Cordial Deconstruction

Observations from our shared single objective reality in a materialistic, naturalistic, & effectively macro-deterministic universe.

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Archive for the ‘Thoughtful/Random Observation’ Category

On Book Burning…

Posted by Karl Withakay on September 9, 2010

I have to work tonight and was sick Sun-Tue, so I probably won’t get a real post out this week, but I’d like to take a moment and say the following:

Book burning is not a way to demonstrate that you are educated or enlightened, and it is certainly not a way to demonstrate your moral superiority.

Don’t just oppose it because it may put American military personal at risk.

Don’t oppose it because you feel all holy books should be respected.  I don’t have to respect anyone’s holy book if I don’t want to.  I only have to respect someone’s right to have a holy book.  I’m perfectly free to ridicule that book, and I’m also free to ridicule them for holding that book holy while I’m at it if I want to be dickish about it.

There are better and more complete reasons to oppose this planned act of bigotry and hate.

The following posts by PalMD are a small sample of the numerous excellent posts out there on the internet regarding the planned burning of a bunch of Qurans this Saturday by a Florida pastor.  Please take time to read them.

From the White coat Underground:

–     Book Burnings

–     Not an entirely benign form of expression


Posted in Criticism, Heads Up, Thoughtful/Random Observation | Leave a Comment »

My Take on the Dawkins Interview at TAM8

Posted by Karl Withakay on July 13, 2010

This past weekend I has the pleasure of attending The Amazing Meeting 8 in Las Vegas with my friend Polite Scott.  It was, of course, amazing.  The keynote speaker was famed British evolutionary biologist, ethologist, and author Richard Dawkins.  Instead of giving a keynote address, Dawkins was interviewed Bob Costas style by JREF president D.J. Grothe.  While I kind of missed a formal keynote address, I enjoyed the interview very much.  I always enjoyed the casual, intimate interview format of Later with Bob Costas; it allowed for a more personal interview, and this interview was very similar.

Although there was much of interest in the interview, sometimes it’s the little things that leave the biggest impact.  My friend Polite Scott, for instance, tweeted the following after the interview:

Enjoyed Richard Dawkins’ session at TAM8, but was even more impressed to learn @DJGrothe is a comic book fan #TAM8

The thing that really caught my attention was Dawkins’ use of personal pronouns for non-specific, gender neutral references.  Depending on how you look at it, the English language is either gender biased or at least gender specific.  In German, for instance, the word sie can mean she, they, or even you (singular or plural), but in English, gender in pronouns implies actual gender.  Consider the following sentence:

Talk to your doctor about what he would choose for his family.

Fifty years ago, if you were addressing a crowd of people, this is how you would have phrased that statement without giving it a second thought, and it wouldn’t have even been seemed that gender biased since most people’s doctors would have been men.  Indeed, most people would still phrase it that way without a second thought.  Since the sexual revolution, there have been a couple of different alternative ways of dealing with gender when using pronouns in non-specific contexts.  One way is to use both masculine and feminine pronouns at the same time as in:

Ask your doctor what he/she would choose for his/her family.

It’s certainly inclusive, but it’s terribly awkward.  Another common choice is to use plural pronouns for non-specific references as in the following:

Ask you doctor what they would choose for their family.

This has always seemed to me to be the more elegant solution, but I admit I have had a hard time following it, mostly due to the influence of my tyrannical high school English teacher who insisted on using masculine pronouns for non-specific references.  (He was and older, conservative teacher at a conservative Lutheran high school )

Dawkins’ interview demonstrated a third option that had never previously occurred to me.  When he used pronouns for non-specific references, Dawkins used feminine pronouns.  He would have phrased the example phrase thusly:

Ask your doctor what she would choose for her family.

At the same time, this phraseology is both inclusive in its own way and thought provoking.   Every time he used a feminine pronoun for a non-specific reference, it made me think of how women might feel when people use masculine pronouns instead.  If you’re an English speaking, Christian, white male in the United States, you might not realize or care how non-inclusive our language and society can be.  On the other hand, sometimes I wonder if this is one of the reasons behind the various English only attitudes in this country.  Maybe some people realize how non-inclusive our country can be, and they don’t want to end up with the short straw at some time in the future.  Maybe they don’t see how it can be any other way other than society being focused on one particular language and culture, and they want to make sure it’s their culture that dominates.

This past weekend in Las Vegas, one man gave a hint to an admittedly receptive (fairly liberal) audience of approximately 1,300 people that maybe it doesn’t always have to be that way.  Think about it the next time you use a pronoun in a non-specific context.

Posted in Critical Thinking, English Language, Inclusivity, Richard Dawkins, TAM, The Amazing Meeting, Thoughtful/Random Observation | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Sci-Fi Science and Skepticism Fail on Syfy

Posted by Karl Withakay on June 10, 2010

A couple of months ago, I was flipping through channels on my POOP TV* and caught a few minutes of one of those really bad, direct to cable movies they run all the time on the Syfy channel.  The movie was Savage Planet and before I changed the channel, I chanced to hear the following lines of dialog spoken by one of the characters in the movie:

“I always believed there had to be a scientific explanation for everything.  Science was the only answer.  Since I’ve been here, I’m rapidly becoming a skeptic.”

I hit the record button on my DVR remote so I could preserve that line of dialog for a potential future blog post.  However, I didn’t continue watching the program, and I stopped the recording after the dialog, so I only have a few minutes recorded.

I don’t really know what the character was specifically talking about, but I imagine it had something to do with the killer space bears the reviews say the movie contains.  Regardless, this quote is an epic fail on the part of the writers of the movie.  They apparently buy into the philosophy that “science doesn’t know everything”, which is really a misunderstanding of science, since science is a process, and not a body of knowledge or answers.

To quote the Wikipedia article on science,

“Science is a systematic enterprise of gathering knowledge about the world and organizing and condensing that knowledge into testable laws and theories.”

Science is not the answer, it is the means to an answer; it is they way to provide the explanation.  If it is beyond  your ability to explain scientifically, that is not a failure of science; that is a failure of your ability and knowledge base.  Lacking a scientific explanation for a phenomenon does not make that phenomenon supernatural or paranormal, it simply means you haven’t found the scientific explanation yet.  It can be very frustrating to not have the answer for something.  It can be even more frustrating to know that the answer to that question may never be discovered during your lifetime, but that is no reason to engage in a god of the gaps fallacy and invent some supernatural explanation just so you can have an answer.

The dialog is also a profound misunderstanding of skepticism and the skeptical community.  While the word skepticism can technically mean any questioning attitude, skepticism is about challenging claims lacking empirical evidence.  It is also about challenging and examining the evidence that is used to support a claim.  Skepticism is a crucible for inquiry in which claims are subjected to the fires of scientific scrutiny to burn away the extraneous fluff, leaving only scientific knowledge and/or more questions to be answered.

I don’t really expect any better for a low budget sci-fi movie that likely went straight to Syfy, but I wanted to blog about it because I’ve heard the “Science doesn’t have all the answers” gambit many times before, and I wanted to give my take on why that concept is so wrong.

*POOP TV:  Picture Out Of Picture.  I have a 40” HDTV sitting next to my 60” HDTV.  When I was researching buying a new 60” HDTV, I wanted to get a model with PIP (Picture In Picture) because my then current TV had it, and it was pretty nifty for watching one football game while keeping track of another.  I discovered that it would cost a lot more extra to get any of the current models with PIP, more than the cost of buying a second, smaller HDTV.  So I bought a budget model 32” LCD TV to go next to my new 60” model.  I found that I liked the setup not just for watching two football games at the same time, but also for watching TV while playing video games, especially when I am just performing some boring, repetitive action to level up a character, exploit a flaw in the game to generate endless amounts of money, or get some achievement.  I liked the POOP TV setup so much that a couple years later, I sold my 32” TV to a friend and upgraded the POOP TV to a 40” model.

I have no wife or kids, I have to spend my money on something, right?

Posted in Critical Thinking, Criticism, Quotes, Sci-Fi, Science, Skepticism, Space, Syfy, Television, Thoughtful/Random Observation | Leave a Comment »

2009 Junk Mail in Review

Posted by Karl Withakay on January 3, 2010

old fashioned spam

109 business reply envelopes from 2009

Happy New Year.

Before there was spam, there was junk mail.   It seems like every week I get some credit card offer in the mail, and most of them seem to be Capitol One card offers, but I never had any statistics to support that with, until now.   I decided to do an experiment for 2009.  For the entire year, I saved every business reply envelope that came in any mail that arrived in my physical mailbox.

The results are in.

I received 109 mail items containing business reply envelopes in 2009.  Of that 109, all but 19 were credit card offers, which makes 83%  credit card offers.  Twenty six of those credit card offers were from Capitol One, which averages out to 1 every other week (24% of the total).  I received 5 credit card offers from Citi Bank, even though I already have two credit cards from Citi Bank.  Discover sent me two offers, even though I already have a Discover card.  The NRA started sending me renewal notices 1 month after I joined, and sent me a total of 6 renewal notices over the one year I was a member.

I am tempted  to obtain 109 boxes of bricks and tape a business reply envelope to each one and drop them all off at the post office to show the senders just how much I appreciate their junk mail.

Posted in Thoughtful/Random Observation | 1 Comment »

Am I Too Cynical About Christmas Cards?

Posted by Karl Withakay on December 25, 2009

I don’t send Christmas cards.  I don’t have anything against Christmas cards.  I actually enjoy receiving them, but I just can’t find the motivation to send them.  (I’ll admit it’s a result of a combination of laziness and selfishness.)

My favorite cards are photo cards from friends showing them and their families.  Those tend to stay on my fridge for a long time.  However, I don’t really care for cards from people who aren’t any kind of friends or family.  You know, the card from my car dealer, my financial guy, my insurance agent, etc.

I got an envelope in the mail the other day and thought to myself,

Oh cool, a card!

I wonder who it’s from.

Cool, it’s a photo card!

Hey, she’s pretty attractive!

Wait a minute, I don’t know her.

Was it delivered to the right address?

Yes, that’s my name and address on the envelope.

What’s on the back of the card?


She’s my Rams ticket agent.

I don’t really care for holiday or birthday cards that are paid for out of someone’s marketing budget.  They just don’t feel sincere.  I did like the holiday card from James Randi this year, perhaps because it was a photo card.  Do you like cards no matter who their from, or could you care less if your hair salon sends you a card for Christmas?

Posted in Holiday, Thoughtful/Random Observation | Leave a Comment »

They’re All Unique (Revisiting a Concept from Fringe S2E8: August)

Posted by Karl Withakay on November 27, 2009

In last week’s episode of Fringe, “August”, when August told his fellow Observers that Christine should be saved because she was unique, he was told, “They’re all unique”, implying that while every individual is unique, that does not necessarily make them special or possibly that some people are more unique than others. It reminded me of conflicts I’ve had with various people about the use of the word unique that goes all the way back to my high school English teacher.

There are those who claim it is improper to use a modifier with the word unique, such as in “most unique”, or “very unique” because unique means one of a kind and thus it is an absolute concept. They claim something is either unique or it isn’t, and there is no such thing as “more one of a kind”.

I’m going to give my deconstruction of that claim in two parts. The first is to simply point out that one of the accepted definitions of the word unique is unusual or not typical. Regardless of the original meaning and use of the word, common usage causes language to evolve over time, and that includes the accepted meanings of words. The word unique is by no means unique in this regard. Frankly, Q.E.D.

However, I also contend that it is can often be (edited 12-4-9 to clarify) acceptable to modify the word unique even when it is used to mean one of a kind. Consider a closed universe that contains only seven objects, 6 of the objects are plastic spheres 6 inches in diameter, each one a different color, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. The seventh object is a transparent glass cube 12 inches on each side. Every object in the thought universe is unique, but the cube is more unique than any of the other objects because it has more unique qualities. All the other objects share the qualities of shape, material composition, size, and that fact that they are all colored. The cube is more unique than all the other objects because it shares none of those properties with the other objects.

From a severely literal and scientific perspective, everything in this universe is unique to some degree or other. No two objects are exactly identical down all their individual constituent particles on a quantum level. In fact, if you take any two seemingly identical objects, I’d guess you probably wouldn’t even have to look at the quantum level to find the differences between them. A very close examination under relatively low magnification, say 100X, should be sufficient to find differences between almost any two objects. Even if you had two particles in identical quantum states, they wouldn’t be occupying the exact same position in time and space, and both particles would be unique in some way.

If you can’t have degrees or qualities of uniqueness, then everything is unique, and the word is irrelevant; it would probably be more irrelevant that any other word. 🙂

Posted in Fringe, Television, Thoughtful/Random Observation, Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

Attention Women Seeking Men On Line:

Posted by Karl Withakay on October 19, 2009

If you are a woman looking for a man on an online dating service like Match or EHarmony, here’s a few words of advice on crafting your profile.  This list applies specifically to things that catch my eye or turn me away, but I think it probably applies just as well to a good portion of the guys out there on the services.

Things to Mention to Generate Interest.

-You like watching movies and TV, especially Sci-Fi, horror, and action flicks.
-You like playing video games, especially Xbox360.  (Mentioning the Wii will only get you half credit.)
-You like watching sports.
-You enjoy a good drink now and then.
-You’re OK with sometimes staying at home and watching a video instead of  going out.

Things that will cause guys to look at your profile and pictures, but might not generate as many contacts as you think they will.

-Mentioning you’re bisexual.
-Saying you’re sexually adventuresome.
-Talking about how big your boobs are.
-Mentioning that you’re not looking for a serious or long term relationship.  Hint, if he’s looking on Match or EHarmony, he probably is looking for a long term relationship, and not scared off by a woman who says she’s looking for the same .  (OKCupid is another story.)

Things that will cause a guy to loose interest instantly.

-Mentioning that your divorce is not yet final.
-Mentioning health problems.
-Mentioning that you’re broke or don’t have enough money to complete school.
-Mentioning how fervently religious you are and how important God is in your life.  (Why are you even winking at me; did you just look at my picture without reading my profile?)

Things that will have no impact whatsoever.

-Saying you are funny, sarcastic, optimistic, intelligent caring, and interested in having fun or are interested in a match that is funny, sarcastic, optimistic, intelligent, caring, and interested in having fun.
-Saying you are looking for someone who is confident and knows what they want in life.

OK, now that we’ve established you are exactly the same as everyone else on Match and EHarmony, how about saying something to differentiate yourself? (Has anyone ever said they had no sense of humor and were a pessimist, stupid, indifferent or cruel, and hated having fun when looking for a match?)

Other things to keep in mind

Don’t mention anything you don’t like unless it’s a deal breaker.  He’s probably got dozens of matches that have been delivered to him, and he’s looking for anything to use to shrink the list to a more manageable size.

Right or wrong, this is the way I translate the answers to the question, “Do you want children?” on Match.


Yes, as soon as possible; I’m baby desperate.


Yes, when the time is right.

Note sure:

Maybe, (Likely leaning towards
yes, but it’s a big choice, and wants to make sure the situation is right.

Probably not:

No, but I don’t want to look
like a child hater.

No, but it’s OK if my partner
has kids:

Lots of different potential
meanings to this one that all boil down to, “Read my lips, No new
children in our lives.”

No, I don’t want kids:

Straight forward and self

(This table came out a little weird, but I know about jack squat about HTML, and reversed-engineered a table as best as I could.)

That is all for now.

Posted in Deadpan, Humor, Internet, Online Dating, Thoughtful/Random Observation | 1 Comment »

Peter Anspach: A Modern Machiavelli?

Posted by Karl Withakay on September 21, 2009

If you are not familiar with the Evil Overlord List, I encourage you to check it out.  It’s basically a list of all the mistakes made by evil rulers in the movies and on television that lead to their downfall, presented as a what to do/ not to do list.

It struck out of the blue this past weekend that this list is essentially a modern version of Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince.   The Prince is basically a practical treatise on how a prince might gain and keep power including what pitfalls to avoid and what actions to take, and this is exactly what the Evil Overlord List is.

Link to a simpler summary of The Prince

Both works espouse rule by force rather than law, both dispassionately advocate  cold and ruthless actions to keep and maintain power, as well as offering advice on on what actions to avoid.  Both offer advice as to the types of forces used to seize and maintain power, how to fortify strongholds, what to look for in henchmen/advisers/ministers, etc.

I just wanted to share this insight on these two greats works regarding maintaining power.  That is all.

Posted in Deadpan, History, Humor, Internet, Literature, Thoughtful/Random Observation | 1 Comment »

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