A short Forbes magazine interview with Peter Singer

May 24, 2023 • 1:00 pm

I’m posting this clip for two reasons. First, it’s a Forbes Magazine interview with a philosopher I much admire: Peter Singer. He’s admirable because he deals with philosophy’s original purpose: to figure out how to live a good life; because he deals with tough questions (one of them here: the euthanasia of terminally suffering newborns, which he discusses at 6:45); because, even when attacked he defends his ideas with tenacity; because he walks the walk, giving a lot of his income to others; and because does a lot of charitable work. Despite calls to get him fired because of his views on infant euthanasia, he maintains his equanimity and simply proffers a defense of his stand that I, for one, find convincing. And, of course, he spends a lot of time dealing with animal welfare, which a biologist has to admire (sadly, I’m too hypocritical to give up eating meat, but Singer abjures it).

Second, because he’s one of the founders of The Journal of Controversial Ideas, I was chuffed to hear that he talks about our paper recently published there, “In defense of merit in science” (between 9:30 and 13:00). I’m not sure who the interviewer is, but she seems to push on our merit thesis because in some ways it opposes racial diversity. Singer, in response, seems dubious about the idea of equity trumping merit.

They begin by discussing Singer’s new book (an update, actually): Animal Liberation Now: The Definitive Classic Renewed, which came out on Tuesday. I read the original book  (Animal Liberation), which was when he first came to my consciousness. I also admire his book The Expanding Circle: Ethics, Evolution, and Moral Progress., which suggests how our evolved ethical system has been extended to all humanity.

p.s. Singer has compiled a list of charities where, he thinks, you can get the most relief of suffering for your dollar. I’ve used that list, which you can find here, to decide who will get my money when I die.

Ratte steckt im Gulli fest: German firefighters save fat rat stuck in a manhole cover

February 27, 2019 • 7:45 am

What a great country is Deutschland! I can’t imagine any place where a huge rescue effort would be mounted, involving multiple firefighters with fancy equipment, to save an obese rat stuck in a manhole cover (should it be “personhole” now?). But the Germans stepped up!

Courtesy of alert reader Jószef, we have a lovely BBC article and video showing that die Deutschen win the prize for best First Rat Responders (click on screenshot):

An excerpt:

In the German town of Bensheim, rescue workers got an unusual call – a chubby rat needed help after getting stuck halfway out of a sewer manhole.

“She had a lot of winter flab and was stuck fast at her hip – there was no going forward or back,” animal rescuer Michael Sehr told local media.

A fairly large rescue operation ensued – leading some to question why all the effort was spent on saving a sewer rat.

“Even animals that are hated by many deserve respect,” Mr Sehr responded. [JAC: Yes!!!]

Volunteer firefighters reacted to a call on Sunday afternoon, the local fire department said, and noted the “animal rescue, small animal” code.

Mr Sehr, from the local professional animal rescue in Rhein Neckar, was already there – but could not free the chunky rodent from the top of the manhole cover.

Eight firefighters and Mr. Sehr worked together, using wedges, lifters, and a rat-restraining noose, to free the distressed and squeaking creature (you can hear its heartrending squeals in the 5-minute rescue video below):

Many people would have ignored or even killed this rat, but I’m touched by people’s effort, ultimately successful, to save the life of one trapped rodent.

My only beef is that they put the rat back in the sewer after rescuing it. What if it tries to crawl out again?

UPDATE: Grania found a tweet from a journalist that lauds the BBC for its stuck-rat coverage, but then notes that there was once a rescue of a fat SQUIRREL! In fact, I found that I wrote about this in 2016.


Caption this

October 12, 2018 • 2:29 pm

Maybe it is impossible, but we can give it a good old college try. If they were trying to be funny, they couldn’t have done it any differently.


And if you can’t caption that, then try your hand at your own version of this.





Interior Department proposes legalizing cruel and previously prohibited hunting methods

May 23, 2018 • 1:15 pm

NBC News has highlighted some of the Interior Department’s proposed changes to the federal regulations about hunting. First designed to take effect in Alaska, but now proposed for the entire U.S., these changes (proposed regulations here) will overturn the following Obama-era prohibitions and thus allow barbaric forms of hunting (well, many forms of hunting, like using bows and arrows, already are barbaric):

The Trump administration is moving to reverse Obama-era rules barring hunters on some public lands in Alaska from baiting brown bears with bacon and doughnuts and using spotlights to shoot mother black bears and cubs hibernating in their dens.

Under the proposed changes, hunters would also be allowed to hunt black bears with dogs, kill wolves and pups in their dens, and use motor boats to shoot swimming caribou.

These and other hunting methods — condemned as cruel by wildlife protection advocates — were outlawed on federal lands in 2015. Members of the public have 60 days to provide comment on the proposed new rules.

From the regulations themselves; this will now be allowed (note that you can use light to lure bears too). It’s horrible!

The Final Rule codified prohibitions on certain types of harvest practices that are otherwise permitted by the State of Alaska. The practices are: Taking any black bear, including cubs and sows with cubs, with artificial light at den sites; harvesting brown bears over bait; taking wolves and coyotes (including pups) during the denning season (between May 1 and August 9); taking swimming caribou; taking caribou from motorboats under power; taking black bears over bait; and using dogs to hunt black bears.

I don’t understand the mentality of people who would permit these things. They value trophies more than the lives of animals, and as for shooting mothers and hibernating cubs, well, I have no words except it’s Trump and his environment-hating minions.

The rationale for the regulations, at the Federal Register, includes “increasing outdoor recreation.” How “recreational” is it to lure bears with donuts and then kill them? Or slaughter hibernating mothers and cubs? CUBS, for crying out loud:

Part of the stated purpose of Secretarial Order 3347 is to increase outdoor recreation and improve the management of game species and their habitat. Secretarial Order 3347 directs the Department of the Interior to identify specific actions to (1) expand access significantly for recreational hunting and fishing on public lands; and (2) improve recreational hunting Start Printed Page 23622and fishing cooperation, consultation, and communication with state wildlife managers.

What can you do about this? Here’s what:

You may submit comments, identified by Regulation Identifier Number (RIN) 1024-AE38, by either of the following methods:

Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments.

Mail or hand deliver to: National Park Service, Regional Director, Alaska Regional Office, 240 West 5th Ave., Anchorage, AK 99501.

Instructions: Comments will not be accepted by fax, email, or in any way other than those specified above. All submissions received must include the words “National Park Service” or “NPS” and must include the docket number or RIN (1024-AE38) for this rulemaking. Comments received will be posted without change to http://www.regulations.gov, including any personal information provided.

Docket: For access to the docket to read background documents or comments received, go to http://www.regulations.gov.

In short, go the the link, put RIN: 1024-AE38 in the search box, and then make a comment and submit it. I ask readers who are opposed to this proposed legislation to at least say a few words. Please!

h/t: Ken

Stop the gratuitous slaughter of Alaska’s wildlife

February 19, 2017 • 10:15 am

According to the Dodo, the Sierra Club, and other sites, the U.S. House of Representatives just voted to overturn a prior ban on hunting in the wildlife refuges of Alaska. The resolution allows hunters to enter dens and slaughter entire families of bears and wolves, as well as to lure animals with food and shoot them at point-blank range. They can also use the unspeakably cruel leg traps, and even shoot from helicopters!

There seems to be no genuine conservation reason for overturning this ban, which was previously applauded even by hunters, as well as the citizens of Alaska. As the Sierra Club notes, there’s no scientific evidence that killing these animals will effect any kind of needed change, for these mammals are already being managed by the state of Alaska. Rather, this seems to be a Republican-inspired sop to hunters who want to put a grizzly-bear rug on their floor, or simply to blast away at wolves. As The Dodo notes:

Now it’s unclear why the push to overturn the ban was introduced in the first place, as a 2016 poll of Alaska voters showed that most agreed that those practices should be banned. Alaska’s Representative Don Young (R-AK), who has trapped animals in the past, introduced the measure, known as H.J. Resolution 69, anyway.

Congress voted 225 to 193 in favor of it on Thursday, some citing states’ rights as the reason for their vote in favor, despite the resolution being about federal lands.

“Special interest groups are quietly working at the federal and state level to lay the groundwork for federally managed lands to be handed over wholesale to state or even private ownership,” Dan Ashe, then-FWS director, wrote last year in an op-ed. “Unfortunately, without the protections of federal law and the public engagement it ensures, this heritage is incredibly vulnerable.”

The Dodo asked Rep. Young for a comment as to why he would push to allow these practices when so many voters oppose them. His office did not immediately respond.

Young is a jerk; he can’t even be arsed to answer the question. Most likely he wouldn’t want to answer publicly.

Here’s the final House vote on HJ 69, which, as usual, is very strongly divided along party lines;




Here’s the Sierra Club’s statement on the new resolution:

The U.S. House of Representatives today passed a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution to overturn the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Alaska National Wildlife Refuges Rule. Voiding the rule undermines the management of public lands in Alaska, including not only national wildlife refuge lands, but also national park lands in Denali and other places. It cedes control of wildlife management on national public lands to a narrow set of extreme hunting interests. If passed out of Congress, it could have drastic implications for national public lands across the country.

In response, Alli Harvey, Alaska Representative for the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign issued the following statement.

“The resolution passed today undermines the very premise of wildlife refuges as places for wildlife conservation. The extreme hunting measures promoted by this resolution– from targeting cubs with their mothers to baiting and gunning animals down from planes, are opposed by the majority of Americans and Alaskans. These measures threaten the future of bears, wolves and other predators that are so much a part of the Alaskan identity.

“Across the country wildlife refuges and other public lands support an amazing array of wildlife, recreation opportunities and outdoor economies. They provide refuge not just for wildlife, but people as well. There is value in the existence of wild places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the opportunities they provide to connect with the natural world. Our public lands must not be sold-out to narrow special interests, but preserved to inspire the hopes and dreams of future generations. We have a responsibility to ensure our parks and wildlife refuges remain protected by basic national environmental safeguards.”

Now this isn’t over yet, for the resolution has to be approved by the Senate, and SJ Resolution 18 is now being considered. There are two things you can do. First, sign the Sierra Club’s petition against the Senate bill, which you can find here.

Second, you can contact your Senator, as the bill hasn’t yet passed. The names and sites of your Senator can be found here, and, if you want, you can simply paste in the language from the Sierra Club petition, below. It’s dead easy to write Senators, as every one has a “contact” site where you can fill in your details as a constituent and leave a message. The site even allows you to enter your state in a pull-down menu and find your two senators directly.

Email header: I oppose the slaughter of wolves and grizzly babies in Alaskan wildlife refuges

Email contents:

Please oppose the CRA joint resolution, S.J. Res. 18, which would allow the cruel slaughter of wolf pups and grizzly cubs.

These proposed resolutions to strike the Alaska National Wildlife Refuges Rule would allow wolves and grizzlies to be chased down by air and sprayed with bullets under the false pretense of “predator control.” Repealing this rule would also allow the slaughter of hibernating grizzlies and their cubs and targeting of wolf dens where pups are sheltered from natural predators.

The state of Alaska claims that these so-called “predator control” activities will increase populations of game animals like elk, moose, and caribou but there’s just one problem – there is no scientific evidence to back up that claim. Additionally, polls show most Alaskans do not support the use of these barbaric methods in National Wildlife Refuges.

Please reject the CRA joint resolution — S.J. Res. 18 — to protect grizzlies and wolves from this horrifying practice.

I don’t often ask readers to take action, and I never ask for money. But if you’re an American who opposes this resolution, as do the voters of Alaska themselves, then please drop a note to your Senator and sign the Sierra Club petition. We progressives can fight back against the Republicans, but the animals of Alaska have no such voice in issues concerning their very survival.

h/t: Nicole Reggia

The unfair treatment of the animal rights movement

November 22, 2015 • 11:45 am

It seems to be a common opinion among atheists and scientists that the animal-rights movement is ridiculous, and I’ve seen it criticized and mocked on many secular websites. And indeed, the tactics of some animal-rights groups, like PETA, have been such as to offend or turn off many people. PETA, for instance, shows ads featuring semi-clad women, and even though the ads are promoting vegetarianism and the non-wearing of fur, I know women who find them sexist, for where are the naked men? More important, PETA and other groups have engaged in violent activities, threatening researchers and trashing labs, and freeing lab animals that could never find an alternative home. Finally, some animal-rights groups decry owning pets (excuse me, “companion animals”), on the grounds that this leads to overpopulation of unwanted pets as well as stressful confinement of animals like cats and dogs, who still have their evolutionary instincts to roam free.

But regardless of the invidious tactics of some animal-rights groups, the general point stands: if you think animals are capable of suffering, and they are, then don’t they at least have some of the “rights” that we reserve for humans? Isn’t the criticism of groups like PETA, or the kneejerk feeling that any experimentation on animals is justified so long as it has potential to save human lives, simply something that we espouse to avoid thinking about the important issue of animal suffering?

Yesterday I saw a photo in the New York Times of a turkey farm (Thanksgiving is upon us); in it a farmer was standing in a huge building in which turkeys, obviously stressed, were packed wing to wing. (See photo at boottom.) The birds had no room to roam, and it was disturbing. Experiments have shown that chickens, for instance, much prefer wandering on grass than standing in wire cages. And what we do to chickens—confining them in cages, clipping their beaks, and crowding them horribly—is unjustifiable if you think that these animals suffer. The evidence suggests that they do, and who with a scientific and empathic turn of mind could deny that suffering, or the proposition that animals feel pain?

And the suffering we inflict on chickens also applies to many of our other food animals. Driving through Texas and the Midwest last summer, I saw cows crowded together in feedlots, getting fattened up before the slaughter. The lots were simply bare expanses of mud filled with stinking cow dung that you could smell miles away. I have no doubt that those animals were stressed.

These thoughts were prompted by a good book I’m reading, Darwin, God, and the Meaning of Life, by Steve Stewart-Williams (2010; Cambridge University Press). The book is the best discussion I’ve seen about the philosophical implications of the theory of evolution; and believe me, there are philosophical implications—dealing with issues like the existence of the soul, the nature of morality, and human exceptionalism. I recommend it highly: Stewart-Williams, an associate professor of psychology at Nottingham University, Malaysia Campus, writes very well and has thought deeply about these issues. Even if you think you understand the implications of evolution for your own worldview, you’ll still learn a lot.

At any rate, Chapter 13, “Uprooting the doctrine of human dignity,” contains this paragraph near the end:

Singer [Peter Singer, author of the excellent book Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for our Treatment of Animals] makes the extremely interesting and challenging point that the amount of suffering and pain caused by the tyranny of human beings over animals (particularly in food production) far exceeds that caused by sexism, racism, or any other existing forms of discrimination, and for that reason the animal liberation movement is the most important liberation movement in the world today.  Women and disadvantaged ethnic groups have never been farmed, killed for sport, or systematically experimented on in anything like the numbers that non-human animals have. Furthermore, unlike women and slaves, non-humans cannot talk or campaign for their own liberation, and, because they can’t vote, they’re not a high priority for most politicians. This further underscores the importance of the animal liberation movement.

I see a lot of sense in that. For, when you think about it, evolution teaches that for some traits we’re different quantitatively but not qualitatively from our animal relatives, and that they, like us, can suffer and feel pain. Perhaps humans, because we have greater rationality and the presence of culture, may suffer more than some animals, but can you really say that a gorilla or chimp who is captive in a zoo, or subject to experimentation to cure human diseases, isn’t suffering? (Recognizing this, the US National Institutes of Health just joined many other countries in ending “invasive research” on chimpanzees.)

Those are our primate relatives, but what about guinea pigs, mice, and laboratory cats and dogs? They are subject to horrible procedures that cause them to suffer, not even considering just their confinement. People automatically assume that this is okay if such experimentation will save human lives, but how many dog, cat, or mouse lives are worth one human life? Could it be justified, as Stewart-Williams asks, to experiment on humans, killing a few humans to save thousands of chimpanzee lives? If not, why not? Why is the saving of human life worth the expenditure of vastly more animal lives, and perhaps—adding it all up—the greater suffering of animals than of humans?

It’s even less justifiable to eat factory-farmed animals, I think, for we can live without eating them. Why—and I am complicit in this—do we simply ignore all that suffering so that we can have a nice roast chicken or a plate of fried eggs on our tables? In our hearts we know that animals suffer to give us that food. Is their suffering truly worth nothing?

We need to face the fact that if we really care about suffering, there is no justification to limit our concern to the suffering of Homo sapiens. That’s especially true because, as Stewart-Williams argues, we cause immensely greater suffering of animals, and they have no representation save groups like PETA. If evolution and science tell us anything, it is that animals suffer as we do—perhaps not as intensely in cases like the death of a relative—and that many species are apparently conscious, and surely many feel pain. By what right do we ignore all of that when doing so is just a convenience for our own species? Is any amount of animal experimentation and suffering justified by its potential to save human lives? If so, why?

Few people have come to grips with these issues. Singer is one, Stewart-Williams another. But we need to face those issues if we’re to be consistent in our concern for the suffering of the disadvantaged. As for me, I feel pretty bad about all this, and consider myself a hypocrite for eating eggs and meat. I don’t know if I’ll do something about that, but at least we can oppose the confinement of animals in zoos, and agitate for humane treatment of the animals we put into our stomachs.

Here’s the picture from the New York Times that disturbed me; it’s from an article called “After bird flu scare, plenty of turkeys for Thanksgiving.



Bill introduced in California to prohibit using killer whales for entertainment

April 13, 2014 • 11:39 am

Another young girl is trying to introduce legislation to outlaw using animals as lucrative entertainment. Like the girl who promoted the state fossil in South Carolina, she is acting far more maturely than her elders, including the lawmakers.

According to yesterday’s Malibu Times, a fifth grader (i.e., about 11 years old)  is trying to stop the use of killer whales as entertainment:

Assembly member Richard Bloom, with the help of Malibu fifth-grader Kirra Kotler, introduced an act into the California State Assembly this week that would end Orca whale captivity for performance or entertainment in California.

Kotler, who came to the public spotlight in December when she and her parents led the protest against Point Dume Elementary’s annual SeaWorld field trip after watching the controversial “Blackfish” documentary, travelled to Sacramento this week with Bloom and her family to present a petition in support of the act on Monday, April 8.

The Orca Welfare and Safety Act, presented to Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, Chair of the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee, contained 1.2 million signatures from supporters all over California.

Here’s a photo of Bloom and Kirra Kotler in Sacramento (the state capital):


It’s inspiring that someone so young tries so hard to make a difference—and may succeed! Olivia McConnell, who got the mammoth approved as South Carolina’s official state fossil (granted, with a rider that it was created on the sixth day!), was only eight. You don’t have to be of voting age to change your state’s laws.

And I would suggest avoiding any place like SeaWorld that rakes in dough by using large marine mammals as entertainment. In a just universe, the owners of SeaWorld would be kidnapped by Martians and put on display, being forced to balance balls on their noses in order to get food.

h/t: Douglas