Time Heals All Wounds.. And Then Kills the Patient
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Thu Jan 1 21:48:00 2004
Eyes on Rome

The Pope, Patriarch of Rome and the head of the Roman Catholic Church, has called for the U.N. to take new responsibilities, to more actively be a force to advance human dignity, freedom of peoples, and economic development. He recognizes (correctly) that it currently is a kind of comprimise between something like this and an administrative, theoretically neutral body. This statement, and the role of the Roman Catholic Church in Modern Liberal thought, is worthy of analysis. Unfortunately, like much in politics, it uses ill-defined terms that most perspectives might lay a claim to and bind to their particular arrangement of values. I've harped too often about the vagueness of 'freedom'.. instead, let's try to understand dignity. What is human dignity, and how do political systems relate to it? I recognize that it is a term that can be interpreted differently, of course. I'm stepping into my philosophy here (out of "meta" land), so I'll drop the "I think" and similar. One important element to dignity is autonomy, recognizing the different values and lifestyle choices people have, and neither biasing their environment too much towards ones they might not want, nor, even supposing recognition of what they want, pushing them towards that against their momentary impulses or desires. That's perhaps the most long-term part of integrity. Much of the content is in the short-term, and could equally be applied to nonhuman animals. This kind of dignity mandates respect and attention for the base psychological and physical needs (and borderline needs-desires) of people. The first part is fairly general (e.g. provide toilet facilities), the second extends into some amount of respect for strong cultural taboos (but not, in my view, necessarily cultural 'should's. For example, I think it would violate X's dignity to only make available to them pork products if they are Muslim or Judaist, if/when other foods are available, while not providing a Mosque/Temple isn't such a big deal). It is worth noting that this short-term concept of dignity is most relevant in situations where a person is confined or under some form of custody, as generally short-term dignity is maintained by individuals who are fairly autonomous. As such, this form of dignity is typically up against need for order/preservation, or paternalism (which it shares heavily as a foe with longer-term notions of dignity). So, given that as an exploration of dignity, it does strike me as something worthwhile to preserve, which should of course be weighed against other concerns in any given situation. I suspect the Pope might have a slightly different take on human dignity, or might be of the sort who says "I don't know what it is, but I can see when it's not being given due respect". What does the Christian Bible have to say about dignity? I'm not really certain -- I'd need to dig -- nothing comes immediately to mind on the topic (I do claim to know the Christian Bible better than most Atheists -- I've read it many times). I've met many Evangelist-types who very much are against my first aspect of dignity, and most of the more moderate Christians, as well as devout Catholics, seem to be for the first aspect, within limits. Everyone seems to like the second aspect apart from bullies/thugs who delight at the idea of making Muslims, especially enemy soldiers, eat pork, and other such crap, so we'll focus on the first. It is my impression that, given all the religious people I've talked or argued with, that, on the concept of dignity, temporarily disregarding their position on homosexuality, devout Catholics tend to be closer to modern liberalism in values than evangelical protestants. Less-devout Catholics are fairly similar to their devout brethren, although they seem to be accepting of alternative sexualities as well. Generic Protestants are, alas, too varied to generalize without describing them all. (Interesting sidenote -- for a lot of Catholics, their faith is much more of a family affair than with Protestants -- the notion of a "Catholic Family" is much stronger than a "Presbyterian Family", where it's less of a big deal when they change faiths, either within or without protestantism. I wonder if this is partially because of Anti-Catholic discrimination creating more of a "in or out" attitude). The strong ties between modern liberalism and Catholicism also have a strong affect on believers -- in many countries and congregations, a large percentage of Catholics don't oppose alternative sexualities to the extent that the Vatican would have them do so. I have the impression, although have not spoken with enough people to feel very certain, that the Anglican/Episcopal churches, which are churches that arn't really Protestant (having broken off at a different time for different reasons), are largely the same as Roman Catholics on this issue. I am curious how Eastern Orthodox and other Christian churches that don't fit the Roman Catholic-Protestant dichotomy fit. I haven't spoken with enough representatives of the different strands of Judaism to feel confident talking about them yet, and it is my impression that Islam is similar to the Evangelical Protestants but more so, although again I haven't spoken with enough representatives of the flavours of Islam yet (speaking of which, I've never spoken with a Sufi yet. I'd love to, someday).

In contrast to its barbarism in the past, the Roman Catholic Church has absorbed a lot of modern liberal ideas, and so, compared to the other Christian flavours out there, there's a certain commonality of goals/ideals present. On this particular issue, the role of the U.N., the structure of the U.N. is critical -- where is direction to come from, if it is not to be purely nation-democratic? Is nation-democratic a good idea anyhow? Is population-democratic better? Is, perhaps like the U.S. legislative system, a two-part system better? Of course, even more so than the same issues in the U.S., there's an amplifying affect of majorities present in the representative structure, and the suitability of the state to represent the interests/needs of its people might be questionable. The duality the Pope refers to is similar to, but not quite the same, as the duality between the security council (which holds veto power) and the body of the U.N., as the council can (and to some degree does) protect western values from the 'rabble' of countries many of whom are, by standards of modern liberalism, uncivilized. If the Pope wants to suggest disturbing that delicate balance, even for reasons we approve of (there are many cool things the U.N. could do, but also a lot of disagreement on what should be done, according to different philosophies and national structures), unless this is a statement just meant to get people thinking about the issues (which is still worthwhile), I'd hope he has some actual ideas about how it should be done. One thing I've come to see about Democracy is that one of its most important features is it doesn't lead people to feel too disenfranchised with the system, and the same is at least partly true for the current arrangement of the U.N. Altering the U.N. risks turning it into a "liberal nation only" club. It may be that the best role of the U.N., then, is to stay roughly as it is now, as it does act as a slow vehicle for greater influx of liberalism for member nations, and its nonpolitical end of acting for a gathering place for diplomats is too useful to risk losing.

I'm sure I've talked about these concerns on the U.N. to some degree before -- hopefully the new outweighs the old.

I feel compelled to share a bit of code with you I recently wrote to handle the CSS for my BLOG.

sub css_defaults(;) { my %returner; $returner{TAG}{body}{background} = "#aaaccc"; $returner{TAG}{body}{"font-family"} = q{"Verdana", sans-serif}; $returner{TAG}{body}{"font-size"} = q{10pt};

$returner{ID}{entrypart}{B} = q{left: 0;}; $returner{ID}{entrypart}{Position} = q{absolute}; $returner{ID}{entrypart}{E} = ""; ... return \%returner; }

sub csshash_to_css($;) { my ($csshash) = @_; my $returner = ""; foreach my $type (@types_to_handle)

       my $intro_prefix;
       if($type eq "CLASS")
               { $intro_prefix = '.';}
       elsif($type eq "ID")
               { $intro_prefix = '#';}
       elsif($type eq "TAG")
               { $intro_prefix = ;}
               {die "Internal Error in CSS_code\n";}
       foreach my $css_thingy (keys %{$$csshash{$type}})
               $returner .= "$intro_prefix$css_thingy\n{\n";
               foreach my $component (keys %{$$csshash{$type}{$css_thingy}})
                       my $content = $$csshash{$type}{$css_thingy}{$component};
                       if( ($component eq 'E') || ($component eq 'B'))
                               if($content ne )
                                       {$returner .= "$content\n";}
                               {$returner .= "$component: $content;\n";}
               $returner .= "}\n\n";
return $returner; }

Kind of pretty, huh? Adding new tags is very simple, and the caller function should be able to pretty easily modify the structure on a per-user (or perhaps per-cookie, if I want) basis, based on a query to the database. Note that the 'B' tag isn't a real CSS property -- instead, typically in CSS, as I've come to understand it, if you bind an element to a side of its enclosure, you only want to bind to one side, so I stash the CSS to do that in this tag, and it being a single value makes it easier to make sure a tag only is bound to one side -- by making people override my pseudo-tag instead of adding a new bind, I don't need to provide a means for them to clear the default side-binding. The 'E' tag is also not real, and is just a place to stash any additional properties not already there. I might get rid of it, depending on how I do things later.

So, as promised, my review of 2003. It's been a very eventful year. I've had a relationship disintegrate, and then come back better than it ever was. I've grown a lot as person , have started/revived a local atheist/agnostic group, and have started work towards that distant but slowly approaching PhD in Cognitive Science (I have a 4.0 GPA! W00t!). I'm working slowly towards better health, and have some local friends. I've had a lot of good conversations on philosophy with a lot of people, and have done more work on programming projects that interest me, including some cool things for work. I've heard a lot of new music too. I've done some research towards buying a house, and finally gotten my finances in order. A surprisingly big event for me has been getting this laptop -- I've several of my desktops, and don't use my workstation at work anymore. And, although I'm not going to get into it much, this year also marks the year that my family in Brecksville begins to disintegrate. I've read a lot of books, and of course, have seen a lot more of the beauty of nature. At the OSSCon, I again communed with my fellows in the Open Source community. This last semester, I've worked the hardest I've ever worked before, to do a fulltime job and take classes at the same time. So, to me, that's 2003 in a (big) paragraph.