Mr. Whuffkins

This post is a complete flight of fancy. I’m stealing the idea from Skepchicks and running with it.

A couple days ago one of the Skepchicks posed this question: If you could have any animal as a pet, and have it magically be domesticated and friendly, what would you choose?

Most people chose big cats. One person went with a Velociraptor. So I thought “Hmm…how can I take that to the next level? Oh *I* know! THIS  guy! http://bit.ly/4FdxYw : The Mapusaurus roseae.

This dinosaur was larger than the T-Rex and may have even been bigger than Giganotosaurus, the guy that took over the mantle of “Biggest Badass” from good ol’ T. In other words Mapusaurus rosae, or as I like to call him, Mr. Whuffkins, was longer than a four-story building is tall. So, yeah…big meat grinder on legs.

The question on Skepchicks included the word “friendly”. Sure, Mr. Whuffkins would be friendly TO ME and to people I liked. But lets have some fun here for a minute. If YOU had the biggest carnivore the world has ever seen at your disposal, what would YOU do? Personally, I’d have bullet proof armor and a saddle made for Mr. Whuffkins. Then I’d take him around to places like the Westboro Baptist Church where Fred Phelps hangs his hat. I’d explain to Mr. Phelps that when he says things like “God hates fags”, it makes Mr. Whuffkins vewwy sad. When Mr. Whuffkins gets sad, he gets hungry. He’s a stress eater, doncha know.

Voila! Instant social reform!

Don’t like the way things are going in Washington DC? Mr. Whuffkins and I are happy to go eat..er..greet a few Congressmen and Senators. I can see it now. Me and my pet wandering the world making change happen wherever we go. Barack Obama would have nothing on us!

It would be like the old children’s book “Danny and the Dinosaur”, just a bit, well, bloodier.

Unfortunately there would be a drawback to keeping Mr. Whuffkins as a pet. No, not the food bill. He’s magical so he wouldn’t need to eat. Except for those times I wanted him to, that is. The big drawback would be the fundamentalists and creationists claiming that me and Mr. Whuffkins are proof that people used to live side by side with dinosaurs and even ride them. After all Mr. Whuffkins would be “domesticated”.

And so, the dream dies.

It IS fun to pretend sometimes though. See? Even skeptics have vivid imaginations!




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It’s Brand New!

Today’s Logical Fallacy is known as Appeal To Popularity. Since some of my readers are intimidated by X’s, today’s X will be played by baby ducks. The format of Appeal to Popularity looks like this:

1) Baby Ducks (X) are new.

2)Therefore Baby Ducks (X) are correct or better.

This type of reasoning is false because a new item or idea is not always, by default, better than something older. It should also not be presumed that old things are better than new things (see Appeal to Tradition).

A real world example might look something like this: Marketing approach Baby Ducks is new, therefor, because it is new, it will automatically work better.

This approach is fallacious because there is no evidence to support the claim that Baby Ducks is the best marketing approach over the previous marketing agenda.  Beyond that,  “This sort of “reasoning” is appealing for many reasons. First, “western culture” includes a very powerful comittment to the notion that new things must be better than old things. Second, the notion of progress (which seems to have come, in part, from the notion of evolution) implies that newer things will be superior to older things. Third, media advertising often sends the message that newer must be better. Because of these three factors (and others) people often accept that a new thing (idea, product, concept, etc.) must be better because it is new. Hence, Novelty is a somewhat common fallacy, especially in advertising.”, according to http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/appeal-to-novelty.html

For some things age *does* have a bearing on the context. Fresh food is better for human consumption than food that has rotted. To follow that line of reasoning someone would, obviously, not be committing the flawed appeal to popularity “reasoning”.  So as you can see, even though they are cute and fuzzy, Baby Ducks are not automatically better that Grown Up Ducks.

The Men Who Stare At Goats

As a skeptic this movie had me practically rolling on the floor. When Clooney’s character talks about stabbing an enemy in the neck with a pen to create “Psychic disincentive”, I practically fell out of my chair. Of COURSE if you cause someone severe pain they will be less lakely to attack you. They will, instead, be grabbing the pen in their neck and screaming.

The movie “The Men Who Stare At Goats” is based on the book, The Crazy Rulers of the World” by Jon Ronson. The main character, Lyn Cassady, (whose real name is Glenn Wheaton) played by George Clooney, claims to have witnessed a Green Beret kill a goat simply by staring at it.

From the perspective of a skeptic, I have to wonder what else was going on in the room at the time. I have seen news stories about a breed of goat that suffers from a condition mytonia congenita. When startled these goats faint. They become rigid and drop over for a period of 10 seconds or more. (http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jimknapp/goats.html). While it is not an actual ‘faint’, it could be interpreted as the goat having died. So if someone startled the goat while the Green Beret was trying to kill it with his mind, the sudden tipping over of the goat could have been interpreted as success.

If anyone else has more information on the book, the movie or the people involved, I would love to hear it.

My Dog Brenner

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Look at that face. Is that not an adorable little face? Who couldn’t be sucked in by that little fuzzy ball of cuteness?

I’ve talked previously about anthropomorphizing my car. Today I’m going to talk about the tendency people have to anthropomorphize our animal companions.

The pet industry is a 45 BILLION dollar a year industry. We spend bucket loads of cash on our animals. We buy everything from designer toys to stimulate their minds to designer foods in hopes of helping them to live longer.

I agree that we should be spending a little extra to help our companions be healthy and happy. They give us so much in return and ask so little. Just a warm lap, a place at our feet and a good belly rub.

This is why I have such a hard time being objective about certain aspects of pet care. I understand that breeds like Chinese Crested (seen below) need a sweater in the winter and sunblock in the summer. It protects a delicate creature from elements that its little body cannot defend from on its own.

Chinese_Crested_Dog_600_textmediumWhat I don’t really understand is why someone would spend $200 on a dog dress (http://bit.ly/VfDOg) when you can get something that will keep your dog warm for under $20. I’ve never really understood why grown men and women spend money to dress up their dog beyond what is needed for the dog’s health.

There was a time when dogs were bred for certain purposes. Irish Wolfhounds were bred to kill wolves. Rat Terriers were bred to chase down and kill rats. Now we have novelties like the little guy on the left for no other purpose than to make us smile. It is something of a rarity to see a dog doing what it was bred to do. German Shepherds, Bloodhounds and Border Collies are a few of the exceptions that I can think of off the top of my head.

Thanks to the AKC, most dogs no longer even have the instinct to do what they were originally bred for. That has been bred out of many of them due to over-breeding and in-breeding. Form has become primary over function. Sure, with modernization there really isn’t as much of a need for a dog that kills rats as there used to be. It just saddens me to see a dog that has been bred for a specific purpose that no longer has any instinct to do its job.

Now it’s commonplace to see women walking around with dogs in their purses. An animal is NOT a fashion accessory.  This is the point where it becomes difficult for me to be objective. Our animal companions have been so humanized and bred to serve our purposes as friend and even baby substitute that it has become difficult for many people to be objective when it comes to how we treat our animals.

Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer, has the right idea. We should be treating our animals in accordance with their behavior…not ours. A dog that is treated like a human can turn out to be a very unhappy animal with serious behavior issues. We should consider whether we are doing the animal and ourselves any favors in humanizing them.