Obama: The Second Coming

Is there nothing the man can’t do? Now he’s been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. The committee awarded Obama the prize simply for the “potential” he has to bring peace to the world.

I haven’t seen any of it. To the best of my knowledge the world still hates us. Muslim extremists still want to kill us. If anyone out there has a concrete example of how Obama has changed the world for the better, I would like to see the evidence. On Twitter my assertion is that he hasn’t done anything to call for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Someone popped up and said the following in reply: “except making many things possible that were impossible before, such as a non racist, religiously tolerant, safe, modern world”.

What things were impossible that Obama himself made possible? Racism still exists. This is just one small example of continued racism in the world: http://bit.ly/15QLbh

As for religiously tolerant part of that statement. Read this blog about religious persecutions that have happened so far this month: http://bit.ly/SbEA And how about the ongoing honor killings in the Middle  East? He mentioned a modern world. How “modern” is it when women are still killed because they have been raped?

Finally, the poster claims that Obama has made the world safe. I’m guessing the poster doesn’t watch the news.

I could be insulting and derisive. Trust me, I’m REALLY tempted. But that’s not what a good skeptic does. I am interested to see what concrete evidence people give to justify Obama receiving such a coveted award. This is something that people strive their entire lives for. This is an achievement of a lifetime and I seriously feel that the committee has missed the mark here.

If Obama has improved the world in the way the poster asserts, I just don’t see it.

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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.

A Wealth of Topics

Since starting this blog I have discovered that if i just read my email, the world at large will send me new things to write about. For instance, this evening I received an email from Change.org. The topic of the email was “Protect Your Family From Toxic Chemicals”.

It talked about how the US is importing toxic waste from China and “of the 82,000 chemicals available in the US only 200 of them have been tested for safety”. Aldo included in the email was this quote: “the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found toxic chemicals in the bodies of virtually all Americans.”

This sounds a bit like scare tactics to me. I have to wonder how the CDC could have found toxic chemicals in approximately 305,529,237 people across the nation. So I did what a good skeptic SHOULD do. I emailed the CDC and asked them if this was true. I also asked them to supply evidence if the assertion was true.

Hopefully some time next week I’ll have an answer for you. In the mean time I remain, as ever, skeptical.

It MUST Be True!!!

Today’s Logical Fallacy is called “Appeal to Consequence of a Belief”.  It has the following format:

1) X is true because if people did not accept X as being true then there would be negative consequences.

2) X is false because if people did not accept X as being false, then there would be negative consequences.

3) X is true because accepting that X is true has positive consequences.

4) X is false because accepting that X is false has positive consequences.

Examples of this belief set look something like this:

1) God MUST be real! If God isn’t real then no one would know the difference between right and wrong! The world would be a terrible place!

2) Bad things like I see on the news won’t happen in our neighborhood. If I believed things like that could happen here, I would be too afraid to go anywhere or do anything.

3) I believe that if I am a good person and follow the teachings of the church I will go to Heaven.

4)I agree that I have no science-based proof for the existence of fairies and dragons. However I REALLY want to believe in those things. So it MUST be true!!

This line of “reasoning” is a fallacy because the supposed consequences of the beliefs have no impact on whether the stated belief is true or false. For instance, say I tell you I believe with all my heart that there is an invisible pink Unicorn in my backyard that only eats the purple flowers in my garden. If the Unicorn doesn’t really exist then I would be broken hearted and very depressed. Since I would be SO broken-hearted, the Unicorn MUST exist.

It’s pretty obvious that using feelings and emotions to justify a line of reasoning  isn’t useful in a logical argument. Also, the consequences in question are consequences that stem from belief.

It is important to distinguish between a rational reason to believe (RRB) something (evidence) to be true and a prudential (motivational) reason to believe. A RRB is evidence that objectively and logically supports the claim. A PRB is a reason to accept the belief because of some external factor (such as fear, a threat, or a benefit or harm that may stem from the belief) that is relevant to what a person values but is not relevant to the truth or falsity of the claim.

Learning To Let Go

One of the most difficult parts of becoming a skeptic was readjusting my thought processes. I was afraid that because I was now a skeptic that I would no longer be able to enjoy some of the things I love most.  For instance, how can a skeptic enjoy the wonder and magic of Disney World and the Magic Kingdom?

Was I allowed to like things like that anymore? Was my life now to be relegated only to the wonders of the world around me and the Universe at large? Not that those are bad things. The Universe and the natural world are full of amazing, complex and wonderful things.

But I still love the fantastic. I still love dragons and fairies, mythology and magic. And I love the magic that is Disney World. It’s a wonderful place where, for a little while, we can be kids again. We can get excited about meeting Mickey Mouse and for a little while we’re seven years old again.

The truth is, I didn’t give ANY of it up. I still love the fantastic. I still get excited about seeing my favorite characters at Disney and I still run to get to the Haunted Mansion. Yet, I proudly wear the label of ‘skeptic”.

Now how does THAT work??  It’s not as hard as it sounds. The concept is called Suspension of Disbelief. It is defined as: The temporary acceptance as believable of events or characters that would ordinarily be seen as incredible. This is usually to allow an audience to appreciate works of literature or drama that are exploring unusual ideas.

In other words, when you go to a movie and you allow yourself to be immersed in that world you are willingly suspending your disbelief for a time. You are making a choice to accept the premise set down by the writers and actors.

While I understand that dragons, fairies and magic probably don’t exist, I allow myself to enjoy the concept  and suspend disbelief for a time. So while I know that there is a person in a costume, I still joyfully hug Winnie the Pooh, embracing the nostalgia of my childhood and allowing myself, for a little while, to be 7 years old again.

If Your Friends Jumped Off A Cliff….

The Logical Fallacy for today is called The Appeal To Common Practice. The format looks like this:

1) X is a common action.

2)Therefore X is correct/moral/justified/reasonable, etc.

The basis of this fallacy is that since most people do/say X then X is the right or acceptable thing to do or say.

This fallacy is used to promote and justify bigotry, inequitable practices and general assholery. A more formal model looks like this:

1) It is common practice to treat people of type Y in manner X and to treat people of type Z in a different manner.

2)There is no relevant difference between people of type Y and type Z.

3) Therefore people of type Z should be treated in manner X, too.

An example would be: “Sure, some people buy into that equality crap. However, we know that everyone pays women (type Y) less (manner X) than men (type Z). It’s okay, too. Since everyone does it, it can’t really be wrong.”

This is a nested example and can be a bit confusing. In this argument it is acceptable for Women (Type Y) to be paid less (Manner X) than Men (Type Z) because “everyone does it”.

The logical part of the argument continues that because there is no relative difference between women (Type Y) and men (Type Z), therefor men should be paid less (Manner X) too.

Unfortunately because “everybody does it”, it is socially/morally.ethically acceptable. This, dear reader, is a logical fallacy. Just like your Momma used to say “If all your friends jumped off a cliff would you do the same thing?” Simply because everyone else is doing something doesn’t automatically presume the correctness of the action or attitude.

I know…I know.. Some of you out there are thinking “Well if I had a parachute or a hang glider…” If you had one of those items, then sure, jump off the cliff. Just don’t let yourself “fall” into using that fallacy to justify an argument. Always reference the data. Find out what the correct information is. Don’t take everyone else’s word for something until YOU know it to be true or false.

Because I Said So

This is the authoritarian or “Appeal to Authority” type of logical fallacy. When someone claims expertise on a subject and that someone makes a claim about a different subject, people automatically believe. The pattern looks like this:

1) Person A is (claims to be) an authority on subject S.

2) Person A makes claim C about subject S.

3) Therefore, C is true.

This is only a logical fallacy when the person in question is NOT an expert on subject S. I know…I know… It looks like a big algebra problem, doesn’t it?  Let me break it down into bite sized pieces.

Say that you know I’m a lab assistant at the CDC. I analyze tissue samples for a living so I know something about biology and infectious diseases. We’re at a party talking about the Large Hadron Collider. If I were to tell you that the Large Hadron Collider uses a form of lasers shot in a big circle to smash atoms, you might believe me because I am a scientist rather than investigate for yourself.

[[The Large Hadron Collider actually hurls protons at each other at 99.99999% the speed of light to create new particles. There is absolutely no danger of it creating a black hole. I’ll explain what it really does in more detail in another post]]

So here the logical fallacy comes in when we believe someone to be an authority figure on a subject based on the fact that they might be in a field that is generally related to the one they are claiming authority on just because they say they know.  And if THAT isn’t a run on sentence, I don’t know what is.

Let me try to make it even easier. In real life I’m a herbalist. I know quite a bit about the chemicals in herbs and how they work on the human body. If I were to say that penicillin molecules can penetrate the blood-brain barrier and you believed me without researching the truth for yourself (that is a false assertion by the way) then that is an example of this type of logical fallacy.

Even though I know a great deal about phytochemistry, ACTUAL chemistry involved in creating medicinal penicillin is still not something I know much about.

So, as usual I’ll suggest that you think critically. Ask yourself if this person is really an expert in that field. Do your own research. BadScience.com is a great place to start.

Seeing Is Believing

There is a type of logical fallacy called “Appeal to Belief”. It has a basic pattern of:

1 – “Most people believe that X is true”

2 – Therefor X is true

For instance,

“Most people believe that unidentifiable lights in the sky at night are UFOs”

Therefor “Aliens have visited Earth”.

Roswell and Area 51 is a perfect example of the “People believe it therefor it must be true” school of logical fallacy. Of course there will always be True Believers out there. We can only keep giving them information and hope that eventually it will stick with them.

Yes. Area 51 DOES exist. People commute by plane back and forth daily to the complex. Area 51 deals with research and development. You can read about the history of the place, why the airspace is restricted and some background here: http://science.howstuffworks.com/area-5113.htm

It has been shown repeatedly that what people thought was a UFO was nothing more than a weather balloon. BUT because people believe that a UFO crash landed there and “credible” witnesses claim that bodies were removed, then aliens MUST have crash landed there.

It all goes back to using your skeptical thinking processes. Can this be real? What does the evidence say? Is this really a credible source for information on this subject?

Question everything. It’s the Skeptic’s Way.

If you want to read more about what the possibilities are of humans being alone in the Universe, pick up a copy of Phil Plait’s book “Death From The Skies” There’s a chapter in there on aliens and their evil machinations on Planet Earth.

The Error of My Ways

Last night I got a call from my youngest son’s ex-girlfriend. He mother wanted to talk to me. She knows that at one time I was a Wiccan High Priestess. She asked her daughter to call me because she wanted to know if I knew how to bind someone.

No we’re not talking kinky S&M stuff. A binding is a long-term spell. It’s purpose is to keep the bound person from causing harm.

After being involved in Wicca for a few years I came to a realize about spellcasting. Even though I still believed in duotheism, rarely did a spell work for me. At that time I decided that it wasn’t working because I was trying to manipulate the world in ways that were contrary to the will of the god and goddess. Spellcasting was manipulation in my view.

When I told other Wiccans how I felt, they explained that, in their mind, spellcasting was the same as prayer. To them, the various rituals were ways of asking for what they wanted.

Why not just ask for it then? Why all the circles, pentacles, wands, etc?

I liked the people so I kept hanging out with them but eventually I realized that wicca wasn’t working for me. So I came up with the notion that all gods are one god. Later I discovered that this is a Buddhist idea.

After years of being free of religion, I’ve come to realize that spellcasting is even more egocentric than prayer. With prayer you believe that a being as important as god has the time to listen to you and only you when he/she/it has the entire world to look after.

With spellcasting you believe you have the power to manipulate “Universal energy” to affect change in your life or the lives of other people. Spellcasting can also be used for various situations. For instance if you want a specific job, a spellcaster would do a ritual to create a situation in which they would be offered the job over other more qualified people.

It is egocentric and manipulative to think that by doing certain ritualistic actions in a prescribed manner that those action will bring the desired result.

I called this post “The Error of My Ways” for two reasons. First, I now see that not only is spellcasting manipulative, it also doesn’t work except by pure chance and coincidence. Second, since I have previously told people about my past, it is coming back to bite me in the ass.

I now have to find a way to gently tell this woman that I don’t do spellcasting anymore because I believe it to be another form of manipulation. I’ve also got to figure out a way to explain that it doesn’t really work and she would just be doing it to make herself feel better without actually doing anything to fix the problem.

Logical Fallacies

When I was at DragonCon at the beginning of the month I talked to some of the brightest minds in the realm of skepticism. I explained what my plans were for this blog and eventual podcast. It was suggested that I cover logical fallacies as one of my topics.

What is a logical fallacy? It’s when reasoning takes a turn into left field and drives of a cliff. Sometimes the reasoning is SO bad that the vehicle even explodes on impact after driving off the aforementioned cliff. Yes. Logic fall down go boom.

The real definition is an error in reasoning.

For example, in a recent post I talked about Kirk Cameron’s latest project. In his video he talks about Charles Darwin’s link to Hitler and his practice of misogyny. This type of logical fallacy is called Ad hominem or “Against the person”

This type of error in logic infers that because Darwin may have had some connection with Adolph Hitler and may have treated women poorly then his theories MUST be in error because he is reported to have been a bad person.

A person’s supposed character has nothing to do with the validity of their arguments. It is an error in reasoning to include these things as part of an argument.

This is just one of many types of logical fallacy. The more I read, the more complicated it gets so i will be talking about this a great deal more in subsequent posts. In the mean time if you would like to learn more about the different types of logical fallacies, please visit here: http://www.unc.edu/depts/wcweb/handouts/fallacies.html

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