Reflections on the PA atheist conference

Last weekend’s conference in Pittsburgh of the PA atheists and humanists was a lot of fun. I have mentioned before that I am somewhat asocial but whenever I do get out to events like this, I have a good time. I met several readers of this blog who introduced themselves to me and I enjoyed talking with them during the breaks and over meals. I knew they were regular readers of my blog because as my talk slides were being readied for projection on the screen, my computer wallpaper that consists of a picture of my dog appeared briefly and they could identify him as Baxter the Wonder Dog!
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Why equal rights for gays is advancing so quickly

As many commentators have noted, the pace at which equal rights for gays has been advancing in the US has been nothing short of remarkable. Within a decade we have moved from a time in which one state after another passed laws and constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriages to one in which public opinion has shifted so far that likely none of them would pass now, not to mention an almost unanimous string of judicial rulings overturning such bans.
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The US roots of Uganda’s anti-gay fervor

John Oliver describes how some US evangelicals, likely frustrated by steadily losing ground in the battle for equal rights for the LGBT community here, have shifted their hate campaign to other countries and have found fertile ground in Uganda which, although it has anti-gay laws dating back to the British colonial period, had not intensified the bigotry until the recent push by people like Scott Lively.
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Why does a child have a bucket list?

I am sure that almost everyone in the US has heard about the bizarre case where a nine-year old child at a shooting range was allowed to fire a Uzi submachine gun in the fully automatic mode (where a single pull on the trigger will allow the gun to fire repeatedly until the trigger is released) and ended up killing the instructor who was supervising her.
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Amish convictions overturned

I have previously written about the US Attorney in our region Steven Dettelbach being an overzealous prosecutor. One example of this is his use of civil asset forfeiture laws to deprive people of their possessions without having to first convict them of any wrongdoing. Another is his use of terrorism charges against hapless individuals who were lured into plotting to blow up a local bridge. The third was his use of federal hate crime laws against 16 members of an Amish group that cut off the beards of other Amish people in an internal dispute because one sect’s leader thought that the other Amish were not sufficiently observant and pious. By stretching federal hate crime and conspiracy laws to an extreme level, Dettelbach obtained convictions and harsh sentences against the defendants in each case.
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The Colbert Report takes a look at my district

In his ongoing series interviewing congressional representatives from each of the districts, Stephen Colbert spoke with Marcia Fudge of Ohio’s 11th district which happens to be the one in which I live so it was particularly fun to for me to watch. Colbert made the obligatory jokes disparaging Cleveland such as the river catching fire but that was to be expected.
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What self-driving cars still cannot do

While I am enthusiastic about self-driving cars and its promise of increasing the mobility of those unable to drive as well as the possibility that such cars may be better drivers than humans, via Machines Like Us I came across this article by Lee Gomes says that we should not overestimate what they can currently do, because the road tests that they have done so far that produced 700,000 miles of accident-free driving have been under very limited conditions. There is still a long way to go and some major technological hurdles to overcome.
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