Gina Sez: Posts About Shoes are Relevant

Last Friday, I accompanied Ginny for a day of achieving nebulous wedding related goals that took us traipsing across town.   I say nebulous because really all we had in mind was to go get pedicures…

Note: For whatever reason, Ginny and I step out of our decidedly non-girly roles when we spend days together.  On one of our first dates, we went searching in antique stores for tea cups and bought yarn.  Subsequently there have been days filled with us wearing spiffy dresses, getting pedicures, and drinking overpriced specialty “martinis”.  Whatever, don’t judge us, Judgey McJudgerstein.

Anyway, we ended up stopping at several places in a futile attempt to find comfortable shoes to complete her wedding outfit.  I was also looking for shoes to go with my awesome Wedding Band Star outfit, but my requirements are a bit more specific.  I wanted light blue, open toed shoes of some sort and was experiencing complete failure in finding any.

I know…you’re sitting at the edge of your seat by now wondering what I’m going to talk about.  I can feel it in the air.

So, I thought today I would look on the Internet for a quick solution.  If the shoes I want exist, surely the Interwebz will give them to me.  I found my way to Amazon after the “rest” of the internet thoroughly disappointing me in terms of design AND prices I’m willing to pay.

Note: I am willing to pay $15 for shoes at this point.  Maybe $20 if they’re awesome.  Maybe.

Well, I thought Amazon was failing me too.  Who knew that my shoe inspirations were so obscure and expensive?  But then…then they showed me the way:

Can you hear the angels?  ‘Cause they’re totes singing.  If I ever saw a more impressive shoe, it must have erased my memory due to being too incredibly awesome to be remembered.  Now, get a load of the item name:

7 1/2 Inch High Platform Sexy Shoes Circle Light Up Shoes Stripper Shoes Ankle Strap Sandals Chrome Blue

First of all, I didn’t even know they made shoes that were 7.5 inches tall.  Second of all, apparently I can strip in these and not die.  I mean, they wouldn’t put that into the description if I could die wearing them, right?  Of course not!  and, of course, they light up in a way that is reminiscent of any of one of my favorite things: Oscilloscopes or Jacob’s ladders .

OK, I know that’s supposed to be pretty lights or something, but I choose to assume that it’s a tip of the hat to 1800’s science.  You know the kind I mean: Bringing the dead back to life by harnessing the power of the swirling lighting storm above your roof.  Or, um, using oscilloscopes to look cool.  That’s a thing right?

So yeah, these shoes combine my love of impractical, dangerous science with my love of being 7.5 inches taller.  In addition to those excellent things, wearing a ridiculous pair of light up stripper heals to Shaun and Ginny’s wedding would make me THAT woman at the wedding.

Picture it: I show up in a tube dress of some sort and those shoes, barely able to walk because those shoes are basically stilts and I am not trained in the art of not walking like an idiot in them.  In my hand is a handle of vodka and my hair looks like I just came back from a pretty wild night that resulted in me falling off of a dock somewhere.  I come in, see the looks from their family and friends and say something to the tune of, “Hey! DON’T JUDGE ME!” Maybe I’ll quote Jesus in a garbled fashion like, “mumble mumble mumble LEST YE BE JUDGED!” and then fall over…all classy like.  Then Peter will revive me with smelling salts and say “It’s time to play music now, Gina” and then we’ll all know how much of a rock star I really am.

This is how memories that last a lifetime are made, people.

Or…you know…not.  But only because the shoes cost over $100.

But seriously, folks:

When I went to meet Shaun’s mom on Easter (in the post I realize I described a similar “slut crashing the party” scene…), I put decidedly too much thought in the best way to NOT look like a slut.  This is, under any other circumstances, not difficult for me because I tend to not particularly dress like a typical hooker (mainly because I don’t have the budget for lightning shoes), but I was terrified that I was going to be walking into some kind of situation where she would want to brand me “Home Wrecker”.  Much in the same vane, I really don’t want to do anything to bring about the idea of “Oh…there’s that (married) whore who is invalidating their marriage”.  So, I will be looking like something out of Mad Men along with the rest of the band who will be similarly nicely dressed.

But still…I will dream about those shoes…and making a YouTube video of the scene I described above, because that’s fucking funny.

Gina’s Favorite Things: Comic Book Science

I have a confession to make: I used to watch Baywatch.  Even better?  I watched Baywatch with my dad.

You see, back in the late 60’s/early 70’s my dad was a lifeguard at Zuma Beach near Malibu in southern California.  Things about the job haven’t really changed much since then.  As you might guess, the reality of lifeguarding in South Bay expressed on Baywatch was…um…not accurate at all.  It was so very inaccurate, with Pam Anderson’s giant boobs barely being controlled by her flimsy uniform and David Hasselhoff…well…being David Hasselhoff, that we watched it for the pure hilarity of it.  It was one of the most entertaining shows on tv because it was so very terrible.

Watching CSI (any of them) gives me similar entertainment.  Here you have a group of Hollywood Attractive men and women who are all supposedly chemists who run around solving mysteries.  I don’t know much about being an actual crime scene investigator, but I’m fairly certain that they don’t generally investigate AND get into fire fights with deranged maniacs AND arrest them.  I’m pretty sure they pick up hairs, dissolve them in stuff and then put the solution in a variety of analytical machines.

I mean, I could be wrong about what the job actually entails, but much in the way that I’m pretty sure that most marine biologists start out (and never stop) crawling around in mud collecting samples of various mollusks as opposed to getting to swim with dolphins on a regular basis, the CSI shows make it seem like forensic chemistry is ridiculously exciting, dramatic, and entirely populated by sexy chemists.  Every time one of the female investigators shows up at a crime scene in leather pants, low cut shirts, and high-heeled boots, I laugh as they step around in blood and discuss the great abundance of semen on the walls and floor lamps.  Every time one of them glides through the lab with an unbuttoned, completely stain-free lab coat, I laugh because that’s not how you wear a lab coat and also, there’s probably not a safety manager there.

In short, I find the science in movies and television geared towards the general public HIGHLY entertaining.  It is most certainly one of my favorite things about popular media.  I know the awfulness of some scientific premises in media thoroughly annoy scientific people, but to me it’s just hilarious.  It’s not that I suspend disbelief.  It’s that it adds an element of comedy to a movie that probably isn’t all that serious to begin with.

I went to see The Avengers this week.  I absolutely loved it.  I have really enjoyed all of the Marvel movies that have come out in preparation for this one and it did not disappoint me.  It also had one of the greatest idiotic science sentences that I have ever heard.  It was so bad that I actually laughed out loud in a quiet theater about it.

I wouldn’t really call this a spoiler, but fair warning, I’m going to talk about a tiny part of it.

So, Bruce Banner, world renowned gamma ray expert and giant green anger monster, is talking to Tony Stark, one genius to another.  Banner jumps into gear to help look for this thingy that has a specific gamma ray signature.  He is told that they have tried all methods of detection and have failed (whatever that means).  Banner says something to the tune of “You haven’t tried everything…Get all of your spectrometers, put them on the roof and set them to detect gamma rays.”

That sentence is basically meaningless.  Stark says something about how brilliant that idea is and all I could think was, “I don’t think you know how spectrometers work…”

First of all, spectrometer is a catch-all term for analytical machines that analyze chemicals by exposing them to different wavelengths of light (infrared, UV/Visible, for instance).   When you say something like, “GET ALL THE SPECTROMETERS!” you are saying that all spectrometers work in the same way, require the same sampling methods, etc.  They aren’t and they don’t.  In addition, you don’t just walk up to a spectrometer, throw an unknown sample on it and say “tell me what that is”.  You either have to have a library of spectra for known substances to compare against or be really good at reading spectra (which, for me at least, is very difficult).  If you’re trying to figure out the concentration of something in a sample, you don’t just throw the sample on there and say “tell me how much is in there”.  Again, analytical chemistry is a science of comparison.  To figure out the concentration of something in an unknown mixture, you have to make up several samples with that particular thing in various known concentrations.  This is called a calibration curve.

What I’m saying is that analytical chemistry is a pain in the ass.

Readers of this blog will probably start to figure out that I have biases against various realms of chemistry.  I have already ranted at length about inorganic and now I’ve got my sights on analytical.  I should point out that I am very happy that both of these things exist…I just don’t want much to do with them myself and commend the people who have a passion for them.  My dislike of analytical chemistry is what made my graduation from college take 10 years instead of 5 (I just didn’t want to write those damned lab reports, so I had one class to finish for 5 years following the completion of everything else).  Luckily, the analytical professor at my university is one of the most patient saints in the world.  But I digress…

So that’s just what’s wrong with saying “use the spectrometers”.  Next he says that they should put all the spectrometers on the roof and set them to “Gamma Ray”.  Look, I know that gamma rays are waves just like light, but a generic “spectrometer” is not going to just detect them for you.  What’s more hilarious is that the reason they need an expert is that the particular thingy they’re trying to find has a particularly strange and faint gamma ray signature, so it would stand to reason that you would need a really specialized, VERY SENSITIVE detector to pick it up.

We have an infrared spectrometer in my lab.  It cost $35,000.  It’s a pretty good IR spec, but ultimately, infrared spectroscopy is a pretty limited analytical technique.  You sample by putting a drop of your unknown stuff onto a diamond.  IR light gets refracted and reflected through the diamond all up in your sample.  The bonds of the molecules get all excited and shake, rattle and roll and the machine converts these movements into an image, a spectrum.  You can tell the structure of a molecule by where peaks on the graph are.  It can only tell you big components.  For instance, in an organic molecule you will always see huge peaks indicating the presence of carbon-hydrogen bonds because organic molecules are ALL ABOUT those.  If there are subtle things you’re trying to find, good luck.  IR, at least a $35,000 IR, doesn’t do subtle very well.  It’s like your loud uncle at Thanksgiving who outs your in the closet cousin…but instead of a cousin, it’s carbon.

That’s a terrible simile, but whatever.  I like the image of a loud, asshole IR spectrometer eating a mountain of mashed potatoes saying, “DID YOU KNOW THAT CARBON IS GAY?  HE’S TOTALLY GAY.” And then everyone at the table says, “Yes, IR, we know. And since we are all made of carbon, perhaps we’re all a little bit gay…” and then a conversation about how we are all equals in the eyes of atoms and how we should all just get over who people fall in love with or are attracted to because we’re all just bags of chemicals anyway and chemicals just react.  It’s what they do.

Well, this just got really off topic.  Whatever, that’s what they pay me here for.

Hmm…I don’t actually get paid.  Well, then, um, I can talk about whatever the hell I want.

Anyway, back to Avengers science.  So the point I was making about the IR is that even not particularly sophisticated ones are hella expensive.  Spectrometers get more expensive the more impressive their detectors are.  Could you imagine how much a spectrometer with a detector calibrated to pick up a very particular gamma ray signature to find a strange alien cube by just scanning the ambient air on the roof would cost?  That’s NASA money…nay, that’s “Haha, we won’t pay for our foot soldiers to have working equipment and proper personal protective equipment, but by God, we need that thing that finds alien gamma rays deep in the arctic or something” money.

I’m sure there’s some sort of equipment that could be used for this process.  I don’t feel like googling it.  But I would think that if you had a spectrometer that did all that, you wouldn’t really want to stick it up on the roof.  You also wouldn’t want to walk outside with it on a flying aircraft carrier.  Just sayin’.

After Banner says this brilliant nonsensical thing, he and Stark exchange a bunch of techno babble to which Captain America says something like, “Uh, what?”  Don’t worry, Captain America, they didn’t actually say anything.

It is a generally known fact in the Geek Realm that Star Trek: The Next Generation scripts regularly had places where the characters were just supposed to adlib techno babble.  I suspect that’s why there were just so many mentions of tachyon pulses, polarity reversal, dilithium, and deflector shields.  I got the feeling during the particularly scientific moments in Avengers that this was what they were doing.

Stark: Hmm, science science science science.

Banner: Yes, that’s because of science and science.

Stark: Science!  Brilliant!

Banner: Yes, brilliant! GET ALL THE SPECTROMETERS.

Yeah, I laughed a lot.  Just like in Iron Man 2 when Stark makes a new element by building a proton accelerator out of crap he found around his beach mansion.  I thought that was simultaneously hysterical AND completely hot.  I often describe that scene as one of the hottest things ever filmed.  Stop laughing at me.  Whatever.  Robert Downey, Jr. plus tank top, plus proton accelerator = Drool.*

*Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are not necessarily shared by all contributors to Polyskeptic.

In conclusion, I love good science, but bad science can be fabulous…when in movies featuring Norse Gods, giant dudes with anger management problems, people with eyepatches and Uzis, and Captain America.  I never have a problem with stupid science if the point of the media is not to be scientific.  Comic books are awesome and also ridiculous, therefore the science gets to be far fetched and a little nonsensical. Plus, it’s fun to be a scientific person poking holes in the scientific claims of someone like The Incredible Hulk.  It doesn’t take away from my enjoyment of the movie that he says a bunch of bullshit, it just makes it Marvel.  I go into it expecting to hear it and get a little disappointed when I don’t.

Hmm…now all I want to do is watch a bunch of Mystery Science Theater 3000.  Stupid work.

Meaning and Happiness

I’m not going to address the canard that without god we can’t have meaning in our lives. OK, yes I am. But only briefly, and the rest will only deal with that question indirectly. Yes, it is quite obvious that people without a belief in gods have meaning in their lives. Perhaps not inherent, absolute, and cosmically significant meaning, but those things are illusory, just like gods.

I have been, since childhood, rather introspective. I do a lot of thinking about thinking, reflecting on experience, and asking simple “why…” questions about mundane things that most people take as granted.  To me, the beginning of skepticism begins with the ability to ask why something is, and then asking for reasons to keep accepting it.  I never merely accepted the way things are and that they need to be that way. Thus, my becoming a degenerate deviant is not surprising.

Ultimately, I think seeing polyamory, atheism, and skepticism as deviant and degenerate is, well, unfortunate and morosely funny.  It does not speak well of our species that such basic values as demanding evidence for claims and then not accepting worldviews that can’t stand up to such demands is the weird thing. But I digress…

Anyway, I’m one of those annoying people who thinks asking why we do and believe certain things is good. I also am interested in various experiences. I was very interested in meditation while young, and much of what I learned and experienced during those times in my life have influenced how I see the world, how I think, and how I try and improve as a person.  I “experimented” with drugs while younger (meaning I enjoyed their effects while on them), and while I have little interest in such things now, I am glad that I had those experiences.

When I got to college, I was very interested in taking as many courses that dealt with religion, philosophy, and anthropology as I could. I was interested in questions about meaning, belief, and knowledge in culture and psychology. Is there any surprise that I graduated with a degree in ‘religious anthropology”?  Is there any surprise that I write about religion, think about religion, and ultimately oppose religion?

I knew that the history of ideas which dealt with meaning, experience, etc are contained in philosophy, theology, and religion. I also knew that I didn’t believe in any gods, had strong issues with religions, both organized and less-than-organized, and that I had an attraction to science and philosophy.

After reading religious thinkers from over the centuries, including many scriptures and apologetic writing, I knew that these things had something to offer us, even if much of it was meshed with absurd theological assertions and assumptions; I knew that it is all too easy to conflate interesting psychological insights with the tradition adjacent to their origin. That is, I understood that a Catholic, Moslem, or Hindu thinker could say something interesting, insightful, or even true without that idea having any logical relevance to the theology they believed.

So, any sophisticated theologian who attempts to claim that this gnu atheist is unfamiliar with sophisticated theology, I can confidently reply that they are simply incorrect. No Courtier’s Reply can stick to me, especially since the Reply is absurd on its face.


For a few years I have thought about how we, as a community of reason, could talk about such things outside of a theological context.  I mean, philosophers do it all the time, right? (And I do have a MA in philosophy).  Then today I ran into this post by Dale McGowan which talks about the importance of social interactions in happiness.  It is a quick review of a study about why religion makes people happier.

Essentially the point is encapsulated here, stolen from McGowan’s post, in these quotes by Chaeyoon Lim:

[Life satisfaction] is almost entirely about the social aspect of religion, rather than the theological or spiritual aspect…

and Raising Freethinkers co-author Amanda Metskas:

[T]heology is less important to most churchgoers than a number of other benefits. In many cases, they attend despite the theology. It is telling that only 27 percent of churchgoing US respondents to a 2007 Gallup poll even mentioned God when asked for the main reason they attend church. Most people go for personal growth, for guidance in their lives, to be encouraged, to be inspired—or for the community and fellowship of other members. These, not worship, are the primary needs fulfilled by churches. (p. 206)

This is illuminating, and speaks to precisely the point that many gnus have discussed over the last few years; it is not the beliefs which make people happy (they are usually harmful), but it is the social connections that keep many people in church.

The implication, I believe, is that we do need to do more to create social environments for atheists and such.  Skeptics in the pub, conventions, campus groups, etc are all great steps in that direction, even if some people take things too far in terms of emulating religion.  That is, Alain de Botton is wrong precisely because he does not just want to keep the social aspects around, but he wants to keep some of the theological parts alive too.

Part of what will cultivate community, I think, will be organizing under a banner, a label (or a very small set of labels at most), and a small set of major organizations who represent what we do share, our political concerns, and our social presence.  The Reason Rally was a step in defining much of these things, and the next few years will have a lot to tell us about the nature of our collective message, what organizations will be saying them, and how broad we need to be to draw people in.

We have issues, as a community, in terms of drawing in the voices of women, ethnic and racial minorities”, genderqueer people, and even blue collar secularists.  I don’t know what all the solutions are, but I am keeping my ears tuned to people who offer some and will be thinking and writing about it from time to time.

I know I am guilty of many of the things that turn many people away; my writing is esoteric, my tone is sometimes harsh, and I include commentary which does not fit in with most atheists and skeptics (specifically polyamory.  To what degree, if any, I may change any of this will depend on the strength of arguments, the evidence supporting said arguments, and my ability to actually change.

But I think we, the community of reason and skepticism, have a lot to say about how to create meaning in important ways and how to live lives of general contentment and happiness.  Fore me, my life project to be happy lead me to atheism and polyamory, while sharpening my skeptical tools along the way.  I think my story and views have something to add to this conversation.

The Secular Coalition gets a new executive director, and (I think) gets it right

I have been a fan of the past executive directors of the SCA.  Lori Lipman Brown and Sean Faircloth are both smart, friendly, fun-loving people who I enjoyed getting to know.  When Sean left the position to be with the Richard Dawkins Foundation, there was the hanging question of who would be chosen to succeed him.

And today we have an answer from Hemant Mehta’s blog.  The choice is a former Republican lobbyist named Edwina Rogers.  I have never heard of her until today, but let me tell you, based on what I read from Hemant’s interview, why I think that the choice is a good one.

First, her answers to Hemant’s questions are encouraging.  She’s a nontheist (her preferred term), secularist, and she seems to be aware of the issues which the SCA is designed to confront.  In short, she’s one of us.

Second, the fact that she is a she is a plus in the sense that we do have some issues with gender inequality in the larger community of reason.  Not that hiring a man would have been a mistake, but this is an added bonus from an equality point of view. 

Third, she has inroads to Republicans.  This, I think, is the most important part.  For some time there has been an idea that there is a divide in our “culture wars” which divide along the lines of Democrat/liberal/secularist versus Republican/conservative/theocrat.  This divide is way too simplistic, and as Edwina Rogers states, its not true in the majority of cases.

Secularism is not a uniquely liberal value or cause.  Yes, there are many conservative voices who declare their opposition to the liberal and secularist agendas, but even those conservatives have much to gain, and maintain, in a secular government.  With Edwina speaking for us, perhaps some of those voices will be forced to allow their connected ears to get some exercise.  Seculaism has much to offer conservatives, especially the religious ones.

Yes, I have stark political and philosophical differences with conservative people (some who are family members) who view me as some crazed, brainwashed, confused elitist who has been fed the liberal lie of separation of church and state.  Perhaps Edwina’s voice can carry a little more weight with such people (perhaps not, in many), ot at least be able to frame them in ways those people will understand.

And there may in fact be a majority of conservative contituents who hold similar views about us elitist progressive secularists, but there are paths towards developing political alliances with secular conservatives who hold, or at least are near, levers of power and authority.

I would prefer to see America become more progressive as a whole.  I would like to see the Democratic party become truly progressive, fully secular, and deal with real social inequalities such as those brought up by the Occupy movement.  I would like to see the Republican party return to leaders such as Barry Goldwater, rather than the theocracy-downed idiocy that so often sways Republican constituents and legislation.

I would like to see real, substantive, argument about policy between people who intelligently disagree, rather than be distracted by Biblical proclamations and religiously-based anti-gay, anti-women, and anti-science ideologies which end up doing damage to the nation we all live in.  There is much to love about America, but sometimes those attributes become smudged with too much mud from religious contamination.

Theocratic tendencies in politics harm us all in ways which we often don’t even realize, unless we are paying close attention.  Having someone familiar with conservative lobbying circles assisting in our efforts to support secularism in America will be a boon for us all–liberal, conservative, etc–long-term.

I think that the SCA made a smart move in choosing Edwina Rogers.  Let’s see if I’m right.  In the mean time, let’s all welcome Edwina to her new position.

Overtime and relationships

So, I have not been posting as much recently. The reason is not laziness, but hockey. I have a (possibly irrational) love of the NHL playoffs, which I have loved watching since I was a kid. The best of the best is overtime hockey in the playoffs (especially during a game 7). It’s fast, exciting, and it could be over any second.

So, yes, this is an excuse to force a metaphor between overtime hockey and relationships. In my experience, being a person who has struggled with a wicked temper fueled by an emotional imbalance, I know very well that a relationship can end in a moment. And in my case, it has happened at least twice. It didn’t literally end that moment, but decisions have consequences.

I have memories which haunt me. I sometimes wish I could find a way to take them back, but I cannot. All that is left is the future.

This has taught me to be perpetually vigilant and extremely self-critical, in order to become more stable and aware of my weaknesses and strengths. and this, perhaps, gives me an advantage (although not a privilege) which has made me more successful at being polyamorous. I’ve stumbled and erred, of course, but because I was forced to do work to improve myself independent of my relationships with other people, doing that relationship work was based in a strong personal foundation.

In any case, this will end up being a ramble if it continues. Bottom line, posting will be slower due to hockey playoffs, upcoming wedding (just over two weeks away!), and nicer weather. In the mean time, the third overtime is about to start between New York and Washington.

Sleep or hockey…choices!