The right to worship? A reprise

There is an important, yet subtle, point left completely unsaid in my previous entry. While I make the case in support of our government not blocking the mosque, I come close, perhaps dangerously so, to saying that our government should support the mosque.

I’ll be blunt. In my view, our government must, from its very foundation, support the right to build the mosque and also must, from its very foundation, not support the building of the mosque.

This subtle difference is quite markedly present in the First Amendment to our Constitution, more clearly, perhaps, than simply declaring that Congress must remain neutral. Supporting the building of the mosque would directly contravene Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. Likewise, not supporting the right to build would directly contravene prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

Confusing the two points is easily done, but must necessarily be avoided. To re-iterate: either the fact that the building is a mosque has zero bearing on its right to be built near the twin towers site, or you have zero rights in our country to practice your favorite religion, whatever it may be.

Our government’s voice, defined by our First Amendment and stated recently by NYC mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, is clear: allow the mosque to proceed and reinforce our country’s foundation, or block it and destroy ourselves from within.

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The right to worship?

The relevant basis for our religious rights in this country stems from the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

There is also the application of this amendment to what states have the right to do, courtesy of the Fourteenth Amendment, which is technically needed to apply the rights at a state level too. One might argue that municipalities are not restricted, which opens up a whole different can of worms than I wish to discuss herein.

What I wish to get at is this: President Obama’s primary responsibility is to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.

Now the meaty topic of the moment seems to be about a desire by some people to build a mosque near the site of the former twin towers. I have explicitly not been following the discussion because, to me, the issue is a simple one. If someone wishes to block the efforts to build the mosque, it has to be done without any reference to the religion that would be practiced therein. Otherwise, rights are infringed by those attempting to block the mosque. In short, as long as the people seeking the building of the mosque obey relevant ordinances regarding the construction of the building, fire laws regarding maximum occupancy, whatever, then it has every right to be there.

President Obama has, as I understand it, voiced the view that, while it may not be a wise choice, the right exists for the mosque to be built there. I believe that he is correct to do so, because that’s his job. Now there is news brewing that this is a perfect opportunity for the republican party, by blasting President Obama on this choice of his.

I submit that anyone who thinks such criticism of the president is reasonable is, by extension, declaring that the president’s job bears no relation what-so-ever to the laws of our country. Declaring that the president can act outside our laws, to the detriment of any particular religion, strikes to the very foundation of our country. And sacrificing our country is precisely what the republican party would be doing, if they choose such a course of criticism.

So, please take a moment to think through what I’ve written so far, then consider this. An attack against one religion in our country implies that no religion is safe. So, either the fact that the building is a mosque has zero bearing on its right to be built at the twin towers site, or you have zero rights in our country to worship your favorite religion, whatever it may be.

That’s the actual choice put before us.

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A Not-so-quantum Leap

In short: I just registered for a course at Harvard Extension School.

So starts a long process, where, along the way, hopefully anyway, I manage to end my disability, therapy and generally feel good about myself again. For those that have been following along, no, this is not my gamble. This is a tentative first step, hopefully followed by more certain and sure steps, towards possible success with the gamble.

My current intentions are to take one course this fall, two next spring, apply for their degree program and finish with a Masters in Information Technology a couple years later. Perk, I’ll get to walk in the Harvard Commencement when I get my degree (pause here a moment to allow my parents to calm down).

I must admit, as I waited for HES’ registration to open for the fall courses, I felt some trepidation. Will I have the nerve to sign up? Of course I will, I thought, the hard part is actually going. I also paid for it, so this experiment, this test of myself as it were, is expensive. I’m doubtful of receiving any financial aid along the way, but I’m not concerned about that. It’s all about the commitment, the follow through, the interaction with others, being comfortable there as myself (as if those four items were all just one concept).

I don’t feel like I’ve done anything that’s a big deal. I know it’s important, significant, life changing. It’s also taking a course at university, which I’m good at, based on previous, now ancient, experience anyway.

I feel good about this.

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A Shopping Spree?

Last night, I had occasion, not from any urgent need but from the evening coolness, to go grocery shopping around midnight. Whee!
That’s not my usual habit, except in the hot days of summer such as we have now. The parking lot was quite empty, but not completely so, as I pulled up, parking near the entrance. There was a light rain, but I didn’t hurry as I walked past a row of cabs up to the store. I was confused at the doors that didn’t open – the store is open 24 hours, but this was the latest I had been shopping there – what’s amiss?
Ah, there’s a small, very well lit, entrance along the lot – it’s just the store being security conscious. So I trundle in, grabbing a shopping basket and heading to my errand.
I notice many college age folks walking the aisles in well worn, loosely fitting, attire. Several of asian descent also, though dressed a tad more formally. The least formal of the bunch, well, the clothes either barely contained their assets, or had a pronounced unclean aroma.
The general mood was jovial as I got in the checkout line. The clerk was running out of checkout tape, and asked for more, teasing another worker who went off to get them. I waited my turn, paid with my debit card and left casually through the same doorway I entered through.
The rain had eased up, the taxis had all left, and the last of the 3 other cars parked near mine was just pulling out. I drove easily home, not at all in a hurry as today started, hoping to be asleep soon.

In the morning, I discovered that I needed soon to get more sugar to go with my milk and cereal purchase.

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le Tour

For me, no July is complete without partaking of the epic Tour de France.

Starting each year on the first Saturday of July, July 3rd this year, and continuing through 3 Sundays to end on the 4th Sunday of the race (July 25th) in Paris, the spectacle of 198 cyclists working in teams of 9 is, for me, a joy to behold.

The usual drama unfolds slowly, as each stage of the 21 day race is a single day race in its own right. Small groups of cyclists usually take an early lead each day, only to have the remaining larger group struggle, with varying amounts of effort and success, later in the day to catch the leaders before the end of the stage that day. Accidents, just as in NASCAR races, make for sudden, unexpected drama, that sometimes turns the entire 21-day saga on its head.

One common point of confusion about le Tour, for spectators and entrants alike, is that the entire Tour has many separate goals that a rider or team might work toward. Lowest overall time accumulated through the individual stages grants the supreme prize. There are individual prizes for winning an individual stage, being consistently near the front of most stage finishes, and being consistently near the front as the cyclists peak the variety of mountain passes along the way. There is even a team prize. No team shows up expecting to have any reasonable chance at all the prizes.

Another point of confusion are the rules for how the ranking for each prize is calculated. Points are awarded for peaking a mountain pass first, more points for tougher mountains. Points are awarded for order of finish for a stage, and some checkpoints along the way, more points for flatter finishes, designed to favor the sprinters in the race. Finishing time at each stage is calculated by group, giving all the riders in one group the same time makes for a safer finish for the cyclists interested in the overall prize. Still, the points ranking for sprinters almost always makes for a dramatic finish.

A third point of confusion is something else familiar to NASCAR fans: drafting. Cyclists draft like crazy, because the efficiency benefit for drafting versus not is around 30%, IIRC. And they are not using energy they can just refill like a gas tank, but energy they fueled up some time earlier. Cyclists eat on the go, early in a stage so they have fuel for later in the stage – later in the stage gives fuel for the next day, as does the usual high calorie dinner they will have after the day is done. And don’t get me started on the water management issues.

Back to drafting. Cyclists are most efficient at energy spent vs average velocity when they take turns in the lead, giving the others in the group a respite from the headwind. This makes for wonderful drama that is just hard to imagine without seeing it unfold with your own eyes. If a small group of cyclists approaches a flat finish ahead of the rest, the teamwork of the small group will break down as the finish nears because being in front is a disadvantage. Mind games start to get played as the group’s speed goes up and down. And the remaining cyclists are usually going full-bore to catch the small group, which adds pressure to forego the mind games if there’s to be any chance at all of an individual win. All too often, mind games cost the small group the victory that one of them could have had – sometimes only a few meters short of the finish.

There are also unwritten rules that may or may not be followed, as the situation warrants – slow down, to allow cyclists that crash time to catch up, allow cyclists to answer nature’s call or even just to say hello on the occasional circumstance that le Tour passes through the home town of some rider. Cyclists that crash out are also allowed to draft from the trail of cars that follow the race, as long as they’re using them to catch up to the main body, and only for a short time.

Oh, and about those cars. Teams usually have 1 or 2 cars that follow the race. The cars are there to provide emergency assistance in the case of a flat or other mishap. The race doctor and any team’s mechanic might be seen each day providing assistance to a rider while the cyclist is still in motion on his bike. Usually that goes well, but accidents happen there too.

So, for the next three weeks, my mornings will, except for the latter two Mondays of the race (rest days), consist of an enjoyable viewing of the 22 teams vying for the prizes they think they contend for. I will admit that some days, the drama never quite unfolds to a sufficient level to keep me wide awake – I have pepsi for that – but I will enjoy each day just the same.

Vive le Tour.

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Internal Reflection

On a basic level, it is the internal reflection of light, in a chamber with excited atoms, that gives a laser its coherence. The laser needs no focus to shine a straight beam, it just needs to be carefully released.

On a basic level, it is the internal reflection upon values, in a brain excited by thought, that gives a person a coherent purpose in life. Such a person needs no focus to walk a straight path, just careful expression.

Suffice it to say that lasers, light of one frequency travelling in phase, and an individual, with one primary goal directing her/his actions, have many memes in common.

A focussed coherence, under varying circumstances, might travel unimpeded, strongly illuminate without any obvious effect, or utterly overwhelm its target. Usually, the result can be predicted, based on the situation, but one never really knows all that might be important in achieving a result. Without a chain of events that gives focus, actions and emissions travel willy-nilly, with no unity of purpose, going everywhere and nowhere.

So here I write, recognizing that a certain chain of events have indeed given me a focus. I have started a journey toward a target, not knowing all that might be important along my way.

I must doubt, so that I never take for granted what I might or will achieve. I must doubt, or else all is for nothing.

Of course I doubt.

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‘Tis the season.

Soccer/football fever will soon peak as the World Cup winds to a close. But what goals might I have…

Long term: transition myself back into the workforce. Since I feel rather rusty and/or behind the times with my computer skills, that goal probably requires a second goal of taking some IT classes.

Short term: more sleep today (not likely), finish this blog entry, catch up on laundry, enjoy the week remaining with my parents (currently visiting them).

Ongoing: be less critical of myself, find more things to smile or laugh at, panic less, think of more blog topics.

Maybe I’ll think of more later….

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