Machines driven to meaningless, mindless murder


Earlier this summer, Michael Shermer wrote a column for Scientific American to explain Why Do Cops Kill?. I was rapturously unaware of it because he’s an author I long ago decided I could ignore, but just recently a reader had to destroy my state of ecstatic ignorance by pointing it out to me. I read it with growing disbelief, my jaw sagging further and further at the dreadful illogic and the scientismic insipidity of the thing. How does he still get published?

To make it short, for those who prefer not to read anything associated with The Shermer, his answer is…it’s not racism, it’s because they have brain circuitry. No, really. It’s even illustrated with a cartoon of a clockwork murder-bot.


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A remarkable degree of disrespect


The University of Iowa has been looking for a new president. You might be wondering how a university president gets that position: they are appointed by the Board of Regents, which in this case is appointed by the Republican governor, Terry Branstad, and led by a prominent Republican, Bruce Rastetter. You might be having presentiments of trouble already, since the GOP is never a friend to higher ed.

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This is unexpected — I thought fines were forthcoming, but Kim Davis is apparently also going to jail.

Federal District Judge David Bunning held Kim Davis, the county clerk who has become a national symbol of anti-gay animus for her resistance to marriage equality, in contempt of court on Thursday. According to Dan Griffin, a reporter for local news station WSAZ, she was led out by U.S. Marshals. The judge reportedly said that financial sanctions were not enough to ensure her compliance with the law.

Also, while she’s absent from office, other county officials have the power to issue marriage licenses. So her obstruction is at an end.

The JREF is changing

James Randi is retiring, and he’s irreplaceable. Apparently the JREF board agrees, and isn’t even going to try — they’ve announced a change in focus for the organization. I presume that means there will be no more Amazing Meetings; they’re going to shift to becoming a grant distributing organization, and are no longer accepting membership applications or donations.

I have mixed feelings about that. TAM was always the best and worst of organized skepticism — early on they had the most inclusive and diverse meetings of any group. Rather than old academics droning on, they had showmanship and enthusiasm, and brought in a younger, livelier audience. I think they inspired a lot of other organizations and influenced the new wave of skeptic and atheist meetings.

But TAM was also a refuge for reactionary skeptics: the ones who despised atheists, who had a bizarrely narrow view of what was acceptable “skepticism” (which didn’t align well with science at all), who actively resented new ideas even as they were courting a younger audience. This was the TAM that hated the idea of openly displaying policies of attendee conduct, preferring secret proceedings, and claimed that there was no harassment of any kind going on, because they clamped down on any news and dishonestly denied any problems.

I’m not going to miss the latter TAM at all. But the former TAM is a real loss. I guess we’ll all have to go to Skepticon instead.