A New Year, a new blog.

2017.  Saying that out loud will conjure either a grimace or a smile.  I can’t help but think that we left 2016 in the dust with little regard for what happened in that year.  Last year was filled with various tropes of climate change, Donald Trump, Russia and reports of social media making us more depressed.  Being able to take that firehose of information of course while trying to maintain a healthy relationship with people is a hard act to follow.  I’m sure if you’re like me, you’d rather not dwell on the past but look towards our new year with a sense of optimism.

An area of impossible growth over the past year that you may or may not know about is Artificial Intelligence or A.I. for short.  While you may scoff at A.I., think about it very carefully; You talk to your phone, you perhaps talk to Google, you may talk to Alexa — A.I. is as pervasive as the internet these days.  However, in the vein of trying to understand what A.I. is and what A.I isn’t, could be an entire Harvard class (okay, Columbia has one) so while I will not be trying to explain that portion of it to you (that’s your part of your homework), I will bring up some stories that I find fascinating on how A.I. continues to advances and re-shape our future.

Like I told my father-in-law, Artificial Intelligence is the new space race and everyone wants in; Tesla, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, cell phone providers and you.  This blog over the course of 2017 will be focusing on some of the milestones we hit in 2016 along with a look ahead in 2017 and what the future of A.I. could hold for humanity.

While this journey may be an uncomfortable one, I’m sure will be one filled with twists and turns.  For those interested in getting a jump-start, make sure to check the following movies and shows:

iRobot – Great movie on what it means for A.I. to have Morals

Her – Not for the faint of heart as there is some explicit sexual material but fascinating in terms of relationship and co-dependence w/ A.I.

A.I. – You probably have forgotten that this was ever made and quite frankly, I wouldn’t blame you.  A story about an adopted artificial boy who doesn’t know he’s not real.

Ex Machina – Another one not for the faint of heart as it deals with some fairly dark places of the human condition.  Incredible story that will suck you in and keep you wondering what is going to happen next.

2001: A Space Odyssey – If you’ve ever heard anyone sarcastically say “I’m afraid I can’t do that Dave…” and you had no clue what the hell they were talking about… this is the movie to watch.  Cult classic and while it only briefly touches on some of the technology, look for the human dependence on the machines.

Finally, go binge watch West World; Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

Until next time…. Cease reading this blog.

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The Ground Zero community center— Who has claim?

Preface: I know that this is probably a little odd coming off something so trivial such as “happy birthday on Facebook” but this was a process I’ve been through that despite all of the hype, controversy and shouting going on, issues like this will continue to define a country and generations to come.  The reason I chose this for class was I wanted to get beyond the rhetoric of the shouts of hate and emotion to the actual underlying issues.  I will say that going into this paper I was against the center or mosque being put so close to ground zero… however, towards the end of my paper, you’ll see that I arrived at an interesting conclusion.  I hope you enjoy and comment on this piece.

*NOTE* If you are interested in the list of references mentioned in this piece, please contact me via email for the list.

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The morning of September 11th, 2001 is one that many Americans will always remember.  Most on their way in to work, dropping the kids off at school, or students settling into their early morning classes;  No one could have expected what happened in a mere matter of moments to forever change the course of this Nations future.  Now, almost a decade after the attacks on September 11th, the  US is faces a renewed challenge to fight terror and embrace cultures.  Feisal Abdul Rauf who is a popular Muslim in a New York City mosque, has shared his vision to place an Islamic community center near ground zero where the two towers stood.  This of course has caused some  controversy over building a “mosque” or community center so close to where 3,000 Americans lost their lives.  Feisal Abudal Rauf has been in the lower Manhattan area for almost 25 years and has always had a deep connection with the people there.  According to a CNN interview on Larry King Live, this center would embody: “…the fundamental beliefs that we have as Jews, Christians and Muslims, which is to love our God and to love our neighbor.”
Despite these claims of fostering religious tolerance, there has been an outcry from many Americans who claim that the community center is the wrong idea for the area surrounding ground zero.  Many have claimed that the area surrounding ground zero is “sacred ground”.  Opponents of this view however, point out the neighborhood around ground zero  also houses  supermarkets, strip clubs and department stores.  Many would argue that the area around ground zero is a far cry from “sacred ground”.   Prior to the attacks on September 11th, there was work under way to preserve the rich history of lower Manhattan, including the twin towers.  John Stubbs, who is the vice-president of the World Monuments Fund, said “We were thinking beyond so-called Ground Zero… the character of Lower Manhattan may very well be altered forever. We need to remember that this is one of the richest historical spots in the New World.” (Powell, 2002, p. 22)  With around 65 registered landmarks in lower Manhattan such as the African Burial Ground and the mythic Five Points Slum in the early 19th century, there is a lot at stake in the ownership of such amazing history in such a small space.
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Tensions are continuing to mount as rallies in the area are growing in numbers and supporters for and against the community center continue to grow increasingly louder as people shout their sentiments on this topic.  Mr. Rose, who is in support of the Mosque, carried a sign that read: “Religious tolerance is what makes America great,” (MICHAEL M., 2010) and doing so allowed him to exercise his rights to freedom of expression.  At that same rally there was another protester against the community center that made a threat to Mr. Rose because of his sign.  This brings into question the freedoms of expression and freedom of religion that are coming under attack.  The principles that the United States were founded on are also being used to deny a voice who wish to see this community center built.  Later on, that person who spoke those remarks to Mr. Rose offered his hand and said he was sorry.  Not everyone, however, is willing to give up the argument on this, as Dominick DeRubbio (nephew of David P. DeRubbio, a firefighter who died in the World Trade Center) says: “I’m upset at how this whole thing was handled; the level of defiance is running high.  [They are saying] we’re doing this whether you like it or not.” (MICHAEL M., 2010)
Opinions on this topic have quickly escalated to the point where Police are now called to all major rallies or events in lower Manhattan in order to maintain civil rest amongst all people who wish to voice their concerns on this subject.  Many have asked for religious leaders to offer up their guidance on this issue.    Chloe Breyer who works as the executive director at the Interfaith Center of New York says: “Cordoba House is exactly the kind of initiative that we need here in New York — it will serve people of all faith traditions and enrich the city.” (Reporter, 2010, p. 20) The Cordoba House (or Cordoba Initiative) references the planned name for the mosque and has raised some concerns for a strictly Islamic community center opening in lower Manhattan.  The literal symbolic term “Cordoba” in Islam means “Islamic rule in the west”.  With the given the name of the community center it has raised some interest into finding out more about what the community centers goals are for the lower Manhattan area.
As the community center is debated across the nation, it is not the only battle that faces the religion of Islam.  Mosques in areas such as California, Tennessee and Kentucky are meeting similar opposition where people simply do not want to have a mosque near them.  Most of the areas  which the mosques are being proposed in are already properly zoned for churches, synagogues and other affiliated religions.  Ms. Dabdoub is irritated by one of the protests to build in Kentucky and adds: “We’re Americans, we have the right to build a house of worship so we and our families can go to worship God. It’s one of the founding principles of our nation, and it is un-American to say everyone has the right to freedom of religion except for you all.” (Scherer, 2010, p. 1)  The First Amendment takes into consideration the freedom of religion and freedom of speech  of which all Americans regardless of race, gender or religion have a right to.  Is it simply the fact that extremists of Islam who ended 3,000 lives of people of all faiths and religions are unfairly targeted in their pursuit of religious freedom and expression?
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The answer is found by  looking at some facts of Muslims living in the United States today.  Dan Murphy looked at some of this data and found in 2007 there were about 2.35 million Muslims living in the United States.  He points out: “While 68 percent of US-born Muslims – mostly African Americans – believe mosques should express political views, 60  percent of immigrant Muslims – most from countries without separation of church and state – said they should not.” (Murphy, 2010, p. 1)  Dan also goes onto say: “…Muslims are more socially conservative than America at large, with majorities saying, for instance, that homosexuality should be discouraged”.  So the question that begs to be asked is: How are these people any less of an American or any different than the rest of the 307 Million people in the United States?
Many conservative politicians, news radio jockeys and all walks in between are heard shouting their opinions over the internet and in the end  pander to a certain audience who firmly believe anything being said.  Sarah Ameigh looks at some of the more recent appeals by those such as Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich.   Palin is pleading with Muslims to denounce the community center plans as the pain is “too real, too raw.” (Ameigh, 2010, pp. 6-7)  With the political games of preying on the human fear of being attacked again, opinions on this subject, whether based on fact or feeling give a difficult shape to the conversation.  Another tactic for some politicians is to investigate where the money has come from to see if there are any links to terrorist groups.   New York mayor Michael Bloomberg came out stating: “That is just so out of character for what this nation stands for and the way we conduct ourselves,” (DeStefano, 2010)  Bloomberg didn’t think that any special investigations were needed in order to properly qualify the community center being built.  He trusted the process that was in place for any and all property management deals and this was no different.  This decision did not sit well with Rick Lazio, who is the Republican gubernatorial candidate, as he requested that Attorney General Andrew Cuomo look in to where the mosque’s funding is coming from.  Lazio wanted to find out how the Cordoba Initiative (organization behind the community center) who “…showed assets of about $18,000… could raise millions to buy the downtown location just north of the trade center.”  Bloomberg again rejected that by stating: “We want to make sure that everybody from around the world feels comfortable coming here, living here and praying the way they want to pray,”.
Given the evidence and looking at the facts, view points and opinions; is there a way forward for such an ambitious task and vision such as the community center that Feisal Abudal Rauf wants to see in lower Manhattan?  Looking at some of the hard facts of this national and world wide debate, it seems there are a few conclusions that can be drawn.  First and foremost, the idea that has been put forth is still just that, an idea.  The proposal of the community center does not violate any state or federal law or statutes that are in place, and is perfectly legal.  The land as a whole was purchased through all legal channels and entities and, as long as properly zoned, should not hinder the ability to have a community center of any faith to be built in any proximity to where the Twin Towers were located in lower Manhattan.  Money obtained for this project would need to come through proper and legal channels that do not violate any state or federal law requirements.  This would ensure that the Cordoba Initiative would record every donation properly for state and federal taxes, if they are applicable.
Secondly, the right to religious expression and freedom of speech are absolutely paramount to the fabric of the United States.  Since the forefathers of this nation fled their native country based on the merits of religious persecution, so they ensured it would be available with the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment.  In order to maintain respect and credibility to that creed and that right, any faith, should they choose to build a community center on a piece of land, as long as it meets the aforementioned requirements above, should not be discriminated against nor should it be rejected.  One of most critical things to this country and its heritage is to maintain that level of credibility and sense of opportunity for all people of any faith or religion.
Thirdly, Feisal Abudal Rauf needs to weigh the lesser of  two evils of building the community center so close to ground zero.  Over the past weeks, he has voiced the concern over how he has handled this community center and if he had known it would bring so much pain and anger he wouldn’t have brought it up.  What then is the action or conscience of what is best for the people of lower Manhattan? With the voice of so many Americans upset by this, he cannot ignore this fact in his decision to move forward or to retract from building.  Adele Welty  worked with Talat Hamdani to craft an op-ed piece to the New York Daily News and wrote: “We need to continue as Americans to focus on our commonalities as human beings rather than our differences,”. (Miller, Nayeli-Rodriguez, Oremus, & Cruz, 2010, pp. 26-33)  She also goes on to talk about the ground being sacred: “it’s prime real estate. If it was sacred, we wouldn’t have bulldozers and all kinds of equipment there.”  As with all things historic and memorable in the lower Manhattan area, ground zero is no different.  It adds to the already rich history of that New Yorkers have come to cherish.  With that in mind, he dialogue also has to continue on focusing on the post September 11th days:  Unity of people against a common enemy of terrorists who killed those of all faiths and religions.
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Lastly, there comes the obligation of the American people to show the terrorists that they have done nothing to change the world.  If Feisal Abudal Rauf’s plan to have a community center that ushers in a new era of dialogue then the world is richer for it.  The fact that all faiths and all peoples need to come to a greater understanding of each other is one that will continue to thwart terrorism both on United States soil as well as abroad.  This is beyond tolerance or having understanding, it comes to educating people and dissolving rumors, legends or myths of peoples’ faith or religion.  As long as the American people continue to grow together, then terrorists do not have any power, even if they continue to terrorize.  Fear is a tool they use to try and control people and by us bonding together against that fear, they are defeated.  In the end, who has claim?  We the people have claim.