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Thursday, June 5, 2003  permanent URL for this entry

So on the drive home this evening, near the end, I stopped on the twisty part of the highway, where the State has recently restored an old falling-apart tollhouse into a neat little building with a gift shop inside and an excretorium out back, to stretch my legs and peer in at the windows. As I was getting back into the car to finish the drive, a young man drove up in an SUV, and asked me if he was on the right road to Peekskill.

And I realized I actually had no idea where I was.

I had been driving home so thoroughly on autopilot (and was, on top of that, so brain-tired from the day) that I wasn't sure which side of the river I was on, whether I'd crossed the bridge yet, whether the bridge was to the north or the south, or just where Peekskill was. But fortunately I had a map in the car, and the young man knew which side of the river and the bridge we were on, so we got him going in the right direction.

A spammer writes:

Suppose we tell you that you could really lose up to 82136777174f your unwanted body fat and keep it off in just a few months, would you be interested? We certainly hope so!

I'm holding out for 82136777175f, at least.

Another, keen to meet me, writes:

0500 553 003

A model of what, we wonder? I can't make it to Syndey just now, but if any of my readers would like to have dinner with Cher, feel free to give her a call on my behalf.

Unlike some people, some other people appreciate our theosemantic experiment the other day:

oh. Oh. OH! Great truths, indeed! Bravo.

Thanks! We'll have to try it again sometime.

On our woolgathering yesterday, one reader writes:

"It may be (and it may not be; this is just a thought, not a theory I'm ready to endorse) that as our religions become less powerful and more tolerant of diversity and less prone to making unjustified truth-claims, endorsement of religion by individual government actors is less of a problem."

Your boundless optimism for the future is admirable. I wish I had just a little of that. It might make the dark age of which we are on the verge a bit more tolerable.

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good [folks] do nothing.

And on the same general subject a reader writes most imaginatively:

Perhaps, as our culture matures, it will become less important what Mayor Fred thinks or says, or what legislation Senator Jane promotes. Perhaps, as our society matures, we will say "How quaint", and go about out business when the President issues a new national directive, or seeks to garner more power. "Funny guy," we'll say, and change the channel. That would be nice.

Wouldn't it, indeed! I do wonder, though, how that might come to pass, given that

[A] There are people who would like to gain power and wealth for themselves, by violating the rights of others.

The only techniques that occur to me for attaining such a degree of insouciance about the activities of government (given that, unlike imaginary friends, both governments and would-be rights-violators are sadly non-imaginary) are:

  • By allowing the rights violators to take over and become the government, at which point one doesn't have to care much about what the government does, since you can't do anything about it anyway, and they keep the trains running on time and the streets peaceful, except for once in while when they haul you and/or your neighbors and loved ones away never to be seen again, because they don't like something that you did or said, or by mistake, or on a whim.
  • By surrounding yourself with an open and more or less democratic society, and then more or less taking it for granted that someone else will worry about what the government and other potential rights-violators are doing, and as a side effect prevent your own rights from being significantly violated most of the time. (I suspect that I myself use this method entirely too often.)
  • By causing [A] above to be false. This would be a good application of the Orbital Mind Control Lasers, if only they could be wrested from the cabal of shadowy figures that currently control them fnord.
  • By making it impossible to violate anyone's rights despite [A], through changes to the laws of physics and/or the teleological basis of the universe. This is probably hard.

Still, it's a nice thought.

A reader (pipe) comments very perceptively:

or a fife, or nine, or suse (linux), or the Tate art gallery...

And another notes:

It's not a very successful meme. [link]

I don't really get the part about peons, versions, formats, and limes.

Wednesday, June 4, 2003  permanent URL for this entry

The bad news:

  • I drove for four hours today in order to attend an all-day meeting,
  • I'm probably doing the same thing tomorrow

The good news:

  • I got to use the following joke, recently developed in the IBM Research Joke Lab:

As Moses said when he came down from the mountain with the tablets: "these aren't actually my slides."

Speaking of imaginary friends in high places, I was listening to a story about this on NPR on the way home, and the defending lawyer was talking about how if Judge whatsisname had to remove the giant Ten Commandments Shrine from the courthouse lobby, then eventually we'd be removing "In God We Trust" from the money, and "Under God" from the Pledge, and all sortsa stuff like that, and I was thinking "well of course", and then I had a sort of funny thought. As we mature as a culture, we'll naturally tend to incorporate our imaginary friends into government less and less (because we realize that we have many different imaginary friends, that some of us have several or none at all, that we're better off being self-reliant, and so on), but doing it less and less may also become less important.

That is to say, in a more mature culture, it may not matter as much when some organ of the government does slip up and endorse someone's particular imaginary friend.

Consider, for instance, if the mayor of some town in Oregon had an imaginary friend named Bucky the Penguin, and decided to put Bucky on the Town Seal, and the town board went along just for fun, and there was this penguin on the Town Seal. That would be okay, would be funny, would be heartwarming, and even people who lived in the town and didn't believe in Bucky wouldn't have any real cause to object.

It may be (and it may not be; this is just a thought, not a theory I'm ready to endorse) that as our religions become less powerful and more tolerant of diversity and less prone to making unjustified truth-claims, endorsement of religion by individual government actors is less of a problem. If some judge is a fundamentalist Christian or Islamist or something, and lets that fact find expression in his work, then it's a problem because those judged by him will have a reasonable fear that they'll be judged according to some narrow religious criteria rather than the actual law, and that this may be part of a larger pattern of government repression of those not following a certain religion.

But if some judge is a Unitarian or a Zen Buddhist or a Discordian or something, and lets that find expression in his work, what would the accused have to fear? A religion that doesn't make serious judgements or truth-claims, and that isn't suscribed to by enough people to constitute an oppressive consensus, isn't nearly as much of a threat.

Hm, that's a rather unconvincing thought as stated; it may just be an expression of my own preference for one kind of religion over another. I think it might have the seed of a real thought it in, though. File it under "possible".

As I recall, I thought of it when the radio mentioned some recent ruling that some state could continue to have the Ten Commandments on some official seal or something, and my gut reaction was that, well, given how generically and blandly both the Commandments and official seals are regarded these days, maybe that wasn't too serious a problem.

File that under "possible" too.

Tuesday, June 3, 2003  permanent URL for this entry

You're either a dude, a babe, a mime, or a pope.

Or you could be rare.

(That's a meme.)

Monday, June 2, 2003  permanent URL for this entry

Terrifying to realize that last time I touched my "render the Tao Te Ching as 'Haiku'" project (a project that I still think of as Active, as One Of Those Things That I Do), was nearly three years ago.

Different but related project today. I was reading Lao Tzu while waiting for a Ceremony To Celebrate Our Children Who Are Too Smart For Their Own Good to start (a ceremony, I will just mention casually in passing, in which the little daughter was one of the featured children), and for some reason I thought of the aphorism attributed (in various forms) to Bohr, about how while the opposite of a simple truth is a simple falsehood, the opposite of a great truth is another great truth.

So, obviously...

Here are I and IV from Lao Tzu (in the good old John Wu translation):

Tao can be talked about, but not the Eternal Tao.
Names can be named, but not the Eternal Name.

As the origin of heaven-and-earth, it is nameless:
As "the Mother" of all things, it is nameable.

So, as ever hidden, we should look at its inner essence:
As always manifest, we should look at its outer aspects.

These two flow from the same source, though differently named;
And both are called mysteries.

The Mystery of mysteries is the Door of all essence.

The Tao is like an empty bowl,
Which in being used can never be filled up.
Fathomless, it seems to be the origin of all things.
It blunts all sharp edges,
It unties all tangles,
It harmonises all lights,
It unites the world into one whole.
Hidden in the deeps,
Yet it seems to exist for ever.
I do not know whose child it is;
It seems to be the common ancestor of all, the father of things.

Okay, now (deep breath) we will attempt to create opposites of these, in such a way that the opposites are also Great Truths. Hold on!

Nothing can be talked about but the Eternal Tao.
Nothing can be named but the Eternal Name.

As the origin of heaven-and-earth, all names name it:
As "the Mother" of a million things, no name can capture it.

So, as ever hidden, we should look at its outer aspects:
As always manifest, we should look at its inner essence.

These two flow from different sources, but have the same name;
And neither are called mysteries.

The least mysterious thing in the world
Is the Door of all essence.

The Tao is like a full bowl,
Which in being used can never be emptied.
Small and shallow, it seems to emerge from all things.
It sharpens all blunt edges,
It tangles all cords,
And throws lights into confusion,
It divides the world into a million parts.
Before every eye,
Yet it seems to exist for only a moment.
All know whose child it is;
It seems to be the common offspring of all, the end product of things.

Ooh, not bad! The only lines I don't really like are the "as ever hidden" / "as always manifest" ones, because they're too slavishly copied from the original, and too obviously make no sense. But overall I'm very pleased with myself.

(For a change, har har har har har.)

So go, my children, and spread these New Truths. Or are these just the same old truths, and is Taoism therefore invariant under the transform?


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