Co-op VS Christian Voice, Good: Visa VS Wikileaks, Bad - keeping cognitive dissonance in check

An important disclaimer: If I had to wrap my positive feelings about Christian Voice to place under the Christmas tree then I would end up being visited by three ghosts, who would proclaim me a scrooge. They would take me to the past, present and future of Christian Voice before apologising for wasting my time, shaking my hand and heading off to pick on its director, Stephen Green.

Christian Voice (CV) are a diminutive, pointless, homophobic group given a ridiculous amount of undue exposure in the media, due to an honourable but badly applied understanding of what balance requires.

I do not believe they represent the views of the average Christian – but at the same time I wish moderate Christians were a lot more vocal in distancing themselves from them.

So hopefully no one can mistake this article to be in anyway supportive of CV. They’re dicks.

I say this because I’ve noticed something interesting on twitter this evening. My timeline (a typically skeptical and rational group) has become inundated with people congratulating Co-op on their treatment of CV. In short, Co-op refused CV banking and asked them to leave due to CV’s homophobia.

The CV’s version of events can be read here

If I ran a bank, the last people I would want opening an account are the CV. Obviously. But the support for the actions of the Co-op that I saw on twitter seems easily given and without due consideration.

Especially considering the story is from 2005 and is currently bubbling up again as old stories are want to do.

It was only the other side of xmas that the same feed was outraged that VISA, Mastercard, Amazon and Paypal decided to cancel Wikileaks ability to bank and receive donations.

It would be easy to become distracted now about the reasons behind the cancellation of services provided to Wikileaks and crucially to anyone who wanted to donate to them. Whether it was due to Government pressure; and/or the fear of cables related to banks*; or even claimed ToS violations**

The cognitive dissonance between these two view points should be apparent. As rational thinkers it should be obvious that we can not simultaneously support and condone banks for restricting financial operations to organisations based purely on whether we like that organisation.

Should British Gas also request Christian Voice get another energy provider?

No matter the reason for the retraction of service it doesn’t justify the actions that were taken. In either case.

There is currently a battle to preserve and promote Net Neutrality and deal with the idiocies of the Digital Economy Bill. In which people were, rightly, horrified about the idea that people might lose their internet access on accusations of copy right infringement.

This is an important issue because it is nearly impossible to function without an internet connection. You lose your voice, your access to knowledge and the ability to function in society.

The same is true with banking facilities. Without access to money your ability to function becomes impossible. An issue which becomes ever more significant with the move away from physical to digital money.

The counter argument is that as an ethical bank, Co-op was merely sticking to it’s principles.

However, ethical banking means that the banks commits to investing your money in organisations and actions which are consider ethical.

To ensure that it does not use your money to profit from actions you consider unethical.

It does not, and should not, mean that you have to pass a morality test to join; because that places the bank (and not consumer) as the arbiter of what is ethical.

If we find it acceptable for the Co-op to refuse to allow homophobes the right to bank then it is only fair that we consider it acceptable for a non-ethical bank to refuse homosexuals the right to bank.

Regardless of your position towards Christian Voice or Wikileaks it is crucial that organisations are allowed to function and can not be neutered and censored by corporations acting outside the law.

Democracy stands by the assertion that you don’t censor people who are wrong, but you debate them into obscurity. Celebrating the closure of CVs banking facilities is celebrating censorship and not debate.

Because money talks, and without it you can’t.

Another disclaimer: I’ve been stuck on a 3G connection for weeks now so have not been able to follow up references and such to levels I would like. So I am happy (as always) to accept corrections and the like.

* A fear which appears to have lead to pre-emptive registering of critical url addresses of various bankers

** Which it would seem the KKK do not violate

The time I saw a ghost.

It is christmas and that means we need a ghost story. This is mine.

So as a kid I was obsessed with the paranormal. Properly obsessed. UFOs, ghosts, supernatural powers, the whole deal. It was pre-internet so all this arcane knowledge had to be deciphered from from tatty second hand books pilfered from car boot sales and dusty shops.

Eventually I headed to secondary school and where I was lucky enough to encounter some tremendous science teachers. They infected me with the scientific method and, surprisingly, it didn't immunise me from the paranormal at all.

It strengthened my belief in it. For I knew I could use the scientific method to prove it all true.

But over time being skeptical and scientific knocked down the crazy things I wanted to be true. One little piece at a time. I saw the contradictions and intentional reproductions of previously admitted hoaxes and began to lose faith in the paranormal community.

But then I saw a ghost.

I would often walk down by the canal near my house. The entrance was especially pretty with trees overhanging the path that opened up to a view of a metal bridge and the canal itself.

Then one day as I walked up to that path I saw a man with his back to me. He was wearing jeans, and a top that was a green, or maybe blue. He had dark brown hair and he was clearly staring at the water from the bridge.

I was certain he was going to jump and try to kill himself. Completely certain. I remember my heart leaping. Striking my chest like a solid punch. I actually shouted out to him, but he ignored me. I was so worried I was routed to the spot. Eventually I snapped out of it, shouted again and rushed towards him.

He disappeared.

I don't think I've ever felt fear like I did when the suicidal man disappeared. I was rooted to the spot again with fear. I was physically shaking; a sudden cold washed over me and I didn't know what to do.

So I just stood there.

It all made sense, it was a ghost of a man who jumped to his death. It wasn't a tall bridge, but the water was full of junk and he was bound to have got caught on a trolley or something, been unable to resurface, and drowned. As it was suicide he had never found peace and was stuck repeating what had already happened.

As shaken as I was I suddenly realised I was right, and I was damn well going to use science to prove it. And so, on little more than a whim, I started pacing around the area I had been standing before I moved.

I must have looked a little strange.

I stood there inching around and moving my head this way and that for maybe 5 minutes. Which is a very long time to be acting like that. And it all seemed fruitless. But science requires rigour and so I stuck at it.

Eventually I got the ghost to return.

The branches of the trees were crossing the bridge in such a way that they outlined a crude shape of a man. The colour of the canal, grass, sky and concrete filled in the shape with jeans and a top, and gave him a reasonable head of hair.

As the wind blew the trees the image came and went and never had the absolute, complete reality that it's first appearance had, but even now I knew what was happening, it was a damn impressive optical illusion.

I was astonished at what a complete picture and story my mind had created with just this simple nudge from a random arrangement of the environment. If I was in a rush and had to keep walking, if I couldn't have spent all that time tilting my head this way and that like a moronic bird then to this day I would still be willing to bet my life, and that of my families, on the existence of a ghost on that bridge. I also realised that not once in the retelling of the tale would I ever think to mention the overhanging branches and soon I would forget they were even there. No skeptic, no matter how talented, would be able to solve the mystery from the most honest testimony I could give.

But I had the time, the good fortune, and scientific curiosity to stop and stare and rock back and forth and to test. And so I managed to disprove my very own ghost, and in doing so I got first hand experience of how completely and utterly my brain could lie to me.

And so seeing a ghost changed my life.

Julian Assange & Wikileaks

So I haven't made my mind up about Wikileaks latest release. I believe Wikileaks is hugely important and yet I see some valid criticisms about the cables release. But that's ok, because you don't have to immediately have an opinion about things. At the moment I think the good outweighs the bad. If only because whenever a member of the government tries to use the argument "if you've done nothing wrong you've nothing to hide" we can reply "so you support wikileaks?"

But I reserve the right to change that opinion. In politics thats called flip-floppig and frowned upon. In science it's just being sensible.

Nevertheless I've seen a few interesting links around (mostly via reddit) that I would like to share.

1) The Internet Archives copy of Julian Assange's old blog

Assange's blog is only a few years old and makes interesting reading. My current favourite quote being:

Wed 03 Jan 2007 : Witnessing

Every time we witness an injustice and do not act, we train our character to be passive in its presence and thereby eventually lose all ability to defend ourselves and those we love. In a modern economy it is impossible to seal oneself off from injustice.

If we have brains or courage, then we are blessed and called on not to frit these qualities away, standing agape at the ideas of others, winning pissing contests, improving the efficiencies of the neocorporate state, or immersing ourselves in obscuranta, but rather to prove the vigor of our talents against the strongest opponents of love we can find.

If we can only live once, then let it be a daring adventure that draws on all our powers. Let it be with similar types whos hearts and heads we may be proud of. Let our grandchildren delight to find the start of our stories in their ears but the endings all around in their wandering eyes.

The whole universe or the structure that perceives it is a worthy opponent, but try as I may I can not escape the sound of suffering. Perhaps as an old man I will take great comfort in pottering around in a lab and gently talking to students in the summer evening and will accept suffering with insouciance. But not now; men in their prime, if they have convictions are tasked to act on them.

The first part of which hits home with a great deal of pain. I type this whilst people starve, or are tortured, or denied medical care and I do so little about it.

I find it interesting how, at least in my opinion, The Internets collective response to such a blog would have been cynicism, criticism and accusations of being 'emo' and self-indulgent. When instead it is the thoughts of someone with the conviction to change the world.

2) A TED talk by Julian Assange on why we need Wikileaks.

Haven't watched this yet, but I'm currently downloading it for tomorrows commute.

3) Sarah Palin wants to hunt Assange like a terrorist.
Or at least according to the star. She's a wonderful person.

Crop Circles

The standard argument for crop circles is so preposterous that it borders on a straw man — that they are too complex to have been created by humans. The fact that crop circles are almost always documented by ELECTRONIC EYES being wielded by people flying inside GIANT HOVERING METAL BUGS so that the believers in humanities inadequacies can talk about them via A HUMUNGOUS INTERCONNECTED NETWORK OF MILLIONS OF TURING COMPLETE MACHINES is rather conviently forgotten. Hence this little comic.

EDIT: This image is currently the top post on skeptic board over at reddit. Here is the comment thread which includes some great discussion on what oil is made from. I will be needing to update my pic I think.

You've no doubt noticed the complete lack of action by myself here on the site, or on Twitter. Real life has not been kind recently and so I've not been left with any time or energy to write. The cause of this absence would make a good post in itself, but I would rather wait till events settle.

I've always tried to hold myself to high standards on this blog, but at the moment that means writing nothing at all. So I'm trying a new approach. I will attempt an update every sunday or monday - but it can be as silly and throwaway as this one.

Better than nothing I guess?

Being an atheist has nothing to do with my protest of the pope today.

Trying to write more - so here's a quick missive before I head out the door to todays protest. Whilst ill as a very ill thing.

I find it fascinating that it appears assumed that most people protesting the pope will be atheists. Is it true?

Either way that assumption allows Joseph Ratzinger to diminish all criticism as being the work of 'aggressive atheists' hating God.

This morning as 'thousands' head towards Hyde Park Corner to protest the easiest way that our comments can be ignored is by people being able to diminish the protest as purely atheist in nature.

That as an atheist I can't criticise the sexist treatment of women, or the luddite and murdering approach to contraception (especially with the regards to HIV and Africa), or the systematic and calculated cover up of the abuse of children because deep down I'm really complaining that these people believe in God.

I find this absurd. But, listening to the words of the ppe during this trip, in all his silly hats surrounded by pomp and parade, I've realised something. His comments against the 'secularising of UK society' and 'marginalising of faith' in this country is not a plee to become a Catholic. Although obviously he would like that. The reason for all these strong words is to fence off the secular and atheistic view point in the minds of the general public.

I think he wants to remind people that religion is magic, and thus so criticising it is dangerous, and even if you are apathetic towards it you need to respect it.

In addition, the unfair position that the Pope has been given due to his position as 'head of state' (of a citizen-less state no less) is a reason to protest today all by itself. If we gave state visits to the heads of every faith then this would be acceptable, but as it stands the Pope has been given a position above any other faith to come to the UK and criticise our way of life. Which we will pay for the pleasure for.

So, that being the case, a defence of our way of life is just.

It isn't due to my lack of a belief in God that I protest today – but because I do believe that, for all it's flaws, when it comes to equality, family planning and religion this country is progressive and civilised and as such closer to any God than the man that today will wear a silly hat inside a stupidly named car who preaches famine as contraception and that no women can ever equal a man.

Even though, in my opinion, no God exists. Obviously.

A skeptical look at TAM:London

I'm pretty certain The Amazing Meeting (TAM) is an awesome event.

I say pretty certain because I've never been able to afford it. It's in the USA and is part of that Las Vegas Big Conference wizz-bang that puts it out of my price league. Surprisingly becoming a Doctor of Astrophysics didn't create the defacto independently wealthy lifestyle one might expect; Doctor Who lied to me.

But now that it has come to London.... and, well, I still can't afford it.

I state this not to moan about the price (although I will discuss it) but because I write from a position of ignorance and want that to be understood from the start.

First, I think it is important that I take a few paragraphs to emphasise how important the James Randi Educational Foundation is to me (but feel free to skip to the nitty gritty).

After reading swift for what seemed an age I joined the forum back in January 2002 (eons ago in internet-time). It was the foundry that pushed me into becoming a blogger.

As a child I was obsessed with the Paranormal/UFOs and the like. I had so many books on the subject that they filled a giant 6ft chest. My first W√ľnderkammer. This was pre-internet so I would rummage around boot sales and 2nd hand shops picking up exciting looking tomes of forbidden knowledge; everything from Ancient Civilizations to Zombies via Ball Lightning, Cryptozoology, Kirlian Photography, Psychic Plants and so on.

Then later, starting 'big school' a series of excellent teachers awoke within me a love of science.

Now science is not a series of facts but a process. Once it gets under your skin your can't help to apply that logic to every aspect of your life and interests.

And so my obsession with the paranormal met the scientific method and piece by piece it crumbled. I took my beloved interest and tore it down piece by piece day by day.

But it wasn't tragic or sad. It was enlightening. I was working out how wonderful the real world was - not this make believe one I inhabited previously. My only frustrations were aimed at the authors who I could see intentionally recycling claims long ago disproven.

I felt alone and voiceless; there was this community of paranormal researchers and I had no voice to hold them to account with.

And the JREF changed all that.

It wasn't until university that I personally acquired a consistent internet connection (a statement that on reflection seems preposterous) and would waste so long in the library hoovering up not just information but the realisation I was not alone.

James Randi - my god damning hero.

Now there is such a huge skeptic and new-atheist movement that it seems crazy for someone of that inclination to be so isolated. But I was.

The JREF's outreach activities directly lead to this blog and to who I am today. I briefly met Randi at 'An Evening with James Randi and Friends' and it was a huge moment in my life.

So lets make this clear — the JREF and James Randi are massively important. Not just to me personally but for our society.

But one of skepticism's strengths is self criticism.

So lets be critical.

Lets start with the price. The ticket for TAMLondon, is £220. Some people have argued that this is extortionate.

An Evening with Randi and friends, had 11 speakers and cost £11 for about 300 people. A five fold increase in seats and the cost rising by a factor of twenty is quite shocking at first glance.

But it is preposterous to argue that JREF are ripping people off because: a) they are holding the meeting in a central London Hilton Hotel which doesn't come cheap, b) there is an International line up of speakers to fly in and c) it's raising money for the charity that is the JREF. d) the first TAM:London cost £150 (ish) and sold out not in days, but in hours.

The demand, even at those prices is there.

So the price is well justified, despite how counter intuitive it first appears that as attendance numbers rise so do the costs.

That said I do think there are a number of valid concerns to be raised about the price. It can be argued that the JREF is a primarily American charity and that the money it generates could be better used by the British skeptic movement.

The counter argument to this however is three fold. Firstly the JREF output is not solely contained within the US and with so much output being online it helps the entire globe (I can't forget how it helped me here in the UK for example).

Secondly I think many of us here in the UK and Europe see America as the primary battleground. That is where the nonsense is strongest and needs the most attention. I think we want to help in that battle and so the donations are willing. The issues the JREF highlights are global and not limited to just one country.

Thirdly it assumes that without TAM:London some magical British based TAM would appear.

Nevertheless, I've done voluntary work the British Humanist Association (ooh get me!) for example. And so I can state first hand how much support they need and what such good work they do. I feel that many of us in the UK are often distracted looking at the crazy nonsense that occurs outside the UK to properly pay attention to that which occurs within it.

It is important to note that that is not a criticism of TAM but of ourselves.

The second main issue with TAM:London is it's purpose.

It is not an outreach event. It is not intended to win over or convince people of the need for Rational Thought. The FAQ makes that no clearer than when it details how any video content posted to the net taken at the event will be removed.

As such it is neither a medium for the publishing of new findings. An academic conference would jump at any such publicity. At least in my own experience.

And so that leaves the fact that it is a show. A piece of entertainment.

Again, for the record, that isn't criticism of TAM:London — thats a completely fair position to take. One I would pretty much take if I was running TAM (see my 'solution' later).

So what are we left with? A 1,500 seater venue of skeptic celebrities preaching to the converted whilst raising money for their organisation of choice.

Which is a church.

And not a british church, but an american one, with american sensibilities (or that crazy one in south london). A Megachurch.

That sentence sounds bigoted and horrible. It isn't meant to be.

I'm a regular at Skeptics in the Pub in both Holborn and now Westminster (say hi next time!) and have spent the last few debating with friends whether this low key event that takes place in a pub basement is becoming churchlike. Whether it preaches to the converted and does nothing but support previously held beliefs. Occasionally it can remind you of that - but it is a truly wonderful and important event that I recommend to every one of you. It is open, extremely cheap and works hard to make the world a better place. Ten23 and the Libel Reform issues wouldn't be nearly as successful without it.

So why does TAM:London leave a number of us feeling slightly uneasy?

I think because it represents such big business. Many skeptics are critical of things like big church congregations, Woo conferences and exhibitions. And as nonsensical as it is to compare them it's hard not to feel like a certain amount of moral high ground is lost when we have what amounts to our own.

A critic can point to it and say: "look, you just like to go and hear people tell you that you are right!" and one can't reply: "it's not like that, come and see!" Because they can rightly point out the barrier of entry being £220 high.

Skepticism is about self criticism and not becoming complacent in ones views. But if we become people self supporting our beliefs who go to events to enjoy being enraged by woo, then we are using anger, frustration and being eghast as an entertainment.

It would be disastrous if people accused TAM of selling that in the way that Mr Alton Towers sells his rollercoasters.

So what do we need to do? We need to do the boring thing and reach out to the believers and the unaware.

When we are ridiculing woo and faith and bad science it needs to be in a manner that allows people to hear. To jump aboard and see. To be inspired and realise that there is a different way.

If they see it as a different kind of church where believers pays hundreds of pounds to be told their right then we will push the next generation of skeptics away.

Which would be a terrible shame.

We do not want to appear to be sitting in our ivory towers laughing at the idiots below.

We want people to know that our ivory tower has a lift and you can come and join us (I refuse to accept any negative connotations to ivory towers as they sound far too awesome).

To end I want to reiterate, I'm not saying TAM is bad. I love the JREF and would go if I could afford it. But I do think that we need to think carefully about what impression it gives.

TED — a role model, and solution.

To be critical without any suggestions for improvement would be too much even for me. So here's my simple solution.

It needs an openness it doesn't currently have and taking a leaf out of TEDs book I think there is a way around that.

TED is another preposterously expensive conference (It's almost a $1000 to get just a live web feed!) that could do huge damage to people's view of science except for one brilliant move. Rather than appearing exclusional, it has become a huge tool for good with it's free broadcast of talks given. Once a week for the year between TEDs these talks keep interest high, illuminate and inform the masses and makes the conference transparent.

With the support of the speakers at TAM:London this approach would prevent the criticisms I've detailed here.

Currently TAM:London just has a single video from last year.

So I call on TAM:London and its speakers to follow TED and turn a meeting that currently appears insular and segregating into a huge outreach and educational resource. Make the talks free. Slowly. Drip by drip. Over the year.

I don't believe it will cost you money. If anything I think it will increase DVD sales and grow the meeting. I suspect it will increase demand for next years tickets.

But more importantly it will raise awareness and place skepticism above reproach.

Are my feelings justified? I don't believe they necessarily are. But not being able to afford to go, I can't say further.

In the interest of full disclosure - I've applied for a bloggers press pass to visit TAM:London.

A Freedom or Great Repeal Bill: A deal with the devil worth making

I doubt many of the readers of this site will be that happy with Cameron in power. I know I'm not.

But, I contend that 5 years of Cameron is worth it. Even if he looks like his greasy carapace might crack open at any moment to release a David Icke Lizard Man.

Because the protection of civil liberties that this new parliament will provide is more important in the long term than the damage he may do to our public services.

I was too young during Thatchers years to really appreciate what she did to the country. It was only during Major that I started to (crudely) understand the pain and inequality they brought to my (strangely tory voting) parents.

Blair's new labour were the only labour party in power I had experienced, so their new nomenclature was more or less irrelevant. And whilst many people had hope for this new way, by the time I could vote the reality of Blair's government had made itself apparent to me.

As such for many of us this election has been extremely difficult. The continual, systematic, piece by piece dismantling of civil liberties by Labour since the Twin Towers attacks has been such a tremendous long term threat to our freedoms that the idea of allowing them to continue unabated with another term was unthinkable.

As unthinkable as allowing the Tories back in.

And with the corrupt First Past the Post system preventing the Lib Dems from holding a number of seats in anyway representing the 7 million votes they would eventually receive it seemed we were doomed.

But the hung parliament and the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition has produced a unique chance to undo so much of this mess.

The overlap in the venn diagram of Lib Dem/Con policies is such that any areas on which they do they agree are areas they need to push with all their strength in order to convince the public (and themselves) that they are a strong and stable government.

This is the best situation we could have possibly hoped for — as if their is one area where these parties do agree it is Civil Liberties.

I now quote from the full text of the coalition agreement document produced by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. §10 is a doozy.

10. Civil liberties

The parties agree to implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties under the Labour Government and roll back state intrusion.

This will include:

  • A Freedom or Great Repeal Bill.
  • The scrapping of ID card scheme, the National Identity register, the next generation of biometric passports and the Contact Point Database.
  • Outlawing the finger-printing of children at school without parental permission.
  • The extension of the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to provide greater transparency.
  • Adopting the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database.
  • The protection of historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury.
  • The restoration of rights to non-violent protest.
  • The review of libel laws to protect freedom of speech.
  • Safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation.
  • Further regulation of CCTV.
  • Ending of storage of internet and email records without good reason.
  • A new mechanism to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences.
  • I began to bold the most important parts of that list. But I stopped, because each and every part is so very, very important.

    The end of the system to systematically record every email sent and every url visited. The end of ID Cards. A commitment to libel reform. It's pretty much everything I've talked about on this blog.

    As such I wait with bated breath over the future of the Digital Economy Bill (and, of course, voting reform).

    With Clegg we have a liberal deputy prime minister who stated that he would break the law and lead a campaign of civil disobedience over ID cards.

    It is also reassuring that he will admit to being an atheist.

    We've been at a truly fundamental turning point in our history. One which is typically misunderstood or ridiculed but that makes it no less important.

    When it comes to our civil liberties and the disruptive distributed and equalised printing press we call the internet we are lumbered with MPs full of the fear of terrorism whilst being the last generation that can not understand the internet in either purpose or form.

    And for all it's cat pictures that there internet represents our cultural future and public mouthpiece. So, for all the damage to our public services in the next 5 years - if the Tories push the internet off the knife edge and back towards the openess and liberty we need, then in fifty years we'll still have the internet we need in a world we can not yet begin to understand.

    And that, I believe would be worth it.

    Insane Clown Feynman

    I'm guessing you've seen the music video 'Miracles' by the Insane Clown Posse? If you haven't pop off and watch it now, otherwise this blog post won't make sense. We'll wait.

    I'm obsessed with it. It's funny, but yet still quite inspiring and despite reeking of Poe's Law it somehow consolidates and captures the mindset of those who celebrate the 'wonderful mystery of ignorance' — that scientists are evil lying people who somehow drain the beauty of the world by trying to understand it.

    So here's my rebuttal, which I made by borrowing the wise words of Richard Feynman:

    Incidentally in doing so I've just broken the UK's Digital Economy Act - I'ld be guilty till proven innocent if a copyright holder took offence. And to prove it was fair use I'ld have to be able to pay....

    The Digital Economy Bill passed: The internet watched live as a handful of MPs ignored democracy in their attempts to control that which they don't understand.

    Yesterday we watched the 2nd reading of the Digital Economy Bill. Today we watched the 3rd reading.

    In short: Democracy wasn't present. Those wishing to censor ideas have been given a most powerful weapon. Culture will suffer. Whilst creators will gain nothing.

    My girlfriend and I gathered on the couch. Laptops out. Phones out. TV on. Twitter buzzing, Youtube satirising. Forums racing. People don't merely consume anymore. To just consume doesn't even make sense.

    During the minuscule 2 hours the 2nd reading took one man mashed up the #DEBill twitter feed with the parliament feed onto his TV to avoid having to multitask so much. He published his work so others could do the same.

    Remixing, reusing, editing.

    Overnight one excellent person remixed one particularly inane part of the 2nd reading to make a very important point:

    Remixing, reusing, editing.

    Open letters were written. Crowd sourced lists of the MPs in attendance were pulled together.

    20,000 wrote to their MPs. Thousands protested or rang MPs. #DEBill became the top trending topic on Twitter.


    There are 646 MPs. About 40 turned up for the second reading. About 16 made it to the end.

    The third reading has been just as bad. Almost Empty. 2 hours given to debate amendments to 50 clauses.

    The first clause took 1hr. The last 49 were glossed over in the last hour.

    Ten minutes before the vote labour MPs put down their drinks, pulled themselves out of the bar and stumbled in to vote for the Bill. Having listened to nothing.


    WikiLeaks has been releasing hugely important videos this week. The USA has been trying to shut them down, for leaking footage of an american helicopter killing Reuters Journalists in Iraq.

    John Hemming MP (Lib, Birmingham) is a member of the BPI. His money comes from media. If anyone should support the bill it should be him.

    But instead he calls it 'Absurd.'

    Why? Because he states that the Bill will allow the USA (or others) to claim copyright on that video and shut down the website and forbid sharers of it access to the internet. Despite it's important worth.

    John Redwood MP (Con, Wokingham) agreed:

    "This is really about Censorship on the Web" - John Redwood MP

    The true hero was Tom Watson (Labour MP) who quickly came to be the people's champion. His criticism of the bill didn't stop with the preposterous technical issues (ip address are not fingerprints) or the equally preposterous human rights violations (guilty till proven innocent, child downloads musics - dad loses the internet he needs for his job).

    He went on to point out that remixing copyrighted works is part of culture now.

    His example?

    The remixed Ashes to Ashes poster that Labour and the Conservatives have been having so much fun with over the last few days.

    Remixing, reusing, editing.

    They all fall foul of the bill they've just passed.

    As do you for reading this page.

    Today was a huge failure for democracy. A bill was passed, unread and unanalysed by computer illiterate MPs who didn't attend the debates.

    Here are what I feel these are the most terrible consequences of the last 48 hours.

    • A bill that makes the ricockulous DMCA look sensible has passed without proper debate or democratic process.

    • The internet generation, who cares deeply about this matter was watching.
      They saw the empty parliament.
      They heard the ignorant comments.
      They saw democracy fail.
      They are not pleased.

    • Scientists, Journalists and Skeptics are working so hard to fight the abuse of Libel Laws to stifle debate and censor criticism. The existence of the Digital Economy Bill will allow so many avenues for censorship that we need to start all over again.

    • Piracy is a serious concern to the mainstream media, and yet remix/reuse of material is part and parcel of our culture today. If the bill works then MPs will make so many innocent parties criminals and it will be a disaster for the UK. But If the bill fails then they will have convinced Pirates that the Government is clueless and toothless.

    • The British Legislative process is fundamentally and comprehensively broken. And today MPs showed that in detail to an extremely internet savvy audience.

    On the eve of the first true internet election, this will stand as the defining moment that summarises how out of touch the Government is with respect to the populace. I don't think they appreciate how much attention we can give them.

    How difficult we will make this for them.

    I will leave you with this. Any MP who watches this will leave understanding the culture that they are ignorant of - but today made illegal.

    EDIT 9:59, April 8, 2010: Want to know how your MP voted? Here's a list

    Dear London SITP goers, fancy a Ninja Skeptical Science Nomadic HQ monthly meet up for Schemes and Adventures?

    Heard of “tuttles“? From what I gather they’re basically a chance for people into ‘social networking’ to meet up and work on ideas together. I suspect they talk about things like ‘The Cloud’ and ‘Web 2.0’ and ‘Synergy’ and stuff. Anyway that’s not important right now. The point is it gave me an idea.

    How about, once a month, on maybe a Saturday afternoon, we meet up somewhere in Central London. Somewhere with free wifi. We bring laptops. And we work on schemes and skeptical ninja projects.

    Want to blog about your awesome research, some bad science or some skeptical matters? Well we’ll help you set that up one of them there blogs and that.

    Want to bounce some ideas around for a project or blog post? Well, they’ll be a bunch of people in a similar place.

    Want to get some stuff actually done? Then it’ll be a place to knuckle down with people of a like mind.

    Want to brainstorm/piss about with some like minded fools? Well you’ll be in good company.

    Want to get some willing accomplices for some cunning scheme or shenanigan - be it merely splitting up FOI requests to full on, mass attack, ten23 style super events? Well then there would be like minds to help out.

    Want to hack up a new way to access public data for the skeptical cause? Well maybe we could take a leaf out of the excellent Rewired State meet up that happened last year.

    Maybe we could record a noisy rambling podcast. I know James O'Malley (who puts together the excellent Pod Delusion) might be able to help out (Well, if your still interested James?).

    So this would be entirely what we make it, but a hacking/blogging/adventuring/scheming/podcasting/FOIA’ing meet up would almost certainly be excellent. Hell, if it gives a few people like me a chance to actually finish a few of their blog posts away from the chaos of real life then it’s worth it.

    I'm willing to organise all this if there is interest. I’ll sort out a place we can all meet with free wi-fi and coffee (and booze?). Then you just turn up with a either a fully charged laptop, an idea, or a willingness to help out someone else. I’ve got webspace to donate and I can throw up forums, sites and files as needed.

    Remember this isn’t meant to be some elitist, cream of the crop only event (if it was, I wouldn’t be allowed to organise it!) but something where we could all do something. Anything. Create rather consume and all that.

    Interested? Then please comment below. Or discuss in on twitter. I suggest the hashtag ‘#skuttle’ to get started.

    Skeptobot stumbles into Twenty-Ten

    Twenty-Ten, Twenty-Ten, Twenty-Ten, finally we hit a decade where we can go back to sensible pronunciation. It's also the fifth year of Skeptobot's irregular postings, which is nice. So it seems like time I summed up what is happening.

    Despite the blog being quite things are on the up:

    • The leg is healed (though it seems I'll always have a slight case of 'kruger foot').
    • My work means I'm still suffering from little internet access till at least April, but...
    • I have a fancy iPhone now, so I've got my RSS feeds and twitter for my commute, which should help keep me in the loop.
    • I even have web hosting, so a lot more is possible. I'm even musing an occasional Herrin and Collings style lo-fi podcast.

    The web hosting is currently a mirror of Skeptobot at

    and I'm still pondering how best to use it all.

    I like the idea of Skeptobot publishing content I've made, and RockPaperSkeptic being a combined feed of skeptobot posts, informal posts, posts about other peoples stuff and even tweets. The honour of being syndicated on badscienceblogs means I'm always hesitant to make 'trivial' posts.

    Any advice how best to achieve that (RPS is running Wordpress, Skeptobot uses Blogger) would be most appreciated. Likewise for any other suggestions you might have.

    Thanks for continuing to read my infrequent rambles, I'll be endevering to post more this year as thanks, so happy new year and that.

    - Bill