Does Being a Patriot Means Giving Up Freedom?

I aplogise again for the political content here. But this is just something we should all know. That way, later, when and if things come to it, we can’t really just say, “oh dear”.

This is not paranoia. This is reality. And though reality may at times be something we prefer to push off to the side as we pursue our hapiness, this particular reality cuts straight into what we have come to take for granted – that very right which is our pursuit of happiness.

We all know about the 9/11 disaster. And the controversial Pentagon disaster. We’ve all heard about the Patriot Act.

After this disaster, in just 45 days, and no public debate, and without even public debate or debate even within Congress, the Senate version was sent straight to the floor for a vote, with no discussion whatsoever. The House version ended up with a compromise, but it was thrown out by House leadership, and a version mirroring the Senate was passed. Neither discussion nor amendments were permitted. The Bush Administration impled that Congressional members who voted against it would be responsible for any subsequent disasters.

I certainly realize that fighting terrorist threats is a great challenge. But I also realize that there are many forces in the world. This act removes many of the great and fundamental aspects of being a US citizen, leaving us to wonder, just what, then, are we fighting to protect?

What does it do? Here are some highlights:

  • It defines “domestic terrorism” which means that organizations are subject to just about any surveillance technique, just plain harassment if an even minor “case” can be made, and even criminal action for political advocacy
  • The government can conduct secret searches and survelliance, compelling organizations and other people to provide just about any kind of information, about anyone, while at the same time “gagging” these people from even telling anyone what’s going on.
  • Just by saying it’s for “intelligence purposes”, the government no longer needs probable cause to start the criminal process against people

The Patriot Act has even resulted in the President creating a “military commission” that is not even part of the Judicial Branch that can detain non-US citizens indefinitely without any cause whatsoever, and find people guilty with no facts whatsoever – but only a 2/3rds majority vote of this military commission.

And worse – American Citizens can be picked up, and detained indefinately by the military without any cause, detained indefinitely, without any access to anyone, including lawyers and the American judicial process itself.

Now, Patriot Act II is on its way. Here are some of it’s more severe problems:

  1. Federal agents are immune to the consequences of any illegal surveillance they perform if they were acting on the orders of high level Executive Branch officials.
  2. Expanding nationwide search warrants so they do not have to meet even the broad definition of terrorism in the Patriot Act.
  3. It allows for the sampling and cataloguing of anyone’s genetic information without any reason, and without consent or knowledge.
  4. Terminates court-approved limits on police spying, which were initially put in place to prevent McCarthy-style law enforcement persecution based on political or religious affiliation.
  5. Permits surveillance of US citizens based on even a foreign government wanting it, even if we have no treaties with that government
  6. COMPANIES WHO CREATE TOXIC WASTE OR DANGEROUS CHEMICALS NO LONGER HAVE TO REPORT ANYTHING TO THE PUBLIC
  7. If a citizen is even lucky enough to get a trial, the defense attorney cannot even argue against evidence that is considered “secret”.
  8. Grand jury witnesses are barred from discussing their testimony with the public in any way.
  9. AMIERICAN CITIZENS CAN BE STRIPPED OF THEIR CITIZENSHIP if they provide support to any unpopular organization that our government has deemed terrorist even if they support only lawful aspects of that organization – this would allow our citezenry to be detained indefinitely as undocumented aliens. By the way, it also greatly broadens what is meant by a “terrorist” group, and what it means to be associated with one, or support one. It even goes so far as to say that a terrorist group does not have to be officially designated as a terrorist group to be considered a terrorist group.
  10. 15 new death penalities! 😉 And you just have to be associated…

Then we have our few of our silly little Constitutional protections:

1st Amendment: freedom of speech, relgion, assembly and press.

4th Amendment: freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures.

5th Amendment: no person shall be deprived of life, libery or property without due process of law.

6th Amendment: right to speedy public trail by an impartial jury, right to be informed of the facts of the accusation, right to confront witnesses and have the assistance of legal counsel.

8th Amendment: No excessive bail or cruel and unusual punishment.

14th Amendment: All people (citizens and non-citizens) are entitled to due process and the equal protection of the laws.

I’m writing this because of an article in the Seattle Times today:

The Federal judge strikes down part of Patriot Act as unconstitutional

Here are some of the highlights:

In his ruling, the judge called national security of “paramount value” and said the government “must be empowered to respond promptly and effectively” to threats. But he called personal security equal in importance and “especially prized in our system of justice.”

He noted that the Supreme Court recently said that a “state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation’s citizens.”

“Sometimes a right, once extinguished, may be gone for good,” Marrero wrote.

… The judge said the law violates the Fourth Amendment because it bars or deters any judicial challenge to the government searches, and violates the First Amendment because its permanent ban on disclosure is a prior restraint on speech.

If you’re interested in contacting your government representatives (or dare to do so… 😉 ) about the new “enhanced” Patriot Act coming up, the ACLU has a site devoted to it. This site asks our representatives to reconsider it. If you want a site that supports it, well, I don’t know of one, and don’t really feel like looking for one, but I’m sure there’s one out there.

The Heavens and Hells Around Us

NASA has a program called the “Near Earth Object Program” (NEO) that studies the trajectories of objects in our solar system to determine Earth impact risk probabilities.

Here are the Current Impact Risks of the known objects.

Apparently, known objects such as these are only a small fraction of the potential “problem” objects. In a vast area that literally surrounds our entire solar system is the Oort Belt, comprised of comets. The Kuiper Belt is a region past Neptune that also contains comets. (Well, they’re not really comets until they’ve gotten their tails from heading toward the sun – so actually, how about big icey dirt balls?)

Then there is the old standard asteroid belt past Mars.

The interaction of our planets graviational forces on each other and these belts – as well as transient objects within the belts themselves – can cause objects to “fall” from these belts, entering their own orbits around planets or moon or the sun, and very often crossing the paths of these objects, and colliding with them.

These represent the dark unknown for us – how a large object might just suddenly and unexpectedly collide with Earth – and we may or may not detect it before it nears – not that it would matter much if the size were great at all.

Nevertheless, the NASA effort is pretty cool – there’s even a section where you can watch the orbits of some of these NEOs – how they cross the orbital planes of the planets.

Asteroid 4179 ToutatisToday at 06:35:28 PST the asteroid 4179 Toutatis passes very near our planet, it’s closest distance being 963,000 miles – about 4 times the distance of the Moon to Earth. 4179 Toutatis is about 3 miles long.

If you’re interested, 4179 Toutatis rotates strangely – on two axis. NASA has produced an animated model of its rotation.

Obviously, the impact of an object this size on our planet would be catestrophic. Oddly enough, asteroids are not all built the same, though. Some are far more or less dense than others, and comprise of different component ratios. This is one of the main reasons NASA has been sending probes to these objects lately – to better understand them.

The funniest probe, to me, was NEAR Shoemaker. Sent to the Asteroid Eros. We had never really travelled out to an asteroid before, and orbited it. They’re so tiny in relation to the distances – and not at all shaped like a nice ball you can orbit – so it was challenging. But they did it, and even landed the probe on the surface when it was done – which it was not designed to do. It survived it, though… And there it’s riding along, whirling through our little neighborhood, to this day.

So, can we actually do anything to stop a collision? Well, it depends. Right now, we’re not even likely to detect an object in time to even attempt anything. The first reaction was to send nuclear warheads to blow it up. But these warheads would need to be quite huge to make much difference, and presents an even greater risk just for us to have in our arsenal. After all, we still seem to be pretty stupid on most accounts, when it comes to being good to each other.

So the ideas now have shifted to detonating a nuclear blast just near enough and powerful enough, and far enough out from Earth, near the asteroid, to alter its trajectory so that it misses its destined Earth impact.

Who knows? In the meantime, Fall is arriving. Micah made small talk. And I just made the best batch of fudge I’ve ever made yet, tonight.

So think of old 4179 Toutatis today, zooming on by for another pass later on. And all the many other things that live above, and around us, that we cannot see or know. Then enjoy that breakfast or lunch. And even the little small talk…

Space Flight for We All

An experimental rocket explodes upon liftoff last month on the Olympic Peninsula. No one was hurt.

It seems that the “X prize” – the $10M award for the first private-sector people to achieve orbit, is heading well toward award.

The main purpose being, apparently, to bring space flight closer to the Everyman.

The Seattle Times: Local News: Private spaceflight a race to offer rocket rides to public

In an interview I watched the other day on television, the only other team considered to be an even partially viable contender for the prize is going to attempt their flight just three days after the Paul Allen team – and this other team has yet to even have a test flight in their “homemade” vehicle, built with far less funding.

The Seattle Times article makes some very good points about this activity being much like the early days of aviation – before any safety regulations were in place, not only for the crews, but for the peripheral public not even associated with the activity.

I’ve also heard rumours that Paul Allen has worked a deal with Virgin Airlines to offer space flight to the public, for around $200k – a flight that would culminate in approximately 4 minutes of “near weightlessness”. But the view should be most spectacular.

Well, it’s a beginning, I suppose, to a lot of nifty new stuff for us all. It certainly gives me a new appreciation for all those hobbiests I’ve known who built their radio-controlled high-speed hydroplane boats and aircraft!

But what a step to actually put yourself in one, and ride…

Hmm… I just found this – I guess the rumours are true….

Virgin Galactic

Naked Yoga is O.K.

Just ran across a nifty article at CNN:

CNN.com – Naked yoga OK in San Francisco – Sep 22, 2004

So many things that press in, holding us into places that may or may not fit our forms – it’s good seeing something free like this.

Though I’m not really sure that people being naked all over the place might be a good thing – so often when we are taught something is bad or wrong, it just becomes all the more exiting to do it, and be a little freaky about it.

But for those who are just looking for some good solid freedom – YAY! I say…

Love and Marriage

Well, I guess a new group has formed to lead a drive to amend the very state constitution to ban gay marriages. It’s amazing to see how much effort people are willing to go to on certain issues when such vastly greater issues exist, and they do nothing.

According to the Seattle Times Article the group is called “Allies for Marriage and Children”.

I suppose they believe that their marriages will be better if men or women cannot love each other. Or maybe they believe that their marriage is how it’s supposed to be, and that everyone else’s should be too. In which case, they should also make divorce illegal to strengthen it how it should be. And I suppose they believe that a child is best off with the love of one man and one woman only – no more than that – or no different. Even if that man and woman are only staying together because of a sense of obligation to the children, which I guess results in the love and attention the children need.

I suppose they like to talk about an abstraction, like Marriage. Rather than the actual love people can feel for each other. Or the “going it together” sorta thang.

Maybe it’s because it’s not really each other that matters, but just the idea that what they’re doing is somehow right. And the rest of the world, including themselves, and their children, be damned.