It has been a surprising, confusing, and enlightening set of days. I seem to have been accepting too-simple perspectives on some situations that are, in fact, much more complex than I thought, a number of them tied to my long-term happiness. I find myself wondering if some of the things I feel a deep longing for are things that I can't actually manage properly, and perhaps in that realisation I'm a bit more similar than I thought to two people whom I don't want to be similar to than I thought. It makes some things easier to understand, although the specifics are just as unacceptable and my conclusion just as strong.
My grandfather sent another one of his endless stream of joke emails. Occasionally I read them, and sometimes they're funny. This one was one of the ones I found offensive. Read it here. I actually find it considerably more offensive than the recent mocking of Mohammad (which I hardly find offensive at all) in Denmark, partly because of the sentiments and point of the humour. I don't know if these are principled differences or not, but the difference I see is that I think it's fine to poke fun at sacred cows, like symbols and sacred figures. Jokes like the recent one that's been floating around in my social group ("Q: Why did Jesus die on the cross? A: He forgot his safeword") don't bother me, but I think that's partially because attachments to politial/philosophical figures are mentally unhealthy. People who are fans of other people (instead of holding other relationship types with them, e.g. simply liking their skills at something) are, I think, fairly far from enlightenment. The issue with the joke my grandpa passed along is that it instead takes delight in demonisation, division, and death (the three Ds of this blog entry, eh?). As I sometimes have to take great pains to explain to some fellow admins on Wikipedia, even when one must do harsh things for the good of society (or the project, in their case), one should always be civil. It is not helpful to deal with others in abrasive ways in such situations, because it turns people who might be redeemed for the good of the project (or society, or enlightenment) onto paths where they are likely instead to become a foe. What I have not yet said there is that there is an equally important other side to being civil -- the maintenance of civility also is important to keep the tendency to demonise out of the head of the enforcer. Once people begin to demonise, their cause can rapidly degrade and their personality can become monstrous. This is a crucial point for those who say that philosophy and virtue are unimportant, and getting things done is more important -- people who do not understand taint and corruption, and take steps to guard against it, are doomed, and their practical goals will fall to the vengeful, uncivilised parts of human nature. I would not ban such humour from making the rounds through faxspace and email, as it no doubt has by now, but I am disappointed by it far more than any other humour I've been exposed to. As a brief aside, it's also not as accurate as it might be -- Islamic fundamentalists would probably want the wall to encompass Saudi Arabia first, Arabia containing the most holy sites of Islam.
Speaking of popular crud, someone pointed me at this challenge, and strictly speaking, the apologists, whether joking or not, are on solid ground -- without Occam's razor (or, as a philosophy professor I once had, Kevin Kelly, suggests in several interesting papers, a refinement of Occam's razor), there is not necessarily a solid reason to prefer the much simpler heliocentric models over the mathematically equivalent (but much more complex) terra-centric models. It takes some work (and goes possibly out on limbs) to go from saying that the theory must predict all possible data to saying that the theory should minimally encapsulate all possible data -- kosher theories of the first type may include complex tables of data, with no deep meaning. It happens that having formulaic (and ideally deep) theories instead tends to lead to easier further enlightenment, but to say that they are better for that reason embraces heuristics (over algorithms) in ways that a lot of people with a certain take on science ("a priori"ists) are likely to find uncomfortable. My intuition is that "a priori"-centric folk should embrace intuition more, and that formal logic is a construction that should not be trusted fully, but I can't prove that formally :)
I have been having dreams of reaching strange places on highways again, this time as if I am delivering things to other, fairly similar realities while driving on highways that exist in many worlds. I enjoy dreaming, especially the dreams where their reality is a strange but familiar cousin to reality. Last night's dreams were not the most common alternate reality I've found myself in, and oddly, I didn't remember them on waking up this morning, instead having them just being remembered now, after I've been up for most of the day. Odd.
On other topics, I am amused to see the United States Government meeting the Wikipedia governance here. There's something amusing about the US Congress being blocked. Perhaps it's like a policeman taking a vacation to another country, getting drunk, and being tossed in a foreign jail overnight. It's odd to think about.