A scientist found a rare bird. Then he killed it.

Let’s talk about this article from the WaPo:

For Christopher Filardi of the American Museum of Natural History, there is nothing like the thrill of finding a mysterious species. Such animals live at the intersection of myth and biology — tantalizing researchers with the prospect that they may be real, but eluding trustworthy documentation and closer study. Indeed, last month, Filardi waxed poetic on the hunt for the invisible beasts that nonetheless walk among us.

“We search for them in earnest but they are seemingly beyond detection except by proxy and story,” he wrote. “They are ghosts, until they reveal themselves in a thrilling moment of clarity and then they are gone again. Maybe for another day, maybe a year, maybe a century.”

Filardi was moved because, trolling what he called “the remote highlands” of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, he had found a bird he had searched more than two decades for: the moustached kingfisher.

“Described by a single female specimen in the 1920s, two more females brought to collectors by local hunters in the early 1950s, and only glimpsed in the wild once,” he wrote. “Scientists have never observed a male. Its voice and habits are poorly known. Given its history of eluding detection, realistic hopes of finding the bird were slim.”

Yet, defying the odds, Filardi did just that.

After setting mist nets across the forest, he and his team secured a male specimen with a “magnificent all-blue back” and a bright orange face. The discovery brought quite the declaration — “Oh my god, the kingfisher” — and led Filardi to liken it to “a creature of myth come to life.”And then, Filardi killed it — or, in the parlance of scientists, “collected” it.

This was not trophy hunting — but outrage ensued.

This is an interesting test case given our recent conversation about animals on Mere Fidelity. There are a number of moral questions related to animals where the morality of the act isn’t really in question—factory farming is a good example. I don’t know anyone who says it is a good thing that we treat animals in such deplorable ways. The question is how that treatment relates to broader economic realities—should we tolerate the treatment if it means cheaper food for the world? Are there ways of providing affordable food without resorting to such treatment of animals?

This article, however, raises very different questions. We’re not dealing with trophy hunting or the wanton abuse of animals. There isn’t a clear case of thoughtless cruelty in this story. Rather, we’re dealing with a scientist who has chosen to kill a single bird so that scientists can study the bird, learn about it, and preserve a specimen of it for the future. He felt comfortable killing this individual bird because all the evidence we have suggests that there is a large population and the loss of one male bird will not hurt them.

The question here is not, in other words, about widescale abuse of a large population of animals. We’re not dealing with a case where the action being discussed is obviously wrong but the economics related to that action create a number of challenges.

Rather, it is a much harder question that concerns the necessity of certain types of human knowledge and the justice of sacrificing one individual creature for the greater good of scientific advancement. (And yes, there are a number of phrases in that last sentence that are worth debating in themselves—we can start with “the greater good” and “scientific advancement.”)

I want us to discuss this because this is going to force us to ask a different kind of question then we typically ask in talking about animal welfare issues. But I think these questions may, in some ways, actually be far more important. Is “scientific knowledge” authoritative, for example? If something that is authoritative is anything which in itself calls us to a certain sort of action (this is how O’Donovan defines authority in, I believe, Resurrection and Moral Order) then is scientific knowledge authoritative? And, if it is, what are the limits of that authority?

We must also set those claims next to the claims of the individual bird being killed. In what way is respect for individual lives authoritative?

Finally, there is a further question that stands behind all the rest: How should future concerns factor into our thinking on these questions? A large part of the argument for “collecting” the bird was preserving a specimen for posterity, but that assumes that posterity needs to have knowledge of this particular bird and that their need for knowledge of it is more important than that individual bird’s life.

Resources for Evangelicals on Refugees

Going along with this post at the main page today, I wanted to put together a resource for people to use to learn more about opportunities to serve with refugees in the USA.

The Immigration Council has put together a great fact sheet for people needing a basic introduction to how refugees arrive in the United States. You can also find a fairly similar post here that has additional intro-level information.

This chart shows the top 20 metros as of 2000 for refugees resettled in the United States. You can find the chart and more information here.


AlJazeera has a piece on the largest refugee groups to come to America recently.

The HHS website has official data on refugee arrivals for 2012, 2013, and 2014.

If you want to help refugees in your area, but don’t know where to begin use this list to find a refugee resettlement organization in your area. They will be able to tell you where to go. (Some of the states are not listed in alphabetical order for some reason so if you don’t see your state at first, do a ctrl+f and find it that way.)

Children of the Tribes

Pacific Standard:

Shuah Jones, 15, stuffed clothes under her bed blankets in the shape of a body, grabbed her diary and Bible, and crept downstairs. Wearing a long blue linen skirt and clunky buckled sandals, she opened the door, slipped outside, and paused to look back at her house: a historic residence in Plymouth, Massachusetts, known as the Blue Blinds, where she lived with other members of her church. Good riddance, she thought. On the street she broke into a run toward the only payphone she knew of, at a gas station near the center of town, half a mile away. She’d never been outside alone at night before. As she sprinted down the main drag, Court Street, men in bars called out and wolf-whistled. She was terrified. When she reached the phone, she called her brother Noah, who told her to wait for him in a parking lot next to the Blue Blinds, so she ran all the way back. He was an hour away. She hid in a bush, heart thumping. When at last he pulled into the lot, she leaped into his car.

“Just breathe,” he told her as they drove away. “Breathe.”

Kareem Abdul Jabbar Does Detective Fiction

From Grantland:

As someone who often writes about sports, I feel caught, a lot of the time, between imaginative optimism and materialist nihilism, and I am not saying this to sound fancy but because it reflects an actual crisis in the way I think about my job. That is, I try to find what’s beautiful and interesting and strange in what I myself am all too ready to view as dumb interactions of matter. In doing so, am I helping to lift meaning out of a universe that’s hostile to it, or am I serving as a propagandist for the thing that’s killing thinking? I don’t always know, and it scares me. Most of the time, I can convince myself that there’s value in this. Other times, I meet someone who actually cares whether the Cowboys win on Sunday, not “cares” in the way you care about something you’ve semi-arbitrarily decided to invest emotional energy in to make your life more exciting, butactually cares in the way you care whether your family is fed and the war is postponed till next week. At those times, I feel despair, and I think about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

The Sunniest Climate Change Story

From New York:

Here on planet Earth, things could be going better. The rise in atmospheric temperatures from greenhouse gases poses the most dire threat to humanity, measured on a scale of potential suffering, since Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany launched near-simultaneous wars of conquest. And the problem has turned out to be much harder to solve. It’s not the money. The cost of transitioning away from fossil fuels, measured as a share of the economy, may amount to a fraction of the cost of defeating the Axis powers. Rather, it is the politics that have proved so fiendish. Fighting a war is relatively straightforward: You spend all the money you can to build a giant military and send it off to do battle. Climate change is a problem that politics is almost designed not to solve. Its costs lie mostly in the distant future, whereas politics is built to respond to immediate conditions. (And of the wonders the internet has brought us, a lengthening of mental time horizons is not among them.) Its solution requires coordination not of a handful of allies but of scores of countries with wildly disparate economies and political structures. There has not yet been a galvanizing Pearl Harbor moment, when the urgency of action becomes instantly clear and isolationists melt away. Instead, it breeds counterproductive mental reactions: denial, fatalism, and depression.

Demining Bosnia

From Roads and Kingdoms:

few months ago, 62-year-old Todor Jankovic was gathering wood when he accidentally activated a land mine. Designed to explode two feet above the ground, the device miraculously failed and fell at his feet. He still can’t believe his luck.

Jankovic and his wife have been living in Skipovac Donji, a small village in northeast Bosnia and Herzegovina, for nearly ten years. A few steps behind their house, red banners marked with white skulls designate mine-infested areas. Almost two decades after the end of the war, the country remains under the threat of more than 120,000 land mines buried in the ground along former front lines. A total of 1732 people have been involved in land mine accidents since the war’s end. Six hundred have died.

When Big Ag Gobbles Up Small (Ethical) Ag

From Pacific Standard:

Perdue, the fourth-largest chicken company in the United States, is a giant among giants in the agribusiness world. Recently, it purchased Natural Food Holdings, which owns Niman Ranch, a niche meat producer known for its comparatively impressive welfare and sustainability standards.

News of Niman’s acquisition was generally greeted with the big media equivalent of a shrug, but I think it warrants a stronger, more appropriate reaction: Panic.

An American Void

From the WaPo:

The trailer where Dylann Roof found refuge is faded yellow with a thousand tiny dents. It is on the western edge of Columbia, S.C., along an unpaved road strewn with damp garbage, and it is where Roof briefly lived until the day he allegedly killed nine black church members at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

Now, a month after the June 17 shooting, the blinds are drawn at noon and the family that hosted Roof is inside, where the boom of gunfire and explosions is so loud the trailer vibrates.

“Ha ha. I just killed all them mothers,” says Justin Meek, 18, playing a video game in which blood and body parts fly across a 42-inch TV screen.

“You got enemy on the other side! Use a grenade!” says his brother Jacob, 15. “Kill yourself! Kill yourself!”

On a lopsided couch is Lindsey Fry, 19, flicking her tongue ring, eyes locked on a cracked cellphone for news about the shooting, which has lately included her boyfriend Joey, 21, the third Meek brother who lives in the trailer, which is in a town called Red Bank that the Meeks call Dead Bank.

Here Comes University Inc.

Fredrik De Boer:

Here at Purdue University, where I recently completed my Ph.D. in English, we have a little garden on the far west side of our enormous campus, where students and their families and professors and nearby residents tend to tomatoes and sunflowers. It’s one of my favorite places here. Overgrown and seemingly unmanaged, this western fringe of campus is perhaps the only place left at the university that is not meticulously landscaped and stage-managed for tour groups and the website. There’s nothing specific to Purdue in this aesthetic conformity. Over the past two decades, financial crises notwithstanding, the American university writ large has undergone a radical physical expansion and renovation, bringing more and more campuses into line with grand architectural visions. That’s precisely why I love the garden: It’s one of the last little wild places left at Purdue. Naturally, it’s slated for demolition.

The administration needs more room for our research park, an immensely impressive and utterly lifeless collection of buildings where few undergrads ever have reason to go. The first expansion will increase the research park by only about 160 acres, but the second phase will add several hundred, consuming far more than just the garden. (The university says it will rebuild the garden elsewhere.) The new construction will be devoted to aviation technology, at a school that could scarcely enjoy a better reputation in that field. Surely the work that goes on at the research park is valuable, but its ongoing expansion literalizes the way the entire campus is being made to look and feel exactly the same — no room left for the ungroomed, the weird or the wild.

This orderliness is just a secondary symptom of a more pernicious trend: the creeping corporatism of the American university. I don’t mean the literal corporations that are taking over more and more of the physical space of universities — the Starbucks outpost, the Barnes & Noble as campus bookstore, the Visa card that you use to buy meals at the dining hall. Enrolling at a university today means setting yourself up in a vast array of for-profit systems that each take a little slice along the way: student loans distributed on fee-laden A.T.M. cards, college theater tickets sold to you by Ticketmaster, ludicrously expensive athletic apparel brought to you by Nike. Students are presented with a dazzling array of advertisements and offers: glasses at the campus for-profit vision center, car insurance through some giant financial company, spring break through a package deal offered by some multinational. This explicit corporate invasion is not exactly what I mean.