What's going on here?
The more I do good, the better I feel about myself. Truly, to benefit others is to benefit yourself. I hope this journal may inspire others who also yearn to do good. So join me on this journey, if you will, and think about the difference you can make in your own life.
Saturday, February 28, 2009
It's a beautiful day today--you'd hardly know it was winter. Except for the snow, of course. I was feeling energetic, and had a nice time getting exercise while listening to music on my iPod.
ONE GOOD DEED: Shovel out all the cars in the apartment parking lot.
But for now I'm content just to leave a little trail of cleanliness behind myself.
I took a day-trip to Asahikawa today out of boredom. I think the sidewalks are glad I did.
ONE GOOD DEED: Clean up trash from the sidewalks of Asahikawa.
Friday, February 27, 2009
ONE GOOD DEED: Help with school preparations in the gymnasium.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
ONE GOOD DEED: Help out a fellow teacher under stress.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
ONE GOOD DEED: Volunteer to be a judge in an English contest for Japanese students.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
ONE GOOD DEED: Help an office worker carry some large, unwieldy boxes to his car.
Monday, February 23, 2009
Today I raised awareness by posting seven new charities to the Polytheist Charity group, all of which bore on human rights. The specific charities are listed below.
Human Rights Watch - independent organization reporting on human rights issues around the world
Human Rights Watch International Film Festival - festival to showcase fictional, documentary, and animated films or videos with a human rights theme
Global Grassroots - (which I've written about before) supports women affected by violence in Rwanda, Darfur, and eastern Chad bordering Darfur; trains women in personal transformation, social entrepreneurship, and project building; also provides seed funding to graduates with quality projects, a list of which can be seen on their web site; founded by Gretchen Steidle Wallace of the film The Devil Came On Horseback.
Sudan Divestment Task Force - project coordinates Sudan divestment, which means removing investor capital from companies supporting the Sudanese government, the money from which funds ongoing genocide; a list of companies under scrutiny is available for free download, and the methodology used for selecting these companies is given upfront; companies which substantially benefit the Sudanese people are not targeted; the site also shows which U.S. states have adopted divestment policies.
Genocide Intervention Network - educational network empowering individuals and communities with the tools to prevent and stop genocide; in addition to advocacy, programs work actively to protect civilians on the ground, currently in Darfur and Burma.
Aegis - campaigns to prevent genocide worldwide; activities include research, policy, education, remembrance, awareness of genocide issues in the media, and humanitarian support for victims of genocide; offices in the UK Holocaust Centre and Rwanda
ONE GOOD DEED: Raise awareness for human rights charities.
image: Philemon and Baucis, by Bartolommeo Suardi Bramantino
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Friday, February 20, 2009
The International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) is engaged in everything from human rights advocacy to training Tibetan youth in leadership skills. Last year they mobilized support in response to demonstrations in Tibet and the ensuing "Crackdown", helped with U.S. legislation against the Crackdown, and released a studies on the demonstrations as well as the effect of the new railway on Tibet's land and people.
ONE GOOD DEED: Raise awareness for and donate to the International Campaign for Tibet.
ONE GOOD DEED: Non-verbally invite a conversation with a neighbor I'd never met before.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
ONE GOOD DEED: Tell an office mate that she makes the best tea in the office (she was very glad to hear it!).
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
"Nice watch," I said. "It's all sparkly."
He reacted with surprise, then awkwardly replied, "Ah... um... yes. Thanks."
Then he searched for something to say in kind. "Um... I saw you at the grocery store, didn't I?"
I laughed and nodded. Actually, that was six months ago, but who cares? We actually had a conversation.
ONE GOOD DEED: Strike up a conversation with a co-worker I'd never talked to before.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
ONE GOOD DEED: Donate to a convenience store charity for the head of hearing.
Monday, February 16, 2009
The vice-principal (kyoto-sensei) of an elementary is going to be transferring come March, and today was my last day to see her. She's been a huge supporter of me and my teaching efforts, and I couldn't thank her enough. So what did I give her?
ONE GOOD DEED: Give Minnesota wild rice to a vice-principal who will transfer.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
After watching The Devil Came on Horseback, a film on the ongoing atrocities in Darfur, I became interested in Global Grassroots. This program, founded by Gretchen Steidle of the movie, helps women survivors in eastern Chad (Darfuri refugees) and Rwanda. These women have often suffered rape or worse. Global Grassroots helps them reclaim their sense of dignity, and trains them in starting projects to help others in their local area. A list of current projects is on their web site. Please consider joining their cause on Facebook, and donating if you are able.
Watch The Devil Came on Horseback today.
Get it through this site and all affiliate proceeds will go to Global Grassroots. Click on one of the links below.
Get it from
ONE GOOD DEED: Donate to Global Grassroots.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Considering the extremity of some of the comments, and the accusations against my person, I noticed myself reacting with calm and candor. Some even made me laugh. To those that were flame-bait I declined reply, and to those that offered reasonable perspectives I responded in kind. I realized I must be learning patience.
Still, it was rather disappointing. Most disappointing of all were the accusations of creationism, especially when they were not accompanied by anything else to educate me about evolution. What kind of scientific climate are we living in when we can't ask questions to clarify our understanding, without being dismissed as creationists? How else does one learn? Part of the problem is that creationists have become so crafty at posing their arguments that they've pushed evolutionists to such paranoia. The other part of the problem is that evolutionists need to be more patient and willing to educate when someone raises their hand and says "I don't understand."
ONE GOOD DEED: Exercise patience in dealing with inflammatory replies to an email post.
Apparently some UN diplomats and officials said the decision had been made, when it had not.
Of course the situation remains a hot spot, all the more so for the disinformation chaos. The atrocities remain what they are, and a U.S. response is still necessary.
Sorry for the misreport in the last post.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Yesterday was momentous in the struggle for justice in Darfur. The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant for the arrest of Sudan's President Bashir. This follows on Bashir's 2008 indictment by the ICC on multiple counts of genocide and atrocities. While the warrant for arrest may be a ray of hope, it could also precipitate escalation of violence. The African Union requested a 12-month postponement of arrest efforts over fears of violence between Bashir supporters and opponents.
In the wake of this situation, the Save Darfur Coalition is calling for Americans to urge President Obama to send an official envoy to Sudan. The fears of increased violence require firm action to show that pro-Bashir violence will not be tolerated.
It took me less than one minute to complete and send the email to Obama's office. Please considering doing the same. A hand-written letter may be even better, although in this case time is of the essence.
What we're seeing today is the result of years of careful effort by the ICC and many other dedicated voices, a struggle depicted in the movies Darfur Now and The Devil Came on Horseback. Yet despite these efforts, there has been very little effect on the ground in Darfur. The Janjaweed militia have been burning villages, killing men, and raping women on a systematic basis since 2003. For six years Darfur's people have lived in under these conditions. The daily need to go out and collect firewood, as mentioned in The Devil Came on Horseback, illustrates the situation: if men do it, they face castration or death; if women, rape. So most have made the communal decision that women, who at least may live through it, should collect the firewood. No one should have to make this kind of decision.
Please consider doing all you can to end this situation. Although there is the potential that any action could lead to more violence, we have effectively been doing nothing for six years, and the situation shows no sign of resolving itself.
Sending a letter to President Obama is one small step that takes less than a minute to complete. The goal is that the president "should immediately appoint a high-level official with the stature, mandate and authority to be the U.S. point person on Sudan—and bring an end to the genocide." Please weigh the potential outcomes and act according to your conscience.
Here is the link:
After sending the email, please urge your friends to do the same. Feel free to pass on the current email from me if that should strike your fancy.
ONE GOOD DEED: Send an email urging Obama to appoint an official U.S. envoy to bring peace to the Sudan, and encourage my friends to do the same.
Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882) is of course the man who started the theory-of-evolution ball rolling with his book On the Origin of Species. Although the book did not originate the idea of natural selection or use the term "evolution", it put it all together in a way that caught on big time. Later in life Darwin also did pioneering work on human emotions in The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.
On this day I'd like to draw attention to Darwin's persisting influence, not by gushing praises but by posing a problem. This is not an exercise to which I already know the answer--it's perplexed me for some time now. I'm not a scientist, nor do I have a working knowledge of evolution that goes much beyond Wikipedia, so the answer may be out there. But if I am confused, no doubt there are many others out there who are confused too. So, let's have a joint think, and maybe in the process we can learn a little about evolution. Or at least I will, if you show me what I've been missing!
Wait--isn't evolution just a theory?
Before we get into the thick of it, this nagging question ought to be addressed. Yes it is a theory. Everything is a theory. When I say the sun will rise tomorrow, that is a theory. The question is how well it fits the evidence, and theories that do so exceptionally well eventually earn the status of "fact" or even "law." But in truth they always remain theories. Evolution does fit the evidence quite well--and there is a ginormous mass of it by now. Anomalies remain, but it would take extremely radical and well-documented scientific evidence to seriously challenge it at this point. Even the Catholic church accepts the evolutionary theory, having declared it compatible with Biblical revelation.
Here's the problem as I see it...
So here it is. This is one thing that I have never quite understood. I've asked a number of people to explain it to me, and no one has been able to figure out what I'm talking about. I'm awaiting the day when someone will slap me upside the head with the answer.
Basically, I am blown away by the extremely--and by extremely I do mean extremely--unlikely series of coincidences apparently required for a complex adaptation to get started.
Let me break it down:
The theory of natural selection says adaptations evolve in response to environmental pressures. Those mutations that increase a genetic line's fitness, whether by helping it find mates or avoid predators and diseases, naturally prosper. Those that make the genetic line less fit die out. So far so good.
Now, what about complex adaptations, like bird wings? In their fully functional state there is no doubt that wings help their respective species survive--it would be absurd to say otherwise. But they did not just appear all of a sudden. A wingless mother did not suddenly pop out a little winged freak one day. These things develop gradually, starting with little nubbins that eventually over the course of many mutations develop into wings. Or, to be more precise, bird wings started as something like under-arm webbing much as we see in flying squirrels. They developed into gliding mechanisms, and then the featherless wings of teradactyls. Gradually they became the pinioned glories of today's birds.
My question is this: in those very early stages, long before the adaptation reaches what we might call its fully-flowered state, does it really help the species enough that it would be selected for? Among all the many factors determining life or death, would it make a noticeable difference in the long run? Or would it be lost in the wash?
Consider how rare it is that a mutation proves useful. The vast majority of mutations just cause problems like diseases. A small percentage are harmless enough not to kill off the individuals in their genetic lines. And among these, only a tiny few prove adaptive.
If we assume that the mutation leading to the first step in developing wings does not also carry with it some death-dealing abnormality, it is already a rare thing. Next, we must wonder whether it would hamper its attractiveness to the opposite sex. How would you like to have sex with a mate with floppy under-arm webbing? Eww! I should think most abnormalities would significantly decrease chances of mating. So we have to assume that our nascent wings, by a stroke of luck, occur in a species sexually liberal enough that it doesn't mind a little extra skin flopping around like granny arms. Considering how low the chances are of the adaptation happening at all, it must be a rare thing indeed that it happens in such a charitable sexual climate.
Now factor in the next extremely lucky coincidence: that a second mutation will build positively on the first. For this to happen, the second mutation must be at least as rare as the first: it must be among the few that neither kill off the genetic line nor deter sexual attractiveness. Next, out of all the jillions of effects that this mutation could possible have, from making a tail a little longer to modifying the immune system, it must by chance affect the species in exactly the same way: by adding more under-arm skin. This is lightning striking the same spot twice.
And this has to keep on happening, until there is enough under-arm skin to actually glide on. This gliding power must be efficacious enough that it positively affects survival, and this affect must not get lost in the wash of all the other factors determining survival. Once it reaches that point, where the proto-wings are actually making a difference, then natural selection becomes a little more believable. It builds momentum of a sort, as gliders compete to go farther, faster, and higher. An "arms race" begins which drives evolution, and it becomes almost inevitable that what we call wings will eventually appear. But to get to that point involves an incredible string of coincidences.
Yet wings have not only evolved for birds, but have done so also for insects, and flight has been called one of those adaptations which is virtually inevitable given enough time. There are adaptations much, much less likely than this.
It is so incredible that I wonder if we are not missing some further component in the theory of natural selection. Either we haven't figured it out yet, or I just haven't been educated about it yet. Either way it hardly seems believable in the form as I understand it, the form I have just described.
Those to whom I have posed this problem usually go a bit cross-eyed, and reply that this happens over a very long time. Yes, it certainly does. But if its chance of happening once is just about nil, even over millions of years it is hardly credible that more than a small handful of adaptations should have such miraculous streaks of luck. From where I stand it seems like after this amount of time we should still be on the level of single-cell organisms. And yet, here I stand, an extremely complex result of natural selection.
The question I've posed resembles in some ways Behe's irreducible complexity, but it's not the same. Irreducible complexity says that adaptations which are so complex that they cannot function without all their necessary parts could not have evolved by natural selection. They could not have functioned in the earlier stages, and so they could not have been selected for. By contrast, the argument I've posed says that it is possible, but it would require an extraordinary series of coincidences.
One criticism of irreducible complexity is that earlier stages of adaptation may have served other unrelated functions. For example, in the case of wings, it is possible that the flappy, hangy-down under-arm skin could actually have increased attractiveness. Who are we to judge what's sexy to other species? But while this is possible, it seems to add a still greater coincidence: that the mutation occurs not only in a species that is indifferent to this abnormality, but that it occurs in one positively crazy about it. This adds further unlikelihood upon an already unlikely string of events.
Of course, none of this proves anything about competing theories of how life came about. Challenging one aspect of the evolutionary theory does not prove that creationism must be true, or any other theory out there. It just shows that there has got to be more to natural selection than what I've just outlined. I want to know what that is.
So now I ask: who can slap me upside the head with the answer? I've got my hockey helmet on and I'm waiting. Let 'er rip. Please!
In the news
Darwin Day in the UK - The Guardian
On 'Darwin Day,' many Americans beg to differ - Christian Science Monitor
Opportunities to giveDarwin Day Celebration - promoting public education about science and encouraging celebration of science and humanity
The Charles Darwin Foundation - conservancy in the Galapagos Islands
Galapagos Conservation Trust - another for conservancy
I also gave some links to related charities. Then I posted the essay to a number of email lists. It will also be published here in the following post.
ONE GOOD DEED: Promote reflection on Darwin Day.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
After getting a link to donate to the Australian Red Cross, I decided to do my part.
ONE GOOD DEED: Donate to help fight the fires raging across Australia.
image: Afraid of a little forest fire? by Stacirl
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
ONE GOOD DEED: Raise awareness of charities and related sites.
image: Philemon and Baucis, by Bartolommeo Suardi Bramantino, c. 1500
Monday, February 9, 2009
Email list discussions... it's amazing what can happen sometimes. Somehow one of my comments was misinterpreted, then conflated with something else, and that in turn was conflated with something else... Pretty soon the house was on fire. I considered trying to explain further what I meant, but then I thought better of it. Sometimes, in the name of peace, it's more important to swallow your pride and apologize for whatever may have led to misunderstanding, and leave it at that. The world doesn't always need to know precisely how "innocent" you are.
ONE GOOD DEED: Apologize for contributing to misunderstanding on an email list discussion.
image: Hill East March on Potomac Gardens, by Mike Licht
Sunday, February 8, 2009
ONE GOOD DEED: Promote my friend's video contest entry.
Saturday, February 7, 2009
ONE GOOD DEED: Promote a friend's book with a review.
Friday, February 6, 2009
Thursday, February 5, 2009
ONE GOOD DEED: Make an elderly trio laugh.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Tonight she had me over for dinner before English class (she's a student, and she has me over every week). I told her in the plainest words as I could manage just how happy I was that she was my friend. Unfortunately her English level isn't so high, and that contributed some awkwardness to the moment. But at the end of the day I think the point hit home.
ONE GOOD DEED: Tell a friend how grateful I am for her friendship.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
The decor of an Otsuya is breathtaking. While everyone dresses in black, the altar display is awash with color. A photograph of the deceased rests within an ocean of flowers. Examples can be seen here and here.
This was my fourth funeral in five years in Japan. That's too many. Too many.
ONE GOOD DEED: Express my condolences to my friend by attending her father's funeral, and bringing the traditional monetary gift.
Monday, February 2, 2009
ONE GOOD DEED: Get to know a friend deeper.
Sunday, February 1, 2009
I picked up some trash on my walks, but today's deed would have to be critiquing a friend's poem. Creative works are important to all of us, vital to well-being. I was happy to help my friend out. He's supported me quite a bit in the last few months.
The world is good. ;-)
ONE GOOD DEED: Offer constructive criticism on a friend's poem.