred cows
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I was just reading a short post by Tristan D. Vick about the difference between beliefs and assumptions, and it got me thinking about conviction and offense.
Last week, Ginny and I were talking about offense. I’m not easily offended, and we were talking about why that is. Part of the reason, I concluded, is that I don’t have many things I find to be sacred; I don’t have ideas which are beyond criticism, unavailable for investigation, or held with great conviction. I am bereft of sacred cows to tip over, or something.
My beliefs, accepted facts, and interpretations—in short my worldview—is tentative and provisional, just as Tristan says about his beliefs. Thus, it’s hard to find ways to offend me because it would imply that some harm is being done to me to challenge or question something I believe. Since I have already questioned my beliefs (ideally, anyway) on my own, someone else challenging them is redundant and not harmful. Thus and form of poking fun, mocking, or calling my ideas stupid or silly in itself cannot offend me. I can be annoyed by poor attempts at criticism, but I cannot be offended by things which are not held with conviction.
So when I see people in the streets of Benghazi, Egypt, or elsewhere protesting the insult to their religion, I have trouble sympathizing with the offense they take. I can’t sympathize with having a sacred belief which cannot be mocked, questioned, or even illustrated. I find the idea that offense is taken by such mild acts as making a shitty video, drawing a picture of some guy who is believed to be a prophet, or simply saying that a set of beliefs is silly or unjustified as, well, offensive.
That is, if there is anything sacred to me, it is the freedom of expression, thought, and therefore of criticism. My ideal that ideas are subject to analysis and discussion is an idea which I don’t think I could be convinced out of. I am convicted to the idea of freedom of expression, and so the only way to offend me would be to protest such freedoms based on an idea or set of ideas.
And for someone to point of an inconsistency here; to say that I should hold the ideal of freedom of expression provisionally, seems to commit the same error as those who try to criticize what is sometimes called scientism, but which I think is better thought of as consistency in application of skepticism. That is, there must be some ground upon which we found other ideas and conclusions. For example, if we don’t accept that our senses are capable of giving us reliable (although not infallible) information, we cannot claim certainty about anything. If we don’t have some methodological basis for testing ideas (such as skepticism/empiricism), then we cannot test the veracity of hypotheses with any reliability. If we do not allow free expression free reign to all subjects, then we have no real (legal) freedom to believe what we want, because it becomes to easy to allow bias to inform which ideas are given privilege.
But most importantly, the only means to question the idea of free expression is with free expression. It is a self-founding idea, or a meta-value.
Finding offense in criticism, whether of ideas you hold or which are held by others, is a sign of placing value on the wrong thing. There is no good reason to accommodate sets of ideas over the ability to question those ideas. The meta-value of our world, our species, and of all sentient beings should be the freedom of expression of all ideas. Privileging a set of ideas, even if those ideas are right, is absurd. True ideas will survive the light of criticism, and do not need sanctions to survive. The truth, as Kosh once said, points to itself.
I have no fear of my ideas being questioned, mocked, etc. If they are good ideas, they will survive. If they are bad ideas, they will be replaced by argumentation whether in the form of polite discussion or mockery. The question I have for people who are easily offended, for their own sake or the sake of others, is where your values are? You can be sympathetic with the hurt feelings people have about having their ideas mocked, but at the end of the day if their ideas cannot survive that mockery, or even polite questioning, then perhaps that sympathy needs to be understood to be about their feelings, not their ideas.
There is a point when we have to take responsibility for our ideas, rather than coddle them. Ideas are not people, and they cannot be injured. Ideas are either good (justified) or not (unjustified). And if you are hurt because your ideas are mocked, then you are either protecting an unjustified idea or one that does not need protection.
Just like gods (if they are to exist), ideas cannot be harmed by our criticism, mockery, or polite disagreement. There is no reason to protect such ideas or beings, except to protect the fact that they are bad ideas and free expression might expose such a weakness.
Oh! That explains it now, doesn’t it?
If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em September 26, 2012Posted by Gina in Skepticism and atheism.
Yesterday I wrote a post about the insidious nature of sexism in the workplace. Then, based on a bit of positive response to it, I decided to post it on Reddit (in their Feminism subreddit). I would call this a mistake, but putting things on Reddit to share with a wider more targeted audience isn’t a mistake.
The mistake for me is ALWAYS going and see what people thought about it. As has happened before, I posted something and was judged rather harshly about my interpretation of events. Basically, according to four anonymous people on the internet, I am a fool for going to a sports bar with people I don’t like and finding that I dislike the people and the subject of sports. There was more, but you can go read the comments for yourself. I shouldn’t have, except that they have managed to get the wheels in my brain turning now that the fog of self doubt has begun to lift.
It’s not actually a big deal in any rational sense, but I am a pretty sensitive person and I question myself very easily. Upon reading these things, I immediately thought that I had completely overreacted, that it was indeed my fault for being in the situation, and that yes, I suppose it is the price I have to pay to play with the boys.
Does any of this sound familiar?
It’s true. It was my fault for going to lunch with these guys. When talking about where we should go, the place we went was called an Irish Pub by the person who recommended it, but yeah, I should have asked if it was a sports bar and then upon finding out that it was a sports bar, I should have either protested, not gone, or should have pretended to be interested…or simply be quiet (please note, I did do the last two things, like a good little girl). And if I was being ignored, it’s because I didn’t have anything to contribute worth listening to. I can’t expect to be listened to if I’m not saying anything of note. And if my political comments were misunderstood and used instead to comment about how hot conservatives on Fox News are, then, well, I shouldn’t be pushing my political agenda on anyone. I should just listen to the conservative boys and suck it up.
Of course, I can’t really blame them. I didn’t put a ton of background into the post about things I have endured over the past several years…things I just sucked it up and dealt with to be an agreeable cog in this particular machine. It was suggested that my dramatization of what conversation might have happened had I not been there was ungenerous and simply showed my extreme dislike for these people. Well, sure, I guess it could look that way…but I have walked in on conversations like that when they didn’t think I could hear. I have very good hearing, and have listened to countless homophobic references, racist remarks, and watched as visiting female salesmen from other companies have been objectified by boys looking out windows.
What I also didn’t say was that this was a professional situation. And in careers like mine, if you want to really get ahead, you have to make your mark. Here this meant that I not only had to look good in the technical meeting, but I also had to either not go to lunch and be less visible by management and customers, or go where ever they wanted and…suck it up. There is a fight happening everyday for women everywhere to be respected and accepted as professional equals in the workplace. What some people don’t seem to understand is that part of being a successful professional is feeling comfortable socially with coworkers and customers.
And then there is a big difference in how you are accepted. One way to be accepted is to be quiet and docile. No one knows a thing about you that way, but they also don’t have a problem with you. By being this way, everyone feels comfortable with you being around. There is comfort in that, for sure.
Another way to be accepted is to become one of the guys. For me here this means being insensitive, mimicking their sense of humor, being bawdy and inappropriate.
Both of these methods of acceptance don’t really work for me. The easiest times I’ve had is when I’ve been at work/social functions and have gotten tipsy with people and not minded the flirtation or ridiculous sexual comments (not usually aimed at me). Instead of continuing to employ either of these strategies, over the last couple of years I have just tried to show more of who I am. I am funny, confident, and dynamic…but am also separate from absolutely everyone. I get along with everyone, but am just a little too this side of weird to really connect. I am not a recluse, but I do not have friends.
But really, this whole thing got me thinking a lot about entitlement, privilege, and the hoops we jump through in life to get what we want. My story yesterday was one with a feminist theme, but was my story special? Is my being female, and a female of strange persuasions the same as anyone with an anxiety disorder or odd interests or whatever else makes you different from the norm? Am I being rejected solely because of my personality and should I just suck it up and deal with the fact that my personality is getting in the way of my being accepted and respected truly? A man with bad social skills probably can’t become CEO easily either.
I can’t tell anymore. When you mention a realization about how you are treated differently because of sex, a lot of people want to immediately label you as oversensitive and just plain wrong. It starts to feel like the fact of being female is a disease or disorder that needs to be treated with self denial. I used to be one of those people, but as I said yesterday, once you see the way sexism colors everything, you can’t really un-see it. My post yesterday wasn’t about hating football. It was about not being valued as part of a group. That is what it’s like to be a woman in a man’s world. Sure, if I loved football I would have been able to throw more comments in, but I did try (because I do like football and watch it and know enough to be part of a conversation) and when I said it, it was ignored, but when a man said it, it was brilliant. But sure, that was my fault for not being brilliant enough. I didn’t have the right statistic at the tip of my tongue. I didn’t have the right nasty name to call one of the coaches. It was my fault I wasn’t having a good time and for being wrong.
Yes, it was just a shitty lunch period, but are people so far removed from what is often going on in these settings to see the real reason it was shitty? It wasn’t shitty because I was bored (I get bored when people talk incessantly about art too, but I don’t end up having a philosophical/cultural crisis at the end…usually). It was shitty because I didn’t matter and I didn’t matter because I wasn’t a boy. You can accuse me of reading too much into this because it hasn’t happened to you or because you deal with shit everyday and you don’t write blog posts about it. I am very happy that these things don’t happen to everyone or that they don’t bother everyone. Why would I wish that on anyone ever? But I do see, and it does happen, and I do blog. I am a voice that should exist.
Anyway, here’s a picture of baby badgers, because I shouldn’t take myself so seriously and shouldn’t hate the entire internet. I mean, I found this picture on the internet, so how could it possibly be so bad?
Once You See it, You Can’t Un-See it. September 25, 2012Posted by Gina in Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: woman in science
I just went to lunch with a group of white dudes. We went to a local sports bar, and as such there were multiple televisions on broadcasting various sports channels like ESPN and, I assume, ESPN 8: The Ocho.
Background for those of you who have somehow missed this: I am a woman in science with liberal politics. I let people here know just enough about me so that they know I’m strange, but I don’t let them know specifically how strange.
I have been in the world of science for 10 years at this point and, as I have mentioned before, due to my accommodating nature and a great deal of luck, I have been able to integrate into the culture without experiencing the blatant issues that are often cited by women attempting to work in men’s fields. What does this mean? I keep a great deal about me to myself. I let a lot of things slide (I pick my battles). I am generally not particularly excited about going to work because I don’t really have any friends here.
According to the televisions, there was a bad call last night in the Packers game. Because of the current Scab Ref Situation, everyone is up in arms about how stupid these people are and can’t apparently shut up about it. The replay was broadcast every 5 minutes. Luckily, the sound was off so I got to listen to both of Fun’s singles at high volume while watching various people scream silently about the idiocy of the officials.
I guess this matters to Green Bay or something. Also it matters if you’re a real red blooded American man! Apparently! The people at my table felt it necessary to talk about the call every time it was replayed on tv, while also making fun of how much coverage there was. When there wasn’t something about that playing, no one seemed to have any idea what to talk about. My guess is that if I wasn’t there, they wouldn’t have opted to talk about how much they like sluts. I expect the conversation would have gone something like this:
Dude #1: Man, my wife is such a pain in the ass.
Dude #2: Well, you know, ALL wives are pains in the ass. Why did we get married, amirite?”
Dude #3: I hear ya. You know what I could really go for? Some sluts.
All: We love sluts! Until they start wanting to talk and shit. Then we don’t like them anymore. Yeah.
This was the thought I was having as I watched them incessantly talk about sports. I attempted to change the subject, but my comments were generally ignored. My sense of humor is a bit too sarcastic and dry I think and my mentions of nerdy things were met with “Oh, you’re one of those…” faces. They were talking about building bars in their homes and I said we already have that, and now it’s covered in Star Trek memorabilia. I then quickly reminded them that I wear a labcoat for a living and we all moved on.
At some point, a female broadcaster came onto ESPN to, seemingly, listen to the man broadcaster say brilliant things about the blown call in the Packers game. She was quite pretty. This inspired them to talk about how Fox News has really attractive female meteorologists.
Dude #1: Every woman on Fox News is hot.
Dude #2: Yeah…looks like another thing conservatives got right, ey? Heh heh heh.
Me: You know, there are a lot of foxy liberals out there, guys.
Dude #1: WHO? Name ONE!
I raised my hand and then said, “Also, most of Hollywood.”
Dude #1: People in Hollywood aren’t liberals. They’re SOCIALIST COMMUNISTS!”
Then Rob changed the subject, which was probably a good idea because I was dangerously close to a Romney AND misogyny rant.
I am tired of this. I am tired of being minimized because I’m not really one of the boys and because I don’t believe you are worthless just because you need help. While there is a certainly fun side to being the weird one, it also gets exhausting educating people that there is a huge world outside of their narrow perceptions and experience. It is exhausting not to have any kind of kinship with these people.
It’s hard to be the woman at the table listening to a bunch of guys talk about football and worry about how you seem to them. Do I look uncomfortable? Do I look bored? If you look bored, you’re a typical woman. If you look uncomfortable, you’re the cunt that’s going to start trouble.
Or are they looking at me at all? Do I exist at this table? Is the answer no? Is that the worst part of all of this? I just sat in a conference room and OWNED the room with my knowledge and expertise. Is my confidence useful for getting the sale, but worthy of being ignored or scorned when the sale has been secured?
I have explained privilege to people like this before…the privilege that makes people think that women are whining about nothing since sexism, like racism, isn’t a thing anymore. I mean, I’m a chemist. What more evidence of everything being equal and perfect can there be?
Also, if it snows in January, global warming is horse shit.
I have explained it and no one gets it, but if they observed lunch, maybe they would start to get an idea.
Also, what game were those Scab Refs watching, hmm? Can I get a hell yeah?
Yeah, I don’t fucking care either.
In response to the Monogamous Bisexual September 24, 2012Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
Tags: bisexuality, Dan Fincke, Eponymous Fliponymous
I am watching this video put up by Dan Fincke, which is a discussion about bisexuality amoung other things, and I am particularly interested in the point made by Eponymous Fliponymous about being monogamous and bisexual. When I first saw the post about this issue a few days ago, I was unable to write anything because I was out of state and I subsequently got distracted by other things (ie Guild Wars 2) and forgot about writing about this.
Eponymous Fliponymous (henceforth Patrick) makes some good points, and I don’t think we would disagree too much, but I want to address something he said in the conversation that irked me a little bit. But first, let’s cover what is being discussed in context. From the post:
Several of the myths about bisexuality come from the common root that we are defined by our partners. This misconception is a direct cause of bisexual invisibility, and is frequently compounded into erasure. The common myths that come directly or indirectly from this include
1) Bisexuals are incapable of monogamy – they will cheat on you with another gender, can’t be satisfied with one partner, aren’t really bisexual if they aren’t polyamorous.
2) Bisexuality is a transitional phase rather than a stable identity – bi now, gay later.
And this is, of course, true. To be bisexual does not imply that one would have to be polyamorous. I would guess that many bisexual people are monamorous, if not monogamous, and it is true (as Patrick says) that it is harder to visibly be bisexual when in a relationship with one person; you appear as either heterosexual or homosexual in most circumstances. Thus, many people would have trouble understanding what it means to be bisexual if you are not doing some sort of non-monogamy, since people do assume that our sexual orientation implies something about who we date, and monogamy certainly does cut out about half the population for bisexual people. What I want to address, today, is why this question does not make any sense for more than the reasons that Patrick adeptly dealt with. Because while he is dead on correct that you can be monogamous and be bisexual, I think the question still remains how this is different than asking how anyone can be monogamous even while heterosexual or homosexual.
Before we get to making that point, however, let me acknowledge that Patrick is not dealing with polyamory directly in his post.
Polyamorous bisexuals would seem to be able to make their bisexuality more visible. This is debatable, because what they make visible by walking down the street tends to be myths about polyamory rather than about bisexuality. In any case, polyamory isn’t my subject here. I leave that to the polyamorous, who while they certainly represent a significant segment of the LGBT population, don’t by any means represent everybody.
Very well, so here I am. And while I define myself as heterosexual, I am close with people who are queer, trans, etc and so I know the LGBT community fairly well. In any case, I am glad to hear that Patrick made an attempt at polyamory, but did not find it suited him.
In those early heady days of blooming sexuality, I experimented with polyamorous options, but quickly found that was not the path that works for me. On an emotional and romantic level, monogamy suits me best. I’m one of those people who wants the intimacy and mutual trust that I can best develop in a dyadic relationship.
Now, I have some questions about what he means when he says that monogamy suits him emotionally and romantically. I have an idea that very few people actually desire monogamy per se, but rather don’t prefer to exert the effort it takes to be polyamorous due to constraints of time, inclination, or emotional insecurities (jealousy, for example). But I will let that go and trust him at his word that he has given this question thought and has made a rational choice. What I will say is I think it is a myth that a dyadic relationship allows intimacy and mutual trust that a polyamorous arrangement cannot. Perhaps Patrick (and many others) cannot develop that level of intimacy with two people, but that does not make it inherently impossible. (I know that was not what he said, but I wanted to address this myth about polyamory).
Again, I’m glad we have more allies out there.
Nothing against polyamory – if it works for you, it works for you, and I’m the last person to judge you for it, whether your polyamory expresses itself as multiple dyads, a triad, a group arrangement with or without in-group exclusivity, gay, straight, or bi, it just doesn’t bother me. The only reason I bring it up is that while I have (ultimately unsuccessful) polyamory in my history, it doesn’t make me poly.
Agreed. And the rest of the post is a good assessment of the myths associated with bisexuality.
So where is my issue?
Watch the segment of this video from about 11:30 to about the 13 minute mark. There is more relevant discussion beyond that (say, until around minute 16 or so), but that’s the essential part I want to address.
Dan Fincke is asking Patrick about whether there is something missing in being monogamous, in that there is a large segment of the population he’s attracted to which he does not have an outlet for. He’s essentially being asked if he misses men in his sexual and romantic life. Patrick’s response is to draw an analogy between hair color and gender. He basically says that in the same way that his wife has brown hair, and he likes red heads, he isn’t going around lamenting the lack of red heads in his life. This might seem to be a good point, at first glance, but let me address why I think it fails to make the point I think it sets out to make.
One of the reasons I am polyamorous is because I want to be authentic with the range of my sexuality. And the simple fact is that I like women of various personalities, physical attributes, etc. That is, I like red heads and I like brunettes. As well as black hair. Not so much blondes, historically. I like petite curvy women. I like tallish skinny girls. I like other body-types as well, but the point is that I am interested in relationships, whether sexual, romantic, or friendships, with people of various kinds. The point is that I recognize the reality that I am attracted to people, almost always women but sometimes those who gender-bend catch my interest as well, of varying shapes, sizes, and brains. And I don’t understand why it is considered better to choose one person to be with, since that is the case.
So, Patrick’s analogy not only fell flat for me, but it seems to actually backfire from my perspective. Patrick being bisexual, at least in the context of this question about polyamory, is equally as relevant as my being attracted to many women, so I am confused how this point he makes is supposed to make any point at all. The same problem which needs to be addressed by monogamous heterosexual or homosexual people about why they choose monoamory is equally as relevant as with bisexuals.
That is, the issue with polyamory is no more relevant for bisexuals than it is for anyone else, since whether one is bisexual or not, people are actually interested in more than one person sexually and romantically. (I’ll grant that some very small segment of people may be interested in nobody, and some larger, but also small segment, genuinely interested in only one person, but the overwhelming majority, I’d wager, are potentially polyamorous in inclination at least). The question, therefore, is not how a bisexual person can be monoamorous and still really be bisexual any more than how any person of any orientation can be monoamorous and really be authentically, fully, sexual.
If (as is the thinking behind the question posed by Dan in the video) a bisexual man, married to a woman, is cutting himself off from part of his sexuality by not being with men, then not only is he also cutting himself off from other women besides his wife, but so is every other heterosexual or bisexual married man in the same situation. If it’s a problem for bisexuals, then it is a problem for anyone who is attracted, whether romantically and/or sexually, to more than one person. Because yes, Patrick may desire sex and/or romance with men, but this is no more to the point than a heterosexual person is capable of sexual and romantic interest in two or more people. Patrick is in the same exact circumstance as any other monoamorous person, in terms of polyamory. His bisexuality does not make him more relevant to non-monogamy. The question of if we are cutting off our sexuality is true for all people who do not choose non-monogamy.
So, I agree with Patrick that this myth about bisexuality and non-monogamy is something which needs to be addressed. I was just somewhat interested in his analogy, since it does not solve the problem so much as it misses another one; why not polyamory?
I know many people are not interested in the work it takes to be successfully polyamorous, but at bottom the same question applies to everyone as it does to bisexual people; if you are attracted to more than one (type of) person (irregardless of their genders), then why wouldn’t you want to do the work to be able to love (or lust openly for) all the people you desire, as you actually desire them, rather than arbitrarily cut yourself off from sex, romance, etc?
I understand if you don’t actually have the time or inclination to do such work, but otherwise why be so conservative sexually and romantically?
Another Atheist Arrested. Sign This Petition! September 18, 2012Posted by shaunphilly in Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: atheist arrested, petition
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http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/Skepchick/~3/Xe8cknun7jo/ I signed the Alexander Aan petition, and I just signed this one. How is it I post more on vacation?
Please, please, please read this post. September 18, 2012Posted by shaunphilly in Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: atheist, charity, chase
1 comment so far
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wwjtd/2012/09/please-please-please-read-this-post/ I’m in North Carolina for a wedding and mimi-vacation. I have no reason to believe that anyone who reads this blog would not already know about this. But in the very small set of universes where I might get some more votes for some organizations I urge support for, in order to get them some more funding, I post this. Shaun
Science & Songwriting: Is it Brilliant or Did They Miss the Point September 18, 2012Posted by Gina in Skepticism and atheism.
1 comment so far
As you may have figured out, I am a giant nerd. I am also a songwriter. My nerdiness certainly influences my songwriting. This is especially evident in my choice of subjects to write about. I write rock songs that reference the Pied Piper and the Bubonic Plague, the Russian space program, Super Mario Brothers, countless references to the Apocalypse, happiness and love from a prehistoric anthropological standpoint, and the role of feminism during the Prohibition Era. However, though I am a scientist by trade, I have yet to really make blatant reference to scientific concepts in my songs.
A lot of this is because I don’t like to be obvious in my lyrics. I can understand that back in the early days of rock (and the folk music that was around at the same time), it was revolutionary to say things just as they are. Perhaps when Barry McGuire first sang “Eve of Destruction,” people were all like, “Far out! I didn’t believe that we were on the eve of destruction, but when your blood’s so mad it feels like coagulatin’ and the goverment ain’t legislatin’, how can it be denied?!?” Sure, I poke fun at this, but there was a time when this was not an OK thing to do and cryptic lyrics went by the wayside so that teenagers could express their outrage more efficiently.
There’s still a place for that, and if it’s done well (meaning you write something because you have something original or powerful to say about the situation), I like it. But most of the time obvious lyrics just seem boring to me and so I avoid it for my own writing. I extend this to obvious scientific references too. I’m not going to mention Schrodinger and his cat unless they provide the perfect picture for what I’m saying in a greater context. In short, I’m never going to just write a song about Schrodinger’s cat. It would be much more likely for me to say quickly in a description of a snapshot in time something like “Erwin and a lion enter the room with uncertainty”.
Perhaps I shouldn’t deconstruct my songwriting for you here. Then you’ll know all my tricks. Damn it!
It might have occurred to you that I am pretty critical of lyrics. I am, in certain contexts. Really, it’s that I am critical of lyrics written by singer songwriters. I don’t expect brilliance when I turn on most popular radio stations. Pop has all kinds of other stuff going for it, like catchy beats and melodies that get trapped in your head, and subjects and lyrics you don’t really have to think about. But when I turn on NPR or WXPN and hear a whole slew of people singing about nothing and begging me to ask the question, “Why on Earth do I care what you have to say about this and why the fuck are you on the radio?!?”, I just get annoyed.
That said, I really love picking apart pop lyrics. When driving home, I often turn on Q102 (our local Top 40 station) to see what the kids are listening to. In addition, it’s because I honestly like some of it. That’s where you can hear Lady Gaga, for instance, and since I will generally dance to anything that has a good beat (Peter described me the other day as “shameless” in this regard…I think it’s good to be shameless sometimes, ey?), I really can’t say “I hate pop music”. It serves a purpose. If the Bee Gees are fun, so is Ke$ha. Also, there is a true talent to putting out pop hits. I have often thought while listening to something I have deemed mindless on the radio, “Man, why aren’t I getting paid?” Well, the answer is that I simply don’t write things that are accessible to the masses. And I’m not saying this to say “Oh, I’m just so much smarter and more interesting than most people, that they just can’t understand my music”, like it’s some kind of personal compliment. I mean that my stuff takes a few listens before it sinks in. It doesn’t usually have immediate appeal…not in a way that would make me millions. A song sounding simple doesn’t mean that anyone can write it or arrange it. You have to understand something about mass appeal, and that is certainly an area of expertise that I lack.
Of course, very little of this has to do with the stars that are the face and supposed voice of the songs. Most of the stars on the Top 40 station are pretty manufactured. Peter and I were talking about the production process for people like Rihanna and it was impressive to hear him deconstruct what goes into it. Basically, you can take anyone that you want to make a star and have them show up for a day and hack their way through some singing…and then run everything through several pieces of software and, Voila! A hit is born. What I didn’t know is that they do this to every instrument, everything involved. In the stadium sellout, ginormous production value world, you are paying for the computers, the hot bodies of the performers, and the set builders, lighting designers, and pyrotechnic people.
I don’t think I have a problem with that. As I said, that all in and of itself is art and it creates a product that people want. So what if you are less talented than someone else. Do you put on a good show? Well, good. The internet makes it so there’s all kinds of music going on with various levels of production and “reality”.
As the stars tend to be pretty manufactured, they have their songs often written for them…I think. I don’t have any really statistics about that, but I’m pretty sure most of these peoples’ jobs is to stay in shape and to be controversial and provocative. So I get really amused when I hear lyrics that I categorize as either completely brilliant or completely idiotic, depending on how you interpret them.
Take, for instance, Calvin Harris’ “I Feel So Close to You”. This is pretty much a techno dance song kind of thing I guess, but still, they take the time to have someone say something that is supposed to be romantic…when you’re getting ground on in a dance club somewhere. Behold the ongoing verse:
I feel so close to you right now,
It’s a force field.
I wear my heart upon my sleeve,
Like it’s a big deal.
Your love pours down on me,
Like a waterfall.
And there’s no stopping us right now.
I feel so close to you right now.
So, sure, pretty unimpressive and cliche. But I want to direct you to the very first line in the song: I feel so close to you right now. It’s a force field.
OK, so here’s the fucking brilliant interpretation of this concept:
The love the singer and the subject of his adoration have brings them so close that there is a repulsion between them that keeps them from truly being together. This is a situation made more tragic by the fact that the singer is completely vulnerable about his feelings and yet, there’s a force field stopping it from mattering. And yet, despite the invisible barrier between them, the world continues to turn and the barrier is only between them and any real connection…not between them and the rest of life. A pair of star crossed companions moving forward in parallel path to a similar destination. Hence there is no stopping them right now. Once they reach the destination, perhaps all this will come crashing down…but right now, the Angstrom of distance means little as long as the closeness is intact.
And…and…just disregard the line about the waterfall. I, er, I don’t have anything brilliant to say about that.
This is kind of interesting, right? I mean, people sing about unrequited love all the time, but this is a somewhat original way to talk about it!
What? You think I’m perhaps reading too much into this dumb song? Ah, well no worries. I have also developed the Make a Buck with Bad Songwriting interpretation:
By force field, the singer simply means “there’s an impressive force between us”. Aaaaand the rest of it is just drivel.
There, are you happy now? How depressing is that? Here I am trying to find some meaning in this life and you just have to nay say and…and…
*Cue catchy chord progression and dance beat*
“Yeah! This song is awesome!” She says as she climbs on the nearest sturdy table to “get down”.
Another example is a song that was more popular on 104.5 (our local…”alternative” station? Is that still a thing?), Civil Twilight’s “Letters from the Sky”. It has pretty arrangement. There’s a string section and synthesizers and such (I think) and there’s this lyric:
One day soon, I’ll hold you like the sun holds the moon.
And we will hear those planes overhead.
And we won’t be afraid.
Brilliant interpretation: Much like the gravitational force that keeps celestial bodies safely in orbit around each other, the singer will keep his loved on safe and protected from destruction, but always at a great distance. If they were to allow themselves to touch, it would mean that everything around them would crash and burn and everything that they know would be gone. It would be an end of everything, resulting in the quiet before a new beginning. Vigilant, the singer and the object of his love sit distanced apart watching the onslaught of man made destroyers. They do not fear them because their distance holds the key to actual safety and the reality of what would happen if they were to break this distance is far more terrifying than anything that a modern military has.
Shaun also pointed out that this could be interpreted as a nod to polyamory, because you really have to involve the Earth in this, making one big celestial triad. The relationship between the sun and moon is not exactly direct. The moon is held in orbit around the Earth due to Earth’s gravitational force, and the sun holds them both in orbit for the same reason. So, much like how we are not islands and our relationships affect each other, the influence of the various celestial bodies on each other can’t be denied, nor is it preferred for any of them not to be involved.
I think that’s what he was talking about. I admit that I was on my second mojito by the time we were talking about this at dinner and I also had a mental breakdown at work that day (which resulted in a lot of me stomping around and laughing maniacally), so my comprehension should be held in question. All I remember is saying, “Ah! YES! That’s ALSO brilliant!”
And then Wes said, “You know, neither of those interpretations is particularly brilliant.”
To which I said something like, “BE THAT AS IT MAY! It is more brilliant than…”
This, more likely, interpretation: The singer will hold onto the object of his love really tight and no one has to be scared when there’s an unwavering hug happening. Or something.
I am sure as I listen to more popular music I will find more instances of using science as metaphors and similes in dumb songs and will probably talk about them, because that’s fun for me. Do you have examples of your own?
Adventures in Therapy – Episode One: The Phantom Waiting Room September 17, 2012Posted by Gina in Culture and Society.
Today I took the day off from work to go get a check-up (which was free! Thanks, Obama!) and also to go to my long awaited First Therapy Appointment. At the time that I made it, I was in a pretty low state and that state had continued for a couple of weeks. I was starting to feel hopeless waiting for the session because I wanted to feel empowered again. Luckily for me, I talk to my friends and family about my craziness a lot and they are awesome and like to help when they can. Kelly sent me a link to MoodGYM, which helps with anxiety and negative, destructive thinking by applying concepts of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It’s an amazing (and free) program that has really, really helped me. I’m not done the whole program yet, but just in the week I’ve been trying it out and doing the various suggested exercises, I really feel like myself again. The program seems to be tailored to my exact issues and I am incredibly thankful for it. If you have felt like you identify with me when I talk about the kind of things I struggle with on a daily basis, I recommend checking it out!
I was especially happy that I found it today when I went to my therapy appointment and had an experience that was almost enough to make believe it omens.
As I said, I made the appointment a month ago and then this past Friday I called to confirm. They told me to go to the Haddonfield office, and so I did. I parked out front and then went to the front door. The door was locked and there was no sign telling me to go around back. Luckily, I am smart or something and figured out how to get in the building. Upon entrance, I was greeted by a completely deserted first floor. I walked through a couple of hallways and then found myself in a deserted waiting room. The reception area had windows with curtains pulled closed and a sign that said that they no longer had a secretary so…if this was your first appointment, fill out an age appropriate “Welcome Pack” and then wait until the person with whom you have an appointment comes to get you. This made me pretty uncomfortable since I had no way to let anyone know that I was there and no way to know if I was actually going to be seen. It’s worse than calling an automated answering service, because at least there’s some kind of information exchange there…and usually an option to talk to someone in real time. This just made you feel abandoned and unimportant and questioning whether you made your appointment properly or something! The entire place was designed to leave you feeling more mentally unstable than when you arrived.
I went to go sit in the waiting room and then I saw that there was a a board that told you which therapist was where. The person I was supposed to see was apparently on the second floor, so to the second floor I went. When I got up there I found that there was a second waiting room, and this time there were two people waiting in it. Progress!
Well, sort of progress. I think I felt more comfortable in the deserted waiting room. When I came in to sit down, both people waiting there turned to stare at me. One looked very not OK and the other looked suspicious of me or something. I sat down uncomfortable getting the idea that it was very not alright to say anything ever. I was there for 10 minutes and one of them was called in. I was feeling confused about what I was supposed to be doing, if I was in the right place, etc, so I quickly asked the other person if this was the correct waiting room.
“We’re not supposed to talk about what services they provide.”
“Ok, that’s fine. I just want to know if this is the right place to be as I have never been here before.”
She was weird for a while and then she explained that it was the right place, and then told me to turn off my cellphone and sign in (on a sign in sheet that was for a different doctor…I didn’t do that part). Then she told me that she also had an appointment at 1pm and I feared that we had been triple booked. 45 minutes later, the therapist emerged again and asked me who I was there to see. I told her and she said,
“Oh…did she know that she had an appointment with you?”
“I would hope so? I confirmed with the office on Friday.”
“Do you have a phone number to call her? As far as I know I’m the only person here today.”
“No, I’ve never been here before and I don’t have a relationship with this therapist yet.”
“Oh, for an evaluation?
And then she shrugged and said, “I don’t know what to tell you.”
I thanked her (for nothing) and got up to leave. I came downstairs to the abandoned waiting room and started to cry. The whole thing felt ridiculous. How does this kind of thing happen? I felt like a fraud for even being there. The whole time I was dealing with the stupidity, I thought, “I’m glad my issues aren’t that severe. I probably would be completely losing my shit right not otherwise.” So as those thoughts entered my mind, I didn’t even know what I was doing there. ”What are these people going to even do for me? I’m fine. This is stupid.”
As Jessie pointed out though, had this been 2 weeks ago, I would certainly have lost my shit. I would have cried upon getting into the second waiting room probably and I definitely would have not made it to the abandoned waiting room to fall apart when I was shrugged away. It is not easy to make the decision to get help with this kind of stuff, especially if you define yourself in large part by your independence.
So I cried for a while in the car and came home and told this entire tale to Wes and Jessie. They encouraged me to try to make an appointment with someone else. I was calm by then and happy to have a nice afternoon ahead of me…like I said, I am in an upswing at the moment, so I am able to handle things a lot more rationally than when I’m in a downswing. Still, I sat there thinking that I just shouldn’t bother with therapy. There are other people who need it more. I can handle this crap on my own. I don’t want to go through this again. (Incidentally, this is my attitude about flu shots…I don’t talk so loudly about it anymore since getting strep last year…will this be the year?)
And then the person with whom I had an appointment called me. She told me that she had me down for an appointment at the Woodbury office (where she was), not Haddonfield, and that the schedulers totally screwed up. She apologized profusely and said that she wrote a not-happy email to the schedulers. And she said, “Here you are making the not-easy-to-make decision to come for help, and you are left to wait for an hour and then your therapist doesn’t show up? My goodness, would that not feel good!” I couldn’t really say anything other than, “Um, yeah, that about sums it up.” After apologizing some more, she said she would help get me an evening appointment (since I’m out of vacation days now), and then apologized some more.
Of course, this makes me want her to be my therapist, but I just don’t have the day time hours to go to her, so it’s probably better this way. I really appreciate that she called and explained what happened and completely understood why it was so shitty. Because she did that, I will try again and stay with this particular counseling group and hope for the best. And hopefully next time I’ll be able to tell you, “Man oh man, therapy is awesome!”
May Adventures in Therapy – Episode Two be better than Star Wars – Episode Two. That’d be nice.