Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Dog bites man

The sexual-liberal community is apparently up in arms about the Pope's latest comments on gender theory. I, however, welcome this news because it contributes further to the exposition of the Pope as a right-wing, conservative religious crazy person. Yes, his remarks are offensive and ignorant; but they should not be surprising.

It is quite telling that the majority of negative comments in the article come from Christian sources. It is my fond hope that this trend continues, and the religious right does more to marginalise itself in the eyes of society. I look forward to the day when "Pope spews yet more hateful ignorant pigshit" is not news.

Friday, 19 December 2008

The Life, Death and Legacy of Deep Throat

Possibly the most famous informant since Judas, the man known until just three years ago only as "Deep Throat", has died, aged 95. There are a few reasons for mentioning this here.

Firstly, he is an interesting figure for sceptics - he contributed one of the greatest amounts of fuel to the fire of the conspiracy theory culture that any one person has managed. It finally proved, in the eyes of many, that the government cannot be trusted; that there really are conspiracies and cover-ups at the highest levels of government.

Despite this being a perfectly valid point, however, what is rarely if ever taken into account by conspiracy nuts theorists is that not only do conspiracies and cover-ups happen, but so does whistleblowing. Compared to some conspiracy theories, the Watergate scandal was relatively small in terms of how many people knew the truth; and yet someone spoke up. This is a perfect demonstration of one of the mainstays of arguing against conspiracies - the whistleblower argument. So not only did Deep Throat provide conspiracy theorists with the perfect proof, he also provided the perfect counter-argument.

The second thing I find interesting about Mark Felt is his expressed misgivings about what he did; apparently he felt guilty about "betraying his FBI badge". Some critics agree with this assessment and brand him a traitor for turning on the Commander in Chief - a strange assessment considering the FBI is not a military organisation but a civilian one. Either way, I disagree with his critics and argue rather that he upheld his oath as a federal employee; the oath he took bound him to uphold the constitution, not to defend the president.

Of course, it's not as simple as that. As associate director of the FBI, he was also supposed to protect the information relating to the investigation, and send it through the correct channels. This is the obligation he violated, and surely the source of his moral discomfort. What he did, though, fulfilled the spirit of his role rather than the by-the-letter procedure thereof.

Here comes the quick ethical philosophy section, because me being me I find it hard to resist. Mark Felt suffered a moral dilemma, which is what happens when one or more roles in which you sees yourself oblige you to take two conflicting courses of action. In this case, he was obliged to follow procedure, and also to see that justice was done. Normally these two obligations would not conflict - and indeed the theory is that they are more or less synonymous. However, with regards to the Watergate scandal, the procedure was blocked, hindered, and/or corrupt - giving rise to the dilemma.

I say he did the right thing. He chose principle over procedure, and in exposing the Nixon administration's misdeeds, he carried out the most important role of his position. It was, after all, an important founding tenet of the constitution that nobody would be above the law; his obligation to defend and enact this principle overrode his obligation to follow Bureau procedure. What's more interesting than the whole Watergate débacle is his later conviction (and pardon) for approving illegal raids. That has echoes in recent legislation, and involves arguments about the right to privacy and the measures necessary to combat terrorism.

That will have to wait for another day and another blog entry. For now, it is enough to remember the man known for over thirty years only as Deep Throat, and what he did. I only hope that his Alzheimer's provided him some degree of moral peace in his final years, and he died free of torment.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Fictional Sceptics #5: Questionable Content

A very brief Fictional Sceptics post today, because this is something which has only just become apparent to me and there's not a lot to say on the matter.

You may or may not be familiar with the webcomic Questionable Content, drawn by Jeph Jacques. It's a usually-amusing serial comic about a bunch of twenty-somethings, most of whom have some pretty messed up issues. You know, the usual. It's not my favourite webcomic, certainly, but it's usually entertaining enough.

Today, it climbed up a little more in my estimations by having one of the characters fly off into a rant about metaphysical beliefs and evidence. It may not be much, but it's nice to see the sceptical mindset portrayed as another facet of an everyday person's persona.

It's a shame it had to invoke the clichéd "strict religious upbringing" as the cause of the character's scepticism, but it is true that many sceptics have that in their past. Certainly not all, however - I'm pleased to say I'm part of the exception.

So thanks, Jeph. I'm looking forward to seeing more of this aspect of Penelope's personality.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Brief update

Apologies for not writing for a while - I think this is the longest I've gone without uploading a new entry. There's a lot going on at the moment, and most of it is less than enjoyable - this means that updates here are likely to continue to be sporadic for a while. I'll write when I can, but my at-least-one-post-a-week aim might be ambitious.

In the meantime, however, I thought I'd inform you of an interesting development which is in the pipeline. As you may well be aware, London Skeptics in the Pub has been a roaring success, particularly in the last year or so. The sister event in Leicester is also doing well, with speakers booked for most of the coming year and attendance at a decent level. These two groups may be soon joined by a third - one in Birmingham. This is pretty great news for me, as I now live a stone's throw away in Wolverhampton - so naturally I'd love to see it get off the ground.

The main organiser at the moment is none other than Jon Donni, of BadPsychics fame/infamy. There's not yet a website set up, as this is still an idea being tested for feasibility. If you think you'd be interested in attending regular meet-ups with fellow skeptics in Birmingham, then head over to the FarceBook group and put your name down.

Hopefully you'll hear from me again soon - at least one post a week is still the aim - but don't be surprised if I'm a little quiet for a while. I'm still around, the blog is still active, so please be patient with me.