Wednesday, August 18, 2010

On Ground Zero, Islamic Centers, and Shopping Malls

I was on the phone with my dad and he asked me what I thought about the controversy surrounding the mosque being built near Ground Zero.  I told him that I am a firm believer in property rights and religious freedom -- and that those two things are some of the core values of American society.  So, under that analysis, if they own the property and have the right zoning then they can build whatever they want there.

I also believe that there's a great deal of room between "what you are legally permitted to do" and "what you ought to do."  Ethics, not to mention good taste and good judgment, is a gray area.  As a society, we've never been particularly effective at legislating morals, and yet, the politicians and pundits keep talking about it.

Now, admittedly, I might not have lived in lower Manhattan on 9/11, but back then, I lived close enough to the Pentagon that my apartment was filled with smoke. And while I'm not reflexively offended by the idea of a mosque being built in the vicinity, I can understand why others might be.  Should that offense be mitigated -- at least somewhat -- by the idea that the project is a religious center for a mainstream sect that disagree with the fundamentalist leanings that led to the attacks, and intends it as a memorial of-sorts?  Maybe, maybe not.  On the other hand, can the decision to build at that spot be viewed as a bit callous and insensitive, and perhaps worse?  Like Shakespeare said, "If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, chapels had been churches, and poor men's cottages princes' palaces."

But then I read that one of the things that they're planning on building at Ground Zero -- not near, but at -- is, essentially, an underground shopping mall.  That offends me at least as much -- probably more -- than any mosque being built in the neighborhood.  The idea of swarms of tourists buying t-shirts and tchochkes on the very site of the attacks makes my skin crawl.  But who's railing against those developers?  Minority religious expression is bad, but offensive and tacky consumerism is the status quo, I suppose.

So, I'm back to where I started. If they own the property and have the right zoning and permits and the city gives them the go-ahead, it's no longer a legal issue.  They can build whatever they want.  What they should build is a matter of judgment, and that's between them and their conscience.  The politicians and pundits need to keep their mouths shut and focus on real issues.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Desert images

The desert is an interesting place. To grow there, the plants adapt. The plants get hard, spiky, spiny, almost like animals themselves. But still, there's a beauty -- a desolate beauty.

First thing in the morning, deep in the canyon, the first light makes the desert seem surreal, almost nightmarish. The Saguaro cacti look like spiny supernatural arms growing out of the ground.

I am enamored of cactus flowers. They bloom for only one day each year, opening their petals at dawn and closing them at dusk. How poetic and sad.

One day! Can you imagine living your entire life for just one day?

Monday, August 02, 2010

The Umbrella Theorem

I'm leaving for vacation in a few hours. I'm on the verge of going computer-free for the entire week. I hope I don't go through withdrawal.

In preparing for the week off, I had to make sure my work was covered. So I had to go from office to office to talk to the coworkers that were covering for me, to explain the status of the various projects that they would be covering. It was during my last conversation, with one of my colleagues that I've known since my first day in the office, I realized that this is an extrapolation of the Umbrella Theorem.

I learned about the Umbrella Theorem almost ten years ago, when I first started working. My coworkers and I would, occasionally, head out to lunch. We'd meet at the elevator bank and head downstairs. On occasion, someone would note the presence or absence of an umbrella. Eventually, I realized what it meant: If you're heading outside and see clouds in the sky, you bring your umbrella -- not to avoid the rain, but to prevent it. And so, the Umbrella Theorem became a part of my life. I always bring my umbrella -- because, more often than not, it seems as if the Universe only enacts its revenge when I'm unprepared.

So, today, as I was making sure that my boss, my coworkers, and my assistant were fully informed about my vacation, the cases, and whatever issues might arise, it was not in real preparation for dealing with anything, but was really a prophylactic measure against anything happening. And at the exact moment I realized what I was doing, my colleague figured it out too. "This is like bringing the umbrella along to lunch," he said. I laughed, "Exactly."

It's the same thing for the BlackBerry -- I could leave it at home and attempt to totally unplug. But, in my mind the Umbrella Theorem prevents it: if I leave the BlackBerry at home, there will, undoubtedly, be an emergency. And so, I'm bringing it with me. As I said to my boss, there's only so much unplugging I'm capable of. Baby steps.